Rescuing Polish Liberalism

Liberalism took a beating in Poland in the 20th century. It was overwhelmed by nationalism in the 1930s, by Nazi occupation in the 1940s, and by a succession of Communist governments during the Cold War period. Finally, when the full political spectrum was restored to the country after 1989, liberalism became almost exclusively associated with its neo-liberal variant. For most Poles, “liberal” meant economic austerity and its accompanying hardships. Not surprisingly, liberalism acquired a negative connotation in the era of democracy as well.

But today in Poland, a new generation of political actors has taken up the challenge of rescuing liberalism from the misconceptions of the past. Kultura Liberalna is a weekly magazine established in 2009. It has spawned a website as well as an intellectual circle that has attracted a younger set of academics and intellectuals who are committed to restoring liberalism to its fullest meaning.

“We’re convinced that liberalism had been one of the victims of the ‘holy transformation,’ Karolina Wigura, who heads up the political section of Kultura Liberalna, explained to me in the organization’s offices in Warsaw last August. “Not in the meaning that this state is not liberal. It’s of course liberal, and it has its flaws like every state. But the meaning of liberalism, which is never clear in any political culture, is rather fuzzy here.”

The mission of Kultura Liberalna is, in some sense, to bring clarity to what has been a very opaque discussion in Poland. “Here, when you say ‘liberal,’ you think ‘economics’ and ‘free market’ and that’s all,” Wigura continued. “So, first we try to show that liberalism is a very rich tradition. When we think of liberalism, we think of it as complicated as Isaiah Berlin or Alexis de Tocqueville showed it to be. But on the other hand, we also think that our experience of this region is central to our understanding of European liberalism that comes from the experience of this place. This means that a region that has been touched by totalitarian systems, which are very well described in Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands or Tony Judt’s Postwar, has a special idea or feeling of liberalism that is constructed of skepticism toward any radical ideologies plus a belief in personal freedom and an empathy for social problems. This does not make us Left. This makes us, as we like to think, socially empathic. So this is our kind of liberalism.”

This combination of skepticism and empathy is both a political and an intellectual approach. The atmosphere of Kultura Liberalna is one of questioning, not of rebellion. It is the latest incarnation of a political-intellectual lineage, and it tries to honor that lineage rather than reject it.

“We have always been challenged by our elders,” Wigura said with a smile. “They have always asked, ‘Why don’t you just rebel against us? Why are you so polite? What’s wrong with you?’ This is a generational thing. We don’t oppose the former generation. Every milieu has its own approach. In Kultura Liberalna we try to understand more than to propose. Also, there is a strong conviction that if you just focus on your father you will never go forward. You just have to create your own things. Surely you’re familiar with the TV series Mad Men? There is this main character that has just cut of all relations with his family. This is of course a symbol. We haven’t done this. It’s more just that we are interested in the future. It doesn’t mean that we are closed to listening. But our passions, so to say, are about the future and not about the past.”

 

The Interview

 

So, you were telling me about Kultura Liberalna.

 

Yes, this is a place with an interesting history. It’s an Internet weekly, and I don’t know if you are familiar with the site. We’re going to change everything on the site, but this is what it looks like now. So, Kultura is, as you can see, an intellectual and political magazine with a very interesting stress also on books, films, and theatre. But it actually started with the dissident home seminars in the times of Communism.

We’re about 40 persons now, from the age of 20 to 40, and half of us had once been students of Professor Pawel Spiewak. He had organized a whole seminar for us nearly a decade ago where we read Hannah Arendt and Tocqueville and from the other side Karl Schmidt and persons that of course you read during your university studies but you actually don’t have enough time for. We sat in the evenings, and we talked as long as we wanted to. After a few years we had this idea: why don’t we put up everything online, on an Internet site? We created a blog. But we had bigger ambitions, and so we started to produce a weekly. It has been produced for four-and-a-half years now. So this is already a small tradition in itself.

