Throughout the years, Western countries have been continuously collaborating with torturers of Arabic nations, thus separating values from economic interest and betraying their own ideals. And all that in the name of mercantilism. Such logic is not, and never will be, beneficial for Poland, because our geopolitical location and borders with still unstable East requires Western countries to put values above economic interests.
What does Arab Spring mean for Poland?
In Poland, we attentively observe the changes taking place in Northern Africa and Near and Middle East, because the sight of brave crowds fighting for democracy brings us to the times of Polish “Solidarnosc”, the Round Table and the ephemeral statement: “Ladies and Gentlemen, on July 4th 1989 communism in Poland ended”. The tragic death of Tunisian street trader Mohamed Bouazzi resembles the victims of communist system in Poland, which have become icons, for instance Ryszard Siwiec.
Not only did historical facts cause the stir, but also the fact that Poland was to govern the European Union as of June 1st. For the first time in history we could shape the works of the European Community and we were be obliged to prove our management skills.
Priorities are scrupulously elaborated on long months before a given country takes the presidency of the EU. However, life has its own course what was first-hand experienced by the French (Russian-Georgian war) and the Czech (gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Gaza Zone). Unexpectedly, Poland had to shoulder the responsibility of supporting democratic transformations in Northern Africa, mainly in Egypt and Tunisia, but also a humanitarian operation in Libya. We could not avoid those tasks, because as a country leading the EU we were going to be attentively observed and our representation of the EU and its interests was thoroughly assessed, as the Union’s southern borders are of a great importance. Although Tahir Square seems to be far away from the squares of Polish cities, this impression is that it could not be further from the truth. In a global world Poland has to take action in those only apparently remote places.
The world is looking at Cairo and Tunis. An important question which nobody can answer is if Muslim countries are able to create a liberal democratic system. Turkey constitutes a buoyant example, however, there exist a range of arguments bringing the successful changes in Tunisia and Egypt into question (general poverty and economies requiring thorough modernization, weak government and faint pluralistic tradition as well as religious tension in Egypt). Our future ability to perceive current events as the fourth wave of democratization (to remind: the third wave signifies the changes in Central and Eastern Europe in mid-eighties and nineties, the term coined by Francis Fukuyama), depends to a great extent on us. We should remember that the turn of events was dependent not only upon the aspirations of alliance of the Polish working class and intellectual circles, but also upon the balance of power on the geopolitical map of the world: the fall of Soviet Union and the emergence of the USA as a hegemonic leader (bilateralism turning into unilateralism) as well as the process of Euro-Atlantic integration (EU and NATO enlargement).
Poland – country of freedom
Just as we skillfully took advantage of the global financial crisis to promote the strengthening Polish economy following the idea of “the green island”, Northern African crisis brings us an opportunity to establish the image of Poland as a country of successful transformation. Throughout the years, Poland has been seeking catchphrases. National branding experts are trying to create the slogans which will be ingrained in the minds of foreigners. The best ideas are usually those found in real life and the easier ones. Italy is associated with fashion, Spain with passion, Switzerland with precision and Poland? For instance freedom. It was understood already by professor Bronislaw Geremek, who as the Foreign Minister in 2000 invited his counterparts from over 100 countries to conference in Warsaw “To Democratic Community”. For the first time in history, a whole international conference held by the government was devoted to the topics of democracy and freedom.
Tunisian and Egyptian revolts create an opportunity to advance the international emancipation of Poland, for instance the transition from the recipient to the donor of aid programs. That constitutes a significant qualitative change. For several years already, Polish Foreign Ministry has been implementing a policy of investing in the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and Community of Democracies and cooperating with the USA. Foreign Ministry also encourages the international community with its political and financial potential to support Belarus, creates Polish Foundation of International Solidarity, proposes the creation of the European Fund for Democracy. Particular actions have been already taken in Tunisia and Egypt, for instance Lech Wałęsa’s mission in Tunisia. Special training sessions for middle and high-ranking officials are planned along with aid programs for civic society. However, much still remains to be done. Only 0,09% of Polish GDP is allocated for international development (including democracy support actions), while in not much richer Portugal this index amounts to 0,29%. This result places Poland at the end of generosity ranking. Still unrealized remains the idea of creating an expert committee on political transformation, a particular database of transformation practitioners, who used to build state institutions and local governments, free media, non-governmental organizations, under a popular name Solidarity Corps. A democratic dimension of Polish foreign policy is gradually strengthened, on all its stages a more profound approach and cohesive long-term strategy will be needed.
