Facebook Twitter

Polish economy - and crime rate - soar

SHARE Polish economy - and crime rate - soar

Two weeks ago, Malgorzita Huniewicz, a 47-year-old journalist, was beaten to death in her Warsaw apartment after she awoke to find intruders on her balcony.

Her assailants, arrested a short time later, were 17, 18 and 20.In January, Poles were shocked when two 14-year-old girls in Wroclaw stabbed another girl 60 times until she died. The next day, they walked into a local police station and admitted their crime.

"They couldn't say why they had done it," a local newspaper reported. "They just said they didn't like the other girl."

A juvenile court judge ordered the girls committed to a correctional center until they turn 21.

Poland's economy is booming, but so is its crime rate.

Eight years after the collapse of communism, automakers and fast-food chains from around the world are rushing to get their share of the nation's 6 percent annual growth. Late-model BMWs and Jeep Cherokees, their drivers conversing on mobile phones, jam the broad boulevards of this grimy city as construction cranes build new office buildings for the likes of Daewoo, the Korean car and electronics giant, and ING, the Dutch bank.

But with growing prosperity has come a disturbing increase in crime of all kinds. Although crime rates are nowhere as high as those in Russia or even parts of the United States, they're enough to worry Poles and the Polish government.

Pointing to a series of bar charts, Beata Gruszczyndska, a senior researcher at Poland's Justice Institute, shows how reported crimes jumped in 1990, a year after the fall of communism, and have stayed at that high level. "Suddenly, there was a tremendous amount of money on the market," she said. "For those who couldn't earn the money legitimately, an alternative quickly emerged: It's there, so grab it."

The number of homicides doubled from 556 in 1989 to 1,160 in 1994, but the homicide rate, which hovers at three for every 100,000 people is still far lower than in the U.S., where it's 8.2 per 100,000. There has also been a big increase in car thefts, break-ins and other property crimes in Poland.

There's no better proof of the epidemic of car theft than the constant electronic wailing heard in Warsaw as car alarms go off.

Drivers of even a basic Polonez, a locally built subcompact, typically own a car alarm, an immobilizer and a metal club that they lock onto the steering wheel. And it has become second nature to remove the car radio whenever one parks and to make sure the car is left in a guarded parking lot.

Dist. by Scripps Howard News Service.