When global leaders convened recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a big question on the agenda was which emerging nation will be the new China.
Will it be India – whose economy has exploded? Maybe one of the Pacific Rim nations, such as South Korea, Singapore or Taiwan?
What about Poland? Don’t scoff! The much-maligned, often-invaded nation which has repeatedly been wiped off the map, is back and stubbornly booming. One reason cited is Poland’s resilience and its deep Christian faith. These are people who refuse to be destroyed. The Nazis and Soviets certainly tried.
Back during the Cold War, neighboring Hungary failed to throw out its Russian invaders in 1956. Then Czechoslovakia failed again in 1968. But it was deeply religious Poland that succeeded. A devoutly Christian Polish electrician named Lech Walesa led a grassroots revolt of workers, Solidarity, that captured the imagination of the world.
Standing stern but unyielding beside him was a humble village priest named Karol Wojtyła – better known as Pope John Paul II.
In 1980, when Soviet tanks were ready to roll to crush the Solidarity rebellion, legend has it that John Paul sent a message to the Kremlin. If Russia invaded Poland, the Pope would jet to Warsaw and march out to meet them armed only with his papal staff – with the world’s Christians looking on.
Decades before, Russian dictator Joseph Stalin had scoffed at the power of faith, asking “How many divisions of troops does the Vatican have?”
But this time, Moscow blinked. The tanks did not roll. Poland threw off its Soviet chains.
Within weeks, so did an emboldened Hungary, then Czechoslovakia. When no troops responded, captive Bulgaria, Romania and finally Albania also defied the Russians – and Moscow was powerless to do anything about it.
Within months, the rebellion had spread to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and the many captive nations within the Soviet Union itself boldly pulled out – ending 40 years of tension that history calls the Cold War. What Ronald Reagan had declared “The Evil Empire” imploded on itself.
From the Soviet ruins emerged an independent Ukraine, Belorus, Kazakstan – and all the other new nations of eastern Europe.
So, who won the Cold War? American President Ronald Reagan? British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher? Certainly they had a vital role. But it was stubborn Poland that dared to stand tall and lead the way – and they did it looking toward Heaven for guidance and assistance.
Today the world has realigned politically. America has reigned as the economic giant.
It and seven other nations with the world’s largest national economies – France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada and a newly capitalist Russia – form the Group of Eight or G8. Together their economies make up 50 percent of the globe’s Gross Domestic Product.
Hovering at the edges are Brazil, India and China. With Russia, these emerging nations are often called BRIC or sometimes BRICS when South Africa or South Korea are included. However, Foreign Affairs magazine has surprising advice from Mitchell A. Orenstein, political science chairman at Northeastern University.
He says the world had better keep an eye on Poland:
“The Polish economy,” he writes, “has grown rapidly for two decades –at more than 4 percent per year, the fastest speed in Europe – and garnered massive investment in its companies and infrastructure.
“Poland’s is now the sixth-largest economy in the European Union. Living standards more than doubled between 1989 and 2012, reaching 62 percent of the level of the prosperous countries at the core of Europe.
“All of this led the World Bank economist Marcin Piatkowski to conclude in a recent report that Poland ‘has just had probably the best twenty years in more than 1,000 years of its history.’”
In the center of Poland’s triumph is the nation’s deep faith.
“An independent kingdom for the previous 800 years, in 1795, Poland was wiped off the map of Europe and absorbed into three great neighboring powers — the Prussian, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires — a state of affairs that lasted until 1918,” writes Orenstein. “Reborn following World War I, Poland spent a few short years as a democracy before again being conquered and divided, this time by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, in 1939.”