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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » June 29, 2012
Interview - Francis Fukuyama talks to Andrzej Jonas and Peter Konończuk
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Exlusive interview with Francis Fukuyama: Not the End of the EU
June 29, 2012   
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Greece will probably have to leave the eurozone, while in the United States, the Republicans are currently too far from the mainstream to get elected, according to Francis Fukuyama. The prominent American political scientist, known for his book The End of History and the Last Man, spoke to the Voice’s Andrzej Jonas and Peter Konończuk during a visit to Poland last week.

You’ve had an opportunity to observe Poland from up close several times. How many times have you been to this country?

July 1989 was my first visit to Poland. When President Bush [senior] came and spoke in Gdańsk. I was in the State Department then... That first visit was right after the conclusion of the Round Table talks. I’ve been quite a few times since then. It’s a miraculous transformation when you think about what Poland was like at that moment and the degree to which it’s become a normal European country since then.

What have been the most crucial changes over that time, in your opinion?

The thing about the whole communist period was that it wasn’t a natural internal political development for Poland. Poland was part of a larger Europe and got knocked off that course by all the terrible events of the 20th century, the German invasion and then by the Soviet occupation. Communism was never a natural form of political organization [for Poland.]

Stalin was of the same opinion. He said he didn’t want Poland in the Soviet Union because Poland could poison the whole system…

Communism was more natural to Russian political institutions. Poland never had that kind of absolutist tradition that Russia did. I don’t regard Poland having been one thing up to 1989 and then evolving into something else. I think it was more that Poland was able to recover the natural path of development that it would have followed had it not been for all these terrible events of the 20th century. Like other countries in Eastern Europe it was a little bit slower in getting to liberal democracy… Poland had a constitutional government stretching back several centuries. Rule of law had always been well established in Poland. There had always been a strong civil society. So in some sense what we had after 1989 was just a return to that normality.

Not so easy after so many years of communism…

Compared to other former communist countries, I think Poland’s evolution is about the most successful. I don’t think totalitarianism was ever successfully established in Poland... You always had an independent Catholic church, there was some degree of private property. The fact that Solidarity could appear during the communist period was some indication there was private associational activity. None of this happened in Romania or Bulgaria for instance.

Do you think the global economic crisis will teach us anything?

Crisis always teaches people something. I think that usually societies find a comfortable equilibrium of institutions and a lot of times you can’t knock them off that equilibrium unless there’s some kind of crisis. I actually don’t think that the crisis in Poland’s case was really necessary.

So what’s the main lesson of the current crisis? Is it a crisis of democratic states?

I’m not sure it’s a crisis of democratic states generically. It’s certainly a crisis of the Greek state….
Greece has a particular problem because the way the Greek state was put together had always been based on clientilistic or family-based members. Part of the reason that they couldn’t control their budget deficit was that the two Greek political parties simply used the state as a means of expanding political patronage. To this day there’s not a single Greek party that’s made that a central issue in a reform program. I don’t really see them moving to a resolution of that. So in that sense there’s a real crisis. The Italian state has always been half like that. Southern Italy is organized very much like Greece.

So what do we need to learn most from this crisis?

There’s a lot of different lessons. The central lesson for the EU is that the Maastricht Treaty was fundamentally flawed. It didn’t establish strict accession criteria. In fact I think a lot of people knew that Greece didn’t meet the criteria when they entered. There was such political pressure to have them come in that people just ignored those warning signs. There’s no disciplining mechanism and there’s no exit mechanism. I think a lot of people understood that at the time but they simply didn’t think about the consequences if something like this were to happen.

There are now different ideas as to the best way forward: one from Berlin and a new one from Paris. Which is better?

In a purely technocratic sense you could have a fiscal union in addition to the monetary union. That would solve the underlying problem, but I think there’s no way in the world that’s going to come about. I think that Europe is going to have to settle for something less and what that something less is is probably Greece leaving the eurozone.

Is this the end of Europe as we know it?

No. Ever since this crisis began people have been exaggerating the dangers of Greece leaving the eurozone. I think it’s more dangerous now than if they had done this six months ago or nine months ago. I think they should have done it much sooner than that. Then... they could have planned for an orderly exit. I think that would have solved a lot of their problems.
They would have a competitive currency, they wouldn’t be shackled to a strong euro. Now, unfortunately, if they leave I think it’s going to be chaotic and not planned and it will be the result of not being able to agree on a strategy. And that’s going to be much more damaging to the rest of Europe. Even under those conditions I don’t see why it leads to the end of the EU.

