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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 15:24 GMT
Euro causes stir in Poland
A man studying the euro specimen
Poles fear forgers can exploit their 'euro' confusion
By the BBC's Janet Barrie in Warsaw

In a gleaming private clinic on the outskirts of Warsaw Dr Maciej Potocki checks the newborn baby is as healthy as he sounds.

Dr Potocki checks the newborn baby in a Warsaw clinic
Dr Potocki hopes the euro changeover will be easy

Dr Potocki is devoted to caring for the next generation of Poles and you could say he is part of a new post-Communist generation himself.

He has used his skills as a doctor in the European Union, and saved the eurozone currency he earned there - most of it in Dutch guilders, some of it in German marks.

He is one of millions of people here who saw western currency as a safe house - a hedge against inflation and a weak Polish zloty.

"The Polish zloty was losing its value very quickly. It was always easier and better to have another currency," says Dr Potocki.

'Mattress' money

The euro changeover should be easy for Dr Potocki and other Poles with bank accounts because their eurozone currency will be converted into Euros automatically.


The Polish zloty was losing its value very quickly. It was always easier and better to have another currency

Doctor Potocki

Not so, though, for those who have kept their savings in cash.

They have a year to dig their notes out from under their mattresses and change them at a bank or risk being left with a lot of useless paper.

The Polish central bank recognises there is an urgency to spreading the word about the euro.

Some say though it has come to the task late.

Hurry

It has commissioned a series of films to be shown on Polish television, and until the end of last week they were still in production - just three weeks before the changeover.


But the risk of finding fake notes is high in the first two months - this is the time we are most exposed

Konrad Selag

In an edit suite at Polish National Television they are putting the finishing touches to them. The designer moving glossy images of western European life across the screen.

The directors say they are injecting some humour into the campaign.

One film, for example, is the cautionary tale of the man who thought he would buy his euros early only to realise he has been given a handful of fakes.

Forgery worries

That is an aspect to the euro changeover the central bank is very concerned about. At its headquarters in Warsaw it is training bank clerks to spot forgeries.

Polish market
Many deals here happen on the margins of the law

They scrutinise the new notes through magnifying glasses and hold them under ultra violet light to find the features that show they are genuine euros.

By the time of the euro's introduction, 800 of them will have done the course - and the bank hopes they will take their knowledge back to the remoter parts of the country and foil would-be forgers.

The real danger here is gangs of forgers can exploit the confusion - not just because Poles are unfamiliar with the new notes, but also because they rarely see Spanish pesetas or Portuguese escudos or other old eurozone currency.

Konrad Selag, who has written on the introduction of the euro for the central bank, says awareness levels in Poland are growing.

"Around 70% of Poles know euro notes and coins will be introduced in January".

"But the risk of finding fake notes is high in the first two months - this is the time we are most exposed."

Four billion Deutschmarks are thought to be in circulation in Poland.

The truth is, though, no-one knows for sure if that is the exact amount - many transactions happen on the margins of the law.

Banks here have to handle the changeover carefully, like they do all over eastern Europe.

Economies are fragile, and they hope it is not too late to protect hard-earned savings and cut off the forgers before they have a chance to exploit the ignorance of millions of Poles.


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11 Dec 01 | Media reports
11 Dec 01 | Europe
11 Dec 01 | Business
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