HOW THE POLISH COMBINE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE ON THE INTERNET
by Greg Bigelow
After examining many World Wide Web (WWW) pages being distributed from servers in Poland (domains ending `pl'), I was amazed at the breadth and quality of information that was available. Currently the United States is overflowing with content-lacking Web pages; you must sort through 90% junk to find something interesting. So it was a refreshing change to find a country where this is not the case.
The content of Polish Web pages reflects a general attitude or national identity (if we can judge one based on what they provide on their computer networks). From what I've seen, the Poles integrate nicely past, present, and future. A good number of pages focus on providing the visitor with historical information, while a significant number are serving to address current topics or problems. A third group of pages are outlining plans for the future, specifically plans involving technology and its applications. I will review pages from each category and comment on how they reflect a national identity.
My historical journey to Poland starts in Cracow, the fourth largest industrial center in Poland but also a city of great historical significance to the Polish people. Archeological digs on Wawel Hill have uncovered evidence that the area was settled during the Stone Ages. Today Wawel Hill is the site of a castle and cathedral but its recorded history begins approximately 1000 years ago. On the Cyfronet Krakow site (http://www.cyf- kr.edu.pl/krakow/krakow.html) this history is well documented, complete with photographs, in their History section.
Through a series of kings and rulers Cracow became, in 1368, the capital of Poland and the Jagiellonian epoch began. During this time the city flourished and distinguished citizens and artisans from other parts of Europe flocked to Cracow. But Warsaw became the capital of Poland in the late 16th century and therefore diminished Cracow's administrative role in the country. During the 18th and 19th centuries Cracow changed hands between several different monarchies. Though the city was not always controlled by Warsaw it did not forgot its Polish heritage and it miraculously escaped destruction in World War II. Today Cracow is a center for culture and industry that is rapidly expanding.
I chose the example of Cracow because it is not the largest city in Poland, it is not the capital, yet there is a well presented section on the history of the city. There are multiple reasons for making such information available. First, as more and more students are using computers to access information (see later section on Poland's plans regarding this), placing historical information on the Internet is an alternate way of teaching. Polish students that may be bored with history in class suddenly find it much more interesting when read from their computer.
Besides educating Poles on their own history, Cyfronet Cracow is providing a valuable resource for potential travelers. I think that most people would rather visit a city knowing something of what distinguishes it from the many other cities of the world. So by providing historical information about Cracow on the web, the city is attracting tourists not just from Poland, but also from Europe and the rest of the world.
The major cities of Poland are all represented on the Cities in Poland page (http://info.fuw.edu.pl/pl/Miasta.html). After exploring the links here I discovered that Gdansk
(http://panda.bg.univ.gda.pl/oceanografia/gdansk/gdansk.html) is about to celebrate its millennium. The Katowice site (http://www.ae.katowice.pl/katowice/katowice.html) has so much historical information that you must choose one of eight links on a timeline to narrow down the results. But historical information is not by far the only type available in the pl domain.
The most striking example of how the Poles are merging Internet technology and present day life is the Presidential Vote, Poland '95 page (http://bull.mimuw.edu.pl/cgi-bin/vote). On this page is listed the seventeen presidential candidates for 1995. Each candidate's name is a link to a picture of that candidate. Also, next to each name is a check box. To `vote', you check the candidate you want then click the Vote button. On the next page (http://bull.mimuw.edu.pl/local/wybory/wyniki_przedbiegow.no_pl.html) the Internet Elections current results are posted. Obviously this vote is not binding, but it gives an idea of what people (at least those with access to computers) think. Results are tallied for national and international domains, apparently current president Lech Walesa is not doing well in either - but foreigners do like him twice as much as Poles do.
Another source for information on the upcoming election is the Election '95 page (http://www.it.com.pl/wybory95/). Though you can not vote, there is an extensive section describing each candidate and their platform. Also, results from a non-Internet poll are posted (http://www.dij.krakow.pl/wybory/kalend.htm). This poll places Lech Walesa in second place, but still substantially behind the top man. By providing election information and mock votes on the Internet, Poland is taking the first step towards a totally digital vote.
Extensive governmental information is available at the Government Press Office site (http://www.urm.gov.pl/welcomee.html). Here are links to various Polish government agencies as well as a Promotion of Poland section that contains topical information in the form of clippings from a newsletter. Though the newsletter is interesting I found that the Ministry of Privatization was a more significant section. Here the Polish Mass Privatization Program (MPP) is detailed - so far 444 Polish enterprises have been approved for privatization. Initially, 15% of the shares of each privatized company will be distributed to the employees of that company. Furthermore, all Polish citizens age 18 and over will be eligible to receive Universal Share Certificates, providing them with an interest in key Polish industries.
It seems to me that most important events in present-day Poland are somehow being documented on the Internet. From national elections to privatization the Web is changing the way people access information. Certainly, if I was a Pole, I would want information on how the MPP would affect me - and it is all available right from my computer.
Poland is not resting on its technological accomplishments though. In many areas I witnessed plans for the future. First, observe that the pl domain is expanding while other Eastern European countries have no or virtually no accessible computer networks set up (e.g., Romania, Bulgaria, Albania)!
The most interesting future plan I have discovered if named IdS (http://idsserv.waw.ids.edu.pl/ids/english.html), a Polish acronym for Internet for Schools. This project aims to provide full Internet access to all Polish high schools as well as training for students and teachers is basic Internet usage. The plan also hopes to foster communication between Polish students and students in other countries - which is an advantage for all. Clearly Poland wants technology and the Internet (maybe not in the same form we know it today) to be part of its future. And I think it must be, in order to secure Poland a place in the world market.
There are also plans for the expanding network. One prototype is LUBMAN, the Lublin Metropolitan Area Network (http://www.lublin.pl/lubman/lubmane.html). High speed networks such as LUBMAN will eventually connect all of Poland as they already do in many North American cities. LUBMAN is not just a scheme for connecting schools, but rather everything: businesses, government offices, and schools - and eventually homes, though they don't mention it. Even during a period of economic hardship, though improving, Poland has a clear vision of what the future Poland will be like and is taking steps to implement it.
In conclusion, I have experienced the integration of past, present, and future on the Internet by exploring many servers and pages in Poland. In this paper I have highlighted what I believe to be exceptional areas of Polish content. They have shown that Poland values the past, is improving upon the present, and has big plans for tomorrow.
URL's indicate specific pages from where I am referencing information. Otherwise, all content is of my own formulation.