Following the peaceful revolutions of 1989 and 1991, the countries of Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union revealed to themselves and others that they had been living in an economic wasteland disguised as Utopia.
Drawbacks and benefits were not, of course, evenly distributed between the different post-communist economies. Some had better prospects than others.
But liberalization produced surprises. Slovakia, forced to compete when Czech subsidies were removed following the velvet divorce, did so and prospered; Hungary, burdened by heavy debts inherited from its communist past, never quite fulfilled expectations; and Poland outdistanced all its neighbours economically following a painful but successful policy of market reforms known as „shock therapy.” For instance Poland’s GDP, which was broadly equal to Ukraine’s in 1990, is now approximately three times as large.
The Danube Institute held a lecture examining the different policies adopted by governments during the transition to market freedom, and comparing the outcomes for their countries. The lecturer was the father of Poland's "shock therapy”, Leszek Balcerowicz, who has had a distinguished career in the academy, politics, and more recently in Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Dr. Balcerowicz is a former Deputy PrimeMinister and Minister of Finance (1989-1991 and 1997-2001), and a former President of the National Bank of Poland (2001-2007). He served as a member of the High Level Expert Group on EU Financial Supervision, chaired by Jacques de Larosiere. He is a member of the Group of Thirty founded by Paul Volcker. And in 2009, he was elected President of the International Atlantic Economic Society (IAES.). He is a recipient of numerous honours from universities and of awards worldwide. In particular he was awarded Poland's highest decoration – the Order of the White Eagle - for his contribution to the reforms in Poland (2005).
In 2007, Leszek Balcerowicz was appointed Chairman of Bruegel, a European think tank. In 2008, he created the Civil Development Forum Foundation FOR, a free market think-tank in Poland. And in 2014, he was awarded with the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty.