October 17, 2008 / 11:57 AM / 9 years ago

Chopin, bison or vodka? Poles debate euro symbols

4 Min Read

WARSAW (Reuters) - Should it be the late Pope John Paul II or Solidarity trade union leader Lech Walesa? Or how about a bison or a bottle of vodka, or maybe all of the above?

The Polish government's announcement last month that it aims to adopt the euro in 2012 has triggered a debate among Poles over who or what should grace its euro coins once they start using the common currency in place of the zloty.

"Maybe Pope John Paul II would be good for a Polish euro coin. I would also like historic actors, politicians. Definitely not art though, no Chopin please," said Tomek, a 25-year-old bartender at an upmarket cafe in the heart of Warsaw.

"This (euro adoption) would really do us good, no matter what some may say. This would tie us closer to civilized western Europe," Tomek said, adding after a short pause: "It has to be John Paul II (on the coins)."

A country joining the euro can opt to have the same image on all eight of the coins in circulation -- or it can choose up to eight different symbols if it prefers.

Among those cited in Polish media or on the street are the European bison -- which still roam Poland's primeval forest -- and the white eagle, which is on the country's coat of arms.

Other popular candidates are astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who discovered that the earth goes round the sun, and romantic composer Fryderyk Chopin. The more cynical have proposed a bottle of vodka, Poles' traditional tipple.

"I think it's good news we are adopting the euro and, traditionally the white eagle should be on it," said Halina, a 65-year-old pensioner walking in Warsaw.

National Mint

The National Bank of Poland will decide what or who finally appears on the coins, as well as how many coins should be produced and when.

The national mint said it was awaiting the bank's instructions but said it would take at least two years to produce the quantity of coins required for the switch.

"The central bank may ask other national mints to help produce the needed amount in a shorter time," Leszek Kula, operations director at Poland's mint, told Reuters.

"Spain had to produce 8 billion coins for the switch and that may be a good indication of how many coins Poland will need to swap zloty coins for euro coins. Spain had two to three years to produce its coins," he said.

Spain and Poland have roughly the same population size.

Opinion polls show a majority of Poles back euro membership, though some analysts fear that support may fall as the global financial crisis begins to erode Poland's strong economic growth and makes people less optimistic about the future.

The government has said it may call a referendum early next year in order to overcome the main opposition party's resistance to a change in Poland's constitution needed to adopt the euro.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk's center-right government lacks a sufficiently large parliamentary majority to amend the constitution without the support of the main opposition, Eurosceptic-minded Law and Justice party (PiS).

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of President Lech Kaczynski, targeted ordinary Poles' bread-and-butter concerns recently by claiming pensioners could lose up to 240 zlotys per month, a hefty chunk of the minimum pension, if Poland adopted the euro.

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