Individualism, lack of trust in the state structures as well as in any kind of administration or elite and their decisions were the cornerstone to the Polish success, and now they constitute the major obstacle for moving forward.
We are currently experiencing the time of prosperity and the economic growth, which is hard to compare with anything else in our contemporary history, not even mentioning the recent one. Of course we can make fun of it, as both the right and the left side of the political scene do it very willingly, but I would recommend looking back into the books on economic history and statistics.
The time of peace and the European Union grants as well as the need for equally or even better qualified, and cheaper than in the Eastern Europe, manpower, and unprecedented mobility and flexibility of Poles both in terms of emigration and creating their own business, all these promotes the economic development.
In the country, where the private production sector was persecuted by the state still 25 years ago and constituted only a slight part of the production sector, today 60% of GDP is produced by micro, small and medium enterprises, that is by the entities created as a result of the Poles’ creativity and energy and not as a result of privatization and enfranchisement processes.
Unfortunately, describing the Polish success as the effect of a deeply thought through system actions and genius moves of the political class would be false. Apart from a few exceptions, the processes leading to the todays’ relative stability and resistance to shocks took place not thanks to the actions taken by those in power and by the public administration, but in spite of their actions.
What do we owe our politicians?
The sources of our success can be found mostly in the bankruptcy of the centrally steered economy – which resulted in so called Wilczek reform, as well as from transferring private equity and services from the illegal to the legal zone. Nevertheless, the legality of the aforementioned actions was not followed by the actual equality of the private manufacturers with the state ones. However, the chances of the private manufacturers were equaled thanks to the fact that the state manufacturers in spite of being on a preferential position for years, they had problems with efficiency, which worked in plus for the first group of producers.
There are three undeniable advantages of the first Polish ruling governments. Thanks to Leszek Balcerowicz Poland managed to avoid the Yugoslav economic crisis. I would like to remind you that it was the moment when in Yugoslavia the German Mark was defined as the binding currency in settlements, which caused confusion for the German currency issuer). Thanks to Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Bronisław Geremek and Krzysztof Skubiszewski we avoided the Yugoslav crisis in defining the state and the borders, even though after the collapse of the Soviet Union it was tempting to make use of the weaknesses created after this disruption. Thanks to the above mentioned three gentleman as well as thanks to the common mindset of the hitherto political class, which needs to be sincerely stated, we created a strategy of close cooperation with western world, unexpectedly consequently fulfilled by all Polish governments without an exception, which resulted in membership of the European Union and NATO.
Other processes that contributed to building the current stability happened as if behind the public authorities or maybe even contrary to their will. Our membership in the European Union and in NATO were the first and the last at the same time strategic goals stated by the Polish politicians.
We should account for the government of Jerzy Buzek – the only one after Mazowiecki and Balcerowicz, who took care of the reforms or who tried to create modern systems within some of the state sectors such as health insurance, retirement system, public administration or education. The first reform was destroyed by the Leszek Miller government, the second one was destroyed recently by Donald Tusk. The third one was changed completely with a giant number of provinces. The forth one, which was of poor quality from the very beginning, was limited with terrible programs and teaching methods. But this government was the last one which made attempts to build the structures and tried to work on creating a modern public sector that would make up for the social and economic changes occurring independently on the state.
Prosperity and growth not thanks to, but in spite of
Such political events like the collapse of the communism or creation of the Tadeusz Mazowiecki government made it possible to create the bases of the social system that enabled for undertaking an initiative. The Balcerowicz package introduced mathematical rules to the state calculations, as well as practical criteria of profitability and reasonability of economic decisions both state and private ones. Balcerowicz reverted the PLN currency, which due to the rocketing inflation was pushed out of the market by the trade exchange and semi-legal turnover in stable foreign currencies.