A few years after the home seminar of Spiewak had already finished, we learned that as students Pawel Spiewak and Marcin Krol, who is also a kind of founding father here because many of us had also attended his seminar, had proposed a home seminar to Jerzy Jedlicki. In our case it was different because we met at my parents’ home and not the professor’s apartment. But the Jedlicki seminar was quite different because although they read the same books, they were constantly afraid of being found out by the authorities. So here you have this tradition of the home seminar, which is a Central European tradition that started in Poland. It’s what we call in Polish sztafeta pokolen…I don’t know how to say it in English.

 

Passing the torch.

 

So we are very much convinced that we have been given something very important. We have been taught to think. You can get such a chance perhaps once in your life when a professor wants to spend so much time with a group of students. And then we thought, “Okay, we have to do the same thing for the younger generations.” And this is what we also do here in Kultura Liberalna. Not only do we have a lot of public debates here, we also have a home seminar, which has been going on for four years before we got this office.

 

How did you come into these circles? You talked about encountering these texts in university and then joining these home seminar discussions, but if we step back, was there a moment when you were younger when you became interested in these issues? Was it something that was part of your family, or was there some other event in your life that transformed your understanding of the world?

 

As with everything in life, it’s a series of chances that just happen. As for the personal experience, I chose the interdisciplinary faculty, which was meant to be extremely literary. I just started to look for interesting professors on the university, and I think I had great luck. After a few months, you knew already from the other students where you should go if you were interested in sociology and philosophy and politics. You just knew you should go to Pawel Spiewak, to Magdalena Sroda, to Marcin Krol, to Tomasz Merta, who died in the catastrophe of the Polish president’s plane, to Barbara Makiewicz’s political philosophy course. The older students told the younger students where to meet the most interesting persons. As for the source of the interest, I come from a family where we were told to do what is interesting to us. So I could just choose whatever I liked. And I liked this area.

 

If on the political spectrum there’s Instytut Sobieskiego on the Right side and Krytyka Polityczna on the Left, what distinguishes Kultura Liberalna from those two, and why did you choose this to either of those?

 

Before I answer this question, first I will answer another one that I have in my head. I think it is impossible to understand Kultura Liberalna without Tygodnik Europa. I don’t know if you have heard about it…

 

No.

 

This was a four-year phenomenon published by Axel Springer in Poland.

 

Was it connected to The European newspaper that appeared in English, as well?

 

No, Europe was never in English. Only one issue was in English. Tygodnik Europa was published by Axel Springer from 2005, I believe. It was extremely fashionable from the very beginning because it was a very high intellectual project. And it was added to the newspaper Fakt, which is the equivalent of Bild. It was a kind of fashion for students to buy Fakt on Wednesday and go to the university and show off Fakt although they actually read Europa and threw away their Fakt. But it was fun, and I wanted to work with them. It was easier than I thought to get there, and I spent three years there. A large part of the editorial board here at Kultura Liberalna also spent some time at Europa. And that’s where we learned how to make intellectual journalism at a very high level. When Europa was beginning to decline, we decided to open our own weekly. Europa was very interesting because it gathered perspectives from the whole political or intellectual spectrum. Although it was an Axel Springer publication, it was neither right wing nor left wing. It was both Slavoj Zizek and Norman Podhoretz in one place.

Now, where I would put Kultura Liberalna along the spectrum? In the center because it’s a liberal weekly. Now a few comments are needed here about the kind of liberalism we are creating here. We’re convinced that liberalism had been one of the victims of the “holy transformation.” Not in the meaning that this state is not liberal. It’s of course liberal, and it has its flaws like every state. But the meaning of liberalism, which is never clear in any political culture, is rather fuzzy here.

Here, when you say “liberal,” you think “economics” and “free market” and that’s all. So, first we try to show that liberalism is a very rich tradition. When we think of liberalism, we think of it as complicated as Isaiah Berlin or Alexis de Tocqueville showed it to be. But on the other hand, we also think that our experience of this region is central to our understanding of European liberalism that comes from the experience of this place. This means that a region that has been touched by totalitarian systems, which are very well described in Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands or Tony Judt’s Postwar, has a special idea or feeling of liberalism that is constructed of skepticism toward any radical ideologies plus a belief in personal freedom and an empathy for social problems. This does not make us Left. This makes us, as we like to think, socially empathic. So this is our kind of liberalism. This richness also includes an understanding that individuals can choose between different ways of living.

