The Mazovian Voivodeship occupies the area of 35.6 thousand km2, which is larger than, for instance, the territory of Belgium and which makes it the biggest region in Poland. At the same time, it belongs to the most internally diverse voivodeships in the country. It is composed of: the Warsaw agglomeration with the largest city in the country and the capital of Poland, Warsaw, which plays not only the leading socio-economic role, and the part of the voivodeship characterized by economic development indicators below the national average. For that reason, the idea to administratively separate Warsaw has been proposed many times both in the closer and the more remote past. Such a solution has been proposed since 2004, which was the year when Poland joined the European Union, due to the possibility of obtaining Union regional aid for Mazovia which without the capital city could qualify for it without a problem since Warsaw undoubtedly inflates the indicators taken into account when evaluating regional economic and social development.
Mazovia is also the most populated of all voivodeships where almost one seventh of the Polish population lives. 85 cities, 42 poviats, 314 communes and over 9000 villages are inhabited by over 5 301 thousand people in total, including 3.4 million people in cities and 1.8 million in rural areas. The population density here is 149 dwellers per square kilometer which makes the voivodeship rank as the third in this respect.
The population of Warsaw exceeds 1.7 million, which constitutes 33 percent of the total voivodeship population. The largest cities in the region apart from Warsaw are: Radom inhabited by 227 thousand people, Płock – 127 thousand, Siedlce – 77 thousand, Ostrołęka – 54 thousand and Ciechanów – 46 thousand citizens.
The third Mazovian „top score” is its share of the national GDP and thus the highest incomes and expenses of local government units in the country. The relative wealth is also a cause of the biggest problem of the local government related to the payment of a special tax for the benefit of poorer regions, the so-called “janosikowe”. In order to meet the incumbent obligations, the local government decided in spring 2014 to take a loan from the state budget.
In April 2014, the Polish Ministry of Finance seized the accounts of the Mazovian Voivodeship due to an unpaid installment of “janosikowe” amounting to PLN 60 million. Earlier, the Polish Constitution Court ruled that the regulations about “janosikowe” related to voivodeships are unconstitutional as they do not guarantee to a voivodeship the right to preserve a substantial part of income to fulfill own tasks. According to the ruling, however, those regulations shall cease to apply only after 18 months from the date of the court decision. As for now, the Ministry of Finance envisages that till the end of 2015 the Mazovian Voivodeship shall pay over PLN 372 million of “janosikowe”, while, for comparison, the second biggest payer, the Lower Silesia Voivodeship, shall have to fork out PLN 65.2 million.
Mazovia – the heart of Poland
Geographically, Mazovia is situated in the central and north-eastern Poland, in the middle course of the biggest Polish river, Vistula. The name of the region comes from the word ”maz” denoting, according to different versions, either a muddy area or a person living there. The Mazovian Voivodeship in its present shape exists since 1999, that is since the administrative reform carried out by the government of Jerzy Buzek. The administrative unit created at that time incorporates areas from the following former voivodeships: the Warsaw voivodeship, the majority of Ostrołęka, Radom, Ciechanów, Siedlce and Płock voivodeships as well as small parts of Biała Podlaska and Łomża voivodeships. Mazovia is neighboring with the following voivodeships: Kuyavian-Pomeranian, Warmian-Masurian, Podlaskie, Lubusz, Świętokrzyskie and Łódź.
The voivodeship covers the area of the Mazovian Lowland, one of the biggest regions in Poland in terms of the surface area. Mazovian landscapes, contrary to the common opinion, are quite varied and include post-glacial plains, moraine uplands and lakes, numerous river and stream valleys, one can also come upon considerably large complexes of sand inland dunes. The lowest point of the region is located on the Vistula river near Płock and lies at the height of only 52 meters above sea level. The highest spot, located 408 meters above sea level, is the mountain of Altana of the Garb Gielniowski Prominence, known otherwise for picturesque ruins of the castle in Szydłowiec.
Many rivers and streams flow through Mazovia, the largest of them being, of course, the Vistula, the last big river on the continent which has not yet been regulated and in many places has preserved its natural looks.
