Poland is a huge country in the centre of Europe. There are 38 million inhabitants of which eight million are members of co-operatives. After the political transformation in the early 1990s, the Polish co-operative movement was considered by the new political parties as a relic of the communist era and left to be eradicated. In the years of 1990 – 2011, subsequent Polish governments and Polish MPs tried to pass harmful legal acts without any consultation with the movement.
Polish co-operatives have a 150-year-old history. The first “Co-operative Law”, which is so far considered to be the best legal act, was enacted in 1920 just after Poland gained independence. After 1945, the control over the Polish co-operative movement was passed to the government – this was of course very disadvantageous, however co-operatives flourished. Until 1989 there were about 24,000 cooperatives in Poland. Today, only 12,000 survive. The co-operative movement is in a crisis – this situation was caused by economic conditions after the transformation and unfavourable legal acts with all the amendments. Co-operatives also have a very bad reputation which needs to be changed.
In 2010 and 2011, the liberal Polish Government and the coalition party tried several times to change the co-operative law. Polish co-operators opposed to this very strongly. The National Co-operative Council, Co-operative Auditing Unions and individual members of co-operatives tried to fight these changes. On the 18th June 2011 they organized a Polish Co-operative Forum in Warsaw. This event gathered about 3,000 representatives from 15 branches of co-operatives in Poland. Dame Pauline Green, the President of ICA, and Felice Scalvini, the President of Co-operatives Europe, also attended this meeting. All the invited people, who gave their speeches during this Forum, strongly opposed to the unfavourable changes that were planned to be passed in the “Co-operative law”. Felice Scalvini and Dame Pauline Green during their stay in Warsaw met with the representatives of the Polish Government and Polish MPs. As a consequence of these meetings, Dame Pauline Green was invited to the meeting of the European Ministers of Economy held on the 21st and 22nd July in Sopot.
I should also mention, that during the ICA’s board meeting in Kuala Lumpur in May 2011, I asked for help and support from the biggest co-operative organizations in Europe and in the world. Members of co-operative organizations from 24 countries sent letters of support to the Polish Government and the Polish Parliament. They all proved to be efficacious.
When I represent the Polish co-operative movement in contacts with the Polish politicians, I use all the experience gained during my presence in the European and international co-operative structures. I believe this is a very important issue and the Polish authorities take me very seriously.
Summing up, I can surely state that the representatives of the ICA, Co-operatives Europe, members of the ICA Board and other co-operators from various international co-operative organizations had a big influence of the rejection of the “Co-operative law” in the Polish Parliament on the 30th August 2011.
In the name of the Polish co-operators, I would like to once again thank you for all your help and support.
Janusz Paszkowski, ICA board member