This is so important because most Polish liberals that called themselves so at the beginning of the 1990s turned conservative, as described in Jerzy Szacki’s book Liberalism after Communism. As Janusz Lewandowski from the Gdansk liberal milieu says, “I am the last of the Mohicans” because all the rest have become completely anti-liberal. And he also means Donald Tusk, the current prime minister, which is interesting. The liberals from the beginning of the 1990s have narrowed their vision of liberalism only to economic questions. When they consider the family or styles of living, they have just turned conservative. This is actually what Janusz Lewandowski explains very nicely in his interview in Kultura Liberalna. So, the only liberals from the beginning of the 1990s that have stayed liberals are the ones who didn’t actually go into politics: Adam Michnik, Alexander Smolar.

 

In my interviews I’ve discovered exactly what you said: that liberals have either gone off to the Right or off to the Left. Many people I’ve talked to say “I was a liberal in the 1990s, but I now disagree with neo-liberalism and have drifted over to the left side of the spectrum.”

 

Oh yes. This is so interesting because liberalism has been confused with neo-liberalism, whereas it is something completely different. I don’t know if you have spoken with Andrzej Walicki, but he is the person I think that has shown it most clearly. He has now published a new book that we’ve reviewed – Od projektu komunistycznego do neoliberalnej utopii (From the Communist Project to the Neoliberal Utopia)

 

So there’s been this confusion of liberalism and neo-liberalism. You’ve mentioned that liberalism has survived outside of politics because of people who have not entered politics – like Michnik. Do you think liberalism as a political project has been compromised in such a degree that we may not see a real liberal political force for some time here in Poland?

 

But when wasn’t it? Because if you read Raymond Aron, you can very easily come to the conclusion that a true liberal, in the meaning of Aronian liberalism, is a political proposal of rational thinking, of skepticism, of saying no to every radicalism and revolutionary thinking. Such a project is meant only for a few. This is not to say that we are so unhappy because no one wants to listen to us. I believe that, for various reasons, leftist slogans are always more popular. And at least in Poland, but not only, the slogans from the Right, based on nationalism or national history or national mythos, are also much more popular in society. But this doesn’t mean you have to be unsuccessful when you propose a liberal-thinking newspaper to people. We don’t feel unsuccessful at all. On the contrary.

 

If the very nature of the liberal project has somewhat limited appeal because it’s based on rational, skeptical, and anti-revolutionary ideology, what then is the political strategy? If there’s a certain hesitation to embrace any political messages that are populist on the one hand and quasi-revolutionary on the other, what becomes the political project here in Poland?

 

One aim is something that still hasn’t happened in Poland. This is what I call “creating liberal Poland,” which is to create a milieu that is able to influence public opinion and counter radical thinking in the era of radical right-wing thinking not only in Polish but in European politics. So this is the first aim, to create a better liberal Poland. In Polish it would be called ukonstytuowanie polskie liberalneij or the “constitution of Polish liberalism.”

The second thing is building the liberal democracy of the state. This is a complicated project. On one hand, it’s a project of building a state that lets its citizens live in the ways they choose as individuals. On the other hand, this does not mean a “minimal” liberal state. It would be utopian to say that people will realize their freedom without any money. So you have to be socially empathic. You have to think about public education. In a society like this one, where changes are taking place extremely rapidly, family issues are crucial. Family issues are connected with the freedom of parents who want to work although they have children. This is what Leszek Kolakowski wrote when he said that a minimal liberal state would be completely utopian. In the end, you have a liberal state and a series of political compromise that actually enable people to be free.

Right now, the parent issue is one of the greatest debates in Poland. We have written about it a lot in Kultura Liberalna. For women who want to work, you have to make it possible by creating social institutions like nurseries, kindergartens, and schools. This is still not obvious in this country. Of course there is no problem if you have money, then you can pay for a very high-level nursery. But if you don’t, then the problem starts. The other side of this discussion is, of course, social expectations of mothers. In a very nice interview with Agnieszka Graf a couple of months ago, she said that in Poland a woman is either a housewife or a bitch. So, at the same time you don’t just build institutions, you also have to influence social institutions.