In spite of intense human activity, the region of Mazovia still has preserved some wild forests such as: Puszcza Biała, Puszcza Kozienicka, Puszcza Kurpiowska and Kampinos, the last one being situated in the outskirts of Warsaw, which is a rare phenomenon on European scale. Since 1959, the constantly enlarged area (which currently covers over 380 km2 of the forest) is protected as the Kampinos National Park, also classified as an UNESCO’s biosphere reserve. The largest animal living in the area is the moose incorporated in the park’s logo.
What to see, what to listen to, where to go?
Wild forests are not the only natural tourist attractions in the region. Water sport fans shall certainly like Zegrze Lake, a man-made reservoir constructed half a century ago on the Narew River near Warsaw. Its surface area exceeds 30 square kilometers and it is over 40 kilometers long. This place is one of the favorite summer destinations of Warsaw dwellers.
The inhabitants of Warsaw are also proud of their city and the unique achievement of its almost complete reconstruction after war damages incurred in the years 1939 -1945.
It is not easy to enumerate all attractions of the capital of Poland. Almost everyone can find something of interest for themselves here – starting from the Old Town included in the UNESCO list (the UN agency appreciated namely the meticulous reconstruction of the district entirely demolished by Germans) through the Royal Castle, the Łazienki Palace, the National Museum, to numerous nightclubs composing a route and posing a challenge to the fans of clubbing. Moreover, new attractions are being created in the Polish capital all the time. In 2014, to the great interest of the public and not only Polish mass media, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews has been opened.
In the last years, the panorama of the city has been changed by numerous skyscrapers. However, the highest building in the capital and in Poland still remains the Palace of Culture and Science (PKiN) of the total height of 237 meters. Even the stern opponents of the Socialist Realism architecture admit that it is the terrace of this „Peking”, disdained for various, also political, reasons, that provides a unique opportunity to admire the panorama of Warsaw.
Warsaw is the cultural centre of the country. Almost daily, one can count on seeing an interesting exhibition, visiting a theatre or attending a promotional meeting of some freshly published book. Some of the events organized here have gained a worldwide recognition, such as the International Poster Biennale, the International Jazz Jamboree Festival, the Warsaw Autumn (“Warszawska Jesień”) International Festival of Contemporary Music or the International Warsaw Film Festival.
Old location, new dynamics
Mazovia is the fastest changing region of the country and not only due to the obvious dynamics of Warsaw.
In spite of fiscal and financial problems described above, the region has done a lot recently to make up for civilization backwardness which used to be reflected in a nursery rhyme, popular at a time, although not necessarily among the Mazovians themselves, describing sarcastically the region as only “laski, piaski i karaski” (“woods, sands and crucian carps”).
The implementation of the Regional Operation Programme of the Mazovian Voivodeship brought along not only infrastructure investments in the classic sense, although their impact is significant. Ever since the local government has been reinstated in 1999, almost four thousand kilometers of roads were reconstructed in the region, including 1 800 km of voivodeship roads, and 35 bridges were built. Last 15 years have entailed the construction of 1290 km of the water supply network and 1490 km of the sewage network. 923 schools, 139 kindergartens and 1878 sports facilities, including many gyms “in the open air” popular with regular inhabitants, were either modernized or constructed. 38 cities and 46 urban parks and squares have been revitalized. 192 health care centres have been modernized. In total, the government spent on almost 23 thousand of various investments over PLN 18 billion from own budget and European Union funds.
The Union funds, available for the last ten years, were also delegated to other goals.
For instance, one of the largest Polish universities, the Warsaw University, has started in 2014 to implement a state-of-the-art VoIP telecommunications system which shall permit to conduct video- and teleconferences as well as provide Internet connection for 50 organizational units of the university.
The region has also been investing in people. In the years 2007-2013, Mazovia received PLN 4 billion from the EU Human Capital Operational Programme, which were used on 5 200 projects increasing, e.g., professional qualifications of trainees. The local government supports innovative undertakings and counteracts digital exclusion, especially of the elderly, rural dwellers and small town inhabitants.
New perspectives of development are contained in the Territorial Contract signed on 25 November 2014, which is an agreement between the national and local governments concerning the financing of main investments in the region. In the years 2014-2020, there are to be 133 of those, at the cost of PLN 49 billion.