From the personal archive of a Russianist, installment forty-three

Diary notes on the past week, visit to Warsaw, Tuesday – Friday, 8 – 11 December 1992

Following my boss’s indications that he wanted all due help for fixing the mess in Warsaw, I have turned my schedule inside out, gone over to Warsaw this week and cancelled my trip to Russia for next week so that I can return to Warsaw for yet another attempt to put all in some kind of new order.

I arrive to find that the operation is indeed a mess and that it requires considerably more than a quickie fix. The new airport cargo terminal where we have been operating since October is unsuitable to our needs and destroys our ability to deliver imports on day of arrival, even documents. We do not get access to our imports till 3 hours after the plane has touched down. In short, it is a typical airfreight operation.  The customs situation is indeed a mess, with graft and corruption getting out of hand. On January 1st there is a new customs law in effect requiring licensing as brokers for us to continue to serve our consignees, and it is unlikely we will get that license since our Service Partner has been unable to raise the $35,000 bank guarantee. I press for creation of a UPS subsidiary particularly to get the brokerage license.

Meanwhile the brokerage clerk I have sent in does a fine job of bringing order to the messy record keeping. But the bigger problem is the inability of our Partner to extend credit to consignees and to pay the customs duties on their behalf. Here is where the need for UPS to incorporate is acute.

In pursuit of incorporation, I meet with lawyers who explain that we can set up a wholly owned subsidiary in two weeks for legal fees of 12,000 DM and with ground capital of $4,000. Looks like Poland is the place to incorporate! Cheaper than elsewhere and no requirement exists for having any local staff.

That finding is further bolstered by the findings on banking in Poland. I visit the Citibank office, where I see a fully operational bank that is foreign owned. Poland has got to be the first country in Eastern Europe to have crossed that bridge, just as it was the first to introduce limited convertibility of the currency. This is a real plus.

Generally my impressions of Warsaw after an absence of nearly three quarters of a year are very positive. The clutter of street trading has been swept away and the shop fronts reveal heavy investment. Merchandise of all varieties is available here: no need to travel to Germany any more. And there is some taste and pretension. The facades are being reworked on major streets and assume a Western look. Even the PKO bank office at the intersection of Al. Jeruzalemske and Marszalkowska looks grand now that the window panes have been replaced and the whole structure is transparent.

New office complexes are opening all around the center. There are new hotels: I am now staying at the recently opened Jan III Sobieski owned and managed by the Viennese firm Rogner. Meanwhile older hotels like the Forum seem to have been given some cleaning up. There is a hustle in the air. Also a feeling of crookedness, quick profits. The same old officials now wear sportier clothes, improved eyeglasses, and better hairdos.

I fly back to Brussels Friday afternoon from the new terminal, which is typical German quality. Rather small, however, and it is hard to see how it will handle all the new traffic that is to come here. They have learned from the West how to skim off money: the snack concessions are priced like in New York’s JFK!

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

[Memoirs of Russianist, Volume I: From the Ground Up is now in print and available on all national websites of, as well as from other leading online retailers including Barnes & Noble, and]