Why is Poland richer than Russia

Why there are no oligarchs in Poland

Compared to the Russian money nobility, the Polish elite looks downright puny. There were some promising candidates in the early 1990s.

Warsaw / La. Tadeusz Likus has a mission: to bring good taste to Poland. What began in the early 1990s with the sale of cigars and wine has grown into a small lifestyle empire over the years, the culmination of which is the Warsaw luxury department store “Wolf Bracka” (see picture on the left). And Likus is also the best proof that good money can be made with luxury. The news magazine “Wprost”, which annually ranks the richest Poles, placed Likus in 26th place in 2012 with private assets of one billion złoty (around 200 million euros). As in previous years, the hit parade of millionaires was led by the investor Jan Kulczyk, whose fortune is estimated at 9.7 billion zlotys.

One thing stands out apart from all these number games: Compared to the Russian money nobility, the Polish elite looks downright puny. The US magazine “Forbes” places Alisher Usmanov, the richest Russian, in 28th place in its global ranking - his fortune is estimated at around 15 billion euros. And Russia's number 26, a building materials magnate named Filaret Galtschew, is even significantly richer than Poland's number one, Kulczyk.


No oversized egos

The fact that Poland has not achieved any oligarchs in its almost 25-year history of the free market economy went unnoticed for a long time and has only recently been the subject of consideration. Daniel Passent, the columnist for the liberal Warsaw weekly “Polityka”, who is known for his bonmots, presents the facts as follows: “As far as the separation of church and state is concerned, we have failed all along the line. On the other hand, we were spectacularly successful in separating the state and companies. "

Opinions differ about the reasons for this success. Ruchir Sharma, author of the bestseller “Breakout Nations” dedicated to the emerging markets, points out a sequence of oversized egos in connection with Russia - from Gorbachev to Yeltsin to Putin - that fit into the pattern of the Russian cult of strong personality - and this one Unlike in Poland, there is cult also in the economy.

Although this thesis cannot be upheld, one takes Poland's wild 1990s into account. One of the high-flyers of this era was the Polish-Canadian millionaire Stanisław Tymiński, who wanted to succeed in politics (similarities with Austro-Canadian millionaires are purely coincidental and not intended) and in the 1990 presidential election campaign, he jumped to a remarkable 23 percent of the vote - only Lech Wałęsa was more popular with voters at the time.

Or Bogusław Bagsik and Andrzej Gąsiorowski, the founders of the Art-B investment company, who became rich and famous with their invention of the so-called “economic oscillator”. With this miraculous increase in money, it was roughly simplified to take advantage of inadequate communication among the bank branches and to invest the same amount of money several times. When the fraud surfaced in 1991, the two short-term oligarchs fled to Israel.


Different legal culture

The Art-B affair, however, provides a partial answer to the question asked at the beginning: unlike in Russia, the judiciary and the executive branch in Poland had a bite again just a few years after the dismantling of the Eastern Bloc. "In Poland it was not possible to accumulate capital as rapidly as it was in Russia," says Zygmunt Berdychowski, the organizer of the Krynica Economic Forum, which is known as the "Davos of the East". Accumulation in Russia was easier due to the natural resources than in Poland, which is poor in raw materials. But the EU probably played the most important role as a stabilizer - in order to join Poland had to become a constitutional state. And that was also successful: “We now have a completely different legal culture than in Russia,” emphasizes Daniel Passent.

("Die Presse", print edition, 23.08.2012)