When East-Central Europe made the transition to market economies after 1989, journalists sometimes referred to the process as “overnight capitalism.” This gave the impression that the countries in the region were Communist one day and capitalist the next. In fact, the market was present in most of the countries in the region in one form or another prior to 1989.
Hungary, for instance, experimented with a version of market socialism as early as the 1960s. Yugoslavia, too, introduced small-scale private enterprise early on. Much of the agricultural sector in Poland remained in private hands after collectivization failed to take hold in the post-war period. Indeed, Communist economists had been debating these questions of economic reform going back to Lenin’s time and the first attempt to marry state socialism and the market, the New Economic Plan of the 1920s.
In the 1980s, economist Marcin Swiecicki was at the center of the discussions over the path of economic reform in Poland. At the time that Solidarity emerged in 1980, the Communist government began talking about forming an economic council that would look into the possibility of compromise with the opposition on economic matters. Even after the declaration of Martial Law, the government maintained this interest in what would eventually be called the Consultative Economic Council.
“General Jaruzelski confirmed to the projected president of this council, Prof. Czeslaw Bobrowski, that he was interested in independent opinions about economic reforms and policy and still wanted to have such a council,” Swiecicki told me in an interview in his office in the Warsaw district that he represents in parliament. “But at that moment, there was no way that Solidarity could participate in the venture. Some people refused. But very few of the people Prof. Bobrowski had interviewed earlier refused to join the council. Several members were even sympathetic to Solidarity, no doubt about it. And one participant was even a kind of representative from Solidarity, Witold Trzeciakowski, though the deal was that he agreed to participate without being a formal member. He consulted with the Church, and the primate told him to go ahead. He took part in all of our discussions without being a formal member.”
After serving as the director of research for the council, Swiecicki became its director. In the second half of the 1980s, after the end of Martial Law, the council began to exert more influence. “That’s when we began to try to do something more, including the transformation of the property system,” he continued. “It was necessary to create not only a market for consumer goods, an idea we promoted at the time, but also a market for property. Otherwise the reforms would not work. We were generally looking at Hungary and its approach to property. At the end of 1988 or the beginning of 1989, with the assistance of my brother who was living in Sweden, I organized a study tour for this consultative economic council to Stockholm to do a report on the Swedish economy. We wanted to look at an economy that was capitalist in form but with very broad social welfare institutions that would still take care of all the values cherished by the socialist system. We looked at how they handled foreign exchange. We examined the way they restructured large enterprises, not by subsidizing them but by bringing other companies to where this big shipyard had to be closed and finding jobs for almost all the workers. This was the Swedish model.”
Although Poland was heading toward a market economy, the council didn’t ultimately produce a blueprint that the government followed. “Our council produced some food for thought,” Swiecicki related. “We wrote about the deregulation of prices. With the foreign debt, we said that a deal was needed to set a maximum payment that Poland could make that didn’t exceed 20 percent of our export earnings. Although another solution was eventually elaborated, the point was that Poland was not able to pay back all the debt, so we had to find another solution. Our Swedish report also maybe inspired some individuals. But we didn’t make any formal presentation.”
Even before the Round Table negotiations began in spring 1989, the Polish government began the radical reform process. “The government deregulated the process of establishing new enterprises,” Swiecicki pointed out. “It lifted 95 percent of all kinds of licenses and permits so that people could open any kind of business. This led to another kind of phenomenon. At the entrance and exit of state enterprises – supplying inputs and purchasing outputs — were these new private companies extracting all the profits. This was called nomenklatura privatization.”
Swiecicki participated in the Round Table negotiations in spring 1989 and then was elected to parliament for two terms. He also served in the Mazowiecki government as both deputy minister for economy and minister for foreign economic relations. Between 1994 and 1999, he was the mayor of Warsaw. We talked about his perspective on the economic changes that took place after 1990, his accomplishments as mayor, and his view of the political situation today in Poland.
In 1989, when we first talked, you told me that you were involved in the discussions on economic reform. And you were part of a committee looking into different possible scenarios for Poland — first Hungary, then Sweden. Is my memory of this correct?
