Outside looking in

Building a strong country brand opens the door to limitless possibilities in terms of business and growth potential. So how is Poland perceived abroad?

Poland has been too humble in telling its story according to Carlos E. Piñerúa, the World Bank Country Manager for Poland and Baltic states. In a recent PT Live interview, Piñerúa said, “Poland has to go out and tell the world why is it so successful. There’s a success story here to be told and it is important to let people know why Poland is where it is.” He is not the only one. Brent Watson, Managing Director at Goldman Sachs Poland has seen the country change in terms of technology and infrastructure over the last 20 years and is struck by its drive for change and innovation. “Poland has become a key source of skilled talent that global firms have recognised and invested in,” he said. “It’s been amazing to see.” These are not just individual comments which show that the world’s perception of Poland is very different from modern reality. A survey conducted in the US – a great friend of Poland with a large Polish diaspora of 10 million people – leads to exactly the same conclusion. The Harris Poll commissioned by PZU, the largest financial institution in Poland and CEE region, surveying over 2,000 US adults, showed that a majority grossly underestimates Poland’s innovation, education levels and economy.

Misconceptions

Nearly two-thirds of US adults (64%) believe that Poland’s economy is heavily based on agriculture. The facts are quite the opposite – in 2017 nearly 58% of the total number of employees in Poland worked in services, 31% in industry and only 11% in agriculture, according to European Employment Services. According to the survey from 2018, close to half of Americans (47%) think there are not a lot of job opportunities in Poland. However, Poland is actually the only European country that hasn’t experienced recession over the last decade and is outpacing the Euro region in terms of growth. Real GDP increased by 4.6% year on year in 2017, the highest result since 2011, and is set to be confirmed at around 5% for 2018. The Polish economy is now in a sweet spot with almost full employment. Regarding business services, 36% of Americans do not believe that the job market in this sector is the fastest growing area of the Polish economy. In recent years the business service sector has become one of the largest employers in the country, employing over 270,000 people. According to ABSL, the Association of Business Service Leaders in Poland, the number of employees in the Polish business services sector is expected to exceed 300,000 in early 2019.

Making the grade

The study also revealed that in terms of education, 91% of Americans do not believe Poland ranks in the top five for educational attainment, as confirmed by OECD data. And 31% of Americans believe that Poland’s population is not well-educated. The study also found that more than half of us adults (51%) do not know that us financial institutions are outsourcing jobs to Poland. Contrary to this belief, as a result of its highly-educated workforce, Poland is one of the most attractive markets for outsourcing. Today in Poland there are more than 500 foreign companies with Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Shared Services Centres (SSC) and Research and Development (R&D) hubs, including us financial institutions such as City and JP Morgan Chase plus high-tech companies like Google, Facebook or Amazon. “Building a nation brand is not an easy task but the good thing about Poland is that the success story is really here,” says Richard Stephens, Founder and Editor of Poland Today, emphasising that the company – as an English language independent media – is often approached by foreigners, both business people and journalists, who want to better understand Poland. “This shows that there is still a lack of proper communication abroad about Poland but there is an appetite for this knowledge.”

To gain some perspectives on how the rest of the world views Poland, we contacted some journalists in Europe to gauge their opinions.

Rob Savelberg is a correspondent for De Telegraaf as well as Elsevier Weekblad in Amsterdam.

Poland is perceived as the biggest and most important country in Eastern Europe. It has a dynamic, growing economy, with beautifully restored cities, good restaurants, and vivid cultural life. The Netherlands will not forget how Poland suffered in World War II and under communism. Solidarność in the 80s was the first big step toward freedom and democracy in the former Soviet bloc. But now there are serious concerns about the dangers to democracy and freedom in Poland. The attacks against independent judges and the media provoked a strong counter­reaction in Poland and Europe. Hate speech in politics – plus the state­controlled [press] and social media – brings a strong polarisation in society. The murder of the Gdańsk mayor was a tragic event that should be a wake­up call for Poland

Friedel Taube is an editor and reporter for Deutsche Welle, Germany´s international broadcaster. He is based in Berlin.

