EDITORIAL: What Is Sovereignty

A Polish diplomat recently said: “The question of sovereignty today does not mean waving about your saber and constitution but preventing a situation where Poland would have no influence on the direction of changes which the EU centre is now deciding on.” And a government minister added: “This is the last EU budget from which we can get something. This money is changing Poland as never before in our entire history. Sovereignty will not feed the Poles or modernise the country.”

In fact the fastest development of the Polish lands occurred in the period from 1870 to 1914—but can we expect politicians to know the economic history of their country? The reforming Tsar Alexander II abolished tariff barriers thus opening the huge Russian market for Polish enterprises—from Kalisz (Roman Calisia) to Samarkand, from St. Petersburg to Odessa and Vladivostok.

It was in the Russian zone, in Warsaw and Łódź, that powerful industrial centres emerged, which the agricultural Poznań area or Galicia commonly associated with poverty could only dream about. Łódź, a small village where the first weaving shop was founded in 1821, became a city with three hundred thousand inhabitants by the end of the 19th century. Between 1864 and 1885, industrial production in the Kingdom of Poland increased more than six-fold, while the overall number of industrial workers surpassed one hundred and fifty thousand. “In the economic area the colonial relations were reversed and became more favourable for the Poles than the Russians”, writes the British historian Adam Zamoyski in his book Poland: a History (2009). But no one in Poland regrets that the Tsardom collapsed. And I don’t know any Czechs who would lament the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy.

The myth of Łódź is still vivid in Poland thanks to Andrzej Wajda’s film The Promised Land (1974). All the more intense was the shock and indignation caused by an article in a British tabloid where the “Polish Manchester” was pictured as a depopulated city from which almost everyone emigrated to England to look for work. The municipal authorities threatened to sue the newspaper, that is they reacted like the Kazakh authorities after the release of the film about the adventures of Borat.

Also high level representatives of the government of Poland, a country of thirty eight million people in the heart of Europe, sometimes behave in an inadvertently comic way. Can we imagine a French politician who would say, even anonymously, something like this: “Sovereignty will not feed the French or modernise the country?”

It would be hard to find a better illustration of the destructive impact on Polish thinking of the clientelist attitude of our government towards the so-called EU centre. In fact the Greek example shows very well how illusive is the sense of belonging to the European “core,” however we understand this term. This country really had everything: it has been a member of the European Union for thirty years, it joined the monetary union and for many years was the greatest beneficiary of the cohesion fund.

Despite all this the Greeks are unable even to grow their own tomatoes, it is more “profitable” for them to import cheaper vegetables from Germany, Holland and Belgium. The Greek political class has turned into the distributor of the EU financial aid. This country has lost, de facto if not de iure, its sovereignty—not because someone preyed on it but because Greece was not capable of preserving it.

Let us reflect on what we should do not to share the fate of Greece. As a preliminary condition let us make an assumption that “the last EU budget from which we can get something” simply does not exist. We should even assume that there is no European Union, no mythical “centre” which will resolve our problems. Our fate is in our hands. This is what sovereignty means.

Aleksander Kaczorowski

Aleksander Kaczorowski is an editor-in-chief of Aspen Review Central Europe, a Polish bohemist, journalist and author. His recent books include biographies of Václav Havel, Bohumil Hrabal, Ota Pavel and Isaac Babel. He won the Václav Burian Prize for cultural contribution to the Central European dialogue (2016).

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