Poland as a conscience of hypocritical West
Due to the bravery of Northern African countries we have the opportunity to democratize the European boarders. For Poland, which suffered the consequences of their neighbours’ abandoning democracy (Fascist Germany) in a more prominent way than any other country, ensuring that democracy constantly remains in the international agenda seems crucial. Although the task may seem trifling, it is not so in fact. Polish diplomats mentioning the issue of values in international meetings have frequently encountered a smirk. Fortunately, as history teaches us, those smirks were completely out of place. Introducing the topic of democratization and its maintaining its presence on both bi- and multilateral agendas, making the partners aware that democracy is a common good should be (and currently is) the basic task of Polish diplomacy. Nowadays, it is to be heard in European lobbies: “Byelorussians cannot afford to be democratic, this nation is unable to do that”. Tunisians and Egyptians have just taught the world a lesson which is particularly well known by Poles: each nation is able to be democratic. The Birmani, Chinese, Cuban and Belarusian are able to exercise democracy and some day they will do that for sure. Hopefully, Poland will actively participate in that process.
When in the early nineties Poland was returning to democratic Europe, external support given to our country was of the greatest importance. The anchoring role of the European Union was crucial. This particular type of institutional magnet is currently needed by Tunisians and Egyptians. Polish diplomats and experts, aware of the role which international institutions play in political transformations, should instil democratic values in the officials working in international institutions and make them aware of the responsibility they are to shoulder. The European Union, the Council of Europe, the Democratic Community, UN, OSCE, NATO cannot ignore the democratic aspirations of Northern African peoples.
The quality of political leadership is a decisive factor. Poland should in this case play a role of “the world’s conscience”. Reagan’s call: Mr. Gorbatschow, tear down this wall! was a manifestation of mature leadership and the international status of the USA. Nowadays, when facing a lack of an unquestionable hegemonic leader in the international arena, it seems crucial to develop leadership mechanisms in the new, multipolar world in a way that, apart from constituting a means of crisis management, stimulates crucial processes. The best example showing our departure from pro-active thinking is a common Union’s foreign policy, having remained for years in statu nascendi. For several months, the European Union has been acting in a reactive mode, triggered in part by the financial crisis and the lack of political will to create coherent political allies, but mainly by the lack of responsible, brave leaders. Poland, while taking the presidency of the European Union, has the chance to fill this gap and try to become an effective political leader, promoting a new strategy for the European borders.
Poland and Europe’s security
According to a Freedom House survey called “Freedom in the world”, democratic countries have been in decline for the last few years. Let’s take Venezuela as an example. In 2000 it was still the signatory of a declaration signed by the Warsaw Community of Democracies, but today nobody knows if the Venezuelan democracy will survive for much longer. It is in the interest of democratic countries to increase the number of states that are built on a similar basis (rule of law, political pluralism, human rights, freedom of speech). Liberal democracies do not fight each other. At the beginning of the 1990s, when Poland was building its liberal democracy founded on the rule of law and free market economy, it seemed that the Polish model would be widely recognised in the whole world as one to follow. However, the 21st century established other important models that were competing with each other. The leading ones included so called “sovereign democracy” (e.g. Russia) and authoritarian capitalism (e.g. China). The Washington Consensus gained a strong competitor in the form of the Beijing Consensus. It is difficult to convince the sceptics who, with a smile on their faces, compare the efficiency of the particular models and point out the number of kilometres of the new motorways built in Poland and China. However, is it only GPD that counts? Or are the freedom of the individual and possibility for personal development maybe equally important?
If Europe delays its strong support for ongoing changes in the Arabic countries for long, the opportunity for their democratization may decrease dramatically. The suburbs of the European Union must be stable, and the democracy should not be treated as a threat of stability (as it was seen in the past) but as a necessary condition. Europeans cannot be surrounded by ticking bombs. We must not allow authoritarian regimes to build up the neighbourhood of the EU, as they are inefficient in the long term. They may increase the risk of military conflicts, cuts to European energy supplies or further waves of illegal immigration. At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, Germany was interested in moving the border of the world’s prosperity and social order further to the east. Similarly, the EU and Poland should make sure that their border is not like a wall between rich Europe and poor South. Tunisia and Egypt have no chance to join the EU. However, because they support democracy, the EU faces the challenge of improving the efficiency of their economies, and the democratic system must demonstrate that it pays off.
