“Neither can the wave that has passed by be recalled, nor the hour which has passed return again.” The words of Ovid which, since we have yet to develop time travel, remain as true now as ever they were. And after passing over many waves, and spending many hours travelling to Australia, Polish president Andrzej Duda has suggested to Polish Australians that they might like to return – geographically if not temporally (cynics might disagree on that) – to Poland.
The visit is aimed at boosting bilateral ties, especially trade, as well as meeting as many Polish expatriates as possible during this, Poland’s centenary year. According to Duda, there are 180,000 folk in Australia of Polish heritage, while the Polish diaspora world-wide is some 20 million.
Meeting Polish Australians at Keysborough near Melbourne, during the first ever official visit by a Polish head of state to Australia, the president said that Poland is developing, is increasingly beautiful and that Poles are ever better off. He added that when they visit Poland “you will be able to look with satisfaction and think: maybe it would be worth coming back.” Duda also thanked Australia for accepting Polish soldiers after the second world war during a ceremony in Melbourne to commemorate troops from both countries who took part in an eight-month campaign in Tobruk, Libya, in 1941.
President Duda also met Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian prime minister, and the foreign and defence ministers, to discuss defence, security and energy ties. The suggestion that this meeting would be cancelled because at the last moment the Polish prime minister decided to cancel the planned purchase of three Australian frigates, which was one of the main purposes of Duda’s trip, was not correct.
Be that as it may, is Poland’s current performance likely to lure folk back from Australia? Certainly, Poland’s economy continues to perform well. According to the Central Statistical Office (GUS), industrial production in Poland grew 10.3 per cent in July compared with a year earlier, with output in the construction and assembly sector up 18.7 per cent year on year. In the first six months of this year 6.3 per cent more homes were completed than during the same period in 2017.
Looking at the economy as a whole, according to the latest flash estimate from GUS, the economy grew by 5.1 per cent in the second quarter of this year compared with 5.2 per cent GDP growth in the first quarter. The figure for 2017 as a whole was 4.6 per cent and the investment and development minister Jerzy Kwieciński said in May that Poland was capable of maintaining economic growth at between 4 and 5 per cent.
Annual inflation stood at 2 per cent in July, according to GUS, the same level as in June, but up from 1.7 per cent in May, 1.6 per cent in April, and 1.3 per cent in March. Average wages rose 7.2 per cent in July compared with a year ago. This takes the average Polish monthly wage to PLN 4,825 (EUR 1,122, USD 1,298), a slight decline from PLN 4,848 a month earlier, but still modest by Australian standards (median wage approximately EUR 3,000). At the same time, total employment in Polish companies increased 3.5 per cent in July year-on-year (the figures are for companies with more than nine employees).
Which is all very well, but most folk don’t make decisions affecting their own families based on economic statistics alone. At a purely practical level, if families have a life in Australia (or any other country for that matter), homes, careers, children at school, and so on, it seems unlikely that they will wish to face the upheaval of moving back to Poland just because the president thinks they might be surprised by what they find. Lower average salaries may be an opportunity for businesses investing in Poland, but they are unlikely to appeal to many with good jobs elsewhere.
Added to this is the concern about the current direction of government policy, particularly the continuing tension with the EU over the rule of law, creeping nationalisation, a tendency towards a more authoritarian approach generally, and a general uncertainty as to where this might end, it seems unlikely that many will be following the president’s advice.