Cultural Diplomacy News (CDN)
Dr. Grzegorz Kolodki (Former Deputy Prime Minister of Poland;Former Minister of Finance of Poland; Professor of Economics, Kozminski University; Poland)

10.03.2011 - Interview conducted by Mark Donfried & Agnieszka Mystek

Q1. As I look at the title you chose for your lecture, you are making reference to the clash of civilizations and the melting pot concept. Where would you say we are now in terms of the state of the world? Are we in clash of civilizations or are we in a melting pot?

I would say that we are much more in the stage of a global melting pot. But there are some signs and some risk in the last 2-3 years and also last 2-3 months, that the risk of clash is growing. In general, though, I would say that it is a melting pot. There is much more, not only capital flow and trade, but also people’s exchange. We do travel, we send messages and we are taking advantage of, for good or bad, the social networks, etc. People are enjoying food they have never had before, dressing in similar ways, listening to similar music not just from UK and US, but also ethnic music from say Senegal, Ethiopia or from Asian countries. This is really the cultural melting pot. I think that the intellectual leaders, the policy makers and the people from public media should do much more towards this end because the only positive alternative to the threat of the clash of civilizations is a successful melting pot.

Q2. For your recent book, you chose the provocative title of “Truth, Errors and Lies”. Why did you choose that as the title for this book?

To be honest, I didn’t. It was the result of a long debate between myself as the author and the publisher, the Columbia University Press New York. The title is derived from the title of the first chapter “The world, words and meanings: where truth, errors and lies in economics and politics come from and what to do to make truth come first”. I’ve been involved for so many years in economics in a broad sense from both sides: as a scholar doing research with a methodological approach, but also in application, strategy and politics. Four times, I was Deputy Prime Minister of the Polish government and I advised many international organizations such as the IMF and World Bank, so I know how world politics, culture and economy work from a theoretical viewpoint but also from a practical viewpoint. I have travelled a lot and I have heard so much stupidity, so many things that are simply not the truth that I had to ask the question. Sometimes people who are educated, many of them graduates, professors and government officials, who are supposed to know, are telling the sheer untruth. And there is a very big difference to judge somebody and to discuss with somebody if somebody is simply wrong, for whatever reason, than to deal with somebody who is deliberately lying. In politics, it happens often and I would say too often. Unfortunately in economics is no longer a research-based or an academic economics but rather more of a lobbying, public relations and public opinion-based economics on behalf of the special interest groups. So some of them are simply lying and you have to counteract that in a different way. Therefore I agreed for the publisher to call the book “Truth, Errors and Lies“, but only with the subtitle “Politics and Economics in a Volatile World” because the book is basically about the long-term development processes explained to people in very readable, enjoyable and understandable language. Economics is supposed to be as simple as possible but not simpler. It depends on how we have come to the current situation in the global economy and the global society, culture, politics and technological environment. These are two of the forces of time and space: back-to-the-future and back-to-the-past. I’m using the past as an instrument to show and explain the future. The book is very much about the future. It is risky business to write about the future and I have undertaken this risk. Perhaps this is what has made the book an international bestseller.

Q3. Historically, Poland has had a very pro-transatlantic outlook, which has somewhat eroded in recent years. Economically, do you think that the Obama administration is making a strategic error is somewhat ignoring Central and Eastern Europe in its foreign policy? 

