Esteemed Secretary-General, former Secretary-General, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure and an honour for me to welcome you all here to commemorate with us the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism in our countries. We, by whom I mean the ambassadors of the four Central European countries that are now members of the OECD (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), have decided to revive the memories of that historic event here at the OECD. We should like to do this not only by recalling the days when our countries were busy laying the foundations of democratic capitalism in the first half of the nineties, but also by exploring the economic challenges that face our countries today. It is most appropriate to do so in this place, since OECD expertise was at our disposal in the early days of our regained freedom and it was available to us when we were applying for OECD membership, just as obviously it is now that we have become full members of the organisation.
On a more personal note, I must say that I still have the first OECD Survey of Czechoslovakia – yes, back then it was still Czechoslovakia – in my home library in Prague. The Survey was published in 1991, if I am not mistaken, and it explored the economic policies to be followed once we took over. I assume that some of its co-authors are here with us today.
To remain on a personal note, I think that the socio-economic system we have in our four countries now, which is democratic capitalism – with all its shortcomings, including the current crisis – is incomparably better than “real socialism”, as the communist system was called back then by its protagonists in my country (the system in which I spent perhaps the best years of my life). Surely, democratic capitalism is much better than the communist system in terms of economic performance, which we can approximate by per capita GDP and similar measures. Yet it provides so much more. And by that I refer to the various freedoms that are assured to people nowadays but were denied to us during communist times. I am speaking about freedom of speech, freedom to travel, freedom to live abroad for a period of time and return home – or, more generally, and to cite Milton Friedman´s seminal work, Freedom to Choose – a freedom that can hardly be captured by any index, and one that we who have lived under a totalitarian regime can perhaps appreciate a bit more than others who were born into democracies.
Let me now stop here and ask Secretary-General Angel Gurría to take the floor.
20 Years After: reflections on the economic transformation of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and the Slovak Republic