Polish Toledo

This blog is associated with www.polishtoledo.com

Monday, October 24, 2011

We have Marcy – Poland has Marzi

If you take time to talk to old people who experienced inter-war Poland (1919-1939) or Soviet dominated Poland (1946-1989) you usually come away with a story framed in the context of their life’s sculpted worldview.
However, wisdom is not the sole providence of the old. The colloquial idiom “Out of the mouths of babes (oft times come gems)” reminds us children occasionally say remarkable or insightful things.

A brand new book just translated into English titled Marzi is based on recollections of a little girl growing up in communist controlled Poland. Memoirs pertaining to quality of life, economic turmoil and government oppression seem less tainted when it is expressed through the eyes of a child rather than the opinions held by mature adults.

Chronicling her experiences by processing the meaning of everyday life and the events that unfold are presented as a series of vignettes using cartoon panels. It’s not a kid’s comic book, but rather intended for grown up readers.

From an interview with Cafébabel (a European magazine) the author Marzena Sowa explains, “Sometimes readers find it surprising that besides strikes, usually associated with ‘Solidarity’, people also had a regular life. I mean, going to school and to work, children playing in the courtyards, holidays. My comics won’t age. Even twenty years on you will find something new, something for yourself. We were all children, and we all had some wishes that never came true; I was always dreaming about getting a Barbie doll from Pewex (communist-era stores which sold Western goods in exchange for Western currencies).”

She also dreamed about living in France, free from communist rule.

The purity of a child’s unadulterated innocence is perfectly captured in drawings and words as Marzi struggles to understand what is going on in her country and what her parents are talking about. The little girl is illustrated with huge eyes, which reflects her innocent perspective and is much more engaging than could ever be expected from a plain text book.

From birth through fifth grade Marzi is a witness to Solidarność and the revolutionary reawakening of freedom that made it successfully through a terrible period of martial law.

Aside from what was happening politically, there is a private peek into Marzi's demanding relationship with her mom, and what was expected of children in Poland during the 80s.

Kids at a young age are not equipped to understand the consequences of or make conclusions on the human condition. Prior to defeating socialism fruit, candy and sugar were so rare that when a store took delivery of such items, she and her family would wait hours in line hoping by the time they got served there was still some left for them to buy.

Marzi doesn't really understand why things are the way they are. She can tell the adults are unhappy, but no one will bother to explain what's really going on.

As a sensitive only child, she tried to make a pet of the carp her father bought and kept in the bathtub of her crowded apartment until it was time to kill it so the family could feast on it for days.

It was poles apart from the world that we as Americans experienced as children. Wishing for a color TV, working in farm fields with her grandparents and chewing on window putty because she couldn’t get gum makes you stop and think how incredibly different it really was.

The shortages, brute force of government and frightened parents crowding the hospital with their children as radioactive contamination spread to Poland from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster are just part of Marzi’s memories.

Though her childhood is filled with adversity, other recollections are happier. There was joy in tagging along with her father at demonstrations and the hope raised by a state visit from native son Pope John Paul II.

Marzi observes that adults really don’t talk about the fall of Communism even though it was Poland that first broke the grip of Soviet tyranny. It was accomplished without a single windowpane being broke. Maybe that’s because in Poland it was done with finesse, quietly and nonviolently unlike the dramatic breaking down of the Berlin Wall in neighboring Germany.

Marzi was born at a time when Poland was undergoing some big changes. She watched it rebel. She watched it dream. And she saw its dreams come true.

Given the current climate of turmoil in our country, I can’t help but wonder if 20 years from now there will be another Marzi painting a picture of how thing were in 2012 - Trying to make sense out of how adults could have screwed everything up.

A quick way to buy this book is to click on Marzi at PolishToledo.com.

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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Polish Political Roulette: A winner every time?

You might say that Polish voters are a fickle group. At least seemingly more so than Polish-American voters with their entrenched voting habits.

Not once have Poles given any political party a second term of power since throwing off the yoke of socialism and the misery that 60 years of tyrannical communism brought them.

Poles’ yearning for freedom and liberty is hardwired into their DNA.

Kosciuszko & Pulaski
Kosciuszko and Pulaski didn’t have a stake in whether our American revolution was successful or not. Yet, they came here serving as generals on their own volition, where freedom was being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.

Stubborn and strong-minded? Do you know any dyed in wool Poles who are not?

