- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

Ten years ago I traveled to Poland as an American Fulbright Scholar to study the country's new constitutional court. Since this would be the most important judicial body in the land, I was shocked to discover the Polish court housed in a couple of dingy rooms in an unused corridor of parliament no clerks, no staff other than one secretary, no chambers. The court met only periodically and had to borrow rooms from parliament, the institution it was meant to check and balance, to hear cases. I was uncertain whether free-market democracy would ever take root in Poland.
But Poland has been a remarkable success. A functioning judiciary underpins vibrant democratic political life. Poland's economy grew at better than 5 percent per year during the latter half of the 1990s. As a consequence, Poland joined NATO in 1998, ended its dependence on U.S. assistance programs in 2000, and now stands on the brink of EU accession. While Poland has been hit hard by the worldwide recession, with economic growth falling from 5 percent to 1 percent and unemployment rising to 18 percent, Poland is still a surprising success story, particularly in comparison to its former East Bloc allies.
President Aleksander Kwasniewski, one of the architects of Poland's resurgence, comes to Washington this week for a state visit, only the Bush administration's second such visit (the first was by Mexico's Vincente Fox). Part of the visit is to celebrate Poland's success in developing free-market democracy. As the United States looks for ways to promote similar transformations in the "unreformed" Soviet successor states, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, and perhaps even beyond, in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is instructive to consider what aspects of the Polish experience are universal and transferable. These include:
Rule of law. Legal certainty and the rule of law are at the core of sustainable democracy and a complex free-market economy. Without constraints imposed by legal rules, officials and bureaucrats have too many opportunities and temptations to gain from political and bureaucratic arbitrariness. Because Poland undertook systemic legal and constitutional reform, property rights and individual liberties are now protected. Thus, Poland has been successful in attracting foreign investment, unlike Ukraine, where a firm legal footing for the protection of property rights has yet to be put in place.
Training of state administration. Under the Soviet system, corruption pervaded the bureaucracy. Emerging economies must develop a culture of accountability and transparency to deter the quest of bureaucrats for bribes. Early on, Poland established its own version of France's School of National Administration to train a new generation of bureaucrats. The first graduating classes now occupy mid-level and senior administration posts. Foreign investors, the chief prey of corrupt bureaucrats, have been the first to notice the difference. Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, based on a survey of business people, ranks countries according to how corrupt they are perceived to be, with 85 being the lowest score. Poland ranks 44th, at roughly the level of Greece and South Korea, which had a four-decade head start in creating transparent, rule-bound institutions. With respect to its neighbors, Poland ranks ahead of the Czech Republic and behind Hungary. Russia and Ukraine rank far behind, placing 79th and 83rd, respectively.
Unleash entrepreneurship. Legalizing normal business and entrepreneurial activity is another key to jump-starting a free market. In order to encourage entrepreneurship and greater participation in the open economy, the Polish government had to increase transparency and legalize normal profit-inspired business activities. As a result of early small business reforms, Poland by 1993 had registered more than one million new small businesses. Early assistance should be focused on creating the right environment for doing business.
The Polish example is relevant as we develop our assistance policy toward emerging democracies. First, donors should resist the urge to launch a development program with a "Marriot Brigade" highly paid and often inexperienced consultants whose contributions are sometimes inversely proportional to the fees commanded. Second, the donor community must insist on local ownership and conditionality for each project, as was done in Poland. Unless a project has the strong support of officials at the local or national level, it will likely fail.
Today, the Polish constitutional court is housed in its own impressive structure in Warsaw, physically separated from the other branches of government. The court, through its practice of judicial review, strives to assure that the state will govern according to law. There is still much work to be done, from intellectual property rights enforcement to simply inhibiting bureaucratic arbitrariness. Its physical independence and its positive role in Poland's democracy symbolize the progress Poland made in one decade, lessons that are relevant beyond its borders.

Mark Brzezinski, the author of "The Struggle for Constitutionalism in Poland," is a Washington attorney.

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