You need to be an exceptional ignorant or a political cynic to depreciate especially from the today’s perspective, the “monetary” policy of Balcerowicz. All governments of the People’s Republic of Poland believed that collapsing ineffective state-owned huge companies should be kept alive, as at some point they will become a driving force of the economic growth. This way of thinking led to the bankruptcy of the state declared by Wojciech Jaruzelski in 1981. The conviction that money in the economy are unnecessary was supposed to finish with the introduction of communism in 1980 – as it was foreseen by Nikita Chruszczow.
The Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s government restored in Poland some basic stability by means of reforming the economy, public administration (local government), removing the system of censorship by Security Services (SB). And what is most important is that the reforms within the economy and the creation of the consumer goods market introduced inevitable in such situation but beneficial at the same time chaos, especially in the small services sector, trade and manufacturing goods. This chaos was governed only by introducing taxes PIT, CIT and VAT in the mid 90ties. The tax administration inherited after the People’s Republic of Poland period was completely unprepared to service or to stop the development of millions of Poles selling absolutely everything from camp beds, metal kennels and distributing TV sets and cotton pants brought to Poland from the strangest parts of the world. This particular period of wild, weakly or at all regulated development of small entrepreneurs created todays’ middle class. Low salaries in the public sector and the possibility of earning money on unbelievably high from today’s perspective, margins in trade, contributed to the fact that there was a huge flow of entrepreneurial people to the private sector. They moved from the camp beds to new shops opened rapidly, and they moved manufacturing from their living rooms or garages to the warehouses or spacious halls. There were nationwide networks of garage warehouses. Many entrepreneurs, understanding that the market will saturate with the basic products at some point, decided to allocate gathered capital in services or production of goods more stable in the long run, however, less profitable in the short time perspective.
The economic growth we are facing today is to a major extent an echo of the boom period in the mid 90ties. We are resistant to crises because of the independence of the small and medium companies sector from the banking sector, most vulnerable to the global turbulences. Huge internal demand satisfied with home enterprises is still a driving force of our economy. These companies were not created thanks to bank loan or bank investment programs, which we knew in the 90ties only from the American films, but thanks to hard work and capital that was multiplied throughout the years.
In terms of political freedom, just as in terms of the economy, the processes occurred rapidly, anticipating or rather ignoring the actions of the administration. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of abolishing the censorship someone wrote that this abolishment has not been even noticed. That is true, because it was only a formality. In fact everyone could buy at that time Parisian “Culture”, samizdat magazines or reprints of forbidden title “Lenin” by Antoni Ferdynand Ossendowski around the corner. It was enough to end the state control over the paper trade and there appeared plenty of registered or not newspapers presenting all ideological and political views. It was enough to have 1/3 of free votes in Sejm in order to enable freedom of speech. Censors could still get their salary, but they had no influence on the published content anymore.
It was enough to find little gaps in the limitations regarding both the political and economic area in order to face a ”huge boom”. Nobody planned it, and no one controlled its effects, which was positive both for the citizens and for the country itself.
Do we still need a state?
The above question seems justified if we look at our history and the fact that we gained our personal and political freedom in the time of inter-systematic chaos, and the basis of our relevant wealth and economic growth we owe to poor tax control in the first half of the 90ties. Did we become free and we started our businesses in spite of the state or against the state? So do we need it at all? Since entering into the EU and NATO Polish state does not set any strategic goals for the future. Long before Donald Tusk defined the politics “as long as there is hot water, everything is ok”, the same strategy was used by one of his predecessors Leszek Miller. During short period, when Law and Order party (PiS) was governing the country there was no strategy either.
We are not using in the political language expressions like “national programs” any more, and we openly talk about fulfilling a plan of a given party, which is equal to success in politics. The time when Mazowiecki or Buzek ruled the country are revoked as reliable governments run by naïve idiots, as these politicians lost in the following elections. Our political class seems not to notice that despite these failures and blaming the authors of the transformation for everything, the government of Mazowiecki is considered by Poles as the best one in the Third Republic of Poland and Leszek Balcerowicz is still very popular, whereas Jerzy Buzek achieves excellent results in the elections.
