All posts by jgottschick

Poverty in Rural Poland

The rural-urban divide of Poland is most evident in the widespread rural poverty. While urban Poland is placed among highly developed countries, rural Poland still has not achieved this status. Rural Poland is widely known as a “second Poland.” Rural areas make up 93.2% of the country’s territory and 38.6% of its population. The low income or poverty and the social exclusion of rural Poland’s population is a big factor in the separation of rural and urban areas. Poverty in Poland is mostly recognized as rural poverty, as the extent of poverty in rural areas surpasses the respective values for urban regions.

As of 2005:

Overall Urban Rural
Living in extreme poverty 12.3% 8.2% 18.7%
Below the relative poverty line 18.1% 12.5% 27.0%
Living in poverty 18.1% 12.3% 27.3%

The groups and categories that are most at risk of poverty are children, multi-child families, families living in rural areas, and families with low level of education and unemployment of the head of the family. In Poland, many of the rural population are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, such as ex-workers of the former state farms and their families, farmers and their families, large families, and children in poverty.

The situation of extensive regional differentiation of Poland and especially of rural areas is widely acknowledged by researchers and policy makers. The Eastern regions, known as the “Eastern Wall”, belong to the poorest parts of Poland. The Northern voivodeships, such as areas where former farm-states are located, are heavily impacted by unemployment. In the People’s Republic of Poland there were over 1,600 state farms with about 500,000 workers that lived with their families – a total of about two million people. When these state farms were closed and the economy transformed in 1991-1993, about 100,000 people were left unemployed. In 2005 up to 29.9% of the residents in rural areas that neither own state farms nor have a source of income with social pensions, socials benefits, and unemployment benefits, live below the subsistence minimum in extreme poverty. Localised in rural areas, affected by long term unemployment, and with poor education of the head of the families, families in former state-farm communities bear the characteristics of Polish poverty.

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In the early 90s, 20% of the employed population worked in agriculture. By 2005, this number had decreased to 17.4% and now continues to gradually decline. In comparison to other EU countries, Poland’s productivity of agriculture is very low. This is a result of great fragmentation of agriculture, excess of labor, the low education level of farmers, and insufficient modern equipment of agricultural holdings. The share of agriculture in Poland’s GDP was only 4.1% in 2005. In the early 2000s, incompetent politicians rather than capable professionals directed the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. Politics have an extreme impact on social policy in Poland, especially on rural issues.

Today, Poland’s most severe social problem is child poverty, as it poses an important threat to the future of the country’s society. The young age of poor and/or unemployed people is one of the most relevant and characteristic traits of contemporary poverty in Poland. In 2005, children and adolescents up to the age of 19 made up over 40% of the population living in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty rate among children up to the age of 14 was about 19% that same year. It is especially difficult for children and young adults from poor families to access education. Educational barriers and low level of education completed by children from poor families easily leads to poverty, unemployment and social exclusion in adult life.

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Contemporary poverty in Poland is also directly connected with the number of children in a family, and in Poland, rural families tend to have more children than urban families. Families with four or more children are at high risk of poverty, as about 40.1% of people from such families were living in extreme poverty in 2004. Since the overall percentage of households living in poverty was 11.8%, extreme poverty in households with many children was more than three times greater than average. In 2005, extreme poverty of children from multi-child families increased to 44%.

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Child poverty is a long-term situation especially in rural areas of poverty, such as former state farm settlements, and quickly leads to long-term, chronic unemployment. Many programs have been put into action in Poland, addressing unemployed young people from both rural and urban areas. In 2002-2005 several governmental programs were implemented for occupational activation of the youth. The European Social Fund finances the active measure on the labor market, such as trainings and workshops. This financial assistance covered 340,000 people (95% of the unemployed). The EU rural development policy also considers the issue of rural unemployment, youth unemployment, and various forms of “hidden unemployment” in rural areas.

Jayalalitha Jayaram – India’s Mother and Backbone

Jayalalitha Jayaram was one of India’s most powerful politicians as well as the first female and the youngest chief minister to have been elected in the state of Tamil Nadu. She was an ambitious, relentless populist authoritarian leader who motivated her followers to take extreme but necessary measures. Jayalalitha started out as an Indian film actress and eventually became a politician and government official. She served three terms as chief minister and was the leader of the All India Dravidian Progressive Federation (AIADMK), a political party based in Tamil Nadu. Maruthur Gopala Ramachandran, with whom she made dozens of movies not only founded the AIADMK but also served as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. He introduced Jayalalitha to the political world and, to some extent, served as her mentor in both the movie industry and politics.

As the first woman opposition leader of the AIADMK, Jayalalitha made her party feel powerful, even invincible. With her charisma she drew the people of Tamil Nadu to her and won their trust and admiration. Having acquired a larger-than-life persona as a leader, she was seen as a motherly figure and called “amma” (meaning mother) by her followers. She took initiative where necessary, improving environmental conditions and focusing especially on welfare programs. She made water harvesting structures mandatory for all buildings in Tamil Nadu. She established subsidized food canteens, gave away food mixers and grinders to families and supplied thousands of students with free laptops and cycles. As the generosity of giving away food is a great cultural value in India, Jayalalitha established not only an economic bond with the people of Tamil Nadu but a cultural one, thereby obtaining her populist credentials.

An authoritarian leader, Jayalalitha ensured that her party was dependent on her alone. She even encouraged extreme displays of devotion, having her top-bureaucrats and party functionaries lie full-length at her presence and press their faces against the floor. She was said to make this a spectacle. Jayalalitha inspired an unusual passion in her followers. Throughout her time in office, her supporters would tattoo themselves with her image and chop off their own fingers to draw her portrait in blood. When she faced political setbacks, like being convicted of corruption and imprisoned in 2015, some of her followers publically lit themselves on fire. When Jayalalitha died from a cardiac arrest in 2016, Tamil Nadu declared seven days of state mourning and shut both schools and colleges for three days. Her death caused civil unrest as Tamil Nadu’s citizens began stockpiling food and gasoline or rushing away from Chennai for safety. Nearly 300 of her supporters committed suicide or, as natural causes of death are counted as expressions of allegiance in India, died of shock. Over 6,000 security personnel had to be deployed in Chennai to control her grieving followers’ vigils, riots and self harm. Jayalalitha’s follower’s dramatic displays of devotion that even continued after her death show what a strong and lasting impact she made on her country. Her death resulted in a political vacuum.

Jayalalitha was a bold leader who took extreme measures when she saw it was necessary. She won her elections by running alone instead of forming coalitions like other parties did. She used people to her advantage gain back power, like general secretary Vaiko whom she had previously imprisoned for 19 months. Unforgiving and authoritative, Jayalalitha obsessed over defeating her enemies. Critics even say that her authoritarian leadership style lacked democratic values. She challenged Tamil Nadu’s sexist, male-dominated politics that failed to restrain her rise to power. After her release from imprisonment in early January 1997, she quickly and seemingly without much effort returned to power, mainly through her welfare work. From her party she commanded respect and loyalty, and her commands were responded to with extreme expressions of dedication, as she herself remained loyal to her beliefs and intentions and led her state with confidence.