Reinventing Republicanism in Poland

Poland has never been a particularly liberal country. In other words, its political culture has not focused on the individual or individual rights. Consider the great confrontation of the 1980s: between the collectivist ideology of the Communist Party and the spirit of solidarity of the opposition. Both sides were animated in part by older republican virtues – a focus on the public good. It’s telling that Communist-leaning intellectuals read the daily Rzeczpospolita while the opposition read the underground Res Publica, both titles deriving from the Latin for “public affair.”

“The Polish tradition has no liberal traits. That was an intellectual import during the 1990s,” Jan Filip Stanilko told me in an interview in Warsaw in August 2013. “The only heritage of original thinking in Poland, original in the sense that it has deeply rooted origins, is republicanism. It is rooted in the 15th and 16th centuries, and it lasted politically, in terms of institutions, until the end of first Polish Republic. But in Polish culture, it lasted much longer until the end of the 19th century, and it was a fundamental part of the intelligentsia’s state of mind. That means that every member of the intelligentsia, even if they were a peasant or worker in origin, was somehow republican in thinking, with the notion of the common good at center.”

Stanilko has worked with several think tanks in Poland, most recently at the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies (WISE). He was instrumental in organizing the Great Poland Project, a right-wing forum for ideas. He is equally comfortable talking about the big picture and burrowing down into specific policy proposals. And he is often scathing in his critique of the trajectory of Polish politics over the last two decades.

“There was no general shaping vision of how Poland was supposed to look after 20 years,” he told me. “Since 2007 we’ve had 500 strategic documents in Poland. That means we’ve had no strategy. Literally. There were 530-something sectorial strategies and no overarching strategy. Donald Tusk was the first leader to decide to have such a document. The EU wants us to have such a document. For these 20 years, we used Western intellectual tools to transform ourselves. One part of the elite – the leftist parties – wanted to transform into something that is Western, European, pro-choice. And the Right part of the elite wants to rediscover, which means to anchor us in some parts of our history and recreate a new spirit.”

Stanilko aims his critique at both the leadership and the political machine that enacts policy. He suggests that the challenges facing Poland require the kind of “adaptive leadership” that public policy guru Ronald Heifetz has articulated for the business and non-profit world.

“Technically in business you have lots of reengineering in corporations because they must move fast,” Stanilko continued. “The proper leader should help workers adapt to changes. We have in a similar way a huge transformation in Poland, but people still have not adapted to the effects of transformation. It’s only been 20 years. How long did it take France to adapt to the French revolution? 100 years at least. We must as a society adapt to the effects of transformation and then adapt to the challenges of globalization at the same time. We don’t need a leader who will punish everyone. We need a leader to help people to adapt, for instance to help them migrate within Poland rather than to another country.”

Such a leader must somehow deploy the political machinery of his or her party to drag the Polish bureaucracy into the 21st century. But unfortunately, Stanilko pointed out, “This political machine works more and more in the interest of enlarging bureaucracy —which is the reenactment of clientelism, the most ominous force in Polish politics since the 14th century. The bureaucracy is a mode of transforming society, as Max Weber wrote, but it’s rational. Societies that are the most modern are the least clientelistic. Clientelism means funneling trust into separate social channels and redistributing public funds through these channels, as in southern Italy. We see this clash between north and south Italy, east and west Germany, and it’s a clash in Poland as well with one side of society against another. But it’s not Solidarity versus the Communists. It’s those who work against those who are not working. We don’t have a language in the public sphere to name this clash because our discourse comes from the 1990s.”

We talked about his introduction to the policy world, the role of a strong state, and the political future of the standard-bearer of the Polish Right, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

 

The Interview

 

How you got involved in politics – was it a gradual process or did it happen suddenly?

 

I became involved in politics naturally because of my family background, though not because anyone in my family was a politician. I was raised in an atmosphere in which people were interested in politics. I was thinking, reading, following the news since I was 12 or 13, though I was as much interested in football (or soccer) as in politics. I was also interested in music and playing music.