 

There’s also the issue you’re alluding to but you haven’t mentioned: the Church. It’s an institution here in Poland that shapes people’s understanding of what the role of women should be, what the role of family should be. There’s been an interesting tension in relations between liberalism and the Church, beginning with Michnik’s articles.

 

His book Kościół lewica dialog.

 

Exactly. Some people I’ve talked to say that the liberal Left made a mistake by moving too close to the church. There was a tactical alliance in order to exit Communism, but ultimately it was too close a relationship. And many of the illiberal problems in Poland now are related to this embrace of the church. Unlike in Latin America or even maybe in Italy, there are very few liberal tendencies within the Church here. So what should liberalism’s relationship be with the Church? And can there be truly a liberal Poland if the Church remains so powerful?

 

First of all it’s not the same Church all the time. The Catholic Church in Poland today is completely different from what it was in the 1970s. Tomasz Polak has left the Church, and so have Stanislaw Pierog and Tadeusz Gadacz. It’s another Church after the case of Lemanski. I still believe Michnik was right, and Tadeusz Mazowiecki as well, when they said that in this very conservative and Catholic society it’s quite impossible to imagine politics, including liberal politics, without the Church. I like this expression by Mazowiecki – the “friendly parting of Church from state.” So of course, Church and state should be divided, but it should be friendly. And the responsibility for this process is on both sides.

 

I see that happening in theory, but I don’t see much of that happening in practice…

 

Of course…

 

Is there, for instance, any dialogue between intellectuals and Church representatives on any of the questions that are controversial today like abortion or in-vitro fertilization or the role of women and kindergartens…

 

Not a lot. But I’m about to organize a debate here on Polish feminisms, and I’d like to put here on this couch leftists, feminists, and Catholic feminists and make them talk about abortion and other issues. I am very much influenced by the book of Ronald Dworkin’s Taking Rights Seriously. The Catholic participants would be open to discussion. The leftist participants say that these Catholics are not feminists at all. So, we have to work on it. We have to make them talk to one another. In Kultura Liberalna we often put the texts of very different authors side by side in the same issue. For example, we discussed civil unions with a text by Paweł Lisicki, the former chief editor of Rzeczpospolita and a conservative Catholic intellectual, and Krystian Legierski, who is a gay activist, very leftist, very popular here in Warsaw. Of course they didn’t talk to one another. But we published them in the same issue. And they were actually happy about it. So we hope eventually to put these people in the same room and make them talk to one another.

 

Speaking of divides, one of the profound divides here in Poland is the gulf between the intelligentsia and the rest of Polish society. I’m truly impressed with the flowering of the intelligentsia here in Poland. It was strong in 1989 and in 1990. But today, with the possible exception of France, the intelligentsia here in Poland is the strongest in all of Europe. But the divide between the intelligentsia and the rest of society seems much stronger than it was in 1989 when of course there was an effort for political reasons to bring both sides together in Solidarity and other institutions. Are there efforts to have that same kind of discussion between representatives of the intelligentsia and representatives of the trade union movement or farmers’ organizations?

 

I can give you at least one example of what we did. I don’t know if you had a chance to read Rzeczpospolita’s “Plus-Minus” from the past weekend, but they actually wrote of our discussion from two or three years ago about the peasant roots of Polish society. This is a society of tremendous social transformation where your parents could be farmers and you would be in the intelligentsia. So this is a relationship not only between social groups but between generations. We also try to show that, although Polish society would like to think that we are the children of aristocrats, we are definitely not. Most of us are sons and grandsons and granddaughters of peasants and farmers. And this makes this whole discussion even more interesting. Through this discussion, we wanted to encourage different people to talk to one another. It became quite a fashionable subject.

 

You put the stress on passing the torch between generations. And of course you have your own intellectual genealogy, so to speak, the people you learned from and also the people they learned from, stretching back several decades…

 

We’re writing a book about this, but I don’t think we’ve gotten so far yet.

