Building a Commercial Society: Culture & the Transition to Wealth

Event Information

Date: Wednesday, May 19th 2010

Location: Grand Hotel Kraków Krakow, Poland

Sponsored by:

Acton Institute 

John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

Polsko-Amerykańska Fundacja Edukacji i Rozwoju Ekonomicznego

Forum for Civic Organization.


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For former Communist countries, the transition from collectivism to market economic orders was not easy. Lives were upturned, certainties abolished, and an entire way of life crumbled for millions. Economics, we learned, had cultural consequences, just as culture has economic implications.

Bringing together policymakers, business leaders, clergy, and economists, this conference explored the complex cultural and economic questions facing economies that, over 20 years after Communism’s collapse, are still in a state of transition. What are Communism’s remaining economic and cultural legacies? How do we reconcile the need for free markets with maintaining the cultural fabric that itself provides essential moral foundations for commerce?


  • Professor Leszek Balcerowicz
  • Dr. Mart Laar
  • Fr. Maciej Zieba, O.P.
  • Mr. Andrzej Baranski
  • Mr. John O’Sullivan
  • Professor Jan Klos
  • Fr. Kestutis Kevalas

Speaker Biographies:

Professor Leszek Balcerowicz is a Professor of Economics at the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH), a former Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance as well as a former Chairman of the National Bank of Poland (NBP). He is best known for playing a leading role in Poland’s economic transformation in the aftermath of the Fall of Communism. Professor Balcerowicz has received numerous honors and awards from universities and institutions all over the world. In September 1989, Leszek Balcerowicz became the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance of the first non-communist government behind the Iron Curtain. He prepared and oversaw the program of economic reform, commonly known as the ‘shock therapy’, that was to counter hyperinflation and radically restructure Poland’s crisis-struck economy. The Balcerowicz Plan allowed Poland to move away from inefficient communist central planning and become a successful free-market state. In 2005, Professor Balcerowicz was awarded Poland’s highest honor, the Order of the White Eagle, for his role in the country’s economic transformation. Professor Balcerowicz has remained a very active figure in the economic and political life of Poland. He became the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance once again in 1997 and held these positions until 2000. From 2001 to 2007, he served as the Chairman of the National Bank of Poland.

Dr. Mart Laar began his second term as prime minister of Estonia in 1999, when the country was in the midst of a fiscal crisis. The collapse of Russia's economy the year before had left Estonia's stock market reeling, and the government was struggling to fund the benefits promised by Soviet-era social programs. Laar realized that the only way for Estonia to weather the crisis was to finally leave behind the legacy of its communist past. He announced deep cuts to paternalistic state welfare programs, slashed business taxes, and urged liberalization of international trade. By the end of his term, the government's Bureau of Privatization was dissolved; more than 90 percent of the economy was in private hands. The economy was growing 7 percent annually, and Laar was widely credited as the force behind the creation of the “Baltic Tiger.” In his first term of office, he negotiated the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country, introduced the highly stable Estonian currency, and implemented a flat tax that has decreased steadily since 1994. Laar's dedication to progress and economic freedom has allowed the former communist state to develop into one of the most dynamic economies in the world. In 2007, Estonia was ranked one of the top 10 countries in the Economic Freedom of the World index, the first post-communist economy to earn such a distinction. In 2007, the Acton Institute awarded Laar the Faith and Freedom Award. In addition to being a politician, Laar has written several books on Estonian and Soviet history. He was also a history teacher in Tallinn, as well as the past president of Council of Historians of the Foundation of the Estonia Inheritance, the Society for the Preservation of Estonia History and the Estonian Students' Society. Laar graduated form Tartu University in 1983, and received his masters degree from the same university in 1995.

Fr. Maciej Zieba, O.P. was formerly the provincial of the Polish province of the Dominican Order, and is presently director of the Europejskiego Centrum Solidarności in Gdansk. Fr. Zieba is also the founder and director of the Tertio Millenio Institute in Kraków and has authored many books and publications presenting the teaching of Pope John Paul II and the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

Mr. Andrzej Baranski is the owner and president of Herbewo International.

Mr. John O’Sullivan is a British conservative political commentator and journalist and currently the executive editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Mr. O'Sullivan was born in Liverpool and was educated at St Mary's College, Crosby and received his higher education at the University of London. He stood unsuccessfully as a Conservative candidate in the 1970 British general election. He is Editor-at-Large of the opinion magazine National Review and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. Prior to this, he was the Editor-in-Chief of United Press International, Editor-in-Chief of the international affairs magazine, The National Interest, and a Special Adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1991 New Year's Honors List. He is the founder and co-chairman of the New Atlantic Initiative, an international organization dedicated to reinvigorating and expanding the Atlantic community of democracies. The organization was created at the Congress of Prague in May 1996 by President Václav Havel and Lady Margaret Thatcher. O'Sullivan has published articles in Encounter, Commentary, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Policy Review, The Times Literary Supplement, The American Spectator, The Spectator, The American Conservative, Quadrant, The Hibernian and other journals, and is the author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister (November 2006). He also lectures extensively.

Professor Jan Klos is assistant professor with the department of Philosophy’s Chair of Social and Political Ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin. He has been teaching at the University since 1999. He has a specific interest in the history of economic freedom, nineteenth century liberalism, and dialogue between modernity and Christian thought. In 2001, he wrote a prize winning essay for the Bastiat competition at the University of Aix-Marseilles. Prof. Klos has published in journals such as Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines and the Journal of Markets & Morality. He has also published three books, the latest of which is: Freedom - Individualism - Progress. Conservative Liberalism vs. Modernity. In 2006, Prof. Klos was awarded the Novak Award by the Acton Institute for his scholarly work.

Fr. Kestutis Kevalas is a respected figure and well known expert on Christian social ethics, the free market, and human dignity to the people of his home country. In addition to his active work as a speaker and pastor at national events, he serves a lecturer on moral theology at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania. During the past nine years, Fr. Kęstutis Kevalas has initiated a new debate in Lithuania, introducing the topic of free market economics to religious believers, and presenting a new set of hitherto unknown questions to economists. After studies at the Kaunas Priest Seminary and St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md., Fr. Kevalas was ordained to the priesthood in 2000. In 2001, he received his Licentiate Degree in Theology writing the thesis "Catholic Social Teaching and Economic Development: A Case Study of Lithuania." He received his Doctorate in Sacred Theology with his thesis on “The Origins and Ends of the Free Economy as Portrayed in the Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus” in 2008. Fr. Kevalas has been named the 2010 Novak Award winner by the Acton Institute.