Tuesday, 19 June 2012

On Jarosław Gowin and leadership in Polish society

The meeting we organised with Jarosław Gowin last week will stay with me for some time - he made a deep impression on me and on several other UK-born Poles and British ex-pats. Poland currently has three strong, respected Anglophiles in the key 'power' ministries - UK born and LSE-educated Jacek Rostowski (finance), Oxford-educated Radek Sikorski (foreign affairs) and, since last autumn, former Cambridge scholarship student Jarosław Gowin (justice). [Compare this the PiS coalition line-up of Gilowska-Fotyga-Ziobro].

Anyway, Mr Gowin was speaking about his reforms, with a focus on reforming the court system. Indeed, the entire Polish legal system is dreadfully slow and essentially self-serving. Like many other parts of this country's bureaucracy, it is a self-perpetuating caste extracting its rent from the wealth-generating part of the economy. For the last 23 years nothing much has changed - indeed, the caste has become more entrenched and harder to reform.

Notaries? Why does the nation's economy need them at all? The UK doesn't (other than for international transactions). Why do you need someone to witness you signing your signature (which exists in your biometrically verified passport)? Commercial courts? Why do you need a judge to decide whether or not you can set up a limited liability partnership? Who's the other party in this case? KRS - what a waste of space. Compare the Polish system with the efficiency of Companies House (which employs 1,030 people - how many work in the Polish commercial courts system registering companies? Over a thousand in Warsaw alone, according to one lawyer). And then compare the UK Land Registry with its Polish court-based equivalent. A court, with a judge, to carry out a simple administrative function of noting change of ownership of real estate?

For too long Poland's politics have lacked leadership - to tackle the przyzwolenie społeczne (social acceptance) of a bloated rent-taking caste helping itself to the fruits of the free enterprise and offering precious little in return. Many university professors fall into this category - clinging onto their tenureships at the expense of real innovation and still teaching by rote.

Changing this? Most politicians I've met in Poland are in themselves nice-enough people; but too many are simply free-riders, using their God-given charm, drive and oratorical skills to schmooze their way to an easy-life parliamentary career. Ryszard Kalisz, for example. Nice enough guy - as a youth, he joined the Socialist Union of Polish Students; a member of the Polish United Workers' Party from 1978 until its dissolution in 1990. Drives posh cars. Still a leftie, committed to redistributing wealth. "Vote for me, and I'll give you the rich man's money" is his subliminal message. This type of politician has no interest at all to bring about the real change that Poland needs if it is to be more competitive internationally. The vested interests must be taken on and beaten.

For the last 10 years, I've sat through scores of Polish politicians' speeches. Smooth-talking self-serving hypocrites or well-meaning incompetents, mostly. A handful stand out - and thankfully - these are the guys who run the place - Messrs Rostowski, Sikorski, Gowin (as mentioned above) - Michał Boni in Internal Affairs, Elżbieta Bienkowska at Regional Development.

Listening to Jarosław Gowin was a revelation. Here's a man who's challenging my deepest assumptions - about a life in balance, avoiding stress, healthy diet, good books and movies - no, he is saying. Not the time to take it easy - not just yet. There is a job to be done. A task in hand. To get our nation working properly. To kick out the jams. The rent-taking restricted professions, determining who can get into their gang so as to extract a livelihood by providing second-rate services for laughably high prices, must be challenged.

[I must say though, I do have some sympathy with taxi drivers. These guys, paying astronomical prices for petrol, offer an excellent service compared to Poland's notaries, bailiffs, estate agents or customs agents.]

Leadership is not about a wódz or duce or fuhrer that will lead One Nation to Greatness. It is about individual people standing up for what is right in society - demonstrating leadership through politeness, sobriety, hard work, courteous driving - contributing, rather than demanding entitlement.

After our meeting with Mr Gowin, many - quite cynical, heard-it-all-before, seasoned Poland hands, were of the opinion that here is the Conservative's Conservative - a market liberal, but a social, Pope-quoting, conservative - who could be that One Nation leader, unifying that bulk of Poland that might once have been POPiS had it not been for the splitter element of the nationalist-statist tendency. I've never heard it before after such a meeting - but four people I spoke to after the event talked of Mr Gowin in terms of a future premier. Another view of the same meeting here.