 

Are there ways that you would define your generation of liberals as different from the previous generation? Even if you are reading the same texts and responding in some sense to the same history, you obviously have a different history of your own. You grew up in a different time than your parents’ generation.

 

I partly answered this question when we spoke about the victimization of liberalism. The former generation of liberals acted in these very different ways. But perhaps you could put your question more precisely.

 

To give an example from another context: in the United States liberals today are characterized more perhaps by identity politics than their economic positions. Liberals of my parents’ generation would define themselves according to traditional New Deal American politics, having to do with social welfare and entitlement programs, relationship with unions and so forth. Today a liberal in the United States is more identified by position on gay rights, racism, women’s issues, and what has traditionally been called “identity politics.” although that’s probably not a fair characterization of all those issues. Economic issues, at least in the traditional liberal sense in the American context, are not as important. In fact, some members of this generation of liberals might even be anti-union. Yet they still consider themselves liberals. So that is a major difference in the generations in American liberalism. Is there a similar generational shift here in Poland?

 

First, the liberalism of the generations of 1968 and 1989 would think of liberalism as an alternative to Marxism. What is actually meant was, again, very fuzzy. If you didn’t want to be a Marxist, you said you were a liberal. This is very well described by Jerzy Szacki. These liberals said, “I’m not a Marxist, I am a liberal,” but they didn’t have a very clear concept what this actually meant. The ones that stayed liberal, such as Michnik or Smolar or Spiewak were intellectuals. As the years passed, their liberalism became more mature, and they acquired clearer concepts. So this is first thing.

The second thing, which is a consequence of the first, is that our liberal spectrum is much broader. We don’t just say that we are just opposed to something. Actually, I’m not very interested in this. I’m rather interested in defining the spectrum. But I wouldn’t say it’s just identity politics or just economic issues. I would say we have a deep feeling that we have to create liberalism all over again because the liberal position in Poland has never been very strong, and it was very much simplified by this opposition between Marxism and liberalism. Somehow a liberalism after liberalism must be constructed all over again in order to have as broad spectrum as it is possible.

And thirdly, of course we are not blind to identity issues, because they are very important for the Polish society nowadays. But I would say that the subjects that are most interesting for us are the third category beside identity and economic issues – virtual issues. The online world is changing the meaning of freedom nowadays. It has been understood by very few persons — among them, for example, Ivan Krastev — the tremendous implications all this has for notions of citizenship and social movements. This is very fascinating for us and very much worth discussing.

Finally, you asked about the clash of generations. This is funny because we have always been challenged by our elders. They have always asked, “Why don’t you just rebel against us? Why are you so polite? What’s wrong with you?” This is a generational thing. We don’t oppose the former generation. Every milieu has its own approach. In Kultura Liberalna we try to understand more than to propose. Also, there is a strong conviction that if you just focus on your father you will never go forward. You just have to create your own things. Surely you’re familiar with the TV series Mad Men? There is this main character that has just cut of all relations with his family. This is of course a symbol. We haven’t done this. It’s more just that we are interested in the future. It doesn’t mean that we are closed to listening. But our passions, so to say, are about the future and not about the past.

 

That is unusual here in Poland because the past is so important, even if the past is like five years ago…

 

Yes, yes, the past, but I believe you mean three years ago.

 

Yes, three years ago: Smolensk.

 

Yes, these passions are extreme.

 

One of the unfortunate trends in this region is a great deal of political apathy when it comes to either participation in democratic institutions or participation in elections or even trust in politicians or in political institutions. And there’s a contrast obviously between when people are asked what they think about democracy in general – they have generally high opinions – and when they are asked specifically about specific democratic institutions or democratic players, for which they have very low evaluations. But this is such an important cornerstone for the liberal worldview. You talked about creating a new liberalism or “liberalism after liberalism.” What about democracy after democracy? What can be done to kind of reinvigorate liberal politics?

 

This is a good question because it is not only a question about Poland, is it?

 

But we’re looking to Poland to give us inspiration.