Yes, very correct. After the first Solidarity period, and even during the first Solidarity period, the government was trying to find some consensus with the opposition regarding economic reform. They wanted to create an economic council. Work on this council already began in 1981, before Martial Law was declared. Then Martial Law came. General Jaruzelski confirmed to the projected president of this council, Prof. Czeslaw Bobrowski, that he was interested in independent opinions about economic reforms and policy and still wanted to have such a council. But at that moment, there was no way that Solidarity could participate in the venture. Some people refused. But very few of the people Prof. Bobrowski had interviewed earlier refused to join the council. Several members were even sympathetic to Solidarity, no doubt about it. And one participant was even a kind of representative from Solidarity, Witold Trzeciakowski, though the deal was that he agreed to participate without being a formal member. He consulted with the Church, and the primate told him to go ahead. He took part in all of our discussions without being a formal member.
At the beginning, even before Martial Law, I was invited to be the director of research and analysis in the small secretariat. Later on I became the secretary general of this council, which consisted mainly of academics from various universities and a few practitioners. There was a representative from the rural sector, one from the big industries. Prof. Bobrowski also had other informal advisors. This council produced several reports on the economic situation: on inflation, the Polish debt, investment. We gave our opinion on the national strategic plans as well as some initial moderate proposals about the economic reforms. In the first half of the 1980s, it appeared that we were not very successful in getting our advice implemented. But we produced reports that were read widely by economists, by the opposition, even by the World Bank. For example, the World Bank delegation that came to Poland for the first time in 1987 sat with us for a long time. They even sent me their report on the Polish economy for review before it went to press.
In the second half of the 1980s, when I was secretary general, we had more influence. That’s when we began to try to do something more, including the transformation of the property system. It was necessary to create not only a market for consumer goods, an idea we promoted at the time, but also a market for property. Otherwise the reforms would not work. We were generally looking at Hungary and its approach to property. At the end of 1988 or the beginning of 1989, with the assistance of my brother who was living in Sweden, I organized a study tour for this consultative economic council to Stockholm to do a report on the Swedish economy. We wanted to look at an economy that was capitalist in form but with very broad social welfare institutions that would still take care of all the values cherished by the socialist system. We looked at how they handled foreign exchange. We examined the way they restructured large enterprises, not by subsidizing them but by bringing other companies to where this big shipyard had to be closed and finding jobs for almost all the workers. This was the Swedish model.
But there wasn’t any blueprint for economic reform in Poland. We started with a chapter on the necessity to transform ownership relations. We were very careful for ideological reasons. We produced several papers on the transformation of state enterprises into “socialist stock companies.” We persuaded the government that stocks could be distributed to universities, institutes, and private persons to create a market for the stocks and some ownership supervision over the company. The company must be somehow cut into pieces, the pieces must be transferable and traded, and we would create a certain market for the properties. You could still call it “socialist” because some institutions might be interested in having some shares in various enterprises.
I even presented this idea at SGPiS (Szkoła Główna Planowania i Statystyki – the Central School of Planning and Statistics – later the Warsaw School of Economics). But we didn’t produce anything like what was produced at the Round Table or by Leszek Balcerowicz in the Mazowiecki government. We didn’t develop such kind of reform. There were some elements, like reductions in agricultural subsidies and freeing prices for consumer goods, but there was no such basic blueprint for radical reforms.
Was there any discussion in 1989 between this council and either people in the Round Table talking about economic reform or later Balcerowicz and Sachs?
Not in any official way. Of course I was invited to the economic table of the Round Table, because of my visibility connected to this council and all the reforms that I promoted. But I was on the government side, which wanted to show that we also had reformers. I was invited by Wladyslaw Baka, who was a very close friend to Prof. Bobrowski. Paradoxically, even at this economic Round Table, I was defending liberal solutions against some populist trends in the Solidarity camp, like Ryszard Bugaj, who wanted some properties held collectively by workers rather than being made tradable. But I believed that property must be transferable or it wouldn’t work. I’d studied the Yugoslav self-management model and the Mondragon experience in Spain. Theoretically it could work, but in practice it didn’t. Of course there might be exceptions like the kibbutz in Israel, but these idealistic exceptions couldn’t work on a mass scale.
