Twenty years after the demise of the Soviet Union former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski was this year’s guest of honour at the EBRD’s Annual Meeting, delivering the Bank’s traditional Jacques de Larosière lecture in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Unsurprisingly the end of communism was the focus of the lecture in which he spoke of similarities and differences that former Eastern bloc countries have experienced with transition on their paths towards democracy.
Common history, different cultures
Comparing developments in eastern Europe and central Asia since 1989-91 he noted that while the countries of both regions shared the experience of a communist past there were also important differences. These are due to various factors, for example the degree to which the economy was centralised and a country’s previous experience with democracy, he explained.
Two decades after becoming independent, central Asian nations have developed strong identities, President Kwasniewski noted. Further the countries understand that they are part of a globalised economy and that “the market economy should be the base for a good economy”.
Turning to the subject of the Annual Meeting’s host country of Kazakhstan, Mr Kwasniewski characterised its population as proud, dignified and keen to communicate – which he described as essential ingredients to create a nation.
In addition he said the country has made “fantastic achievements” referring, among others, to the country’s economic progress over the last decade.
However he also spoke about the challenges ahead: what comes next after 20 years of effective leadership by Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev?
He stressed the importance of democratic institutions, a multi-party system, a strong civil society and an effective decentralisation process. “Kazakhstan understands the importance of this next stage of development,” he said.
At the same time he described the role of the EBRD in central Asian countries as “extremely important” after the Bank’s previous success of promoting transition in central and eastern Europe.
A lively question and answer session focused mainly on democratic reforms in eastern Europe and central Asia as well as on the future of the European Union.
Asked about Belarus’s place in the European Union Mr Kwasniewski said that every effort should be made to help the Belarusian people but that it would be unwise for European leaders to pursue an “open door policy” for Belarus and to support the current government.
Mr Kwasniewski also said that Europe has emerged not weaker but stronger from the global financial crisis. “Of course it would be better to have more common policies […] but Europe will survive,” he added.
A staunch supporter of European integration during his presidency Mr Kwasniewski made it clear that his position has not changed: “We need more Europe not less Europe,” he stressed.
He said that the latter holds true with regard to European enlargement. More precisely he advocated enlargement towards the east and the south, including Ukraine, south-eastern Europe and Turkey.