 

Yes, but actually when you look all over Europe you have the same problem. And again it’s a generational problem. It’s one of the most interesting things I have read lately in my colleague’s essays. Jaroslaw Kuisz wrote recently in one of his texts that when you look at the unemployment numbers and the dissatisfaction of youngsters in central eastern Europe and in western Europe, you actually see they are very similar. And the kind of thinking about reality is also very similar: give us, please give us, because we want. It’s so completely different from our generation, meaning those of us in our thirties. We have understood that we have to fight for everything and it’s normal. The twentysomethings just say, “Give us!” This is something extremely strange for us. But the strangest thing is that this mood is all around Europe, which actually means that there is no Homo Sovieticus. The post-Communist society doesn’t exist, because the new generation is all just the same.

Nobody actually has an answer for the question you have posed. I can say some nice slogans like “education” or “more participation” or “social consulting.” But at least democracy functions at a local level here. There’s, for example, the case of the referendum on the mayor of this city, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz. There is a whole city movement here in Warsaw, and these activists are really into discussing, acting, working for the city. I’ve been trying to explain this to the Platforma Obywatelska politicians lately, but they just didn’t want to understand that these young activists had gone to the West, seen how local democracy can work and how the city can work, and came back wanting their city to be the best in the world. Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz is not fulfilling their expectations. So they would like to have a referendum and say no. And then the Civic Platform just says, “Don’t go to the referendum, the referendum is not important.” These young people, these activists, are furious now. So perhaps if Civic Platform or any other party had more of a social ear, they could understand that local democracy is a way of engaging more citizens and persuade them to really work for a liberal state. Am I right that Tocqueville wrote the same thing, that first you are trained in local democracy?

 

That leads me to an even larger question, which is around sovereignty. One could argue that liberalism and liberal politics are built around a traditional understanding of national sovereignty and how the state operates within an international environment. You could argue also that in the last 20 years the crisis in liberalism is in some sense related to the crisis in sovereignty, that because of globalization states no longer have the power they once had to control everything within their territory. International institutions, for better or for worse, have a lot of influence and sometimes direct power over countries. But also from below, people are deciding to focus locally rather than at a national level. So what’s the future of liberalism in a post-sovereign world, in which national sovereignty is pulled in two directions, leaving the state with less power?

 

Yes, sovereignty is an important and delicate problem not only for Poland but for every country here in this region, which Milan Kundera once called small nations that have deep consciousness of their “non-necessity.” We are all conscious that we can just disappear off the map because it happened in history many times. The second thing is that I don’t think the crisis of liberalism is created to such a large extent by the crisis of sovereignty. I think it’s rather connected with the lack of contrast. In 1989-90, the contrast disappeared. It’s so difficult to find a place again in a world that is so multi-polar. It’s more difficult to say that we are on this liberal good side, and the other ones are the bad guys. Psychologically, this is difficult not only for Poland or other European countries, but also for the United States.

This connects back to your question about political apathy. One of the reasons for this distrust — apart from the other reasons described, for example, by Krastev that are connected with global changes in democracy — is this disillusionment of Polish society, which had expected heaven and which then saw that both economical liberalism and political liberalism are just regimes, with all the flaws and all the problems connected to human character, badly functioning institutions, and so on. Becoming critical of these concepts is also perhaps a good sign of political maturity.

Also, the European Union appeared to be a heaven at the very beginning to many many people. On the one hand, it is of course heaven when you can just travel with your ID everywhere. When you just go to the airport, and you say, “Oh I forgot my ID,” and they say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter — you just need your library card because it’s the same country – Paris is basically the same country.” So, of course, that’s very nice, and my generation still realizes this is nice because we remember the 1990s. The new generation of course doesn’t even know that something has changed. But, on the other hand, the EU is also bureaucracy and quarrels in Brussels, and this creates a lot of social disillusionment that may last quite a while.

 

What does the virtual world offer to liberalism that is new and liberating? What excites you about it?

 

It offers a lot. It offers Kultura Liberalna to everyone in the world. We can talk directly to New York or to Beijing, as long as people want to read us.

 

I didn’t mean so much Kultura Liberalna, but I meant liberalism in general.