Our council produced some food for thought. We wrote about the deregulation of prices. With the foreign debt, we said that a deal was needed to set a maximum payment that Poland could make that didn’t exceed 20 percent of our export earnings. Although another solution was eventually elaborated, the point was that Poland was not able to pay back all the debt, so we had to find another solution. Our Swedish report also maybe inspired some individuals. But we didn’t make any formal presentation.
When you look back at the Balcerowicz economic reform as it came together and was implemented, should it have been changed or modified in any way, or do you think it was the right thing to do at the right pace at the right time?
In certain points, of course, it might have been modified. For example, even during the Communist period there were many attempts to buy off certain groups of employees — teachers, farmers, administration, military and police — with early retirements, extra privileges regarding health care, and so on. In order to somehow satisfy Solidarity in 1981, and later on to prevent Solidarity influence, the government competed to provide social privileges for every group. These privileges, such as early retirement and 100 percent paid sick leave, should have been cut more radically. Of course there were some deficits as well regarding unemployment and how to create a network of protection for the unemployed. But it was a big mistake not to eliminate all those extra privileges. Even today, we have a debate in the press about the privileges of trade unions, which have more rights than what international agreements require for trade unions.
After the Round Table negotiations, in summer 1989, the government removed price controls, which led to significant inflation, even hyperinflation. It seemed to be a complete surprise. Solidarity had pushed so hard for indexation and then suddenly the government removed price controls, and the economy went crazy.
It went crazy because it was not done professionally. At the same time that the price controls were lifted, all other subsidies were kept. The farmers could charge any price and at the same time get all the subsidies. It was pure nonsense. This, and not just lifting the price controls, led to the inflation.
So, why did the government do this?
The state budget deficit was 20 percent of GDP. There was no limit on printing money at the central bank and giving it to the government. Now the constitution prevents direct lending from the central bank to the government, but at that time there was no such prohibition. Under the previous system, agriculture was subsidized in many forms. At the point of production, such things as fertilizer and tractors were subsidized. Then through procurement prices were much higher than the consumer prices, so there was a big gap. And in the state sector, if the kolkhoz still didn’t break even with all these general subsidies, it was given an individual subsidy.
I can give you another example. Before 1990, with these artificially cheap fertilizers, Poland was using 192 kilos per hectare, or something like that. After 1990, it used half the fertilizer and the crop production remained the same. So you can imagine how much was lost through the inefficient use of fertilizer. When the subsidy was withdrawn, the allocation and application of fertilizer immediately became much more rational.
Why did the government keep the subsidies and remove price controls?
The government removed price controls to demonstrate how radical and brave it was. In principle, I considered it a very good move. The Solidarity government with Balcerowicz and Mazowiecki would have faced some pressure not to do it. It was much easier that the Communist government did it. Also, even before the Round Table, the government deregulated the process of establishing new enterprises. It lifted 95 percent of all kinds of licenses and permits so that people could open any kind of business. This led to another kind of phenomenon. At the entrance and exit of state enterprises – supplying inputs and purchasing outputs — were these new private companies extracting all the profits. This was called nomenklatura privatization.
Even today the radical reformers call this law by the name of the minister who was responsible – Mieczyslaw Wilczek. With the Wilczek Law, anyone could open any business — photographer, trader, restaurant.
But was the decision to free prices a deliberate political act to make things difficult for Solidarity or were the consequences unintended?
The consequences were unintended, but they were predictable. Regarding agriculture, it was so easy to predict. We were writing and warning about it. But they were so afraid of market shortages for basic food products, and they thought that the more money they pumped in, the more food they would get. But the effect was the opposite. Farmer often couldn’t buy anything with the money. For example, the average weight of swine went up, because farmers didn’t deliver pigs to procurement because it didn’t make sense. It made sense to keep feeding them, even though it was economically inefficient. So pigs became enormous! This was an administrative decision made by politicians not by professionals.