(Take a look at public-sector rent-taking in Brazil, here.)

This time last year:
Death of a Polish pilot

This time two years ago:
Doesn't anyone want to recycle my rubbish?

This time three years ago:
End of the school year

This time four years ago:
Midsummer scenes, Jeziorki


toyah said...

From Palikot to Gowin? Good. You are moving on. It seems like you might finally be getting to the point. By the way, could you kindly get on Wikipedia and check Sikorski's Cambridge career? Like for instance, where he did his matura exam?

toyah said...

Oxford career of course.

Sigismundo said...

Excellent piece Michał, and very informative. In a paragraph or two you've summed up what is still wrong in Poland, something I knew deep down in my bones (the term 'parasites' always sprung to mind), but I never quite managed to articulate it all so elegantly. The head of the nail has been duly hit.

Unknown said...

Michal - very well said (as always). Agree with your assessment of the people with the exception of Boni. He seems asleep at the wheel and to to be clueless about reality. His area has continually screwed up - ACTA being the most blatant.


Michael Dembinski said...

@ Toyah:

Progress at last! My hopes for Mr Gowin rise. Palikot?
Barney Rubble?

Where did Radek Sikorski school? What's the issue here :)?

@ Ziggy

Thank you!

@ Bob

ACTA was clearly not Boni's finest hour. Although he's overstretched, he has the vision (in particular when it comes to digitising the Polish state). Can he deliver though...? We shall see.

toyah said...

The post you're referring to is called "An Apology". What were you apologizing for? May I ask?
As for Sikorski, before you so smartly try to compare him to Mrs. Fotyga, take a look at Wikipedia and check up his education history. And think a little, will you?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Toyah:

Your point being? I met Radek Sikorski in the 1980s while he was studying at Oxford - are you denying he went there or what? The guy was unbelievable brave - went into Afghanistan twice, wrote Dust of the Saints, prize-winning reportage of the struggle against the Soviet invaders - and all before his 25th birthday.

AndrzejK said...

@Toyah. Just because Fotyga is a Professor or whatever does not and certainly id not make her even a half way competent Foreign Minister. In fact she was a disaster, knew no one, had nothing to say. What the F... has Radek Sikorski's matura got to do with anything. Just the sort of closed shop mentality Gowin is trying to break up. Like Miachal I also heard Sikorski speak, even then he was erudite and could hold his own in an argument. This is what mixing with bright young things at a top notch university, where professors encourage students to question everything actually inculcates. Not listening to a Professor of Marxist employment law (have a look at Palikot's event of the reading of the thesis- priceless).

As to the court system in Poland I am agraid that we inherited this from Austria. Having appeared as an expert witness I can confirm that the procedures are exactly the same with six months or more between each one hour hearing. Having said that the commercial court at Czerniakowska is a beacon showing what can be achieved given some good will.

AnotherEwa said...

As a Polish taxpayer and Brit with a Polish court case in progress (6 years so far, with probably another 3 to go) that would have been settled within 6 months in the UK, I despair at the Polish court system. It's beyond wasteful and not fit for purpose in any shape or form. Reform can't come quickly enough. Power to his elbow.

And I too am not sure what Mr Sikorski's matura has to do with anything. Unlike Poland where you're no one unless you have a piece of paper with a rubber stamp, Oxford and Cambridge recognise talent and make room for it regardless of what the official papers say. It's considered a good thing (and yes, I'm an Oxbridge alum too).

toyah said...

Of course I'm not denying that. I hope you don't think I'm stupid.

toyah said...

@Andrzej K. & AnotherEwa
If being a "Professor or whatever" and having a "piece of paper with a rubber stamp" do not make you competent, I can't see why Mike devotes the whole of his post to boasting for the three geniuses of their LSE and Oxford credentials. And does it as though these were something ultimate.