 

Yes, yes, I understood the question, I just wanted to say this because it’s so nice. Well, the Internet is just a tool. It’s a great tool but just a tool. So on one hand you can create very fruitful social movements like the Acta movement. We have written a lot about the Acta movement because we believe that is not just a bunch of people who protest that they cannot share files on the Internet anymore. But it’s rather a movement of people that understood the Internet as a space of freedom in the positive sense and also in the organizing sense. Of course, for liberalism you can spread liberal messages and influence public opinion much better than you could before. But as I said, it is only a tool. Now it’s quite easy to organize a social movement and to give it life that will last more than three months.

 

When you look back to when you started becoming involved in these issues, has anything changed dramatically in the way you look at the world? Have you had any, as we say in English, second thoughts about some of the early components of your worldview?

 

Everything has changed in my worldview. I’m very much convinced that my worldview is created out of my academic and intellectual and journalistic work as much as out of my personal life. But I don’t have any second thoughts. It’s simply a process of developing my worldview. I have never thought of the changes I have gone through as being in conflict – no, never. But my understanding has changed, for example, about what personal rights and personal freedom means, about what is doable and achievable, and how we evaluate critical party politics. We try to get out of the academic life here, even though half the editorial board here has PhDs from Warsaw University. We try to put all these ideas into life and test them.

 

That last thing I do is three quantitative questions. When you look back to 1989 and everything that has changed, or not changed, in Poland, how would you evaluate that on a scale from 1 to 10, one being most dissatisfied and 10 being most satisfied?

 

6.

 

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

 

9.

 

Looking into the near future, the next two or three years, how would you evaluate the prospects for Poland, again on a scale of one to ten, one being most pessimistic, ten being most optimistic?

 

7.

 

Warsaw, August 27, 2013

 


3 Comments

  1. Bruce E. Woych

    Social justice as political liberal both locally and globally has a spectrum of meanings that can be historically and geopolitically at odds with itself.
    Liberation from aristocracy, from totalitarianism, from corporatism,from concentrations of power, all add up to some distribution or social justice and a liberal perspective implies a relative position between conforming and reforms. In turn these determine positions that are considered either reactionary or radical in their intentionality. History has demonstrated, however, that it is not always politically clear as to what direction these terms mandate or dictate to serve and service.

    Obvious terms such as freedom, liberty, and ideals concerning universal human rights, individualism, individuation (alienation), socialism become ironically ambiguous and unclearly path dependent when referenced by specific history and political systems that capture and usurp their meanings. Left and right connotations can be radicalized or reactionary depending upon their context. Libertarians that are methodological fascists can claim pure liberal philosophic ancestry under utilitarian domains, as much as conservatives can point to national socialism and eastern Europe’s Centralized Planning under the Soviet era in the same breath as a “liberal” pejorative class with contempt and disdain. Centrists and anarchists unite under a liberal conservatism (or was that a conservative liberalism?). Political ambiguity seems to be intrinsically built into the term, readily adjusted with a paleo….neo…or any brand or some “new” liberalism being designed to express change and righteous ideals…or…a new deal.
    Ultimately liberal is a relativistic open phase of sensitivity against some degree of closed injustice. It is not necessarily a question of right or left, but of right and wrong.

    Liberal, of course, is still easily confused when based on individual, group,corporate, collective or sociopolitical perspectives now very much dichotomized between contrived public and private spheres and domains that are disputed under political economic interpretations and translations.

    I agree whole heatedly with what is stated by Karolina Wigura that: “Somehow a liberalism after liberalism must be constructed all over again in order to have as broad spectrum as it is possible.”
    And that implies that Liberalism must be revived as a continuous learning system of social justice and individual human rights that are mutually reinforcing. In that regard East meets West with a gravitational center that is grounded and realistic.

  2. Bruce E. Woych

    Interesting study: 2004
    Privatizing Poland: Baby Food, Big Business, and the Remaking of Labor (Culture and Society after Socialism)
    by Elizabeth C. Dunn

  3. Bruce E. Woych

    Essential:
    Markets in the Name of Socialism: The Left-Wing Origins of Neoliberalism by Johanna Bockman (Jul 1, 2013)

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