Aleksander Smolar, the chairman of the Stefan Batory Foundation, visited Kyiv, Ukraine, and attended one of meetings organized under the label “European Experience: Poland”. On 6 November, the Polish political scientist and journalist was talking about the Polish experience and the country’s place in Europe. The meeting was held with the support of the Polish Institute in Kyiv and the bookstore “E”.
Ukraine is quite frequently presented as a country that does not have a coherent foreign policy vector. We are really in trouble, since in many ways we are dependent on Russia (gas prices), but to carry out political and economic reforms we need the experience of the EU countries. Politicians still consider both the EU’s Association Agreement and the Customs Union (transformed into EAEC). Poland has already chosen its path and in 2004 became a full member of the EU.
The price of change
First of all, Aleksander Smolar noticed that the Poles were ready to pay a high price for the transformation. After the last war the country wanted to become completely independent. “Very important was the fact that the post-war Poland became a monoethnic country… From the cultural point of view it was a loss, but from a political point – an advantage. There were no conflicts, which in many countries do not allow to carry out economic, social and political reforms”, stated Smolar. In his opinion, Poland after the World War II was in a privileged situation. The reforms were painful, but they were fully supported by the society. “The first, most difficult years were years were marked by significant consensus. The then people strongly appreciated the fact that Poland had become a sovereign state”, said Smolar.
At present, many Ukrainians clam they do not want to join the EU, because in this case we will have to actually accept a foreign political and economic model. The Polish political scientist said that such an imitation could be helpful if you use someone else’s model sensibly. For example, Poland agreed in advance to the adaptation of the European model, because it wanted to join the EU. But now, in regard to the most important, fundamental issues, the country still keeps it own judgement. Smolar gave an example of how Poland behaved during the global economic crisis. “The government has chosen the path of self-restraint and bank control. And there were no such abuses as in the U.S. or Spain. Poland went through the crisis better than the rest of Europe. Since 2008 the national income has been growing. Despite the fact that there was pressure from the EU, Poland had used the fact that it was not in the euro zone. This is an example of a creative approach”, added Smolar. Thus, an ability to repeat and imitate is, in his opinion, a very important element on the road to European integration. “Development requires imitation skills, but sometimes you have to reach a decision by yourself. There must be a creative discussion in society”, said the Polish expert.
The significance of Ukraine
Aleksander Smolar also touched upon the issue of Ukraine’s significance for Poland. “Ukraine has been playing an important role in Polish politics. This is one of the states who is being talked about quite a lot. Traditionally Poles often talk about Germany, but at this moment Ukraine is even more popular than Russia as a discussion subject in my country. We have a sense of common destiny”, underlined the Polish political scientist and journalist. In his view, the stability of Poland requires that strong countries were not only in the western part of the continent.
Ukraine, according to Smolar, has made an incredible breakthrough in the years since regaining independence. However, “We need to look back in order to realize that the country, who has such a tragic history, can not develop as quickly as Poland”. Nevertheless, he pointed out that, after the Orange Revolution in 2004, Ukraine has lost the part of the acquired capital. At this stage, according to Smolar, the EU and Poland could help Ukraine. For example, they could contribute to the intellectual debates about new approaches to solving problems that arise in Ukraine. But also in Ukraine, according to the Pole, the citizens themselves must engage in changing the political environment and action.
Perhaps, the most important sentence uttered at the meeting with Aleksander Smolar was the statement: “Poland definitely tends towards the West”. And that as well may be the right thing to do by independent yet still quite confused Ukraine.
The Stefan Batory Foundation is an independent non-profit non-governmental organization in Poland. One of the first private foundation in Poland, which aims at building an open, democratic society, a society of individuals aware of their rights and duties, interested in the affairs of the local community, their region and the international society. As a part of the program activities, the Foundation provides financial support of NGO’S projects in Poland and abroad, including the Eastern Partnership countries. Aleksander Smolar is a political analyst, journalist and the Deputy Chairman of the Scientific Council of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. In the 1990s he was the advisor to PMs Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Anna Suchocka. Since 1990, he has been the chairman of the Stefan Batory Foundation.
Translated by MA