Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 26
3 July 2000
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Polish cities After the Reform
The effects of administrative change on Poland's cities
Wojtek Kość

It has been a year and a half now since the then coalition government of the newly assembled right-wing Electoral Action Solidarity and its more centrist ally, Freedom Union, introduced four extensive state reforms. These reforms encompassed a complete change in the financing of health care, the introduction of new pension and education systems, and - last but not least - enforcing new administrative divisions of Poland.

"Enforcing" is a good word to describe the way in which the administrative reform was introduced, with all the political games that took place throughout its preparation and implementation. In short, the new administrative system did away with Poland's old administration system, which divided the country into 49 voivod-ships, and those, in turn into several hundred gminy (communities). Since 1999, there have been only 16 huge voivod-ships and a powiat, that is to say that a new step in the administrative ladder has been added between gminy and voivod-ships.

Winners and losers

Very many smaller towns eagerly awaited the reform, as they expected their status to be raised to a rank of a powiat town, which, according to the reform's assumptions, were to be a key element in the new administration, providing people with previously absent bureaucratic services. However, the question of which of the 49 voivod-ship cities are to be deprived of their status, became the subject of a heated debate as not all of them were ready to give up this prestigious and lucrative position.

Lobbyists forced the government, however, to expand the number of new voivod-ships from the initial 12 to 16. However, that was the highest figure that could be allowed, as any more would have clashed with the main assumption of the whole reform: to create big regions that were financially strong enough to become independent economic entities (of course, within the limits of the state).

The new cities with voivod-ship status are: Białystok, Warsaw, Szczecin, Gdańsk, Lublin, Kraków, Rzeszów, Katowice, Opole, Łódź, Kielce, Olsztyn, Wrocław, Poznań, Gorzów Wielkopolski and Zielona Góra, Bydgoszcz and Toruń (the last two pairs are joint capitals of a voivod-ship - as a result of unsolvable rows and the high ambitions of local politicians). The rest - 33 cities and towns - form a downgraded group of former voivod-ship centers, reduced now to powiat status.

Such downgrading meant, for example, that Kalisz became equal overnight to its local neighbor, and rival, Ostrów Wielkopolski. The inhabitants of the former, as would be expected, were not at all happy at this result. A more vivid example of the injustices done to former voivod-ship cities is Czéstochowa, a city of over 250,000 people with strong tourism and an industrial center, which now only enjoys powiat status.

Consolation prizes

In order to placate those city authorities that have been downgraded,the government undertook a special program to assure them money for their future development. The news of this program was welcomed with enthusiasm by the former voivod-ship cities, which needed something to make up for the loss of their privileged position that once drew investors' money to them.

In the new situation, with investors now changing their business routes to new voivod-ship centers, the words of Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek that every downgraded city would conduct - with the help of the program's money - its own, unique, development projects sounded very promising.

However, the government program,
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named Dialogue and Development, has been a flop. Government resources for the program were a mere PLZ 3.1 million (about USD 720,000). Moreover, this money was to be divided equally between each city in question, resulting in only USD 20,000 being given to each city. In other words, nothing. "With this money, the government can kiss my..." said one of the presidents of the would-be participants in Dialogue and Development angrily.

Even though the sum later grew to USD 30,000 as some cities withdrew from the program and others' development projects were rejected, it became apparent that the program was totally insufficient.

Unrealistic expectations

Besides, it turned out that the phrase "development project" was interpreted unrealistically in many of the former voivod-ship cities. Clearly some did not know about the very limited government resources on offer when they demanded millions of dollars for projects that raised doubts about whether they were genuine attempts at upgrading the cities or blatant opportunism: one of the cities wanted to build an airport, while another came up with the idea of a "European Integration and Education Center" which was to spread the good news about the European Union among the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Such approaches only showed that many of these authorities simply did not know what was best for their own cities: they preferred glamorous yet unrealistic undertakings. This was a short-sighted policy, especially when in a few years time, these same cities will be competing for millions of euros from the EU's structural funds. The EU will be interested only in realisable projects that will be carried out by competent people not by schemes put forward by dreamers.

A recent report about the situation of the former
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voivod-ship cities, prepared by the Governmental Center for Strategic Studies, concluded that some negative effects of downgrading are already visible. Companies are showing less interest in investing in these areas and are starting to move to the new voivod-ship capitals, prices of real estate are going down, many educated people are leaving and unemployment is on the rise.

The problem with the former voivod-ship cities is two-fold: the government, despite announcing Dialogue and Development with gusto, did not live up to expectations. City authorities, on the other hand, have to stop depending on the helping hand of Warsaw, as it cannot be the only means of future development. After all, these reforms were not introduced solely to change the administrative map of Poland but first and foremost to encourage local initiative.

Wojtek Kość, 3 July 2000

Moving on:


Wolfgang Deckers
Twin Souls,
Two Realities

Fatmir Zajmi
Defending NATO

Mel Huang
Done Deal

Focus: Cities
Wojtek Kość
After the Reform

Sam Vaknin
Time in a Bottle

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
More Than Salami

Brian J Požun
Second to One

and Analysis:

Oliver Craske
of the East

Židas Daskalovski
A New Kosovo

Jan Čulík
Mafioso Capitalism

Sam Vaknin
The Political Economy of
Post-Soviet Russia

Diane Strickland
Traveling Angels

Culture Calendar:


Mixed Nuts