During the communist era, one might imagine Poles were as weary as Colonial Americans at the Boston Tea Party struggling against the brute force of a much too powerful government. The socialist regime in Poland was intervening in daily life and taking away incentives for rugged individual entrepeurship by bulldozing the playing field with Politburo machinery and redistributing wealth within the dictated parameters of Marxist philosophy that was detested by most Poles.

Since crushing the Iron Curtain in 1989, they voted for a different government each time parliamentary elections were held insuring by fiat that no political party got too entrenched in power.

In spite of revolving door politics, Poland shot straight up the economic ladder, from an also ran country to rank 18 in terms of GDP across the globe.

Fresh ideas and policies came with each election. Perhaps that is one of the leading factors why Poland was the only EU country to dodge the economic meltdown.  They were the only EU country to have back-to-back years of positive economic growth and never having a down year.

Most spectators say on October 9, the incumbent Civic Platform party is likely to be returned as the majority or leader of a coalition government breaking the one term tradition when voters choose expanding prosperity over policies thereby rewarding Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s party with victory.

Andrew Michta

"If you look at the moving sands of the Polish political scene since 1989, a victory for the current governing party would show a continuity that hasn't been seen since the beginning of the transformation," said Andrew Michta, head of the German Marshall Fund's Warsaw office. A Tusk win "would mean people were responding to how full their purses are rather than reacting to ideological issues."

Maciej Krzak
Impervious to global financial catastrophes, living standards in Poland continue to rapidly advance unlike the recent massive loss of individual wealth in America. "The Polish economy really is in pretty good shape -- that's not just some kind of government propaganda," said Maciej Krzak, head of macroeconomics at the Warsaw-based Center for Social and Economic Research. "Poland can aspire, with time, to become one of the EU's largest economies."

Even though Tusk’s party lacks substance and ambition, Poland’s economy grew 4.4% from 2007 to 2010 while the EU average was barely one-tenth of one percent.

The reasons why Poland kept its economy growing right through the thick of the Great Recession has been discussed in previous columns. One could reasonably argue that Tusk holds a fist full of aces dealt by the practicality and common sense embraced by Poles with their reborn liberty.

After Poles freed themselves from a society of socialist dependency, it did not matter who was in office. Nobody in power could diminish the individual’s determination to prosper under newfound freedom. They molded their hills and mountains on that once desolate playing field by the sweat of their ingenuity and enterprise.

The political pundits in Warsaw predict Civil Platform will be the first party to achieve back-to-back wins in parliamentary elections. However, I’m a bit hesitant to go along.

At least now you have Huggies
I contend that if voters in their twenties who at best were in diapers during the Communist Era, are not represented in large numbers at the polls, there’s a chance that the tradition of not re-electing the incumbent government will stand.

Tusk’s party has become increasingly “content-free”, just like the MTV generation. They realize if they stand for something they might offend somebody. So, they mumble vaguely, promise to work hard, and all the while get less and less specific about issues. Finding a position paper from them is next to impossible.

With the lack of principles and conviction, the centrist party is hoping to win by presenting themselves as a “safe pair of hands” to keep steering Poland around Europe’s economic crisis.

Now, there’s a good question for fickle American voters.

Are you in good hands?

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Poland’s Gain: America’s Loss

Here’s another case of corporate outsourcing greed. The famous and battle tested Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopter’s new variant built for the military units of America’s allies are now being made in Poland.

In a time of economic uncertainty and financial crisis across our great country, you would think the manufacturing of high tech military aircraft costing as much as $10 million per copy would be best kept at home. But, there must be a rational reason why the workhorse of non-fixed wing military aircraft are rolling off the production line at the PZL plant in Mielec, Poland.

Why didn’t the largest economic stimulus package in the history of our country stem the tide of the iconic American flying machine from going overseas to be manufactured?

During the Great Depression at least there was something to be shown for the dollars spent by government to improve the lot of laid off and unemployed workers. Right here in Toledo the WPA put hundreds if not thousands of men to work. Those shovel ready projects gave us a marvelous main branch library, the high level bridge, the zoo’s amphitheater, the Glass Bowl and numerous improvements to the Metro Park System. Each project was a functional and practical addition to the Infrastructure of Toledo providing benefits even years after the recovery from breadlines, failed banking institutions, children skipping school to hustle for pennies to help their impoverished families and all the other hurt and misery inflected upon an overwhelming portion of the population. 