Even though Poland is our neighbour and Berlin – where I am based – is located only 80 km from the German­Polish border, our neighbours [Poland] don’t seem to have a top priority for German journalists and their news outlets. On the one hand, journalists in Germany are impressed by Poland’s economic performance throughout the last decade, but on the flip side, with the Law and Justice party coming into power in 2015, there are also rising concerns regarding racism, xenophobia and the rule of law in Poland.

Włodzimierz Wodo is a former Baltic and CEE correspondent of the Russian political and business daily, Kommersant. He currently resides in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Because of the historical past, Polish­Russian relations have always been complicated. Despite all this, companies from both countries do their business, and Polish­Russian film and song festivals are held. Most Russians consider Poles as Slavs and, for that reason, ‘almost Russians.’

Martin Ehl is the Chief Analyst of the Czech economic daily Hospodářské noviny. He also has a regular column on Central Europe for Transitions Online and is the co-editor of Visegrad Insight magazine.

The popular view is that Poland is a troublemaking neighbour who is exporting food of bad quality and the conservatives and Catholics govern the country, which is hard to comprehend. Knowledge about Poland is much lower among Czechs than general knowledge of Poles about Czechs. There are very few journalists who follow Poland closely and who have a broad idea of what is going on there.

Luca Veronese is responsible for the foreign affairs section at Il Sole 24 Ore and covers Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Albania and now Poland.

In general, Poland is perceived as a reliable country, an interesting tourist destination and a great economy with excellent relations with Italian companies. The political line of the current rightwing government – in Europe and in the management of power at home – is, however, raising some doubts about the democratic stability of Poland by the press.

Hilbrand Rozema is from Groningen, Netherlands and is an author of four volumes of Dutch poetry, as well as a journalist. He is a reporter and columnist for the Dutch daily, Nederlands Dagblad.

In the Netherlands, there is a high and mostly positive awareness of the very many Polish workers in the greenery, agro and flower bulb sectors. On the extreme populist right side of the spectrum in our parliament, Poles are sometimes painted in shrill tones by populist politicians. But on the whole, the many newcomers, several of whom are staying on for longer and have families, are welcome. There is some worry about isolation from society and Dutch language skills in these families, and it seems the parents work so much they hardly see their kids. Slowly, Poland is becoming more of an interesting and culturally rich place for a holiday or city trip destination. For example, my Dutch friends went to Gdańsk and saw the legacy of Solidarność; others went searching for ‘barnsteen’ amber, along the seashores and cycling. I also visited Białowieża Forest, and my wife Petra and I celebrated the New Year with friends in Bielsko­Biała area, in Jaworze! We walked in the Beskid Mountains and visited Wisła.
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Þórður Snær Júlíusson is the editor-in-chief of Kjarninn, a digital media company in Iceland that focuses on in-depth writing. He previously worked for Iceland´s largest daily newspapers Morgunbladid and Frettabladid.

Poland is perceived in a complex manner. It is seen as a country doing better economically in recent decades but also as a country that is taking steps backwards regarding civil liberties, and intolerance towards minorities and basic democratic practices.

Bogdan Nedea is an independent analyst based in Bucharest and a contributor for the Romanian version of Foreign Policy magazine, as well as Balkan Insight.

I am based in Romania and there is a perceived closeness towards Poland. Both countries escaped communism approximately at the same time and started their democratic path. Furthermore, the fact that both countries are essential in the defence structure of NATO in Eastern Europe, and that we have a strategic partnership, weighs heavily in the relationship between the two countries. Last but not least, the speech in Romania that Mr Tusk, President of the European Council, delivered in Bucharest on the occasion of the beginning of the Romanian presidency of the EU Council, left an important impression on both the public as well as the media.
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In 2014, Poland Today invited journalists from around the world to Warsaw to attend our ‘Poland Transformed’ conference marking the 25th anniversary of the modern market economy in Poland. In September 2019 we will once again bring international journalists here for the 30th anniversary. These are some of the journalists who participated in the original tour.

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