Politics Without Gibberish: An Interview with Leszek Balcerowicz

There is ‘hateful gibberish’ of the Law and Justice and ‘cheerful gibberish’ hence the discourse of the Civic Platform success propaganda. What we need in Poland is a grassroots liberal youth movement. Without any gibberish. Marcin Celiński and Leszek Jażdżewski talk with professor Leszek Balcerowicz.

Liberté!: Professor, you have mentioned that a party of young liberals should be established and that perhaps the impulse for such an action will come from the Civic Platform. Have you noticed any such symptoms?

Leszek Balcerowicz: I will not dare to speak on your behalf. You are the young liberals. I expressed a view that it would be good if a well-organised and efficient group of people who believe in freedom and law-abidingness would emerge and begin changing Polish politics. Now I”m waiting to see what happens. I didn’t say that I would create such a party. Perhaps a movement focused on freedom and law-abidingness will be revived within the Civic Platform. If not – then it should take on a separate organisational form.

You wrote in your book that one should fight, but there seems to be a general consensus that there is nothing to fight for. We seem to be generally satisfied, everyone is okay with
‘the basic stability’ of life. What should we fight for?

First of all, I tend not to fully trust people who speak on behalf of everyone. Secondly, since I have plenty of students I am often in touch with young people, and they do not share the opinion you have just voiced.

In order to establish a party there must be a recognisable, strong leader. A brand around which the electorate can gather. You are probably the only person who could start such a party right now.

You should not expect a knight in a shining armor to show up and solve your problems for you.

Professor, aren’t you taking the easy way out when you say that you have already retired and that it’s high time the youth started acting? We could say as well that as a politically active individual, present on the political scene for many years you should be the one to shoulder the burden of fixing the current state of affairs.

Various groups in Poland seem to expect that one leader will show up and do all the work for them. That’s impossible. Of course, there should be a leader, preferably someone young, but the rest must be better organised – less storytellers, more efficient activists. In Poland there are way too many storytellers. Should something convincing emerge out of it, something that will not be merely a repetition of Janusz Palikot’s undertaking1, I will gladly have a look at it.

Around what matters could such a party or such a movement be established?

First we need a diagnosis. I believe that all political parties, including the major ones, treat the society as current or potential social welfare recipients. Hence they are competing with each other with regards to who will provide more support, which amounts to an increase in budget spending. In my opinion there is an enormous unexploited political potential of professionally active people. Those are hard-working people, including entrepreneurs.

Professor, you claim that we need a youth-oriented party which would object to the social state principle. Why don’t you endorse the Congress of the New Right led by Janusz Korwin-Mikke?

No, not against the social state as such, but against its pathologies. Why did the youth turn to the Congress of the New Right, and not to you? Apparently you’re losing in terms
of communication. Everyone knows that the youth, especially men, are often characterised by strong hormones due to which their brains are more likely to respond to radical messages, such as the nationalistic ideology. This is nothing new – after all, many students voted for Hitler. In order to win with such an inclination one needs to work harder and use more professional ways of communication. Korwin-Mikke’s views are often repelling, as for example his statements regarding Putin or the role of women.

Although we don’t have a liberal party, do you notice a liberal silver lining anywhere?

Do you mean a liberal movement which could take the form of a sparate organisation
or which could become a part of an already existing party? The second option occurs wherever there is a bipartisan system, for example in the United States. I don”t want to speak ahead of myself, but either one or the other is necessary.

You don’t want to give any names, as it could be a kiss of death?

All I can say is that there are certain unpleasant moments when one has to choose between the lesser of two evils. The lesser wrong is always better than the greater one, although preferably one would not have to make such choices. This being said, I’d like to add that rejecting the whole political scene just because it does not provide a satisfactory option would be a huge mistake.

Can you name a group which has its own interests and would be able to fight for them as effectively as the coal miners are fighting for their pensions? The romantic times of politicians caring about the well-being of the state and not about their own popularity have come to an end.

It’s possible, although difficult, to introduce reforms without a decrease in support and without having to resort to demagogy. There are quite numerous examples of that. Research conducted by OECD has not proved that those who conduct reforms have no chance of winning the elections. But when it comes to post-socialist states, during the first years after the transformation everyone lost, regardless of whether they introduced reforms or not. For if they did reform, they antagonised various groups, and if they didn’t, they angered others, since the economic situation was deteriorating.

You’re a staunch critic of the actions undertaken against the Open Pension Funds (OFE). Isn’t it a bit like trying to close the stable door after the horse has already bolted? Can you think of a change possible at the present moment?

