People of Freedom were elected – as in the elections held on June 4th, 1989 – by the votes of Polish citizens – to represent the Polish success in different fields – highlighted Bronislaw Komorowski, President of Poland, during a gala to celebrate the outcome of the plebiscite of TVN and “Gazeta Wyborcza” People of Freedom. In the category of “Science” won Prof. Henry Skarżyński. I would like to thank you very much, for the fact that scientists found themselves among the prominent people who presumed the chance to be where we want to be, do what we are able to do, and show what we can do. I think a lot of people took advantage of this opportunity and are a good representation of Poland in the world. I would like to thank everyone who voted for us – all operating in the area of science – because it proves that all of us could do a lot – said Prof. Skarżyński. How he appraises the effects of the change which took place in Poland over the past 25 years Professor says in an interview to “I hear.”
Jolanta Chyłkiewicz: Is freedom is essential for science?
Prof. Henryk Skarżyński: Yes. The lack of freedom can inhibit progress, development of research, and finally to squander what has been achieved. It is not by accident that during the gala I have mentioned the names of two great doctors. At the end of the nineteenth century Franciszek Ksawery Jawdyński performed in Warsaw oncological surgeries as no one else in the world could. However, at that time Warsaw was the provincial town of Tsarist Russia. Dr. Jawdyński did not get far, and today only a few remembers him. After World War II Prof. Jan Miodoński in Cracow performed otosurgeries, which then where carried out only by a few doctors in the world. However, he could not announce results of his studies at the right time because he did not get a passport and could not go to the world congress held in Amsterdam. Many of our outstanding compatriots were in a similar situation. We, for the last 25 years, could work and show the world what we can do. I think a lot of scientists took advantage of this opportunity. When I look at the whole of what occurred in science and medicine in the past 25 years, I see a tremendous progress.
JCH: What for you was freedom in 1989, and what is it now?
HS: The facts show it the best. Until 1989 I could not go to Paris to see the latest deafness treatments, to then – in 1992 – introduce them in Poland. Now, I just came back from Australia, from the World Congress of Audiology, as a scientist and physician who has developed and implemented a proprietary method – partial deafness treatment and used it in the treatment of numerous patients. I came back with the right to organize this Congress for the first time in Poland, winning the rivalry with the centers from the U.S., China and Japan.
JCH: How do you feel as a winner of the plebiscite People of Freedom?
HS: It still gets to me that I was elected the Man of Freedom. Surely, what happened is an occasion for me for reflection and summaries – what in the past 25 years we have managed to achieve in our country and what we have failed. The Poles have a tendency to complain. I hope that due to this plebiscite many people will start more positively evaluate the past 25 years – sees not only errors, but also what we were able to achieve together.
JCH: How does this summary looks like from your point of view? What did we manage to achieve?
HS: Our biggest success was the accession to the European Union. This step has radically changed our situation, and our thinking. Poles opened up to the world, are successful in various spheres of life, they can compete with others and win. In the best known to me scientific and medical world – throughout history – Poles have never been as visible as in the last 25 years. In many medical specialties we caught up with wealthy Western Europe, and in some cases we even have overtaken the world, giving the Poles – the first and so far only – access to the latest methods of treatments. Together with our accession to the European Union came a stream of money. The question is whether we used them well. Do everywhere or in most cases, EU subsidies transformed into a new quality and new jobs? How many new local roads were built with the use of this money, and in how many places the old roads were only covered with an additional layer of asphalt, which resulted that on these roads are the same holes that were before?
Currently, the most important is, however, to make the best use of – probably last on such a scale – EU funds. Not to envy those the best who multiplied them, not to suspect everyone and everywhere of not following often vague and imprecisely described rules.
JCH: What about failures?
HS: As a defeat in the last 25 years, I consider the loss of human capital, especially the most active and enterprising young generation of Poles. The fact that today they live in different countries and make a career there is not a problem yet. The worst thing is that there is no idea how gained by them experience abroad can be used for the good of our country and society. Failure is also the lack of thought-out strategy of educating young people. We liquidated too hastily, for example, vocational education, while giving young people the chance of education, unfortunately, on a little effective humanities studies. The effects of this are terrible. We used to have, for example, thousands of nurses from the medical high schools. Now, after university, there is incomparably less and only a small portion work in the country.
JCH: Indeed, young people often feel lost in the Polish reality. What would you advise them?
HS: It is worth to learn – to win with the competition and to work – to gain experience. Also, use of new solutions and do not open – already opened – doors. Efficient communication with others, because it is a skills that has a decisive influence on the development of modern society. Operate effectively without giving up their individuality. It is worth to note that we have a family, which usually supports us.
JCH: For 25 years, subsequent governments cannot cope with the healthcare. Do you have a good idea in this area for today?
HS: Currently in the crucial area, which is healthcare, the private sector occupies a significant position in the use of public funds. So why not allow to use that part well-organized public-private teams? We are scared of this but it’s an inevitable process. It is impossible to maintain – as if by force – both juggernaut hospital, not allowing at the same time on the market of medical services well organized, although highly specialized facility.
JCH: And in other sectors? What would you do differently?
HS: When I travel around the country I watch with great regret underserved, rural areas. I think that instead of selling hundreds of thousands of hectares almost for nothing they could be partially bestowed upon those who lived there, cultivated fields, gathered crops for years. Nothing stood in the way to give some part of stocks, i.e. of the the former state-owned farms, to their employees. Many regions would not be so desolated now, and young people could start there their families. Today they will not come back. Some deserted regions can be easily revived. Improvement of the road network is necessary because it will make them easily accessible. For example, Warsaw could revive the Warmia and Masuria region, if getting there would occupy not more than hour and a half.
JCH: While making summaries usually we also think about future. How do you see the perspective for Poland and Poles in the next 25 years?
HS: Exactly! Our weakness is the lack of real planning perspective. In many areas of our lives we operate “from day to day.” Meanwhile, if there is no real prospects for the years 2020, 2030, 2040 it will come to us-or rather our children and grandchildren – to pay for this incredibly high price. Our descendants will not be interested in which party ruled, and it which one was in the opposition. Today, only a few think about the future. We do not argue about the future model of a state, but about ours – often not important – arguments and prejudices. Such discussions seem to be particularly barren, if we take into account that we are becoming a part of multicultural Europe. As in any community there will be those who lead, and those to be managed. In the country there will probably be less and less of us, but in Europe more and more and it is capital that should be used! There is no reason for us to conjecture minimalist plans. We should think about the leading role in the upcoming 25 years. If we prepare for this role, we will succeed. Such a thinking accompanied me when I created the idea of the World Hearing Center. Behind often heard then “why all this blast!?”. I answered then: in order to win the competition and continue to grow rapidly. If we can create this center, it will always be the FIRST World Hearing Center. Although – with time – not the only one – because in the world there will appear similar facilities. After all, if something works efficiently and well, others are starting to follow. They may even create something better. You need to take this into account – after all, that is what the development of modern society is all about!