But then I arrived at the department of philosophy of Jagiellonian University and encountered in my first year of studies one of the most prominent political philosophers in Poland, Ryszard Legutko, a leader of the conservative and anti-Communist movement, intellectually not politically. He was a translator of Plato. He delivered lectures at the University of Chicago at the Committee of Social Thought, the conservative school of thought that follows Leo Strauss. Then after seven years, he became minister of education for a rather short period.

By then I was already involved in technical policy issues. I was learning how to do policy analysis to analyze the actions of the government, like the construction of the budget. From a technical point of view I was already interested in how the state worked. I realized early on that it would be very hard to stay at the university because of my ideas — because universities around the world are rather leftist, not right-wing — so it would be hard from a political point of view. Second, I wouldn’t earn enough money to support my family. State universities still pay very very low salaries. I was acquainted with the leaders of a few think tanks. One of them, from Gdansk, was actually very liberal, very close to Donald Tusk. He wanted me to work for him. I did some work for him, and I spoiled my PhD because of that. I wasted a year in that work in the hopes of getting a job. Then, one month before the end of my studies, he changed his mind. Then I had to do something else. If you have no PhD and no permanent work, you have to come to Warsaw.

A friend of mine started to work at a think tank. He said, “I need you here.” So, then I started to work at the Sobieski Institute for four years. I went from from analyst to top management. During that time, I did a lot of things associated with core politics. That means I got acquainted with the leader of the opposition. I met him privately many times, which is not easy even for members of his own party. It was a kind of privilege. I organized plans and conducted three-week congresses. I put together the Great Poland Project, which is a right-wing forum of ideas. It’s very broad: five days in 3 cities about foreign policy, public transport, budgeting, education, culture, health care, whatever you want to know. I was getting into the public sector and thinking in a republican way deeper and deeper.

 

Republican with a small “r” or big “R”?

 

The only heritage of original thinking in Poland, original in the sense that it has deeply rooted origins, is republicanism. It is rooted in the 15th and 16th centuries, and it lasted politically, in terms of institutions, until the end of first Polish Republic. But in Polish culture, it lasted much longer until the end of the 19th century, and it was a fundamental part of the intelligentsia’s state of mind. That means that every member of the intelligentsia, even if they were a peasant or worker in origin, was somehow republican in thinking, with the notion of the common good [res publica] at center. The Polish tradition has no liberal traits. That was an intellectual import during the 1990s. We had a strong movement of economists in the Austrian school, but even though the Austrian school is called liberal, it’s actually Catholic. The gold standard is rooted in nature, in a natural process of producing things — you cannot imagine derivatives in this way of thinking.

My work has been done along two lines. One line was intellectual history. I was writing a PhD on Aristotle and Hobbes, which required huge amounts of reading. These are the two fundamental parts of European thinking: Aristotle was the grandfather of republicanism and Hobbes was the grandfather of liberalism (even if he himself was not a liberal). I was always taught by my professors to focus on Poland. It’s a rare situation. Most of the social sciences in Poland, including intellectual historians, focus on foreign things. It’s due to the goals of the funding programs. Money supports foreign things. The Polish government didn’t spend money on Polish heritage. You won’t find many Polish social scientists writing on Poland, which has always annoyed me.

The second line of my work and thinking was learning how the Polish state worked. I was also taught as a Polish language and Polish literature teacher. I came to school to teach. And I discovered that everything is wrong there. So I started to read some analytical papers on how to arrange education. After several years of such sectoral study, I became quite fluent in public economy and the public sector. Right now I’m doing a PhD on development economics in the best Polish school of management. So, I’m learning my whole life. The best thing I do is learning, quickly and efficiently.

I was offered a chance to join the Civic Platform government. I was supposed to prepare a few bills on the reform and overhaul of the science funding system. But in the end I was perhaps too young to get this appointment. Right now I’m in the process of creating a new foundation dealing with Polish industry. During my work at Sobieski, I met a bunch of Polish industrialists. These guys are not managers of foreign firms. Warsaw is full of foreign firm managers. No, they are the owners. The mindset of the owner is totally different from the mindset of the manager. What always intrigued me is that the whole transition in Poland was done by managers. In this way, Poland was always trapped by the principal-agent problem – who is the principal, what is the agent’s problem, what are the agency costs, and what is the opportunity for rent-seeking by the agent.