On an everyday basis we are informed what happens when our country steps into action ie. when the state decides to construct highways, companies which built them go bankrupt, when it introduces IT tool in ZUS (Social Insurance Company) there is always one part missing, when it facilitates the access to the medical services, the queues become longer, when it starts to count election votes automatically – we get the results after four months. The examples can be multiplied, but it’s a waste of time and nerves to prolong this list, everyone knows it perfectly.
And, paradoxically, when the country does not exist we prosper perfectly and grow. What the healthcare could look like knows everyone who has a package in a private clinic. Everyone who uses the internet banking services knows how effectively an electronic data base may be created. The developers and their general constructors show that you can earn money on constructing works. For every aspect that is a state’s failure we have an example of a success in the area that is not influenced by the public authorities. Which is even worse, is that we may show a list of actions that were supposed to bring success, but because the state stepped into it failed to achieve it. The most spectacular example might be the second producer of computers in Europe. Who cares, that after many years long trial a huge compensation will be paid from our pockets, if Roman Kluska was pushed out of the innovational sector and now he runs his own sheep farm. Maybe it is a good idea, probably it even brings money, but should Polish state enforce such change of activity profile? Maybe it would be better for the state to stay away and do nothing.
We do not need the state as it is today. When it steps into, our life becomes more difficult. I focused in this article on the economic aspects but let’s imagine that this state begins to bring back the remnant of the old system….such as protecting high authorities against any kind of insult…absurd concerning misdemeanor law, supervision over associations and foundations? I begin to shiver when I think of it. It’s so good, that this state, please let me quote the former Minister of Interior and Administration “Thank God exists only in theory”.
Actually, in the time of peace and prosperity we need a state only to some extent, maybe only to have police forces to maintain order. But the state which only cares about “hot water in our taps” and which fulfills the cravings of the majority of electors, cares only about privileges for the strongest groups at the expense of those worse organized or less significant is not needed.
A state is a concept for worse times
A state is not a solution for good times. We know it since the prehistoric communities decided to organize themselves in more complex structures. We need a state in difficult times to help us to protect our individual interests, which we cannot protect ourselves. We do not have good experience. The Second Republic of Poland which was built with eagerness and huge amount of patriotism did not fulfill this basic task. It did not protect its citizens from the loss of their lives, dignity, freedom and last but not least material property. There are many objective circumstances that may explain the collapse of that state – long economic war with Germany, world crisis, the economic downturn, hostile neighbors made us pay huge amounts of money (but as it turned out too little) for defense. But in spite of all these, Polish state did not fulfill its basic duty towards its citizens.
The situation was similar in case of the First Republic of Poland and the partitions. However, this time the failure was caused mostly by the Poles and the Polish political elites. Vast and rich with the wealth of its citizens state became a victim of poorer neighbors. If we count the wealth of a given country with the number of goods produced and resources it has, as we do today, than we could buy any of the partitioning countries as a Christmas gift. It was possible to prepare an army ready to fight with Austria, Prussia and Russia. Hitherto state collapsed in front of the whole Europe, as it had no system, that would transfer the wealth of its citizens, economic growth from the Saxon times into strong common organization.
On the basis of our own history we may prove the thesis that the state in the time of an economic growth is used mainly to build common force – economic, political, militant which will protect us in the time of downturn or historical turbulence. Such state has its strategies, long-term goals, introduces regulations consolidating the potential of the whole country, makes use of the economic growth in order to create a long-lasting, crisis resistant organization.
We do not have much experience when it comes to such types of state. Last time our country was functioning like that was, I believe, in the Jagiellonian dynasty times. As the times of the Vasa family were already a period when the state interests were put aside, which finished with the Swedish occupation and which marked the beginning of the end of the Republic of Poland.
Prussia – small and peripheral country, even from the Germany point of view – step by step was building its potential and became perfect in using it when needed. The Republic of Poland at the end of the 18th century could have protected itself with 1/5 of its potential – but it was not prepared to do that, it had no proper organization, this state existed only in theory.
