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English Pages, 22. 7. 2014
I don’t pretend to be an expert on Polish transformation and on Polish history. I have only been an unsystematic foreign observer of Polish developments both in the communist era and in the last quarter of a century, a relatively frequent visitor to Poland (in the last years mostly on short official visits), a personal friend of late president Kaczyński (and of several Polish reformers). I have always been a good friend of Poland, someone who once – during a state visit – remarked that the Poles are our closest nation (which led to a very hostile reaction from the Slovaks even though I made it quite innocently because I did not take Slovakia as one of the competitors in this implicit race. Slovakia has a special place for us, of course).
Poland was, undoubtedly, the first country which in 1989 left communism and started radically transforming its society and economy. As an incredible coincidence, I happened to be in Warsaw in September 1989, at the weekend when the first non-communist government took office. I was immensely enriched by having informal but highly informative talks with several members of the new Mazowiecki’s government in the next days.
This was two months before our Velvet Revolution. Our country was still almost asleep (at least on the surface), Poland was on the move. I must, however, admit that I was slightly disappointed by not seeing or hearing a clear transformation vision (or, to put it differently, a project for a market economy, as I always stressed, without adjectives). I explained it then to myself that this was the result of specific Polish conditions and of the relative success of Solidarność: Polish economists, future members of the first post-communist government, were for many years in various government commissions (created by the old government for suggesting how to reform the economy) and were able to keep their academic positions, whereas people like me could by no means keep such a job in Czechoslovakia. This fate of ours inevitably radicalized our stances.
To carry out reforms inside an existing economic system is something else than transforming the whole system. We were fully aware of it. When our first non-communist government was constituted in Prague in December 1989, I started to be so involved in our own transformation that I did not seriously and systematically follow the developments in Poland. I couldn’t not take notice of the relative political instability there (I was deputy prime minister and most of the time prime minister but I met – if I am not wrong – eight Polish prime ministers in those years). The beginning – with all the hopes connected with the very successful activities of Leszek Balcerowicz and his group – looked very optimistic but these hopes slowly vanished. At least, seen from abroad.
You named your project “Polish transformation. From suspense to success”. You probably used the term “suspense” quite intentionally. In the dictionary, it says that “suspense is a state of excitement or anxiety caused by not knowing exactly what is going to happen very soon”. When I read for the first time the invitation to participate in your project, I misunderstood your point. I did not take it as suspense, but as “suspension”. To quote BBC English Dictionary again: “the suspension of something is the act of delaying or stopping for a while”. As I see, I was wrong but this unintended mistake of mine probably was not only a mistake – it reflected my understanding of the Polish transformation process as developing not in two stages “suspense – success” but in three stages “suspense – suspension – success”.
People who know much more about Poland than me will undoubtedly critically judge whether I am right or wrong in formulating this hypothesis. I will accept their judgement. I will also not try discussing the dynamics of the Polish transformation process and its causes. That would ask for a serious study I am not – for many reasons, including my unfamiliarity with Polish language – able to present. But I couldn’t fail to see some problems: a relative macroeconomic instability manifested in high rate of inflation as compared to my country, in considerable budgetary problems, in high rate of unemployment (which was – in spite of millions of Poles working abroad – three or four times higher than in my country), and the absence of a massive, large-scale privatisation program (especially of large industrial firms). Was it the consequence of inherited structural defects of the Polish economy or was it the effect of the slowdown and/or deficiency of the transformation process? I don’t risk trying to answer this question, someone has the answer, I hope. I don’t have it.
Nowadays, Poland is a success. The fact that Poland as the only country in Europe succeeded in avoiding to fall into the “recession trap” during the recent world-wide financial and economic crisis (so different from my country which remains in this trap even now) deserves to be stressed and commended. Even a casual visitor to Poland sees visible progress, especially in the countryside. It is a Polish achievement, but Poland was also relatively effective in using the EU money (again, as compared to the Czech Republic). Poland also succeeded in formulating its own foreign policy and in behaving as a subject (not only an object) of international relations.
Is this positive development due to a new explicit political program or is it due to a mere rational day by day steering of the economy and to a healthy, spontaneous evolution which reflects some deeply rooted positive features of the Polish character when the external conditions make it possible? I don´t have an explanation. My feeling is that one of the important factors is the relatively high degree of political unity in the country (in spite of all the political infighting we see in the media) which gives politicians a relatively strong mandate.
In any case, I wish Poland and the Polish people a long continuation of the last years’ growth and prosperity.
Václav Klaus, Contribution to the project “Polish Transformation. From Suspense to Success“. Published by THINKTANK and Centre for International Relations, Warsaw, June 2014.
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