After reading the book, I talked to my neighbor Pan Zdzisław, who has hunted for 20 years, about the life of hunters in the area, and he started complaining. “Not much hunting going on these days. I used to get thirty boars in the summer months nine or ten years ago but now I can barely get ten, if I try hard enough. And my dog died a while ago, so it will be hard to do anything with a new dog this summer…”
Since hunting is such a popular national pastime, the government imposes quotas for hunters. That is, even if you have a hunting weapon, you can’t hunt as you like—you need a special permit and membership in the hunters’ association.
The most hunted animal in Poland is the wild boar. However, my neighbor may complain that there are too few animals to hunt, the number of quotas imposed by the state has in fact been raised in recent years, because the number of wild boars in the country is growing at an incredible rate.
It may look like an Eastern European paradise from a distance, but one wouldn’t say that the population of Poland enjoys a high level of wellbeing.
Some citizens argue this is because the country is “dependent” on EU laws and claim that Poland would have a better economy outside the European Union. Just as many Azerbaijanis, especially in recent years, have taken refuge in Poland in the hope of making more money, many Poles go to other European countries or the United States for the same purpose. More than 2 million Poles live in the United States. Joining the US Visa Waiver Program a few months ago will make migration even easier. So, one of the biggest problems the country will face in the future, in addition to the natural population decline, may be migration, because it seems that the current government’s demographic policy is not working very well. There are already more Ukrainians than Poles in some regions. In the region where I live, Ukrainians are a majority, because it borders with the Czech Republic and Germany, so they work in the border countries and live in Poland, where life is cheaper in comparison—that is, of course, if you live on a German salary.
Once the current government came to power, it launched the “Family 500+” program. The program aims to stimulate population growth. Although the plan is to provide financial support to families with children, the underlying cause is well known. Since the previous government was stealing money from the budget, now the idea is to stay in people’s good graces by offering them money instead. When you have a child, the state pays you 500 złotys a month until the child reaches a certain age (€112 at the current exchange rate), and 300 złotys (about €67) for school supplies when the child reaches school age.
While this law does not look particularly appealing to people living in large cities, it’s a godsend for people living in rural areas. When asked, “Do you ever think of starting a business?” in a TV program, a man who receives 11,000 złotys a month for his children have a half-joking, half-serious answer, “My business is in my pants”, sparkling quite a discussion in the country. Another point of contention is that some of the country’s poor people have children and receive financial support from the state, but don’t take care of the children and spend the money on alcohol instead. In my opinion, alcohol is the Poles’ weakest spot—when it comes to drinking, they could even give the Russians a run for their money. (If you want to know the scale of the problem, watch the program “Świat według Kiepskich – Pojedynek”.)
Another interesting aspect of demographic planning in Poland is related to the Roma. Romani people, who are a minority in the country, use this perfect opportunity to milk the state for all it’s worth. They have many children, live at their expense and have fun. Locals say that in most people who passed through Romani neighborhoods could easily be mugged, but this has not been the case recently. This is due to the strict laws enforced in the country, as well as the government programs to improve their wellbeing.
Oddly enough, the Poles, self-satisfied, extremely religious and a little chauvinistic as they are, are pretty careless people. And people are careless because they do not understand what they see with their own eyes. This is especially true for the religious elderly population. Unfortunately, religion and the church have serious authority in the country. It is for this reason that abortion is illegal in the country, which is one of the main points of contention between conservatives and progressives. Despite many protests, the state has dug its heels in and continues to follow religion. The religious bias sometimes reaches such an extent that when they saw that my passport was green in a government agency I went to for registration, they asked me what religion I practiced. I have witnessed the Polish chauvinism several times. One of the most poignant incidents was when I was walking with a dark-haired, swarthy Spanish friend of mine, a 12-year-old blond Polish boy pointed at him and laughed, “Gypsy, gypsy!”. Another one was when we were speaking English at the train station, and a woman shouted at us, “Speak Polish in my country!”
Geography textbooks in Azerbaijan usually refer to Poland as a “coal country”. However, as coal mining is not carried out in accordance with the European Union standards and is environmentally harmful, coal in Poland is now just mostly lying underground. Trying to comply with EU rules, the country still has its hands full with fines. This creates serious problems for the country in terms of energy security. 80% of the country’s energy resources and 50% of electricity depend on coal. Although EU countries have been trying to reduce their coal consumption in recent years, Poland seems to be struggling with it. Many coal mines were shut down in the 1990s, but the lives of many people still depend on coal. And another thing: 101 out of 460 members of the Polish parliament are elected from the regions of Lower and Upper Silesia and Opole, where the country’s coal mines are located. Another issue Poles complain the most about is the high cost of motor fuel. Many fill their gas tanks to the brim now, taking advantage of the gas prices that have dropped because of the dropping oil prices.
Energy is not the country’s only problem. Although Central Europe (southern Poland is part of the Central European region), a toponym we often hear in the news, regularly falls victim to floods, climate experts warn Poland about drought. If water resources are not managed properly, the country will inevitably face a serious problem within a few decades. True, when you come here as a tourist, you see mineral water gushing from the fountains in the center of every big city and small town, and hear Poles bragging about their “unique water”, but vast areas of the country are slowly turning into steppes, that is, expanses of nothing but dry grass. This poses a serious threat for the country’s agriculture. Poland’s per capita water reserves are 3,000 m3 less than in the EU. Because rainwater is not harvested and reused in the country, either river water or drinking water supplies are used in agriculture. While there are already speculations that the shortages of water will lead to serious conflicts between countries in the future, we can already witness the first examples of this problem in Poland. Residents of Podkowa Leśna, a small town near Warsaw, are locked in a dispute with their neighbors in nearby Żółwin, claiming that the latter used too much water from a common source to water their gardens.
Uneven distribution of precipitation also creates problems in different parts of the country. While a sharp increase in rainfall in the south of the country causes flooding, the extreme drought in the central and eastern regions causes fires. The consequences of the recent fire in Biebrza National Park in the northeast have yet to be eliminated. Although officially the fire was caused by the burning of dry grass by one of the villagers, the heat and the extreme dryness of the area, as well as the lack of precipitation, do not help the firefighters. This means the death of many species of animals and migratory birds returning to the country as the summer draws nearer. So, the hunters in the north-east of the country will not be very lucky this summer.