I do not want the above to be seen as a simple analogy to the current situation. As I wrote in the beginning – we do develop in term of economy, we have in majority secure borders, we are members of a strong military association and strong organization of economic and political. But in all this current puzzle unfortunately I cannot see the state itself.
I am not writing about the all-powerful state at the moment, which is a dream of both the left and the right side of the political scene, and in which the state decides who sleeps with whom and how much we can earn. Such state is archaic and funny. I am talking about a state that I believe, or at least hope would not abandon me in the moment of crisis as the First or the Second Republic of Poland disappointed my ancestors.
I think everyone who kept on reading up till this point realizes that in my opinion the current Polish state does not meet the above requirements.
Where is the plan?
There is no organization functioning pointlessly or without a strategy. We put our strategic thinking aside when we entered the western structures. As if our membership in the European Union and NATO were in Polish conditions a Fukuyama end of the history. But Fukuyama himself resigned from his own thesis, so it would be better if we decided that life goes on and either we will create the history for ourselves or it will be created for us by someone else.
The role of the state today in this good economic situation we are facing is to strengthen its own structures, positions and the strength of influence. Of course I know that Poland is in an interim position- we may call it the biggest from the smallest countries or the smallest from the biggest countries. It is uncomfortable and it always causes problems when defining our own opportunities and aspirations. But we cannot keep on running away from defining them.
The crises such as the Ukrainian one, shows us how much time we have wasted after accessing to NATO. This crisis had to happen for us to rise a question “what will happen if Russia decides to attack us?” and so we received a proper answer. Today we know, that an effective help can come after 90 days, so up till this moment we need to base on our own potential. Couldn’t we have foreseen in 1999 from which side the attack would have come? It was as obvious as it is today. Haven’t we than wasted all these 16 years, during which we introduced quite significant reforms of the military forces regarding this 90-day period when we need to focus on our own potential. Was it that difficult to realize that throughout this time American forces are an operational pillar of NATO. The number of American military forces in Europe was reduced from 250 thousand to 40 thousand, so it was not that difficult to realize that the level of our security drops?
The governments inform us about “the success stories” concerning acquiring funds from the European Union on new investments, but we never try to define our strategic goals of our membership in the European Union. Of course it is a pleasure to see donations for new aqua parks or extra money for an ineffective agriculture, but which of our most pending problems will be solved by the European Union in its present shape and condition? What kind of EU do Poles need, and for what kind of EU should our next governments vote? Rather free economic organization, free trade zone or maybe strongly integrated structure with common foreign policy, security and energy policy?
And finally – do we have a plan B? Do we consider at the strategic level that EU may become an organization from the dreams of one of the British conservatives i.e. an organization limited to free trade and almost free exchange of resources? Or do take into consideration the fact, that at some point the Germany will have enough of financing wasteful and insolvent South of Europe and the Germans will say “enough of common budgeting”? or what if the Americans elect a new president that will fulfill the promises of Barack Obama about not intervening in the zones where there is no direct interest of US. And what if NATO stops existing? Seems impossible? What about Russia, when Yeltsin was in power? Has anyone at that time thought that aggression towards Ukraine or annexation of its territory would be possible?
Today, following Kaczynski, we can only ask a question from the poem “Modlitwa” (Prayer): “ If God does not protect us/ than what may happen to Poles?”. I do not want to frighten anyone or predict the worse, however, every responsible politician should live in fear of the worst. And apart from plan A had a plan B, at list an outline of such a plan.
The confederation will not substitute the state
Individualism, lack of trust in the state structures as well as in any kind of administration or elite and its decisions are the cornerstone for the Polish success, and now they constitute the major obstacle for moving forward – to create modernity, to modernize, discount the wealth of the citizens for the sake of building common structures protecting against any dangers.