Of course, there are myths of transformation, personal legends, especially in politics. Polish politics was built and is still built on personal legends – of Lech Walesa, Adam Michnik, Bronislaw Geremek, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Many times political means are used to defend the legend. These legends are the basis of political capital. But this epoch is ending. We are coming to the moment when the last generation of transformative politicians will quit because of their age. Donald Tusk and Jaroslaw Kaczynski are the last two politicians who were somehow involved in the Round Table games.

 

I’m interested in your take on the economic transition in 1989 until the late 1990s. You talk about liberalism as an import without roots here in Poland or Polish intellectual history. Do you see the transition as an import that was necessary or as an unfortunate stage that could have been done differently according to different principles?

 

This is a story for five books! First of all, the Polish state was technically bankrupt. We asked for the help and mercy of the Western institutions. It’s funny in a way, since the transformation was at the behest of the so-called neoliberal movements of the West. Even though there were some signs that this model didn’t work in Argentina, it was employed here in a copy/paste way, because the consultants were just taught and trained to do this. The problem was that no one here thought to invent something custom-made for Poland. The political elites thought that the transformation should somehow be intellectually and technically prepared by our Western friends.

But the problem with the transformation is also that the Soviet Union collapsed in a very specific sway. Russia collapses every time the secret services collapse, that is, when the political power over the secret service collapses. So the Soviet Union was actually as weak as we were at that time.

Yet, there was a very significant bloc of post-Russian interests, their clients and cronies, in Poland. The most serious one was General Jaruzelski. He’s a Russian general of Polish origin. If you focus on his biography it’s clear. Of course he’s a very interesting paradoxical person. He received power over the Polish army in the 1960s as a young guy raised up by Russians. General Jaruzelski was educated in Poland before the war and after the war, but actually he was a general of a foreign state. Jaruzelski was not General Park Chung-hee. General Park was educated in Japan, but he was independent in his thinking on Korea. With Jaruzelski, the power was in his hands until the end of the People’s Republic of Poland. Even at the moment of transition he was still holding a lot of power. His acolytes did a very good business during the transition using public funds and rents that they could seek being the proprietors of the Polish state and economy.

Polish elites are always looking for some foreign example. Imports were crucial because we had long period of lack of contact with the world center. Of course, this is not totally true because the politically involved scientific elites in the People’s Republic of Poland got Fulbrights to study in the United States, where they learned about capitalism. The first Fulbright fellows became the first Polish capitalists. The young economists from the Communist Party were very influenced by the post-Milton Friedman way of thinking. That’s where Balcerowicz came from.

Who were the guys from the opposition? They were intellectuals: moralists, editors of books and newspapers, historians. They were mainly historians. Most Polish politicians are historians: Gemerek, Tusk, Bronislaw Komorowski, all historians. Adam Michnik and Tadeusz Mazowiecki didn’t have any idea about the economy. They were intellectuals, so they decided to put Balcerowicz in place. And the plan was negotiated between Soros and Gorbachev a year earlier (Stanislaw Gomulka did a big book on this). Institutional channels gave us the money. Somehow we were not sovereign. We were bankrupt. We were like Greece is today.

There was no general shaping vision of how Poland was supposed to look after 20 years. Since 2007 we’ve had 500 strategic documents in Poland. That means we’ve had no strategy. Literally. There were 530-something sectorial strategies and no overarching strategy. Donald Tusk was the first leader to decide to have such a document. The EU wants us to have such a document. For these 20 years, we used Western intellectual tools to transform ourselves. One part of the elite – the leftist parties – wanted to transform into something that is Western, European, pro-choice. And the Right part of the elite wants to rediscover, which means to anchor us in some parts of our history and recreate a new spirit.

