Until his retirement Lechos³aw
Tomowiak was vice-mayor of the town of Leszno,
a position he held for four years. During his time in office he was
responsible, among other things, for local primary schools, sport and recreation
and citizen registration. Despite his retirement Lechos³aw is still a very
busy man maintaining an active interest in local government and sitting
on a number of committees. We asked Lechos³aw about some of the changes
that are taking place in Poland now.
Before you read
Before you read what he had to say in answer to our questions, note
down what you know about local government reforms and how they might affect
Can you tell us a little about the reforms in local government?
Local government actually operates at three levels. The smallest “gmina”
is more or less at the level of village or small town administration. The
next level, “powiat”, is a bit broader with wider responsibilities, say
for a large town or city. The biggest level of local government though
is the “województwo”. I suppose this could be seen as being roughly
equivalent to your British counties. Sweeping changes are either planned
or already under way at all three levels and the whole system of funding
and responsibilities is being changed. All areas will be affected, ranging
from housing to public parks and recreation facilities, from public safety
to public utilities…..
What sort of timescale has been allowed for the reforms?
Well you know, the first discussions about the need for reform date
back some years. At least the last three governments have talked of the
need for change but not much has happened until now. When the present government
was elected they immediately declared that their top priority was to bring
about change and reform……But how to bring about change has really
been the most problematic issue.
Problematic in what ways?
Well it’s important that the people are kept informed of what’s happening
and what’s changing, what the timescale for change is and so on….but somehow
I think things have happened so quickly that there is still a lot of confusion
about the ‘new look’ Poland…Public information brochures and other literature
has been made available, but I have a feeling that many people are still
not fully informed about what the reforms will mean for them. Because the
responsibilities of various offices have been changed, we have a situation
now where people don’t really know who is responsible for what yet and
this inevitably creates confusion….. I think this is a bit worrying…
So what does ‘the person in the street’ think about the changes?
Ah! That depends very much on their political views….those who voted
for the present government think all the changes are wonderful, and those
who didn’t think the changes are disastrous! Poland is no different from
any other country here….people will always argue and debate politics…it’s
human nature! I think though, that there are very few people who
would argue that changes of some sort aren’t needed….what people will continue
to debate is the shape of change.
What lies behind the need for change? Is it EU accession or is it
a more internal need?
It’s a combination of both. As I said before, most Poles recognise
that things must change and develop, that is inevitable for all countries
not just Poland. We have to keep pace with a modern world. Basically reform
is with us, it’s now and it can’t be stopped! I think the whole issue of
how long it will take to evolve good, effective and efficient new
systems is a more pressing question. I can’t help feeling a bit worried
that we might be trying to achieve too much, too quickly…..
So you’re not altogether optimistic?
Let me tell you something about our Polish mentality…the harder we
have to work for something, the better we work! That’s the Polish spirit,
you can see it in action time and again in our history. So, at the end
of the day I am optimistic about the future. Back in 1989 we had to grit
our teeth as a nation, the financial reforms at that time were very, very
problematic for our country, very hard for the people. But we worked through
our problems then, and we’ll work through them now. It might not always
be easy to look ahead, but I’m convinced that what’s happening now
will eventually lead to a brighter, better future for Poland.
Tasks and questions for discussion
Lechos³aw briefly explains the terms “gmina”, “powiat” and “województwo”.
How would you develop his explanations to make them absolutely clear to
somebody from a different country?
Do you agree that some people are confused about how the changes and reforms
will affect them? Lechos³aw says “I can’t help feeling a bit worried that
we might be trying to achieve too much, too quickly”. Do you think
he’s right or not? Why? Why not? Refer back to the notes you made before
reading the interview. What changes do you think are most important for
the government to make? What advice would you give to the politicians about
the views of the people?
Lechos³aw talks about 'the Polish mentality'. Do you agree with his comments
about the Polish spirit? Do you think it is possible to talk about
“national characteristics”? What other national characteristics are said
to apply to Poles? What evidence is there to support them or are they just
instances of stereotyping?
The words or phrases below can all be found in the text:
sweeping - timescale - top priority - debate
to keep pace - the
person in the street - to grit [one’s] teeth
Locate the items in the text and then match them to the definitions
and explanations below.
a. to keep up with something
b. the most important goal
c. to work very hard to overcome a difficult problem
d. to discuss something very seriously, sometimes heatedly
e. very broad or wide-ranging
f. a period of time
g. an ordinary person