Managing the common interests in Poland seems to have something to do with confederation model. Now, just as it was in the First Republic of Poland in spite of witnessing the game of various political powers proposing various ideas, we have two general confederations. Such situation was caused by lack of faith in the state, in its structures’ real capabilities both by the ruling party and the opposition, and even supported by many proofs that this state exists only theoretically. For each of the two confederations the main aim of their activity is to combat the other one.
In the First Republic of Poland the confederations (ie. institutions substituting the authorities stemming from knights’ disobedience law towards the ruling king) on the assumption the anti-regime became the regime ones. Especially after sanctioning in the middle of the 17th century the rule of unanimity of the parliament (liberum veto) the general confederations were the only group able to undertake decisions, which if had enough number of supporters, could even bring these rules into life. Confederations were also typical rebellions, and attempts to reform the country such as the Stanislawowski convocational sejm or the Great Sejm. With Barska confederation Poles tried to fight against partitions, and with the Targowicka confederation Poles accelerated the partitions.
Notwithstanding the intentions, the confederations have always been and still are an evil. The belief that only “me and my family” know best how to organize the state and we can substitute the government, because “we are right”, because “the truth and the God support us”, and we on our own choose this moment when we destroy the state procedures and introduce changes – this belief may destroy every state even the biggest and the richest one.
Polish political elites supporting two general confederations in Poland – Law and Order (PIS) and the Civic Platform (PO) make use of the individualism, lack of trust in public institutions, lack of social capital for their own use. This mechanism has the opposite effect – as ruling the country according to the confederation model will not strengthen the state, it will weaken it, bringing additional proof that the confederation is needed.
Polish political elites have not set up any plan A or B. We have no strategy for our membership in the international organizations. Going with the flow – which suggests PO is not a plan. The plan would be if we made use of the flow for our purposes.
The concept of “hot water in a tap” is creating a philosophy to the indifference and helplessness. This motto is like a Grouchy Smurf, who would describe every chance for improvement as “It will not work for sure”. Because our society is not ready, because of Germany, Russia, France or Botswana. Well, some people may think in this way. But the Polish tragedy is that we have no political alternative for such thesis. As curing local complexes and wagging finger at someone and hiding behind the patriotic opinions is not an option.
We have no idea how to turn a success of millions of Poles into one success of the organization – a state. I am not talking about the ratings, but a real power, power of attracting friends and frightening away the enemies.
Strategies and reforms
In history of every country we can see periods of weakness in strategic thinking – sometimes due to the lack of a proper thinker and sometimes due to the circumstances. As long as the “anti-strategic” way of thinking is not a basis for acting we may treat it only as an incident and live on. But in Poland unfortunately the “anti-strategic” way of thinking becomes the main thought. On one hand patriots form PO (they call themselves that way, however, in the context of confederational disruption of the country and deepening decomposition of the common political nation I hate to think of them in this way) protect me against PIS, defining the ruling of this latter party as the greatest danger for the citizens, and on the other hand PIS offers me to fight back the greatest danger for Polish state i.e. PO. Both thesis, totally untrue, based on Poles’ emotions for many years, disturbing their attention from important issues, justifying lack of interest of the mainstream parties in creating a modern state.
The Third Republic of Poland has its primary sins as well. The basic one is the lack of definition of the state tradition. On one hand they refer to the Second Republic of Poland – the last free Poland we had. On the other hand it continues the period of People’s Republic of Poland in formal and legal way within the system, social and economic relations, with huge corrections, but still continues this model.
I do not want to judge which solution would be better. We had a kind of hybrid, the symbol of which was taking the president office by Lech Wałęsa – formally from Wojciech Jaruzelski, but he took the insignia from last leaving president of the Republic of Poland in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski as well. We duplicated a bit the People’s Republic of Poland, which sanctioned the continuity with the Second Republic of Poland, but the March and April constitution leaving to the government on emigration. I do not want to interfere in legal and constitutional issues – I just sum up the political facts.
However, these facts have implications in the mental sphere. How to create the historical policy so important for the nation without answering the question which idea the Third Republic of Poland should follow? Or maybe it is a completely new idea of state? How to create an economic system without closing any of the reprivatization cases.