We have a special history. We had periods that we call the First Republic and the Second Republic. These projects were very different. We know that, geographically and economically after the end of the Second Republic, Joseph Stalin was the creator of this state. Now we somehow must make ourselves into the proprietors of the processes that are going on in Poland. Being a proprietor of the process is the most difficult problem during an age of globalization. Americans strive to be proprietors of the processes of globalization by means of GE, Chevron, GM, Google. These are the instruments, the driving strategies for those who reap the value. You build enterprises on these processes, and you leave the lower part of the value chains for other countries –for those who do the work that is outsourced, like Poles. Governmental processes are the same. With the Lend Lease Act, the American Navy became the guardian of world trade. The price the world pays is that it must use the dollar for trade – that’s the role of a global empire. The question here is what is the role of Poland in this changing global landscape, with the deterioration of America’s geopolitical position, the rise of Asia particularly the demographic rise, and the blind alleys of European integration like the Eurozone. From an economic point of view, it’s a zero-sum game.

We are at a moment when transformation myths are falling apart. The Polish stock exchange is the fourth or fifth biggest in Europe. Spaniards are coming to Poland to study. We are called the “green island” of economic growth. Even if it’s not true, that’s what we are called in Europe. When I go to Brussels or other Western countries, I am fascinated at the way that Poland – once the sick man of Europe, with its bumper sticker of chaos, dirt, and anti-Semitism – is treated like we are the leaders of Europe. The French and German invited us to join EADS, the biggest military enterprise in Europe. That’s a fundamental change. The Russians wanted to join this EADS project, and they were politely rejected. The problem is that we’ve grown too big in economic terms. Our heads are too small to manage our big body. That’s the reason that the current political elites are not ready to govern this big body.

I would also add that the most prominent right-wing intellectuals are of course nationalist, which means that they support the nationalist idea. But Professor Legutko specialized in English literature and is an Anglophile. Another one, Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, one of the most famous Polish sociologists, is a Germanophile and lives in Germany. Jadwiga Staniszkis, her father was one of the leaders of the national democrats, but she may be considered a neo-Marxist in her understanding of political economy. Another prominent intellectual, Professor Zybertowicz, has intellectual roots in studying Michael Foucault’s idea of social control. So, what kind of right-wing nationalist is that?

This is the generation that allowed us, as their pupils, to make contact with the most valuable intellectual structures to rediscover our heritage. That’s how I rediscovered republicanism. I read historians of republicanism at Cambridge. They taught me about republicanism all over the world. I discovered that they know nothing about Poland, but we can still learn much about Poland through their works. My generation has no difficulty in making these contacts. We no longer have to travel on a fellowship just to copy papers. Before we could read these works, but there was no money for us to go and talk with the professors. Now you can buy the work here, read it here, and go there and learn and talk to people who can explain how it works.

I was very puzzled when I met with a Royal Bank of Scotland analyst here. He said, “I cover seven countries from Estonia to Turkey.”

I asked, “You know all the details of public finances for all those countries?”

“No, I just look at seven indexes.”

“And you give recommendations on to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the basis of seven indexes?”

“Frankly, yes.”

That’s how I discovered how the West looks at this part of Europe. Some people might have fallen in love with this country. Maybe that was your case, as part of your intellectual history. That was experience of Timothy Garton Ash, Norman Davies,Timothy Snyder (both he and his wife deal with Polish history like no Polish historian can).

 

I’m halfway through Bloodlands.

 

His earlier books are very good, the one on the reconstruction of nations and his book on Henryk Jozewski. He covers this huge landscape of Polish heritage. Bloodlands is somehow the last chapter of this history.

Right now we have a problem in Poland in the discrepancy between our private and national aspirations. Privately, Poles want to be affluent. We are the hardest workers in Europe. We work the longest hours a week – but very inefficiently. Warsaw is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. And we have very serious problems with spending huge amounts of European cash effectively– because of the structures here. The biggest national problem, also for intellectuals, is not a post-Communist problem. It’s a traditional problem for Poland since the 16th century: state-society relations. The Polish gentry at the beginning of the 17th century decided not to have a central budget. The gentry forbade the king from having a central budget. That meat that after 150 years there was no Poland: no army, no academy of science. The only thing that saved us as a nation was our ministry of public education, the first one in the world. Everything else was private. It was noble of us to give the world one of the first public libraries in Europe, but this library after 30 years was robbed by Russians. It became the basis of the imperial library of Petersburg. Then some part of it came here again in the 1930s from the Soviet Union. Several years later, another private library, the biggest Renaissance library in Europe, was burned by the Germans. This is the kind of problem that we have been dealing with for 300 years. Our society has not been able to beget modern institutions in order to shield its substance and, as a consequence, must periodically import the institutions to rebuild itself from scratch.