You talked about the situation in the countryside and that farmers could do very well by receiving subsidies and selling food at high prices. After the changes, agriculture has done quite well for Poland, but the situation in the countryside has been difficult, with a lot of unemployment and the disappearance of small farms. Could that have been avoided in any way?
The situation dramatically changed for farmers in 1990 when most of the subsidies were removed and also demand was suppressed. There was also the convertibility of the Polish zloty and imports of food, which put several sectors of the food market in strong threat of competition. There were some limits to price growth. There was a dramatic shift in the purchasing power of farmers in 1990 compared to the artificial situation of 1989. Real income went down by 30-40 percent. In any case, and even today, the average productivity of the average farm in Poland, in comparison to non-farm workers, is one-fourth. Many small farmers are not able to live on farm income. Even today, farms are still subsidized. It’s not like 1989, but farmers still don’t pay regular taxes, there is only a symbolic contribution to pension funds, and the Value Added Tax (VAT) is reduced for food products (which is partially good for consumers and partially for producers). But the main problem is the supply of jobs outside of agriculture. How do you supply sufficient jobs to give these people another chance?
Throughout the region, we saw an oscillation of political power as the parties associated with the economic austerity were voted out of power. And the previous Communist parties, under new names, came to power, only to be thrown out by voters when they too embraced austerity economic reform. Do you think this oscillation in political power was inevitable, or could there have been some kind of negotiated agreement after 1989, during the transition period, that might have made the political oscillation less dramatic?
All this division inside Solidarity came as a great surprise for people outside Solidarity. And even though I came from the Communist Party, I was supported by Solidarity during the elections in 1989 and I stayed with the Mazowiecki government until the very end. We couldn’t believe all the quarreling with each other inside Solidarity: the “war at the top,” as Walesa called it. “How could they do such things when the country needs reforms!” we all thought, with regret and even some distaste.
The first parliament, the so-called contractual parliament, worked collaboratively and substantively. Everyone was genuinely working on how to change and improve the draft legislation. Everybody was sharing their own experience, and there were no political lines dividing people. Of course there were some cases of disagreement, for instance when the national Communist holiday was removed. But on normal legislation, it was joint work, not politically motivated. The only motivation was to make it better.
The elections in 1991 were still won by Solidarity. But in 1993, Solidarity was so divided in the elections that many of these parties came in below the electoral threshold. If you calculate all the votes, the Solidarity camp still had more than half, almost two-thirds. But in terms of who made it above the threshold, it was only one-third. The post-Communist party and the farmers (which was also post-Communist) captured the majority of the seats.
But this turn of administrations was also a result of the enormous expectations. These reforms couldn’t provide everything that people expected. Everyone hoped that they would live better. Some of them did. But many of them didn’t. Because of the transformation, many big enterprises closed or were reduced by a third. The small businesses were given independence, but they also faced insecurity. There were the big transformations in agriculture. People expected more and that’s why they lost trust in one administration after another.
Let me ask you about your tenure as mayor of Warsaw. The city is completely different since I was last here in the early 1990s. The only thing that is the same is the Palace of Culture and Science! It seems like a much livelier city, with new bike lanes and many new restaurants. What was the biggest challenge for you when you came into office, and what was your biggest success as mayor?
The greatest challenge was transportation. There was an explosion of individual cars, and the network of streets couldn’t handle it. There was no beltway. The subway hadn’t yet opened in Warsaw. Traffic jams became very frequent. It was a constant headache. I was lucky to open the first part of the first subway line — and Warsovians welcomed it with enormous enthusiasm. The construction of the beltway did not go as fast as I would have liked. Those beltways belonged to the national system of roads, and somehow Warsaw didn’t get sufficient preference though I was always fighting for this. Also we introduced paid parking in the center of the city. Before, it was free, like America, and all parking places were occupied from 8 am on. You couldn’t park in the center. So many cars circulating and looking for a place to park also contributed to the traffic congestion.