What are the broader implications of these problems?

All democracies are having similar problems in governance. Greece is just the most extreme example. They have this tendency to promise more than they can actually deliver. And that promise has been made more difficult by the change in demographics over the last 40 years. Birth rates have fallen very substantially. People live longer. And the kind of welfare state arrangements that had been negotiated back in the 1960s and ‘70s are not going to be sustainable in most countries. Which means a renegotiation...
For example, raising the retirement age— something like that is perfectly possible and necessary if you’re going to rescue pension systems, but people don’t like the idea of having to do that.

Are demographic questions now the key questions?

That’s the background for why this is a problem. The short-term crisis has obviously been provoked by the financial sector, the fact that it evolved in an unregulated fashion and imposed all sorts of costs on the rest of society. Banks took risks that really weren’t justified.

Are the tensions nowadays as dangerous as 70 or 80 years ago?

They are probably not because we still have a memory of what happened back then. For example, there was no quick rush towards protectionism after the financial crisis, which you could easily imagine happening if it hadn’t been for the memory of what happened in the 1930s and the kind of protectionism that ensued. If this crisis goes on, though, for another decade and things gets worse then it’s hard to know what will happen. Already we’re seeing the rise of a number of populist parties that are very angry about the elite’s mismanagement of the global economy. That’s something to watch out for because potentially that could evolve into something more dangerous.

Do you think that competition between different models of society and the state, for example between the democratic model and China, will define the situation around the world?

No, I think there’s no chance of that. First of all, nobody can adopt the Chinese model if they are not Chinese. It’s not as if Greece is now going to adopt the China model because somehow democracy didn’t work.

The establishment in Russia has considered this model...

The Chinese model involves a bureaucratic tradition of merit-based bureaucracy that the Russians don’t have. There’s hardly any authoritarian country in the world that has those kinds of traditions. And I think the China model is not going to survive in China either.

How many more years will it last?

That’s a dangerous prediction. I think both the economic and the political model that worked very well over the last 20 years are not going to work well over the next 20 years.

Because people have become more independent…

That’s part of the reason the model is not going to work any longer. People are going to demand more freedom. There are 300 million middle-class Chinese now that are on the internet and are better educated and traveled, and I think governing them in this paternalistic way isn’t going to work much longer.

Does the modern world need leadership by some states or an organization of states, like the UN or the United States?

One of the painful things for me as an American over the last decade is that the United States as a leader, not necessarily a political leader, but as a moral example for other countries—both as a democracy and an economic and political model—has been very badly tarnished, first by the Iraq war and then by the financial crisis that was made on Wall Street. Unlike the late 1990s when everyone looked up to and admired the United States for its productivity, information revolution and so on, I think that prestige is considerably diminished. I think it’s something Americans did to themselves and they can’t really get mad at anybody else for it. It is a little bit worrisome if the prestige of a market-based democratic system isn’t held in the same kind of respect as it once was, because most of the alternatives out there are worse in many respects.

So who can provide leadership?

The world always needs leadership. The United States is still going to be a major power. Over the next few years, the United States is still going to be the dominant economic, military and cultural power of the world. I just think that it’s not going to jump into every conflict and I don’t think it ought to. The Libyan intervention was actually a good case of this, because Obama pretty clearly did not want to take the lead in that intervention. In fact, he let Britain and France do most of the upfront bombing and diplomatic action. I don’t really understand why that’s such a terrible thing, because I’m not sure why the United States has to be at the head of the parade on every single one of these things. Even back in the Bosnian war it would have been much better if the Europeans had taken primary responsibility for settling that and Kosovo.

Speaking of the United States and President Barack Obama, who do you think is going to win the next election?

I’d like to believe that Obama is going to, just because the Republican Party has become such a narrowly ideological party that I think they’re too far away from the American mainstream to get elected. But we could have a war in the Middle East, there could be a big setback in the American economic recovery, both of which could easily derail Obama’s reelection.

Back to Central Europe, do you think that Poland and Central European countries have an important role to play in tackling the crisis?

Poland has been a good example of pretty responsible macroeconomic policy. Hungary has been a terrible example, so you can go in two different directions. But it would be interesting, actually, if Poland became a bit of counterweight to France and Spain within the EU.

Read in polish version

This interview will be published in July issue of The Warsaw Voice magazine.
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