A southern dimension powered by a strong eastern dimension
The European Neighbourhood Policy (EPN) has two dimensions: the southern one, of which the most important initiative is the Union for the Mediterranean, and the eastern one, with the Eastern Partnership as its most important project. The uprisings in Northern Africa questioned the credibility and efficiency of the EPN, also towards the East. The rules and mechanisms of its policy need to be revised, so it can successfully serve the interests of the EU’s citizens. The increase in means and effectiveness of aid programmes should be applied to both, southern and eastern dimensions. In order to be globally credible, Europe must demonstrate that it can control its own neighbourhood. Thanks to Poland, democratization was always more present on the EU agenda of the eastern dimension than the southern one. As a result, present-day Poland is reliable. While leading the EU, it has been challenged to make a priority out of democratization in both dimensions of EPN. In this way, Poland may become the author of a new EU agenda for the whole neighbourhood.
If Poland would like to secure the support of the EU’s southern countries for the Eastern Partnership project, then it has to engage in the southern part’s activities. Poland’s involvement in the south should result in France, Spain and Italy’s closer involvement in the Eastern Partnership. Polish efforts, the day before and during its EU’s presidency, cannot be one-off actions-reactions towards uprisings in North Africa, Egypt and Tunisia. Poland has to be actively and deeply involved in a close and diverse cooperation with other governments and non-governmental organisations.
Democracy – a Polish export product
Poland grows in strength economically and politically, and it has been recently recognised by United Nations as a highly developed country in the Human Development Index. The International Monetary Fund’s survey indicates that Poland is now on a higher position than the Netherlands, and belongs to the group of the world’s 20 biggest economies (according to purchasing power parity.) Results like this mean that Poland can participate in creating the world’s order. Therefore, it should export its “know-how” about freedom and as a country which has recently shaken off authoritarian rule and managed to build a well-functioning democracy, Poland has a right to aspire to be an expert in the field of system transformations. Egypt and Tunisia anticipate Polish help, as their traditional partners, the USA and France, have become quite unpopular in their territories (the result of allying with dictators). Poland not only has a democratic know-how, eagerly awaited in Tunisia or Egypt (Tunisians themselves write about the Polish Round Table as a source of inspiration), but also no track record in its history of colonial expansion. Poland may also benefit from the fact that religious and family oriented Poles are often, more than other Europeans, similar to moderate Arabs. Finally, Poland already has experience in passing the democratic know-how to the East.
What exactly should be put into a Polish “democratic basket”? The legacy of ‘Solidarność’ and the experience of peaceful system transformation (Round Table) will be there for sure. Additionally, it will contain political dialogue programmes, technical aid missions that would convey knowledge about constitutional reform, state institutions, security services, vetting, suffrage, political parties, local authorities and development of a civil society. All those aspects should be accompanied by programmes that support interpersonal contacts, contacts among particular professional groups or youth groups and educational programmes (scholarships, student exchanges). Poland should not only share the lessons it learnt from the reforms that it successfully put in place, but also it should warn against possible failures that could have been avoided. Consequently, Poland would have a chance to reinforce its team of experts for the Arabic world which would increase the analytical capabilities of state institutions like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the National Security Bureau. Unfortunately, currently there are only a few experts for North Africa.
Let the 21st century be better than the previous one
Only 6 months ago it seemed that the Northern African countries were bound to be under the dictatorship of family clans. Today, thanks to the bravery of mainly young Tunisians and Egyptians, we realise that democracy is for everyone. As the “window of possibilities” appeared, the events in North Africa may become natural steps in the process of the world’s democratization. They may also prove that in reality, western values are quite universal. After all, the western world wasn’t always democratic, right? Perhaps every non-western country will democratize one day. Poland, as a country which ended Europe’s division, has a moral obligation to continue processes that will support those nations which try to abolish authoritarian regimes. If Poland wants to participate in this global conflict, it should share its most valuable asset which is the process of democratization.
The West has been collaborating with the Arabic countries’ tyrants for years, separating values from economical interests and betraying their own principles for the sake of mercantilism. Such logic has never been and never will be good for Poland which is geopolitically situated on the board with a (still) unstable East. Therefore, Poland should incline towards values rather than interests.
The 20th century gave the beginning to Nazism and Stalinism, it was a century filled with blood and disrespect for human dignity and the principles of the West. And the truth is that those principles should have protected us against any tragedy. The 21st century may be better. It depends on whether the West has enough courage to engage in proactive politics and whether it can consistently promote its values, the values that despite their many different forms, may turn out to be universal for all mankind.
Translation: Anna Martinsen, Celina Bagnicka