In order not to stop only on the questions… the Third Republic of Poland should define itself as a completely new state project. It should remove all the reminiscences both after the People’s Republic of Poland period as well as after the Second Republic of Poland. It should set its own goals and fulfill them. It should also be able to foresee crises and deal with these difficult moments, which will come for sure.
Fulfilling the strategy means reforming the state, building it in a place where the citizens activity is not enough. Do not wait, as it happens today, until the public opinion enforces the changes. The state that changes only under the pressure of the majority of the citizens is unattractive. The political class which awaits 80% of the social acceptance for regulating the in vitro method in order to undertake actions regarding this method is not worth calling it neither a class nor “political”.
I do not remember in history any sensible reform with the introduction of which anyone would wait until most population would approve it. We choose them because we believe they are slightly wiser than we are. Let’s imagine Poland in which Balcerowicz would have waited for a referendum in order to introduce his reform package. In which Marshall Józef Piłsudski would have waited with a decree for an 8-hour long work day or the women’s right to vote till the moment he would be sure that the society is ready. What about Mazowiecki, he would have to wait for the results of the surveys, from which it would result that Poles support the idea of ending the censorship and local governance with legal personality?
Waiting until the society is ready is a rhetoric of conservatives who are afraid of making any move forward. They are frightened that “if they perform the reforms, they will lose the elections and others will rule the country, and we’ll see…” is an excuse for lazy ones.
The role of the politicians is to serve, which does not mean “fulfill the indications of the majority of the society”. They are responsible for building an effective, modern state, which does not mean “pleasing current tastes”. If we take a look at the biographies of the most important politicians, we will see that even though each of them was worried about the forthcoming elections, it did not disturb them from reaching their goals to fulfill their vision of the country in 10,20,30 or even 50 years’ time.
Poland needs a vision, what it should look like in 2030, 2050, 2100. These are the shortest possible perspectives of a political structure such as a state. And we do not mean such plan, as the one created by Hausner, which were than kept on a shelf or “Poland 2030” by Michał Boni, but about assumptions that would be accepted and fulfilled in practice.
In such strategy, a state cannot be all-powerful. It should withdraw from the ideological, axiological sphere – any interference here is a waste of time and energy. It should liberate the energy of Poles in practice and not in declarations. Let’s imagine what our economic growth would look like if the offices and tax offices did not report how many penalties they gave, but for instance from increase of the registered (taxed) economic turnover on its territory? Let’s imagine a school in which children are not divided into two groups one of Catholics and the other one not, but they take part together in all lessons, because they are Poles notwithstanding their religious denomination. We can do it…
Poland needs politicians who benefit from the time of peace and prosperity by creating effective judicial system, internal and external security structures, a police structure which is able to find out who and why killed its chief police commissioner. Military forces which are able to frighten everyone who is willing to overtake our territory and assets of our citizens or protect it for 90 days. A state which buys functioning governmental airplanes, and in case of a plane crash – prosecutor office is able to define the reasons and to indicate and ensure that the guilty persons will be charged. The state needs to build trust of its citizens to its structures.
We need politicians who will be aware that at some time the period of peace, prosperity and low costs we are facing today will finish. This is a natural economic cycle – every boom is followed by economic slump. We need to redirect our state to focus on other aspects such as new technologies and innovativeness. We cannot follow the archaic model of post-communist structure of public services.
Preparation of this state for a difficult time requires not only difficult reforms within the judiciary, internal security, public healthcare or retirement system area. It also requires a number of actions in order to create between the two rivers Odra and Bug a political nation and substituting the ombating two confederations of social orthodox catholics and state controlled conservatists with a society of citizens with various opinions but linked together with a common insurance policy for worse times ie. a state. And a state not only enabling for freedom, which may result from helplessness but ensuring this freedom by its power. Such processes will not happen without proper involvement of the political elites and proper reforms.
Translated by Urszula Gałecka-Sobiech