I wouldn’t say that we are being ignored in this policy. I’m afraid that the problem of the policy of Mr. Obama is that he is not able to deliver because of American political structure. Recently, I traveled across the US with my book tour, met plenty of people and listened to what is going on, and I would say that the basic American problem is the inefficiency of the American democracy.  I know that this sounds awful, but this is the fact. To solve the structural financial crisis of the US public finance system is difficult, painful and costly. But it’s a problem that has a solution. Unfortunately, when you are taking a look into the political scene, it’s a mess. It simply does not work. According to my reasoning, most of the time Obama is right. He is correct in his approach and his propositions. But he is short of majority. So what do you do it you are right, but you don’t have majority? That was the awful experience I went through when I was deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of my great small country Poland. You may bet that I am convinced that most of the time, I was right. But pretty often I was short of majority. So what do you do in democracy under these circumstances? You are looking for a compromise and you are looking for some way to get majority. But sometimes to get majority you have to give a little bit over there and you have to horse-trade. Perhaps politicians love to do this but an intellectual as I am, I hate this. I hate to give a little bit there in order to gain a little bit here. So how long did I stay in the government? I was never there to the end of the term. I resigned at the proper time, when my job was done. As long as the price for achieving a political compromise and to have the things moving forward was not as big as breaking my own principals, I was looking for such a compromise. But the moment I had to accept the principals of someone else that were not along my values in order to have a pragmatic working compromise, that was the day I said: thank you, goodbye, my job is done. I am not advising that to President Obama. He must stay till the end of his term and he must fight to be re-elected, which doesn’t make the policy any easier. But as for our global policy, maybe we are too pro-American. I think that Poles are a little bit too pro-American. It comes too easy and without proper distance and without proper criticism. We have given too much to American geopolitics without being compensated enough and it’s a pity.  And it’s also a pity for the American side that we still have to apply for a visa when we travel to the United States even when some Eastern European nations have had the visa requirement waived already. But in general, American policy is global. And while I don’t like it as a citizen of my country Poland, I do understand the American approach. It is simply a cynical policy. They are taking each region as instrumental from their viewpoint. Sometimes Central Europe is seen as a buffer zone, or as intermediate, or as an instrument towards American foreign policy towards Post-Soviet Union led by Russia. And for that reason, sometimes I think that Polish policy is too pro-American and not enough sympathetic towards Russia, which is our neighbour and which should be our more important trade and cultural partner. But otherwise I would not say that we are being neglected or ignored by American foreign policy. Our foreign minister was chatting with Mrs. Clinton recently in Washington. I don’t know how much they accomplished behind closed doors, but I think that we have contributed the dialogue between so called emerging Europe and the US on behalf of the global prospects significantly.

Q4. Based on your expertise in economics and your travels around the world, would you say that given the historical and cultural contexts in which economics systems develop, is culture an asset or obstacle in terms of economic liberalization in some cases? 

Both. It depends on the openness of minds which are being involved in this public debate. Even in my country Poland, as I said also today during my presentation, we have to be much more tolerant, multicultural and open to different values. It is much easier and perhaps part of the Polish success of the past 20 years is that Poland has been more or less a homogeneous nation without any significant minorities, one religion, and that helps. But if this one religion and one nation is not flexible enough and not tolerant for other nations and other religions with which we have to intertwine and interact more and more in this world of change during the era of globalization, then that is an obstacle. And for that reason if you have for instance a legacy in the form of Islamic fundamentalism, this is something that that makes the process of cooperation, coordination and progress much more difficult. Perhaps you need this melting pot ingredient of American values and there is something like American values. But American values are based on so very many other values, yet still there is America. Plenty of languages, plenty of cultures and all somehow cooked in this pot with the result bringing the mightiness that is America. And for that reason, we should learn from this positive side of American culture rather than say from the recent mismanagement of the American economy. This is a chance, a risk, a threat and a merit, and it must be managed in a very sensitive way. Maybe sometimes I’m too pragmatic. First of all, I’m trying to be rational and pragmatic. People, including nations and political leaders and the political correctness that is sometimes required, are very patriotic and very protective of the traditional culture. But pretty often they don’t mean what they say in politics. That again is the debate of what is truth, what is errors and what is lies. But I am looking for the world of the future, which will be more open, more tolerant, more interdependent and more mixed. I think that the only chance to go forward is multiculturalism, or in other words this melting pot and it is supposed to be taken into account as a factor for development. But one must be very careful. Almost a hundred years ago, in 1913, it seemed to very many smart people, even the smartest of them, thought that the new brave world had come. That time of globalization which was quite different and involved another early stage of technological revolution. There was a kind of global economy still unfortunately for some, but very fortunately for some others. Divided into the metropolitan countries and the colonies, it was the era of colonialism and the imperial system. But that was also an interdependent worldwide economy. It seemed to some people that this was the brave new world with a prosperous and peaceful future. Take a look a year later and it was the beginning on World War 1. I’m not saying that in a year from now, we will be involved in a global war. But for some people the global financial crisis was a surprise. Some people are now being amazed as to what is going on in the Arab countries. I’m surprised as to why they are surprised. If you read my books, you will read something more. I said today what will be the next big challenge: uncontrolled mass migration. And again, very many people will be surprised. Now they should discuss how to tackle the issues and if you want to invite million of Arabs without visas, being not invited to our countries, then we have to find a way to help them now, to settle down, to have a prosperous future and to use the experience of liberalization and democratization of emerging Europe or European integration. So what I am proposing in my train of thought and in my acting is really a pragmatic approach and maybe for that reason it is called “New Pragmatism”.

Thank you so much for your time and enjoy the re