How is migration away from Poland impacting on its music scene and the nation’s economy?
Concert promoters and club-owners in Poland have a fight to stay open on their hands. With hundreds of thousands of young Poles heading to western Europe, there is suddenly a shortage of audiences – as well as bands and DJs!
Since 2004, Polish migrants have been able to migrate freely to countries like the UK and Ireland. While this brings economic benefits for the migrants themselves, is it beginning to impact negatively on Poland’s economy and society?
Why are young Poles migrating?
Why is the UK a popular destination for “musical migrants”?
What has the impact on Poland been?
As we reported in our 2005 feature World War Who, a number of Eastern European countries recently became members of the European Union (EU). Poland, the largest of these new nations, is home to 38 million people, nearly one million of whom are thought to have left since May 2004, when EU enlargement took place.
For young Polish people, this has brought an opportunity to find better-paid work or to pursue artistic ambitions elsewhere. Unemployment is officially at 15% and the average annual wage is only around £3,000, or around twice this when adjusted to show purchasing power parity (a measure of income that also takes into account the price of local goods). In comparison, employment in the UK can pay five times more. It is therefore clear to see how economic push and pull factors have played a part in the mass migration.
Sometimes social motives have been important too, as young men and women have followed their partners overseas. And cultural push and pull factors operate too. Young Poles who are keen to play in rock bands head to the UK to join its music scene, leaving behind an environment that many feel was “behind the times” musically.
Migration is a process that can be explained through reference to push and pull factors. However, it is a process that always takes place in a political context. Just because a migrant may feel attracted to somewhere is no guarantee that the movement can take place. What kind of immigration laws exist that might hold back potential migrants?
Until 2004, strict immigration laws served as an intervening obstacle for young Poles wishing to migrate to the UK to get better pay or to participate in its music scene. As a result, numbers of migrants were very low. Now that the law has changed – due to the political factor of EU enlargement - the volume of migrants has changed dramatically. In fact, the 600,000 Poles who have recently entered the UK represents a figure around twenty times higher than the original British government estimate!
Intervening opportunities are the attractions of alternative destinations that deflect migrants from their original goal. For instance, a Polish migrant heading for Ireland might travel via London. Finding conditions in the UK attractive and perceiving work to be readily available, the migrant may then fail to complete the originally-planned journey to Ireland.
The UK is a global hub for rock music. This is partly due to the English language’s long-term dominance of the genre. English-speaking UK bands (both classic acts like the Beatles and Queen as well as newer bands like Arctic Monkeys and Coldplay) are widely listened to by non-English-speaking people. Well-established UK music festivals like Glastonbury are global in their appeal.
Just as aspiring actors all around the world sometimes make their way to Hollywood, the UK – and London in particular – is an attractive destination for young migrants who have set their hearts on making a living out of music.
Growing up under the austerity of Communist rule and its aftermath, young Poles sometimes see their homeland as unfashionable and behind-the-times. This cultural push factor combines with the pull factor of London’s “bright lights” – and loud music! – to produce a powerful mechanism for the migration of young rock fans.
Another important factor to note is that the purchasing power of music fans in the UK is much greater than in Poland. Bands who make a living out of touring and through sales of t-shirts and CDs find that it is easier to make a sustainable living in richer EU nations. Young people in the UK have higher wages or allowances and can spend more on leisure and entertainment, including music.
As a richer nation, the UK also has far more well-equipped music-recording and rehearsal facilities that bands can use.
According to the Financial Times (30 January 2007), the impact on the music scene in Poland has been very damaging. In Warsaw and Lublin (north-east Poland), bands are struggling to find audiences. One singer explains that migration has “really killed the night life here, man. It used to kick ass but now it’s dead. All you have to do is go to London and you can see everyone there. It’s sad, dude.”
More generally, mass migration out of Poland has had a number of economic impacts on the nation as a whole:
Labour shortages in some sectors – notably the construction industry – now make it harder for new development projects to take place in Poland.
Loss of key workers such as nurses, doctors and computer programmers has meant that pay-checks are not being spent locally, causing profits to fall for many shops and services. This is known as a negative multiplier effect.
However, it may be that some migrant workers repatriate wages (send the money back home) and that more families are better-off as a result.
It is also far from clear yet whether the migration has been permanent or temporary. Perhaps people will return home when they have earned enough money, or if wages in Poland begin to rise as a result of EU membership (companies like Tesco are now able to invest in Polish farms as well as building stores there – both of which are generating new employment).
In addition, there are demographic impacts to consider: a 20% decline in total population numbers is expected by 2050 according to the UN (The Daily Telegraph, 15 March 2007), while the dependency ratio is increasing as the proportion of working people resident in Poland declines even further.
Using examples, describe and explain how international out-migration can effect the economy and society of sending nations. (6 marks)
For full marks, a response should give equal weighting to economic and social effects. In addition, there will be recognition that there are likely to be positive and economic impacts in both cases. Good supporting details will also be provided, as in the following response that gains all 6 marks:
International migration can have both positive and negative effects. Turning firstly to the economics, there is often a loss of key workers like doctors which has a knock on effect on other areas of the economy like retailing as less money will be in circulation. This can cause a negative multiplier effect and result in rising unemployment. In Poland, a million workers have left since it joined the EU in 2004 and many clubs and bars are struggling due to the lack of young customers. However, some migrants may repatriate their wages which is positive. Socially, the loss of young people (18-35) may impact negatively on education – if numbers fall, university courses might have to close. Artistic and cultural scenes could suffer if talented people migrate elsewhere – this has happened in Poland where many of its musicians have moved to London. However, migrants may return later with new ideas and skills that they have learned while abroad - which could have long-term positive effects for Polish arts and education.
This article is written by Dr Simon Oakes, a Principal Examiner in A-level geography.
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