The world crisis destroyed some transformation myths and exposed new groups in this society, like groups of Polish proprietors who did business silently for 20 years and are now internationalizing their activities. I know a guy who owns 15 factories around the world. He’s the second biggest producer, after Germany’s Henckel, of construction glue. These people are the core elite of Polish society, but they are not part of the establishment. The establishment here is full of people who are incompetent but had the opportunity to be in the right place during the transformation.

The next generation’s role is to build meritocratic institutions that reward people not through their historical positions but through their current positions, which they earned through working. This can be done in a liberal, republican, conservative, or socialist way – we just need the frame. This is the biggest problem in relations with social elites: the state-society problem. I believe Poles don’t want to have a strong state because they are afraid of it, especially in the area of justice. People know that they can do small bad things, like in southern Italy or Greece. But we won’t be rich that way. If we want to be rich, we have to have strict rules and a lot of trust. The biggest problem between state and society and elites and society is the lack of trust. This is the most valuable but the most expensive capital because you cannot buy it.

 

You say that Poles are afraid of having a strong state. From what you’ve said, I’ve heard different things about what a strong state could do or should do, such as maintain strong defense or….

 

Right now we just cut the defense budget, because of the inability of Tusk to cut other pro-social expenditures, which are rents.

The Polish transformation began in the early 1980s when General Jaruzelski started this process. We are still dealing with the consequences of Martial Law politics. He gave away a huge number of privileges. In a way, that was good because it bankrupted the state faster that it would have otherwise. But after 15 years of transformation, we were still struggling with these privileges. We have a society in which only 50-60 percent of the working-age population is actually working. In a Western society, 70 percent are working. We don’t know how to get out of this. We face the middle-income trap. There is the low-income trap as in Somalia. But there is a middle-income trap as well, which means that your comparative advantage ends after 20 years because of rising labor costs. But you have a poor R & D sector because most Polish big enterprises are somehow mysteriously research-averse or are privately foreign-owned, which means they won’t conduct R & D here. Second, you have to have a consumer class. We have a small one, and it’s based on credit.

Third, you must have pleasant cities to live in, and Polish cities are not pleasant to live in. We are historically a rural society. Since the Middle Ages, Polish cities were built by Germans, so we still have to learn the basics of modern civilization. We can’t just read about it. We must embody through our decisions and habits. We have to teach children to behave in this way. With the case of Korea, they had 20 years of very intensive transformation of rebuilding the economic system from producing cheap goods to producing expensive goods, and building up companies like Samsung and Hyundai. It cost them a lot in terms of child suicide and so on. And they had no European funds. For us, the problem is coordinating these processes in one direction. That’s the role of the state, a strong state. The second role is an efficient and fair justice system – fair in the sense that it is economically rational. And just in the sense of giving justice: making sure that people get what is owed to them. We’ve had a problem with our justice system for 400 years. It doesn’t work. And I’m not sure if people here really want to have a quick, fair justice system.

From the social science surveys, we learn that Poles are very happy with private life. 70 percent of people feel privately happy. But only 20-30 percent are happy with their state. That’s a problem that starts not under Communism, but is much deeper.

 

In terms of positioning Poland so that it’s not low on the scale of production, what can the state do? The Communists had their autarkic policy. The liberals had no plan. So, what do you recommend, from the republican viewpoint?

 

There are five things to do based on the basics developed by my favorite development economist, Dani Rodrik. He wrote a book on the paradoxes of globalization. He talks about a trilemma. You can only have two of the following three: national sovereignty, democracy, and global markets. His conclusion is to have sovereignty and democracy to stabilize global markets, which are inherently unstable. If you read this book, one conclusion would be: don’t join the Eurozone. It was created by bankers who argued that it would help trade among European countries. Trade rose 10 percent for 10 years. That’s one percent a year. That’s not growth, that’s just business as usual. The Eurozone was growing on huge amount of credit, so it was a bubble. So, stay away from Eurozone.

