Analysis The aeroplane crash outside of Smolensk, Russia, last month that claimed the lives of top members of Poland's leadership was a great tragedy.
Poland tragedy gives valuable lesson in emergency planning
The aeroplane crash outside of Smolensk, Russia, last month that claimed the lives of top members of Poland's leadership was a great tragedy. Not only did the Polish president Lech Kaczyski die, but also the governor of the country's central bank, the head of the National Security Bureau, the chief of the general staff, the commanders of the army, navy, air force and special forces, and the deputy foreign minister.
"Today, we lost part of our intellectual elite in a plane crash," said Lech Walesa, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who steered Poland out of communism. "It will take a long time until the wounds of our democracy are healed." The death of a leader can change history, as the Poles know all too well. In 1943, the charismatic prime minister of Poland's government in exile, Gen Wladyslaw Sikorski, died under mysterious circumstances when his plane crashed after taking off from Gibraltar.
Gen Sikorski was the mystic symbol of Polish unity under German occupation and he held great prestige in the West. Poles will always wonder whether he could have negotiated a different post-war fate for their country. But the situation is quite different today. Such a sudden vacuum of political and economic strength could throw chaos into financial markets and affect political stability. But Polish institutions have swiftly replaced the fallen economic, political and military leaders. In accordance with Polish law, the speaker of the parliament, Bronislaw Komorowski, has become the interim president and is required to hold new elections by July 4.
Officials have stepped up to replace those who died in the crash, and Poland's economy - the only one in the EU that did not contract last year - has held steady. The economic effect of this tragedy is and will be negligible, because the shape of Poland remains the same. And because a Polish president has far less power than a French or US leader, Mr Kaczyski's tragic death will not affect the basic contours of Polish policy.
Slawomir Skrzypek, the central bank governor who also died, had no experience setting monetary policy when he was appointed in 2007, although he had run Poland's largest bank. A political appointee rather than a technocrat - he was the deputy mayor of Warsaw when Mr Kaczyski was mayor - he was more a manager than a policymaker. Mr Skrzypek's replacement by his deputy, Piotr Wiesiolek, should not lead to major changes in direction, which will depend on the outcome of the next election.
An excellent barometer to the soundness of the nation's economic foundations lies in the reaction of markets to the event. Poland's currency dropped in the four days after the crash, but has since recovered those losses and stands about 2 per cent higher than it was on April 10, when the accident occurred. The Warsaw Stock Exchange Index was up 2.4 per cent last month. Mr Wiesiolek remarked recently that he saw no threat to the country from the Greek debt crisis and there was no need to renew a flexible credit line (FCL) with the IMF.
"The stance of the NBP [National Bank of Poland] management is that seeking the FCL is not justified, considering Poland's macroeconomic situation," he after the bank left its key interest rate unchanged, according to Reuters. "Poland's economy is in a very good state, has strong fundamentals and high investor confidence, confirmed by the recent appreciation trend [in the zloty] and macro indicators."
The economy has not been affected significantly because the business environment is perceived as stable. The world mourns with Poland as it recovers from this catastrophe. But just as a family or a successful business plans for its financial future, we are reminded how important it is for a nation's leaders to plan for their succession, to preserve their legacy in case the unthinkable happens. Philip Anderson is the INSEAD alumni fund chaired professor of entrepreneurship, Abu Dhabi