Nanovic Institute invites former Polish prime minister to Notre Dame


The Nanovic Institute had the distinct honor of welcoming an influential Polish politician to campus through its Nanovic Forum.  Hanna Suchocka is the former prime minister of Poland and Poland’s former ambassador to the Holy See, a position that included working with the past three popes, one of whom is a saint.  Her example as Poland’s first female prime minister, and her influence after the fall of communism, mark her as a crucial figure in European politics.

A. James McAdams, the William M. Scholl Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, explained to the Rover the rationale behind the Nanovic Forum.

“The purpose of the Forum,” he said, “is to bring leaders in a variety of academic and professional fields to Notre Dame to discuss any issue of major importance to contemporary Europe.”

The Nanovic Forum was established five years ago with the idea of inviting not only famous Europeans to campus but individuals who have made a difference in a way that is in accord with Notre Dame’s distinct mission and values.  Past speakers have included Lord Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of the University of Oxford; Horst Koehler, former president of Germany; and, Bernhard Schlink, a German novelist and constitutional court justice.

It was a Nanovic priority that Suchocka’s visit both touched the students and engaged the whole Notre Dame community in a manner interesting to her.  This was manifested in a variety of activities.

Suchocka had breakfast with the Notre Dame Polish Club on Tuesday and with a group of students on Wednesday, spoke in Professor Justyna Powell’s Comparative Law class, had a private meeting with the president of the university, visited with many professors over meals, and answered interview questions of professors for research projects.  Her main public event, a talk entitled, “Democratic Poland: 25 Years After the Fall of Communism,” took place on Tuesday, October 28.

Suchocka was prime minister from 1992 to 1993, a period of social and economic transformation from communism to capitalism.  Earlier in her career, she refused to join the communist party and instead supported Solidarity, a Polish trade union federation.  As prime minister, she did not waver from Catholic values and social teaching, and at one point garnered a 70 percent approval rating.

At the public talk, she commented on her time as prime minister: “I remember my meetings as prime minister.  I tried to convince them to make a real transformation, some real changes in the system … Now we can see the results of some small steps.”

She went on to speak about the difficulties facing Poland as it attempted to engage in democracy.  She emphasized the economic difficulties of implementing capitalism in a young democracy, the need for intermediate structures in the state, the instrumental approach to the law, and conflict between parties.

“Parties were in permanent conflict,” Suchocka said. “It was difficult for me to keep them together.”

At the end of the presentation, the former prime minister commented on the situation in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.  She believes that Ukraine needs to create smaller intermediate enterprises much like Poland.  As Poland has made substantial steps in becoming a democracy, Suchocka suggested that the country should be one of the leaders in the European Union because it knows from experience the situation in Eastern Europe.

At breakfast on Wednesday, Suchocka spoke briefly about her time as ambassador to the Holy See.  She mentioned that her duties were not simply bilateral—that is, between Poland and the Holy See—but also multilateral because the Vatican is engaged internationally.

In this position, she said that she had “the privilege to be so close John Paul II,” whom she first met in 1992 and met with twice a year during the length of his pontificate.  She explained that he called her ‘Hanka,’ which is the way Hanna is said in Southern Poland.  The former ambassador also greatly admired Benedict XVI and believes that Pope Francis is beginning to move young people to embrace the Church.

Her experience of Notre Dame hospitality extended beyond the campus.  Suchocka arrived in Chicago Wednesday afternoon, where she had dinner with members of the board, benefactors, and friends of the Nanovic Institute.  Today she will also meet with many alumni from the Chicagoland area and speak to the press.

Suchocka may only have spent a short week among the Notre Dame community, but McAdams is sure that her relationship with this university will continue.

“Our relationship with Prime Minister Suchocka,” he said, “will help students in the future by bringing Notre Dame more fully into conversation with Europe’s legal, political, and religious leaders.”

John VanBerkum is a junior studying philosophy.  He is grateful to the Nanovic Institute for the opportunity to have met someone who met a saint, and St. JPII at that.  Ask him how it was at