That means also supporting different European projects than the federal project. What Rodrik argues for is more agility in national development strategy. But given the Polish position between Russia and the European core, everyone says that we are weak, that we can’t do anything. Actually we can do something. All of Central Europe is looking at us and for us – Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Czechs. We can support our own financial center. Warsaw can be the financial center of Central Europe, and it is becoming so ever since this world crisis erupted.

Something else that the state must support is building elite educational institutions. We’ve had a huge success in mass education but a huge failure in elite education. Only one person in the political elite graduated from a Western elite institution: Radek Sikorski. Our prime minister is poorly educated. Look at his CV: he graduated from one of the worst Polish universities. That reflects something. There must be channels for well-educated people into the establishment. Polish state universities are in the 400th position in the Shanghai league. The state must help establish world-class universities – and not just for Poles, but also for Estonians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Belarusians. We are the richest country in the region. This is the proper way to be a leader – not a hegemon but a country that is equal to others, but because he is bigger must take care of the smaller. That gives us power, in relation to Russia, along with Turkey as a historic ally against Russia.

We are just rediscovering the traditional Polish geopolitics from the 18th century. We have Scandinavia to the north, America as a player especially in military matters because Americans value nations that have their own defense and are active. Europeans don’t want to fight, they are old and don’t want armies anymore. But the most fundamental republican obligation is to fight and pay taxes – if you can’t pay taxes you must be a soldier. These are the two obligations of citizens. Of course Germany is our closest economic ally. I have a family in Germany. I really like Germany. But Germans are unable to be anything other than a hegemon – just because of their national system of economy. Their economy is nationally centered. It’s a dense network of processes and social institutions that are German, as is their way of producing things. If they come here they can teach us a lot. But it’s only for outsourcing. So the state must support Polish privately owned enterprises on their way to becoming global enterprises.

 

Like Korea.

 

Or Finland. We can’t be a second Ireland – because Ireland was carrier of American capital in Europe. They speak English. They received huge IT investment. We can’t copy them. If you want success you must differentiate.

The last obligation of the state is to support demography. We have one of the poorest prospects for demography in the world.

 

The best thing for demography is for young Poles is to go abroad for a few years, have children, then come back to Poland – since their birth rate abroad is much higher than here.

 

The birthrate of young Polish migrants in England is 2.5, the second largest after Pakistanis. But unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Children get more expensive the longer they live. So, they should be born here and then go abroad!

Actually, we are facing a serious social cleavage, a conflict of interest between old and young. It’s one of the most drastic in Europe. This is a huge test for a society that has a very low level of social capital and unresolved problems with the past. The problems of the past are the problems of the transformational generation. But they won’t disappear because of the real consequences of the past. You can see this especially in the media. The media structures are owned by the agents of the Communist system – “agents” in an economic sense but some of them were also literally agents of the secret police. The founder of TVN, the most beautiful TV network, was actually working with the Polish branch of the Russian GRU.

 

What’s your evaluation of the right wing here in Poland today, in terms of its strength? You’ve laid out a program, but can it achieve power? I’m not talking just about PiS but also the right wing of Platforma.

 

Well, Platforma is purely populist. On the one hand, they support the castration of pedophiles and on the other they support funding in-vitro fertilization. They work in every dimension. They are in the center, and the most dangerous thing for them, as with Germany in Europe geopolitically, is a war on two fronts. They can’t allow themselves to have a war with both leftists and PiS. Their position is based on the social trust in the person of Donald Tusk, and this is rapidly deteriorating. I don’t think they will succeed in rebuilding it.

The right-wing party is leading in the surveys, even having 40 percent of support in recent days, but it has a crucial problem. Its leader is the second or the third least-trusted politician in Poland. The second thing is Smolensk. It is a taboo for one part of society and an obsession for the other. It is an obsession and a taboo because it was not properly investigated. We do not know what happened in details there. I was editor of the report on this and I know a lot of details. And I can say that we don’t know what happened there. Every official report, Polish and Russian, is a lie. A good study of the physics of the incident, done by a private person because the state declined to fund public institutions to do the research, raises suspicions because it said that the physics of the reports are different from the physics of what happened.

