Time for New Leaders
August 29, 2014
Zygmunt Berdychowski, chairman of the policy-setting Program Council of the annual Economic Forum in Krynica, talks to Andrzej Ratajczyk.
Organized for the 24th time by the Institute for Eastern Studies, the Economic Forum in the southern Polish resort of Krynica is one of the most important political and business events in Poland. Held every September it regularly attracts hundreds of politicians, economists, businessmen, academics and media professionals from across Europe. This year’s conference will take place at a special time—25 years since the beginning of the transition from communism to a market economy in the region and 10 years after Poland joined the European Union. Will this year’s conference address these two important milestones in Polish history?
Naturally. The topics of several debates and speeches will refer to the events of 25 and 10 years ago. Moreover, participants in other discussions will certainly refer to these important events as well, either indirectly or directly.
This year’s forum will be held under the motto “The Post-Crisis World: Time for New Leaders.” What kind of new leaders does this refer to?
“Time for new leaders” can be discussed in different contexts. Take the issue of migration. Today, Western Europe is home to almost 2 million Poles who have made individual decisions to look for work far from where they were born and have their homes. This determination of Polish people in searching for a way to build prosperity for themselves, their determination in the search for a new way of life, commands growing respect in Europe. I think all those who accept the changing environment and are ready to build their lives anew in a new place and under different circumstances deserve to be called the new leaders of Europe. Poles are one of the few societies that are part of this process to such a large extent.
The time of new leaders is also the time of countries that are undertaking difficult solutions and occupying an increasingly important position in European dialogue. Poland can be seen as such a leader, a European country that has been successful thanks to its policies. Although many problems persist, the Polish economy is developing rapidly, and Europe is increasingly taking into account Poland’s voice. Certainly, a lot still remains to be done. Certainly, we are still in the process of building our position in Europe. But there is no doubt that Poland’s current position significantly differs from that it occupied 20-25 years ago.
The new leaders can also be referred to in purely economic terms. Until recently it was difficult to imagine Polish corporations investing abroad and securing a significant position on the markets of Central and Eastern Europe. Today Polish companies, in the same way as multinational corporations, are capable of foreign expansion. Now is the time of these companies.
Will the forum address topics related to the current political situation in Europe, especially events in Ukraine?
The situation in Ukraine causes widespread interest, so certainly it will be discussed at the forum in Krynica—both because we expect a number of visitors from Ukraine and because of the planned debate topics. Krynica will become a venue of serious debate about the events in Eastern Europe. And forum participants will have a unique opportunity to obtain reliable firsthand information about what is really happening there.
Is a large Russian delegation expected in Krynica this year as well?
I think that, as every year, the Russian Federation will be represented by about 100 people. It’s hard to imagine a discussion about the situation in Eastern Europe without the participation of Russians. The fact that the Russians define foreign policy aims in a different way than the Ukrainians or Poles, for example, does not mean that we shouldn’t be talking to them. Therefore, as the organizers of the conference, we are trying to make sure that the discussion at the forum takes place with the participation of the two parties. This is important because in the current situation Krynica is one of the few places where such talks are being conducted.
Next year, the Krynica Economic Forum will be marking its 25th anniversary. Over those years it has become one of the most important economic events in Central and Eastern Europe—one that European political and economic leaders are keen to attend. What is the secret behind the event’s success?
First, this is the result of efforts by our 50-strong team who are constantly working on the organization of the event. The second factor is the openness of the organizers to different political environments. For example, last year, the forum hosted both the Polish prime minister and the opposition leader. Previously, such a situation occurred in the case of partners from Ukraine, Slovakia and Hungary. This kind of openness is rather rare in Central and Eastern Europe. Third, the prestige of the Krynica forum is built by the way in which the event is financed. The forum’s budget is made up of donations from several hundred people and dozens of business partners. None of them has a dominant position. On the one hand, this arrangement is difficult organizationally because every year we must seek to enlist many partners to work with, but on the other hand this guarantees independence. And finally, it seems to me that a great strength of the forum is the place where it takes place. Rather than confined to an indoors location, the conference and social life in Krynica revolves around the boardwalk, which gives a sense of freedom. Besides the venue is far from mass transit hubs and if someone decided to come here they are usually not in a hurry to leave.
For several years now, the forum has been accompanied by the Running Festival. How popular is this sporting event?
The Running Festival is the only event of its kind in Poland that is so versatile and diverse. Competitors have a choice of over 20 different runs over three days. The program of accompanying events is also very extensive. The first festival was attended by about 1,000 runners, the second by almost 3,000, and this year as many as 9,000 people may compete. No other event for runners in Poland has developed so rapidly. This is also a huge opportunity to promote Krynica as a place where you can spend your time in an enjoyable way.
24th Economic Forum