We had great success in bringing a lot of investors to Warsaw. There was such an investment boom that at a certain moment the press started to write about a deficit in building cranes. I repeated this anecdote at one of my press conferences, just as an aside. Gazeta Wyborcza checked on this. They pretended to be a building company trying to rent a crane. And they confirmed, that there were no cranes available! There was so much construction: hotels, office buildings, supermarkets and shopping places. The shopping space more than doubled in five years. I also initiated two new bridges across the Vistula after 11 years of not building any new bridges.
If you were mayor again today, what would be your priority?
Today, first of all, there is a great need for participation in local communities in organizing life, making neighborhoods more comfortable and more aesthetic. People care more about what a housing development looks like. Local comfort became a much bigger issue. Of course the beltways are not yet finished and we are still building another subway line. Also important are the relations with neighboring communities. Warsaw’s administrative borders contain a little more than half the population of the city’s agglomeration. This also causes some uncoordinated moves that cause a lot of traffic jams.
I’ve received two different pictures of the Polish economy. One is that Poland has done much better than the other countries in the region. It grew during the financial crisis. It continues to get a lot of investment. It gets a lot of money from the EU. So: an economic success. The other picture is that Poland is not a success. The growth is primarily because of the EU funds, and those will eventually stop. Two million people have left the country. There’s still a lot of unemployment. The social security system and the national health care system are not in good shape. So, what would you say?
The first picture is true. And the second one is partially true. Yes, we have a very strong banking system and the economy is doing quite well due to previous reforms. But still, of course, there are a lot of problems to be solved. The health care system now has much better financing than five or six years ago. But still, as in many countries, there is a struggle over how to use these resources efficiently. From an economist’s point of view, the system of stimuli and prices – of supply and demand — is not in balance. Many companies have big constant costs, but the operating costs are very low. So you can offer your product to certain clients at certain moments for a very low price, but still you are making a profit because your operating costs are low.
In health care, the operating costs of additional patients can be quite low. After all, the hospital has to be there, the personnel must be there, some other spending must go on. But they don’t take more patients because they reached their allocated limit. I can’t understand this. Perhaps some small payments could help discipline the demand for health care, assuming that we take care of the additional costs for the very poorest. The expenses for health care in the last six years have doubled. The growth of health spending is much faster than any other budgetary spending.
The pension system reform is still unfinished, for instance around miners’ pensions. I understand that miners must have some option for early retirement. But the cost of this privilege should be paid by the mines and not by everyone else. It doesn’t make sense to subsidize this sector. If you can’t work past the age of 67 in this sector, then the sector should pay for it. This government corrected, to a certain extent, the pension system for uniformed services. The trend right now is to treat the uniformed services like any other employees: to provide them some options 10 years before retirement, such as a desk job. But we stopped in the middle of this reform. Until recently, they could get a pension after 15 years of service. We had 35-year-old people with quite good pensions!
And, of course, with a lot of other issues — farming subsidies, climate policy — it has to be done through the EU now.
Why are people still leaving? It seems that the economic success has an impact on GDP but doesn’t employ people.
Yes, the so-called jobless growth. This is a problem: how to make the system provide more jobs for these educated people so that they have a chance of success. Right now we are going through the deregulation of various professions and this is one of the steps. Perhaps some other steps – improve the permitting process for construction, provide assistance at early stages of entrepreneurship, attract venture capital – could still be taken to help more people set up businesses and attract even more investments to Poland. The contributions to pension funds are also a barrier to setting up a small business. There is no one recipe. We need many elements — the deregulation of professions, the simplifying of taxes, the attracting of foreign investors because Poland is still not so rich in its own capital.
You’ve been involved in several different parties over the last 20 years. And now you are in Platforma Obywatelska.
When the Communist Party dissolved in Poland, I didn’t join any of the post-Communist parties that emerged. Instead I eventually joined the Democratic Union, which changed its name to the Freedom Union when we united with the liberal parties. The Freedom Union evolved into the Democratic Party, again a change of name. Then the Democratic Party allied with three social democratic parties and created the Liberals and Democrats. Three years ago, after several attempts to get into parliament, the Freedom Union, the Democratic Party, and then this Liberals and Democrats were dissolved by the Social Democratic Alliance.
