Depending on where you look, the people you meet, or the newspapers that you read, right now, Poland is:

A. A country characterised by sustained growth, low inflation, negligible public debt, below average unemployment, an unequalled spirit of enterprise, and a remarkable young generation. A country that is the safest of safe bets, well-established in NATO and the European Union, and well respected in international affairs.

Alternatively, you may also be treated to the contrary view, which claims:

B. That Poland, which has been rocked by the crisis, demoralised, humiliated and oppressed by its European Union partners, and run by a clique of exceptionally inept traitors sent by Moscow, is now on the edge of a precipice. In other words, it is a territory marked by vast zones of poverty and despair, where young people have absolutely no hope of obtaining a decent job for a decent wage.

If, in the wake of 9 October elections, the Civic Platform (PO) remains in power, and if Donald Tusk holds on to his job as prime minister, his government will attempt to ensure the continued dominance of the first of these perceptions of Polish society (Perception A) — not an easy task when you consider the imminence of the second wave of the crisis.

If, on the contrary, the elections are won by the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), Jarosław Kaczyński will have no option but to present himself as a great saviour, who is ready to rebuild long-suffering Poland (as defined by Perception B). His supporters will be expecting him to provide work for those without jobs, save small businesses threatened by large supermarkets, and protect small farmers from the dangers of hail storms and other types of foul weather. With a few waves of his magic wand, it has been assumed that he will cover the country with a network of motorways, and make trains run on time and hospital queues disappear.

Anger of newly awakened voters

Of course, Poland is neither ruined nor thriving, but it is a profoundly divided country. In saying this, I am not referring to the so-called division between "free Poles" and "traitors," touted by the radical partisans of the PiS, or the supposed cleavage between "Europeans" and "reactionaries" that has been deplored by the supporters of the Civic Platform and the left-wing media.

No, the main divide in the country today is between those that are fast asleep and those that are awake to the dangers that Poland now faces. The former has an absolute faith in the outlook for the country presented by the PO, which in substance tells us that all is well, and that we have absolutely nothing to fear under the leadership of Donald Tusk, who will guide us through the crisis like some latterday Moses. Until now, this lullaby has proved to be extremely effective on our countrymen, who, delighted by an orgy of consumption that has brought them holidays in Egypt along with brand new plasma screens and portable computers, have succumbed to the mesmeric charm of a bouncing beach ball emblazoned with the EU logo, before falling asleep on both ears.

However, Tusk’s hypnotic charms are beginning to lose their power, and growing numbers of the "fast asleep" are now beginning to join the ranks of the “wide awake” — and launch furious calls for a revolutionary change that would consign the Civic Platform to the dustbin of history.

However, the anger of these newly awakened voters can also be likened to a form of hypnosis, because there is simply no way that we can be certain about the outlook for the country at the end of 2011 AD. The last three years of economic turbulence may turn out to be the prelude to a fast approaching great depression. And if it strikes, Prime Minister Tusk (assuming that he holds onto his job) will not have time to wipe away the tears of a nation of desperate women. Alternatively, his rival Kaczyński (if he becomes prime minister) will immediately be overwhelmed by hordes of enraged farmers.

Colossus with feet of clay

Over the last seven years, Poland’s economic growth has largely been driven by European funding. But in the future, this inflow is set to diminish. New countries are queuing up for European funds: Croatia, perhaps soon to be followed by Serbia, which, in another few years, could be joined by Ukraine. So we will have to share in Europe’s largesse, especially in the context of a community purse that will not be as generous as it used to be.

Thanks to the billions from the EU, we have made a huge leap forward, but we are still not ready to do without this intravenous funding source. According to the World Bank, Poland has had an average economic growth of 3.9% per annum over the last decade. But this impressive figure has also served to hide other problems.

As a member of the European Union, with a vast industrial base (partly inherited from the socialist era) and a relatively inexpensive labour market, Poland should be a champion exporter. However, the share represented by exports in Polish GDP has fallen steadily since 2008. As for foreign investment per capita, we are now well behind the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Slovaks and the Slovenians. As it stands, ours is probably the only country in the world to have spent two decades "removing barriers to entrepreneurship," without enjoying much in the way of positive consequences.

A barren generation

At the same time, the greatest challenge for Poland is the threat posed by demographic collapse. In the first six months of 2011, the rate of demographic growth was negative for the first time in six years: in a context where this figure has remained below 1.4% for several years running. According to UN forecasts, in 2035 the Polish population will to shrink to 34 million, and the question that this prediction raises is more than just the issue of who will pay our pensions.

The paradox is that the more modern our society becomes, the more it is exposed to serious risks. Traditional schooling has been replaced by a system to produce successful exam candidates, books have been replaced by television, husbands and wives have been replaced by "companions" and "significant others."

We are the architects of a selfish society of uneducated and uncreative people, with very little in the way of opinions, who are reluctant to reproduce themselves, but eager to demand guarantees of a just future from a state, in which they have no desire to participate, because they are too busy with Nordic walking, fitness and other such activities.

The sooner our political elites become aware of this, the better it will be for everyone. That said, there is no guarantee that any attempt will be made to call a halt to these trends. It could be that future governments will simply be content to adapt to them rather than to stop them.