It’s rational to assume that there was an explosion. We don’t know why. But this is a hypothesis. One part of society, especially Gazeta Wyborcza, is paranoid on the subject of explosion. They see it as a sign of paranoia. And the right-wing part of society is sure that there was a plot. But with an explosion we have different reasons. This is the most fundamental social trust trap, and it would be a trap for the right-wing government. They should investigate this case once again, very transparently with no right-wing bias, to show people how it really happened and, paradoxically, to enlarge the trust. If you do very difficult things transparently and tell the truth, people will consider you trustworthy. Then they must be trustworthy and frank, which is the rarest coin in politics, in terms of the economy as well. We can’t say that we will give you more state support because we are on verge of technical bankruptcy. We have lower debt, it’s true. But we are much poorer and have significantly fewer assets than the Germans or Dutch or Belgians or even Italians.

This should be the last chapter of political life for Jaroslaw Kaczynski. These challenges demand a new kind of leadership, which Ronald Heifetz calls “adaptive leadership.” Technically in business you have lots of reengineering in corporations because they must move fast. The proper leader should help workers adapt to changes. We have in a similar way a huge transformation in Poland, but people still have not adapted to the effects of transformation. It’s only been 20 years. How long did it take France to adapt to the French revolution? 100 years at least. We must as a society adapt to the effects of transformation and then adapt to the challenges of globalization at the same time. We don’t need a leader who will punish everyone. We need a leader to help people to adapt, for instance to help them migrate within Poland rather than to another country. Along with the Irish, we are the biggest migrants of the modern age.

So these are the three things a right-wing government must do. But they can’t do this because of the way the Polish party system is constructed. It’s closed, devoid of competition. That’s why we have a lot of referenda at the moment and this wave of people demanding a first-past-the-post electoral system. People can’t trust politicians in general, even if they trust their own representative. The guys who started this was Civic Platform. Platforma forbade its members from making corrections of government bills. They are only a voting machine. They raise their hands, that’s all. They also robbed the opposition of any rights. The opposition can only protest. There are no bills passed by the initiative of any opposition party. If some opposition party proposes an interesting bill, the ruling party blocks it, rewrites it, and reintroduces it. That’s not democracy. Maybe in Japan or in Mexico they call this a democracy.

[Political scientist] Aleksander Smolar would say that he is afraid that Poles have lost confidence in democracy. And I would say that with this political system, that’s a proper reaction. This political machine works more and more in the interest of enlarging bureaucracy —which is the reenactment of clientelism, the most ominous force in Polish politics since the 14th century. The bureaucracy is a mode of transforming society, as Max Weber wrote, but it’s rational. Societies that are the most modern are the least clientelistic. Clientelism means funneling trust into separate social channels and redistributing public funds through these channels, as in southern Italy. We see this clash between north and south Italy, east and west Germany, and it’s a clash in Poland as well with one side of society against another. But it’s not Solidarity versus the Communists. It’s those who work against those who are not working. We don’t have a language in the public sphere to name this clash because our discourse comes from the 1990s.

I know Kaczynski, and I like him. He’s a very brilliant politician. He had a very hard time over the last three years, because of brother, because of his mother. I don’t want to go too deeply into his psychology, but he is somehow a quixotic person. He is also old-fashioned conservative in a psychological sense. He’s afraid of having young, fast, innovative people in power. They like him, but he is afraid of them. It is a game in his head. If he becomes prime minister, he will succeed if he nominates young, dynamic people and protects them and uses Smolensk to persuade the public to support these young people in doing their jobs. But if he starts to do his project from the early 1990s once again for the second time, he will fail.

 

When you look back to 1989 and everything that has changed or not changed since then, how would you evaluate that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being most dissatisfied and 10 most satisfied?

 

5.

 

Same scale, some period of time: your own personal life?

 

7.

 

And when you look into the near future, how would you evaluate the prospects for Poland on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being most pessimistic and 10 most optimistic?

 

3.

