Nation builds on vital pact
THE Polish Government has endorsed US President Bill Clinton's Partnership for Peace proposal to include central and east European countries in the West's main military alliance, says the Polish Consul-in-Charge, Krzysztof Ciebien.
''But we would also like to enrich this idea in another direction, too,'' Mr Ciebien said.
''Our Prime Minister, Waldemar Pawlak, has said the idea should be extended to a 'partnership for prosperity' as well.'' That development would further assist the root-and-branch reform Poland was successfully undertaking and speed the process of economic regeneration.
''Already, we have the fastest growing economy in Europe - with 4.5 per cent gross national product growth last year and a prediction of five per cent growth for this year,'' Mr Ciebien said.
''Add to this the vital agreement reached in March that effectively halves Poland's foreign debt and we have the clear restoration of financial credibility.'' During the 1970s, Poland's foreign debt burden ballooned out of control to reach about US$40 billion. Economically hamstrung, the tottering economy could not even support the interest payments, let alone capital repayments.
The situation improved gradually in the 1980s but, until the recent deal with the so-called London Club, which represents more than 400 commercial banks, the debt was still US$13 billion.
''Let me make it absolutely plain - Poland is not asking for money. We are looking for partners to invest in the redevelopment of the country and to do business there,'' Mr Ciebien said.
''I have a strict personal rule. When I tell Hong Kong businessmen about the situation in Poland, I tell them the truth. I concede that there remain major problems, but I can show how those problems can also be seen as opportunities for investment.
''Our problems will not be solved overnight, because they require time and money and, perhaps above all, good management, but they can be solved.
''The Hong Kong Trade Development Council certainly sees the potential - it opened a representative office in Warsaw in November last year.
''After just two years here in Hong Kong, the consulate is receiving so many inquiries about doing business in Poland that I could usefully do with five or six officials, instead of the two of us at present.'' Poland's history has often been deeply troubled: the country has been erased from the map at least three times and one Polish historian called his book about the country God's Playground.
Poland is sandwiched between Germany and Russia and, when these ancient adversaries have clashed, it has often been on Polish soil.
''Yes, there have been many disadvantages, but now it is high time to take some advantage of our position,'' Mr Ciebien said.
The geographic centre of Europe was not, as many thought, in Germany, but near Warsaw, Poland's capital city, he said.
''This makes us the crossroads of Europe and a cultural and economic bridge between east and west and north and south,'' Mr Ciebien said.
''It means we have a knowledge of all the parts of Europe, especially of the east. Poland, and Poles, can serve as a valuable bridge to the vast but largely untapped Russian market.'' The most recent general elections, last September, brought a coalition of left-wing parties to power and observers feared this would slow, or even stop, the pace of reforms.
Mr Ciebien said the outcome had proved those concerns to be groundless.
''Several months on, the reform process is still on track. Indeed, some measures and plans of this government are actually moving ahead faster than before. I think it reflects a recognition that there is no alternative to continuing the process of economic reform.''