British Studies Web Pages



Reforms in Polish Government
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 you.

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
  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
Vocabulary Development 

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

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.