What does industry have in common with liberty? The answer may not be immediately obvious. However, for Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski this affinity was clear. For a country to develop and maintain its recently regained independence, it must transform from a “forest-and-field” country into an “armed-and-industrial” state.
Who was that visionary? Kwiatkowski was a scientist, manager, patriot and politician, all in one.
However, before the idea became a fact, Kwiatkowski would progress from the post of the deputy director of the gasworks in Lublin to the Deputy Prime Minister of Poland. This path, position and beliefs allowed him to dream of great achievements. These included the Central Industrial Region, the construction of the city and port of Gdynia and connecting it with Silesia by rail, the creation of a Polish commercial and fishing fleet, as well as the efficient management of industrial plants.
Born in 1888 in Kraków, he studied at the Lviv Polytechnic and the Technical University of Munich and fought in the Polish Legions. In his life, he held numerous important positions, such as the Minister of Industry and Trade, and the Technical Director of the State Works of the Nitrogen Compounds, headed by Ignacy Mościcki, the future President of Poland.
In 1935–1939, thanks to Mościcki’s recommendation, Kwiatkowski served as Deputy Prime Minister and Treasury Minister. He perfectly understood the economic needs of the country and the fact that industrial development means new jobs, the stimulation of technological invention, and faster urbanization. Industry is a change of one matter into another and the change in … people’s living conditions. A change of a horse-drawn wagon into a car. Of a cottage into a housing estate. Of dependence into independence.
Kwiatkowski was also responsible for the development of the gas industry in Poland. A graduate of the Faculty of Technical Chemistry, he analysed coal and oil tars while holding the position of deputy director at private Lublin Gasworks. Perhaps it was his work at the gas plant that made him realise the need to develop gas exploitation methods – the construction of new gas pipelines and the development of coal processing, among other necessary investments.
Therefore, in the later plans of the Central Industrial Region, the investment in economic infrastructure facilities would be undertaken as one of the following three major priorities: power plants, transmission lines and gas pipelines. Kwiatkowski saw potential in the sources that had so far been little used, such as natural gas or lignite.
The construction of the central gas pipeline, which, before the outbreak of the Second World War, was planned to be completed on the 300-kilometre section of Gorlice–Jasło–Krosno–Ostrowiec, had thus begun.
Kwiatkowski had progressive views on other issues as well; he wanted equal rights for national minorities and a dialogue with the opposition, as he knew that one could only build on the foundation of cooperation. He seemed to be so radically committed to the cause that he prioritised decisions to build a strong, industrialised country above his personal convictions. This, of course, gave rise to conflict and resulted in great difficulties and inconveniences for this undoubtedly great man.
In a sense, Kwiatkowski was to become a victim of his own beliefs. An outlaw among his own. Despite being an anti-communist, he was convinced by the authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland to become a Government Delegate for the Matters of the Coast, as the person supposed to rebuild the maritime economy after the war, which he also proceeded to do. He was thus labelled a traitor by the political emigration and the opposition. Three years later, in turn, he was sacked by the authorities and made to retire with a ban on staying either on the coast or in the capital. He returned to Kraków and worked as a scientist for the rest of his life. He died there in 1974. It would take years for his sober and courageous decisions to be truly appreciated.