After all these unsuccessful attempts – the Liberals and Democrats made it into parliament but only with a few seats — this alliance broke up. That’s when I began to think about running on another list. I started with the Freedom Union in 2001, 2004, and 2005. In 2006 I got into the regional council from this Liberal and Democrats movement. During my term in the regional council, this alliance was dissolved. Then I ran for the council on the Platforma list but as a non-party member, with my former colleagues from the Democratic Party supporting me. I ran for national parliament on the Platforma list but also as a non-party member. The Democratic Party had no list and no candidates at that time, and they supported me. During this term in parliament, I resigned from the Democratic Party and joined Platforma. The final disillusionment came when we made a joint list with one of the social democratic parties in the election to the European parliament in 2009. In 2004, in a similar alliance between the Freedom Union and the social democrats, we got 13 percent of the vote. We produced a joint list in 2009 and got only 2 percent. This was a club of nice friends, but it was not a political force.
People have told me that PO might divide into two parts by the time of the next elections — into a more conservative and a more liberal wing. Do you think it can hold together with these two different tendencies?
There is a problem with Jaroslaw Gowin, who represents the more conservative wing on various ideological issues, though not on the economy since he is a European liberal on this issue.
If you are in a political party you must fight for your views. But at a certain point you either accept the compromises or leave the party. I remember talking with a Swiss politician. The Swiss head of state operates within a ruling body of seven people. I asked him what was most difficult for him. He said that after fighting with these seven people and losing, he then had to defend the view that won. That is the most difficult issue. Of course, in PO with these wings and so many people and views, you have to check all the time whether you are still comfortable with the party line. I think that Gowin is somehow uncomfortable with it.
There are many people in the party who have certain hesitations. Some, like me, believe that the economic policy is not sufficiently reformist. On the other hand, PO could not proceed on reforms regarding gay rights. But anyhow, this is a party that is in principle the best choice available realistically at this moment for Poland: to have good relations with labor, to benefit from Europe, to care about people and also care about business. Maybe I would move the party in a more liberal economic direction, but on balance it is still acceptable.
At the moment Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law and Justice, PiS) seems to be doing better in public opinion polls. If Jaroslaw Kaczynski and PiS win, do you think they would bring Poland back to the 19th century? Or do you think that PiS can’t really transform Poland radically at the moment?
It’s dangerous and risky. They were in power for two years. But the institutions were strong enough to contain their appetite for power. Their idea, which they freely express, is that when they have power they can tell NGOs what they can and can’t do. They are the rulers and not the constitutional tribunal. At one point, the constitutional tribunal vetoed some of their legislation. So they have this idea to block the tribunal with so many cases that the court will not be able to review the constitutional changes for five or 10 years. By blocking the court, PiS would have more freedom to operate. Of course certain institutions remain strong. And luckily we are in the EU. So all the madness must be within certain limits.
But look at what is happening in Hungary. It’s a member of the EU. Fidesz says that it doesn’t care about the constitutional court, and they changed the constitution four times in one year.
Fidesz has a constitutional majority. In Poland that would be impossible. PiS might have a simple majority but not a constitutional majority. In the constitutional debates in 2005, the constitution was really weakened in terms of all these guarantees of freedoms. The state has limited functions. The basic task of the state is to protect the freedom of the people. But the philosophy of PiS is something else. They believe that the state must govern. If they had taken power for four years, rather than two years, it might have been dangerous.
It seems that liberalism in this region is under attack — and by liberalism I mean the combination of market liberalism and social liberalism — by both the Right and the Left. There is a declining faith in the market and in democratic politics. Do you think this is just temporary? Is it just cyclical? Or is there a more serious crisis with liberal ideology in general in this part of the world, as part of a larger reexamining of liberal political and economic principles in the wake of the global economic crisis?
