A multidisciplinary conference LEADERS: Poland in a Global World organized by the UCL Polish Society sparks enticing discussion on Poland’s economy, business and culture
February saw the second edition of the UCL LEADERS: Poland in a Global World conference, organized by the UCL Polish Society. A wide range of speakers were invited, from Polish journalists and scholars to business representatives and even a keynote speech from the former Prime Minister, Jan Krzysztof Bielecki. Three panels were organized: economics, science and technology, as well as culture, which all discussed questions regarding Poland in the context of globalization. The event was sponsored by EY Poland, Goldman Sachs, Accenture and we had the pleasure to be able to cover it.
The first panel discussed whether there is a place for Poland among the G20 countries. On stage to discuss this question were Michał Kobosko, the former editor of the Polish edition of Forbes Magazine, a representative of the Polish Business Roundtable Andrzej Klesyk, the Central and Southern Europe Advisory Leader of EY Iwona Kozera and Dr. Subacchi, who is the former director of International Economics research at Chatham House.
The question provoked mixed reactions among the speakers. While some of them were hopeful to see Poland’s economy further modernise to give them a chance to be considered as an important partner for G20 members, a great part dismisses the very idea as impossible. “When you’re at the table are you going to be the guest or the dish?” said one of the speakers. One of the main obstacles the speakers identified was that Poland’s economy is relatively small compared to other European nations that are not G20 members and that the G20 has as its main objective to represent a larger geographical proportion of the world’s great economies, while Poland is already represented by other E.U. members. The overall conclusion was that instead of setting far-reaching goals Poland should focus towards getting higher quality investment to increase its economic importance among other E.U. countries, which would be the best benefit in its future.
The first panel was then followed by a keynote speech by Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, Poland’s former Prime Minister. The panel was moderated by Wojciech Szeląg, a Polish TV presenter. He talked about the cultural struggle of Poland, stuck between three historical powers: the Austro-Hungarian empire, Prussia and Russia. He told the story of a Polish merchant trying to move some merchandise between the three countries, having to corrupt a frontier guard in Russia, to have the right papers in Prussia and not knowing which system use for Austria.
This tail was an analogy of the different political value systems of the three powers and the three ways Poland could function. Russia has a system centered around absolutism and limited constraint of the power, Prussia has a system centered around the strict rule of law and Austria has a hybrid system. Prime Minister Bielecki strongly made the case for the “Prussian system” and for Poland to strengthen its rule of law. His speech was also a warning for the youth against partisan debate and division and the dangers of political polarization. Instead, Prime Minister Bielecki made the praise of education and reason within the political life and debate. Prime Minister Bielecki concluded the speech with the following:
“We create technologies, which aim to change the future for the better but in fact we are unable to predict the real outcome of robotization, not to mention ethical problems that artificial intelligence may pose. We have well-defined global problems, like growing financial stratification but have no clue how to solve them. What rules should one follow in times of insecurity and disorder?”
Prime Minister Bielecki then proclaimed: “My experience has taught me one thing: rudimental values do not change. So my suggestion is – follow what Robert Browning, a UCL graduate, once wrote: The aim, if reached or not, makes a great life: Try to be Shakespeare, leave the rest up to fate.”
The panels were then followed by a lunch break and various workshops, which were led by different representatives from EY and Accenture, as well as some of the speakers including Michał Pękała from DocPlanner and Paweł Potoroczyn, who led a very enticing lecture on what is strategy and the key values of success.
The culture panel attempted to answer the question “What does it mean to be Polish?” Among some more or less banal examples were two notions that seems quite interesting. The first one was kombinować. This term that the speakers struggled to fully translate seems to mean an intersection between improvisation and the capacity to find a way to solve things through going around rules and being smart. Panelists then took the example of the PM’s tail saying the way that the merchant adapted between the different countries he went through was a good illustration of kombinowanie. This seemed to strike clearly with the audience who laughed overwhelmingly when the word was first pronounced, leaving the few non-Polish speakers, like myself, slightly confused.
The second notion that seemed to touch a chord was the “pathological complaining”. Indeed, it did strike me that majority of the speakers during the first panel found a way to criticize Poland almost immediately at a conference trying to, on the contrary, promote Poland. The panelists and later the audience confirmed that they noticed Polish people complained the same way Britons discuss about the weather: when they do not know what to say and that it tended to depict a rather negative image of Poland abroad. The last panel hence ended on a member of the audience rather strongly asking the panel and the other people in the room to “stop complaining” as they have been doing so for about eight hours.
This conference was definitely a very interesting moment for those who wish to understand the Polish culture and we hope it will pave the way to other cultural societies to follow the Polish example and invite more international speakers at UCL. All our congratulations to the UCL Polish Society and its committee that organized this great event, and we are already looking forward to next year’s conference.
Featured image: Estelle Ciesla