 

You’re pessimistic.

 

We paid our price. We were the green island. One of the most interesting indices to follow is investment during the crisis, especially R & D. In the most developed Western countries, it was rising. But in Poland, even with European money for R & D, it fell.

 

Warsaw, August 23, 2013

 


4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the heads up on Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands [providing a much wider spectrum of insight into the transgressive magnitude of slaughter that impacted our “civilization” in this history of our time].
    I might suggest that some counter perspectives for these existential moments of peak transition might be gleamed from Tony Judt’s The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century.
    20 / 20 historical hindsight makes these decisions look rationally coherent, but the ability to “keep ones head when everyone around you is losing theirs…” is a paraphrase of our times. Their are so many examples of irrational consensus leading us into tyranny and that drumbeat always seems new at the time.
    I also wonder if Timothy Garton Ash’s The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague
    9and perhaps some others of his working titles) does not belong in this discussion frame.

    I would also like to suggest that any “reinventing” of republicanism in Poland take a serious look at the present world as well as any presumed template of the past inheritance of an ideal Polish traditional politic.
    In that regard a review of Tom Barry’s Special Report The US Power Complex: What’s New – …(pdf) is available online and is still a good overview of power interests (hopefully located here):
    http://www.igadi.org/arquivo/…/te19_7_005tom_barry_srpower_us.pdf – Similar to Special Report The US Power Complex.

    [and] Power Trip: U.S. Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11 (Open Media Series)
    by John Feffer (Author), et al. is also still a good framework for the full picture on political / global agenda setting that gets lost in the fallacies of distinction between liberal tags and republican baggage.

    Polish community and individualism has never been entirely in contradiction. Perhaps the reinvention of republicanism in Poland would be best served if the public side of that republic is steadfastly emphasized.

  2. There is always a nagging incompleteness to political lexicon when it involves similar terms utilized with transitive and evasive meanings. The history of political terms seems to be based upon miscommunication as much as categorical clarity, identity and membership. Obscurity trumps security in politics.

    This is more so when we use political party nomenclature that supposedly identifies positions and even traditions of political gamesmanship. Centrist politics, for example, appears to clarify some balance between right and left (wings) of an old French institutional seating emplacement; while the right hand of god is itself an invocation of strength (if not good over evil).

    Without getting into sociolinguistic analysis, the use of these terms in Eastern and Central European circles is even more confounding when “communicating” with the “Euro-American” West.
    It is interesting to note that “right wing” elements of fascism and tyrannical despots are generally considered extremist reactionaries, yet this particular connotation does not upset the “status quo” in so called, relatively speaking, democratic Republics that capture their own brand of “republicanism” in their power relations.

    If one were to actually “reinvent” political process in Poland or Central European societies in transition in and out of history’s tyranny; perhaps the first place to start would be with the presuppositions and pretensions of public vs. private republicanism. It would be so refreshing to see private sector republican or public sector republican as opposed to right wing or left wing predispositions.

    I would also argue that in reinventing republicanism the characterization should entail “top / down” and “bottom / up” designations as political economic priority setting placements.

    Unfortunately the nature of deception in political posturing does not lend itself to real clarity of purpose. In reality, the real time perspectives of party interests remain something of an invisable hand…and ambitions are not always disclosed.
    see:
    A Republican Neo-Imperial Vision for 2016
    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/keystone_xl_cold_war_20_and_the_gop_vision_for_2016_20150213/
    Posted on Feb 13, 2015
    By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

    • addendum: The distinction between evidence based policies and policy based evidence is at the heart of authentic leadership and the future of governments evolving throughout the globe. Certain parameters are outlined here, but opinions well researched are part of the comfirmation bias built into the complexity of polemicistic political
      formations, stability or instabilities in real time.
      reference;
      Evidence-Based Policymaking – Overseas Developmen…
      http://www.odi.org/resources/docs/3683.pdf
      Section I: Evidence- based Policy: Importance and Issues. 1. Introduction. 1 …. ideologically-driven politics and replacing it instead with rational decision making.

      The core critical question is in the decisive nature of “rational” since that concept cuts many fabrics into equal frames.

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