T H E I N T E R-WA R Y E A R S
Yugoslavia and Poland. These included Allgemeiner Böhmischer Bankverein, founded in 1921 in Prague; Landesbank für Bosnien und Hercegovina, set up in Sarajevo in 1922; and Société Générale de Banque en Pologne, established in Poland in 1923.
Poland occupied a very special position among the far-reaching plans for growth in Eastern Europe drawn up by Société Générale de Belgique and Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. Their interest in these countries had a long history. Prior to the First World War, French and Belgian businessmen had made major investments in the Russian Empire, especially in Ukraine, but also in Poland. However, in the wake of the Bolshevik revolu- tion, the new government had nationalised the assets of most foreign companies. The French and Belgian corporations that had invested in the Empire were left only with their investments in Poland and the Baltic States, which had managed to detach them- selves from Soviet Russia. So the new Poland was regarded as a fall-back position. This was certainly the view of Joseph Noulens (1864-1944), the French ambassador in Saint Petersburg during the Bolshevik revolution, who played a major role in obtaining recogni- tion of the Polish Republic which emerged between 1917 and 1919. For a number of years the collapse of the Bolshevik regime was thought to be imminent and businessmen were preparing themselves for the industrial reconquest of Russia. Creating a strong economic presence in Poland would serve this cause.
Belgian and French banks also intended to benefit from the war reparations to take over, at a reduced price, companies founded before the war by German groups, which had been placed under Allied sequestration. The Treaty of Versailles gave Poland the right to sell off any German companies on its territory and use the proceeds of these sales to cover part of Germany s war indemnity. While there was a shortage of capital in Poland to purchase German companies even at knock-down prices the Polish government could nevertheless count on support from French and Belgian interests keen to take the oppor- tunity to acquire strategic positions in the oil, electricity and non-ferrous metals sectors.
Paribas banking ventures in Poland: Banque Franco-Polonaise, Śląski Bank and Powszechny Bank Kredytowy
As described above, at the end of the war Paribas senior management felt the need to obtain a foothold in Eastern Europe. This was a huge challenge, and they thought at first that a presence there could best be achieved in concertation with other friendly banking institutions. Henri Urban, who ran Paribas headquarters in Brussels, very quickly forged ties with Belgian and Polish economic circles and suggested that Paribas and Société Générale de Belgique should get together to set up a study group to look at Polish business. Over- tures along these lines were made to the Governor of SGB, Jean Jadot, but came to nothing. Consequently, competing banks, sponsored by Paribas and SGB respectively, were set up.
Paribas acquired interests in several lending institutions doing business in Poland. One of them was Banque Franco-Polonaise, which was set up on the initiative of