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Expectations Vary as Poland Celebrates EU Membership - 2004-05-01

In Poland, the largest by far of the 10 new members of the European Union, expectations about the impact of membership vary widely. Some Poles think it will open the gateway to a new and better life; others think there will be too much hardship in moving to a Western economic system. For 20-year-old Nikodam Chinowski, an economics student, the EU means a new and brighter way of life. It changes Poland from a buffer against Russia, to a country with a say in Europe's future.

"In every part of our lives it will help us," he said. "In cultural, sports, education - everything will be better. We won't be leaders but we will be an important part of Europe."

But there are other views. The transition from communism to a market system has been a shock to the Polish economy. Unemployment has gone as high as 20 percent. Even people who have jobs are in a period of uncertainty as the economy restructures. Twenty seven-year-old Karolina Herrera works in the hotel business. Several years ago returned to Poland after completing her education in the United States. For her the EU and the economic transition is worrying.

"Actually I'm terrified, to be honest with you as a young person," she said. "Because I don't see the options really being so open for everybody, for every single group, for society. It's not a major good for everybody. It's divided still for the groups and some of the people will benefit from it, but then again, a majority of different classes of people will definitely have their heart aches over it."

There is yet another perspective from a 65-year-old Polish physics professor. Wlodzimierz Zawadzki has traveled to and from the West many times. He says people may be expecting too much from the EU, but in any case joining Europe remains a historic moment for Poland.

"I am very much against some feelings in Poland, how much we can get out of western Europe," said Wlodzimierz Zawadzki. "I believe we should simply be a part of it because our values are the same as the west European values and we should simply appreciate that we are now becoming a part of that world."

No matter what the view, everybody here agrees that Poland is making a big change and the results will not come quickly. Only time will reveal its true place in history.