The recent crisis was also felt in Poland because the rate of growth diminished to one percent and caused several problems. It put some liberal ideas to the test. Freedom works when it has a good framework, when there’s the asymmetry of information, when the state plays the role of controller securing the rights of many dispersed interests (millions of consumers, banks, insurance companies, big producers). A single person can’t shoulder the costs of fighting a big company, so the state must take the role of protector of the consumer, of depositors. The economic crisis was caused by arrogance and irresponsibility in these areas. That’s why liberalism is under attack. We need to correct this by providing conditions for a responsible liberalism: not just the government taking away freedoms but protecting us from abuse by segments of the market.
This attack on liberalism will not be successful because there were such enormous gains for liberalism over the last 30 years in this part of the world. The memory of previous times is still strong. I don’t think people can be persuaded to reintroduce the kind of system of controls and limits that was in place under Communism, in which the state was regulating what it shouldn’t be regulating.
Have you had any major changes in your worldview over the last 25 years?
I think I look at the world differently.
It is normal to assist countries that are still under authoritarianism – through helping NGOs, providing young people with scholarships — so that people know how other systems can work. It’s important to acquaint people with how democratic systems and open economies work. In North Africa right now there are some really unsatisfactory results of the revolutions because people were not sufficiently acquainted with how democracy works. Look at the Egyptian president who was ousted recently after being democratically elected. Democracy is not chaos. And there is no respect for human freedoms or respect for individuals. When people take power, they think, “Ah, now we will be dictating what others should do.” This occurs in many systems. There are even some similar tendencies in Poland. Education is needed into these principles — the freedom of the individual and the role all the other institutions play to protect this. This philosophy is not yet rooted deeply even in democratic societies much less countries coming out of totalitarianism.
Also, there is a lot of work needed on the integration of Europe. The federal state should be considered more pragmatically, technically. It’s just one more level of management. We accept that all levels are autonomous with their own finances and competencies. No one is dictating to local authorities what they should do. They are free to do what they want within the legal framework. But the EU is something different. It must listen to what governments are saying. There is a complete mixture of levels. The national leaders are responsible for European matters but they still report to the national constituencies. It is unpragmatic, inefficient, contradictory. It’s unclear who is responsible for what. Europe doesn’t have the clear democratic roots that we are used to at lower levels. Without clearer lines of authority, the EU will not be successful. I wasn’t even aware of this problem in 1989 when we ware all aspiring to get close to the EU.
There is also the problem of Ukraine. Why is Ukraine in such a mess right now? First of all, they have deluded themselves. But also the EU didn’t extend a hand to them during the Orange Revolution inviting them into the EU as long as they fulfilled our criteria. Membership in the EU is the most powerful instrument to reform the post-Communist countries, and this instrument was not offered to Ukraine. I was working some time in Ukraine. Even if the deputies had prepared legislation according to European standards, they would have thought, “Why should we meet such requirements and demands when they don’t want to accept us? Let’s just do it our way instead.” So, they did it their way. There were mistakes on both sides. Just having freedom is no guarantee for success. You need really strong institutions. And good understanding. Then you might be able to change things for the better.
It was completely unpredictable two years before the Round Table that Poland would have a market economy, a fully-fledged democracy, and local self-government. No one knew what self-government was, except three people in Poland! And Mazowiecki said, you three will create self-government. They did it, and parliament accepted it.
When we were entering the EU, every piece of legislation prepared in Poland to comply with EU norms was translated into English and sent to Brussels, where they corrected every comma and asked for an explanation of every term they didn’t understand. Then it was sent back here to the Polish parliament, and some of the people in parliament didn’t know what it was all about. But they knew one thing: if we don’t accept these conditions, we won’t be in the EU. Then, of course, came all these twinning programs. The transfer of institutional knowhow is also extremely important.
I end with three quantitative questions. If you look at the situation from 1989 to today in Poland, and everything that has changed or not changed, how would you evaluate that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being least satisfied and 10 most satisfied?
Most satisfying is that we are in NATO and in EU. Those are very strong anchors for our future. So I would say 10.
Same period of time, same scale: your own personal life?
Looking into the near future, how would you evaluate the future for Poland, with one most pessimistic and 10 most optimistic?
Warsaw, August 26, 2013