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The Warsaw Voice » Other » February 18, 2009
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And the Winners Are...
February 18, 2009   
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We have been together with Poland and our readers for 20 years. This is an extraordinary gift of fortune-to be the chroniclers of two magnificent decades that will remain unparalleled in Poland's history for a long time to come. Not all the events, not all the trends and not all the people that have appeared during those 20 breakthrough years can be considered-to use the witty and perverse language of Lech Wałęsa-"positive pluses." But a lack of "negative pluses" would mean that we live in paradise, and so are no longer alive.

Two decades ago I asked Leszek Balcerowicz if introducing the package of fundamental reforms that were later dubbed the "Balcerowicz plan" wouldn't be easier in an autocratic system. Maybe so, replied the professor, but autocrats are unwilling to part with power.

So we have traveled the bumpy road of democracy instead, which led us within an amazingly short time to the tough but long dreamed-of world of many freedoms, membership of the European Union and NATO, huge business opportunities and no lesser capabilities.

When The Warsaw Voice was 10 years old, we decided to hand out an award that we called Chair of the Decade, as we thought it was a good opportunity to evaluate those 10 years. There were two "chairs;" one went to Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first noncommunist prime minister in the former East Bloc, and the other was granted to Roman Kluska, a successful entrepreneur in the computer business and a symbol of Polish enterprise at the time.

Ten years down the line, we think it's a good tradition for not just one year but a whole decade to be the point of reference for The Warsaw Voice's most important award.


At the start of 1991, we wrote: "A year ago the Voice for the first time awarded its Man of the Year title. At the time, there was no doubt who would be the Polish Man of the Year 1989. The year 1989 was Lech Wałęsa's year-a year full of successes for a man who took Solidarity from the underground to government palaces and ministerial offices, and who cautiously, step by step and with an uncanny instinct, brought about the total erosion of the Polish communist system in a few months.

"When we asked Wałęsa to give us his political horoscope for Poland in 1990, he said, 'Economic changes are more important than any political storm. Let's leave it to the economy to settle things in Poland the way it finds appropriate.'

"In fulfillment of the president prophecy, 1990 was the year of the economy in Poland. Poles found themselves on the road to the free market, which they pursued earlier than their neighbors and with more determination. They gritted their teeth. Sometimes to the point of pain.

"If 1990 was the year of the economy in Poland, it was also the year of Dr. Leszek Balcerowicz. In the space of a year, this tall, lean man with a modest smile, went from being a little-known lecturer on economics to one of the most popular East European politicians. It is thanks to his consistency in terms of reforms that Poles can count their economic successes, and failures. It is he who has given them hope for the future, as well as the inevitable bitterness experienced by many people today."

Wałęsa's opinion reached into the future, so did the Balcerowicz Plan. From the perspective of the past two decades, we can see that all the "positive pluses" of the period emerged within the framework established back then. Among those creating this framework, Wałęsa and Balcerowicz played the leading role.

The Warsaw Voice's Chair awards suggest a movie director who has the ability to design reality and influence it. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, both Wałęsa and Balcerowicz had a huge impact on reality. This was true in the years when their decisions influenced it directly, and also in subsequent years when the script written with their great contribution was being fulfilled.

Today is definitely a time for writing a new script. However, it's not being written on a blank page. The logic and sequence of time means that one way or another, it will be the child of the script once written by Lech Wałęsa and Leszek Balcerowicz.

Andrzej Jonas
The Warsaw Voice

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