Is Poland Corrupt?

Homo Sovieticus
Homo Sovieticus

This question keeps popping up. Commentators, business people and politicians outside Poland are keen to know whether Poland has been able to shed the post-communist tag which is so often associated with corruption. Is being a post-communist country tantamount to being corrupt? Poles themselves, Polish politicians, entrepreneurs and sociologists are eager to be rid of this deep-rooted problem. Opposition parties (regardless of who is in government at the time) criticise the ruling class for being ‘corrupt’ while often ignoring obvious examples of corruption, nepotism and a variety of abuses in their own ranks. So is Poland corrupt? Is it more or less corrupt than other countries in the world? In Europe? In Central Europe? Is it more or less corrupt than it once was? Is the attitude and behaviour of Soviet Man, Homo Sovieticusa relic of the past or still prevalent throughout Polish society?

Indifference is King
Indifference Reigns

The term Homo Sovieticus was coined by Aleksandr Zinovyev but used to much effect by the Solidarity philosopher priest Józef Tischner. Five characteristics of Homo Sovieticus can be highlighted: (1) Avoidance of individual responsibility; (2) Passive acceptance of authority; (3) Indifference to common property and petty theft; (4) Indifference to the results of labour; and (5) Isolation from global culture. Sounds familiar, eh? The avoidance of individual responsibility can most certainly be seen in Poland’s urzędy (offices). Statements like, “It’s not my problem” or “It’s beyond my remit” may be less frequent than, let’s say, ten years ago but the attitude can still be found. Poland’s low turnout in all elections can be put down to point (2), whereas the state of public toilets is well-explained by point (3). The wonderful Polish saying Czy się stoi czy się leży dwa tysiące się należy best illustrates point (4).

Corruption is King
Corruption is King

This attitude of being overly demanding and needy – point (4) – linked also to the ‘victim complex’ and constant desire for ‘compensation’ is frequently reflected in Polish right-wing politics. What is more, point (5) can be seen in these same right-wing parties and some Catholic circles. This was especially true prior to EU accession, however, of all the five points, the fifth seems to be waning fastest, especially in Poland’s major cities. We will have to see if this attitude erodes in the provinces. Perhaps the key to the dissipation of corruption, or at least its weakening, lies in the idea of Homo Sovieticus. If Poland is to effectively do battle with corruption, nepotism and the suchlike then the highlighting of these five points should perhaps be the backbone of future central and local government policy. Poland managed to improve its CPI (Corruption Perception Index) from 49th in 2009 to 41st in 2010. Let’s hope this positive trend continues…


8 thoughts on “Is Poland Corrupt?

  1. I started reading this a bit annoyed that corruption was seen intrinsic to the Soviet Union, not that I doubt that corruption was endemic there or in Poland before 1989, but rather that corruption is also a feature of political life in western countries; witness the sell-off of the NHS in GB.

    However, the five points are very relevant and persuaded me to the Homo Sovieticus model. Even in small non-governmental institutions I’ve seen people shrug their shoulders when asked with simple questions, abdicating their responsibility to “higher authorities”.

    This is an issue of a weak civic society. A friend of mine was a candidate for a political party and went to people’s houses canvassing. People were very surprised that he came to their homes to ask them what they wanted. I seem to recall that, among France, Spain, Britain and Ireland, Polish people came out as being the most critical of politicians.

    Professor Andrzej Rychard pointed out after the violence in Warsaw on 11/11/11 that average people joined the march with fascists (the ONR and NOP are openly racist, anti-semitic and fascist) as they lacked a sense of criticism. I know people in Poland (largely labelled as the “new left”) who are working hard to boost civic society and the sense of accountability. It’s very hard work, and they need support.

    1. Right on, Czarny. Many thanks for the comments. I firmly believe that Poland’s political structure needs to be enhanced and objectified. By this I mean a higher level of objectivity when it comes to politics; a kind of ‘don’t take it personally’ attitude so many Polish people seem to not have.

  2. Corruption is sadly endemic in Poland. Offering a bribe is seen as the equivalent of tipping for example. More than twenty years after the fall of communism, it is wholly unacceptable that Poland’s government is unwilling to fully accept, properly investigate, and adequately legislate against corruption. The image of the country is badly tarnished among the international business community. The damage caused is, of course, significant when measured against Poland’s investment potential.

  3. People are corrupted NOT the government. There are some people that have been in power for decades…
    Educational System needs major changes. There are so many young educated people in Poland that never have a chance to succeed and most likely are forced to leave the country and seeks jobs elsewhere.

  4. Dear Raf Uzar. I enjoyed reading your blog. I would like you to compare Finland and Poland. Both were annexed by Russian Empire. Both resisted rucification. Both became independent in 1918. Both were attacked by Soviet Russia within one year. After that their fortunes were completely different as were their relations with Russia and with European nations. What do you think is the main things the Pols would need to learn from Finns?

    1. Yuri,
      Thanks for the comment and a great point you make. I too have thought about the difference between the Finns and other former ‘Russian/Soviet’ satellite states. I think the Finns may have had it easier because they became free of the Russians in 1918 whereas Poland had to live with the Soviets until 1989. 71 years DO make a difference.

  5. corruption?hell yeah. but its worse than that. the goverment with its regulations is acctualy destroing the country and its people,,,Thats is why Poles emigrate… They earn like 400-700$ a month and if sombody wants to open up some buissnes must pay obligatory 350 a month + other taxes . petrol costs 2$ a litter, food costs 90% of the price in germany. They get huge help from UE dotations but these money dont go to the people.Their goverment spend it on stiupid thins like football fields and builds roads with 200% of price in addition bunkrupting the folks who acctualy have build them.its more than madness. runing a buissnes in Poland its like having a picnic on minefield..The reason for that is the establisment from soviet union still run the country so it only look as free independent but its being eaten from inside

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