Today, Poland is the benefactor of a failed U.S. government stimulus and a failed economic policy. More than 2,000 highly skilled Poles have been added to the Sikorsky subsidiary of United Technologies aerospace workforce with the potential for thousands more filling jobs in the industry sector if Boeing’s plans to open up shop come to fruition.

Infrastructure expansion and rehabilitation undertakings would be a welcomed scheme for getting people back to work in America since the U6 unemployment number is hovering around 16 percent. But, why in the world would our government permit the production of military weapon systems with highly sensitive designs and components to be assembled offshore when a workforce of equally skilled aerospace engineers and technicians are stateside collecting 99 weeks of unemployment checks that are financed by deficit spending?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Poland named Sikorsky its "Investor of the Year", when they acquired the PZL Mielec factory and turned it into a state-of-the-art facility. The award is given to a firm that has achieved impressive growth, visibility, and a significant breakthrough in the Polish market, demonstrating its long-term commitment and its contribution to the labor market.

According to a press release, nearly 8,000 employees at United Technologies owned Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky divisions make UT Poland’s largest aviation industry employers. The strategic investments of money, know-how and state-of-the-art technologies add significantly to Poland's proud aviation tradition among global companies.

Production of the highly advanced helicopters in Mielec will have tremendous effects on numerous other Polish aviation entities. In the short term, economic and export benefits will accrue from parts sourcing, increased labor, technology transfer and sales to allied armed forces. In the long-term, Sikorsky is evaluating other Polish firms and institutes that will serve as completion centers, sustainment and parts-management centers, in addition to certification institutes who will matriculate 200 future hires per year.

Igor Sikorsky
 Sikorsky maintained it would increase its profit margins by moving work to Poland and they have been moving aggressively to redistribute production into Poland. Cost reduction and low-cost sourcing is meant to transform and improve profit margins in the coming years.

A government official said, “Sikorsky has stimulated the development of Poland's aviation industry so much that Boeing sent decision makers to look at potential plant locations in Gdańsk, Rzeszów (the historic home of Polish aviation), and Bielsko-Biala.” A decision might be coming in two or three months.

With lower taxes, unimpeding regulations, unencumbered labor agreements, efficient supply chains, and highly skilled workforce; Poland is using its entrepreneurial advantages to its benefit. Poland was the only EU country showing back-to-back years of GDP growth through the economic meltdown. Without stimulus, subsidies, bailouts, or healthcare waivers it’s looking more and more like the flowerbed of industrial growth that once was the hallmark of America.

While critics still make arguments about corporate greed for profit and other rewards, perhaps they are overlooking a more serious type of greed that seems to be absent in Poland since the end of the communist era – the greed of people looking for so-called entitlements handed out by various national governments in disproportionate measure rather than depending on the independent, self-reliant work ethic Poles are known for, which is becoming more apparent to global producers of goods everyday.

In the past decade, Poland has become the European center for the manufacture of luxury yachts as discussed in last month’s column. Perhaps they’ll become the center for aviation as well. At least it is apparent that Poland knows how to make globalization work for her people instead of being sublimated by it.


Sikorsky’s contribution to the industrial might of America

Sikorsky with Orville Wright
 Igor Sikorsky was born in Russian occupied Kiev in 1889 and comes from a lineage of Ukrainian nobility and szlachta (Polish nobility). As a youth he studied the technical exploits of Leonardo di Vinci and the imaginative writings of Jules Verne. Even before enrolling in academies and polytechnic institutes in Europe, Sikorsky was knowledgeable in the designs of the Wright Brothers flying machine and Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s rigid airship.

After migrating to the United States during the Bolshevik revolution his credentials pertaining to his designs for fighters and the first multi engine bombers attracted investment capital to start his own aviation company, which built the S-42 flying boat for Pan Am allowing the first transoceanic commercial passenger service.

He perfected the helicopter design in 1939 and started mass production of rotor aircraft in the early 1940s.

Sikorsky was a devout Orthodox Christian and authored two religious and philosophical books entitled “The Message of the Lord’s Prayer” and “The Invisible Encounter”.

His company was absorbed by what is now United Technologies Corporation in 1929 eventually becoming the world’s largest manufacturer of helicopters.

Sea King & White Hawk

Since 1957, the “Marine One” helicopter fleet of the President of the United States has been comprised of Sikorsky helicopters exclusively. Two different designs are in service today. The VH-3D “Sea King” and the newer VH-60N “White Hawk”. Both were due to be replaced by an entirely new non-Sikorsky built chopper, but due to excessive cost the project was shelved.