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Reading Mazowiecki’s expose twenty years later

Published on May 2, 2012 by: in: Politics

On August 24, 1989 Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first Prime Minister of non-communist Poland, gave a visionary expose. Going back to that text today – so fresh, so prognostic and politically modern – it is hard to believe that during that time the Warsaw Pact still existed, that the Iron Curtain subsisted, the army of the Soviet Union stationed near Vistula, and he himself had spent his entire life in the communist Poland. It’s a pity that the only thing from the first Prime Minister’s speech that remained in collective memory was the words about thick line – an important element in the sense of cutting off from the burden of predecessors’ actions, but less vital in the context of the innovative vision, which the Prime Minister then presented.

photo: en.wikipedia.org

Firstly, the Prime Minister set a clear and comprehensible direction. How did Mazowiecki know what he must do and how he must do it? “We need to restore mechanisms of normal political life in Poland (…) The principle of fight must be replaced by the principle of partnership” – he began. And he explained right away and with an incredible precision his idea of how a normal political life of our country should look like. Mazowiecki talked about the need for pluralism in politics as well as in the media, about the need for values but also about the country’s neutralism of beliefs, about the role of the church – as an important but withdrawn “stabilising” partner. After all the creators of that government didn’t have any models to draw from – they had to picture and work out standards of “normality” on their own, as they had spent their entire life “in a socialist experiment”. Of course, there were other countries in Western Europe, but the expose lacks traces of simple copying the western model. Certainly Mazowiecki’s words clearly relate to Europe as the natural historical and political gravitation for Poland – but it seems to be more strongly accentuated in the sense of values – and not the actual recipe for the way Poland should take to change. Until this day I cannot grasp how did the Prime Minister get such firm and reliable vision of the democracy towards which he aimed. One reads this expose as if Mazowiecki knew where Poland would be in twenty years.

Secondly, the awareness of where the centre of changes must be located. Mazowiecki seemed to feel at once that the change of the system cannot be “decreed” – that it shall not suffice to change the façade, to hang a new sign. He knew as well that the change won’t come from the outside – that the West won’t “make” this change. For sure he looked at the Western countries as allies but he saw the basic substance of the change in the Poles, in fellow citizens. He said then in August that from the perspective of Poland’s change the key idea is “to open the possibility of common and individual actions”. And he added: “Our own ingenuity, work and patience shall decide about our success. Our own exertion.” Relying on these words Mazowiecki already then saw the need for “fellow participation” as the fundamental value of a state and of a society. Obviously he also indicated the social consent for the reforms, still one may feel in his words that the Prime Minister really meant something more. He cared about building an entirely new model of the state based on people’s participation and inclusion in the political processes, about treating them as partners of the change, as subjects in the transformation and not as objects and passive audience. Mazowiecki must have taken these ideas from the experience of Solidarity. These words, then revolutionary, to this day constitute an up-to-date and fundamentally important matter. Today the practice of including citizens in the process of reforms, changes and broader in the process of governing is the basic challenge for us as the society as well as the barrier for a good government. Mazowiecki said it outright that the citizens must have the sense of freedom and safety as well as fellow participation. Taking a look at the recent political events in Poland – retirement benefits reform, protest in ACTA case or even upcoming EURO – there exists no more important subject for the government than developing the possibility of fellow partnership.

Thirdly and finally, Mazowiecki had an incredibly clear perception of the significance of reforms that await Poland and was able to see the key economic reform in a broader perspective. Noting the growing economy crisis in the end of the eighties – you may for sure state that it wasn’t difficult to identify the situation’s state of crisis. In his expose Mazowiecki appears to declare much more than only the economy reform – he is able to combine the economy with its social dimension. He knows how to describe the outcome of the reform precisely of where and to whom it will be painful and what problems shall result from that. Mazowiecki proposed the shape of market economy that is something more than a play of invisible hand of the market, that is something more than a technocratic capitalist system. When I read his words today, it seems to me, perhaps paradoxically, that this is the shape of the economy that the movements of the protest gathered around Occupy demand. Only they can’t state it as accurately as the Prime Minister did then. He could have become the guru of the protest. Mazowiecki spoke of the economic energy dormant in people that needs freeing and of creating such system that will give the people the possibility to act: “We need such law and economy mechanisms which shall give the enterprising people the feeling of security of their activity and which shall allow all of us to discover the moral and material sense of work”. The moral and material sense of work. Today these are the forgotten words. But still the most up-to-date.

I remember that still in the times of the Freedom Union in the dispute between Balcerowicz and Mazowiecki I gave my mind to the former but my heart to the latter. I didn’t understand what the ex-Prime Minister meant with this “social market economy”, with his “social sensibility”. Then they seemed to me a pointless softening. Unnecessary shading of simple decisions. I didn’t get that the Prime Minister claimed a human being. Stupid I was.

Translation: Alicja Bratkowska

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About Dominika Blachnicka - Ciacek

Sociologist and PhD student at the Goldsmiths College University of London. For many years she has been doing research on social and cultural changes in Europe and Middle East. Founder of Culture Tales, author of documentary films.

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