First of all, this metaphor is incorrect, as it suggests that for economic reasons this anti-reform cannot be reversed, when in fact it could be done. Why? First of all, before the attack on OFE the condition of our finances was bad, but not catastrophic. Secondly, if we are facing
a problem of the unbalance of state finances, it will not be solved by plundering the available resources. The reason we are struggling with these problems is the asymmetry between budget revenue and spending. The robbing of OFE was supposed to be a substitute for reforms and moreover, it was veiled in a disingenuous and manipulative propaganda. What really galled me were all those lies. What kind of conviction did they try to reinforce in the society? That the state is the best remedy for everything, especially when it comes to pensions. I spend quite a lot of time with young people, and some of them really despised such behaviour.

Let me digress. The Law and Justice party is successful because it has worshipers, which is dangerous, whereas the Civic Platform has chased away its best voters. If Law and Justice will seize power it will not happen because someone criticised the pillaging of OFE, but because the Civic Platform has undertaken some extreme anti-reform steps. Some people talk about building the entire pension system from scratch, to discard the Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) altogether and instead introduce the so-called ‘civic pensions’ [state guaranteed minimal pensions for all]. Supporters of this idea are disregarding all available calculations.

In your opinion, would a nederlandsegokken online casino ‘liberal populism’ be possible?

For me populism is the same as demagogy. Just as I don’t like the phrase ‘liberal prosperous state’, since there is a discrepancy here. Liberals should try to win the continuous communication battle and, first of all, know to whom to appeal. Let me repeat: There is an unexploited potential of hard-working people, people who would like to be treated seriously. The ubiquitous, multifaceted gibberish in Polish politics essentially amounts to disrespecting people. There is ‘hateful gibberish’ of the Law and Justice and ‘cheerful gibberish’ hence the discourse of the Civic Platform success propaganda.

During the discussion about the pension system I felt as if the ‘evil private sector’ syndrome had come back. It would seem that in a society in which a few million people run their own businesses and contribute to the GDP, the phrase ‘private businessman’ should not be a synonym of evil, and yet that’s exactly the case.

It upsets me as well, but I try to keep in mind that anti-capitalism fares well in capitalism, whereas anti-socialism is not doing so well in socialism. What we have in Poland is
a consequence of a more general trend combined with a socialist residue – the notion of the evil ‘private businessman’.

We should not limit ourselves only to discussions about effectiveness, since, while they may be correct, they are not so gripping emotion-wise. The immorality of etatist solutions should be revealed, since they are indeed immoral. For example, public property is a platform for nepotism, a poorly built social state encages people in various traps.

What could be the theme of this positive, mobilizing vision? ‘Let’s surpass Germany’, ‘Free and law-abiding Poland’, ‘a second Balcerowicz”s plan’?

I’m trying to outline what should be done in order for Poland to reach the Western level. People want a better life, and the position of Poland within the European Union will depend in 90% on our economic development. Moreover, the rate of this new development will determine how many people will emigrate from Poland and how much money will we be able to spend on the army.

We are at the European Forum of New Ideas, an international conference in Sopot. Do you believe that we should also fight for the principle of a more unified Europe?

What do you mean by ‘more unified’?

Federal, with a parliament….

And what does ‘federal’ mean? Euro-enthusiasts are most dangerous for the EU, since they take public opinion for granted. If we want societies to accept increased federal authority, people should think of themselves more as Poles-Europeans, French-Europeans etc., and this cannot be decreed. One of the most preposterous slogans is: ‘More Europe’. What does it mean: ‘More Europe’? Once people used to say: ‘More socialism’. After all, Italy is facing problems not because we didn’t have enough Europe, but because its political system tolerated distortions in their economy for a long time. There are no European solutions to the problems of Italy, Poland or France. However, there are national solutions.

There are different visions of Europe. As we know, Europe is built on a series of compromises, it is a concept based on a shared identity.

I’m sorry, but this shared identity does not exist, or it’s very weak. We must accept the reality – the problems of certain EU states stemmed from bad national policies, which need to be revised. And they can be fixed only through the mobilisation of appropriate groups within each society.

The reality is that in today’s Eurozone the problems of one state must be solved by
a different state, otherwise everyone will drown. The Germans are trying to fix Greece, Italy….

And with what result? None. Solutions implemented at the national level cannot be substituted by European-based recipes. That is not the case even in the United States, where federal authority is much greater than in the EU, but nevertheless there are significant differences between policies adopted in California and Texas. If that’s the case in the United States, with their strong federal authority, then in the EU the idea of ‘repairing’ individual states from the federal level is a complete utopia. Nothing can substitute civic mobilisation on the national level.

1Janusz Palikot, the founder of the Polish political party Your Movement (Twój Ruch)


Translation: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka, Olga Łabendowicz


Leszek Balcerowicz – Polish economist, Profesor SGH. Przewodniczący Rady Forum Obywatelskiego Rozwoju. Wicepremier i minister finansów w trzech rządach, były prezes NBP.