Almost 300 people representing alumni of all Kirkland Program editions came to Warsaw. Although the initiative is at present addressed to citizens of 9 countries, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine, the conference was also attended by alumni from Lithuania and Slovakia, that is the countries covered by the program in its first years.
The alumni congresses, held every 3-4 years, serve to maintain the ties of former scholarship holders with Poland, their mutual ties as well as help establish new contacts. They also make an opportunity to improve the Kirklander’s knowledge of Poland and the European Union, and enable discussion on the possible directions of transformation in the countries of the Region. Like in previous years, the agenda of the congress was rich and interesting and offered many meetings with prominent experts and renown public persons. The alumni themselves got actively involved in the congress preparations and they conducted workshops and thematic panel discussions.
On the first day of the conference, after the gala celebrating the 15th anniversary of PAFF, the alumni had an opportunity to listen to lectures on three subjects: political transformation, the European integration and the transatlantic relations.
Professor Leszek Balcerowicz, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, former NBP President, Chairman of the Civil Development Foundation Board, gave a lecture on “Perspectives and problems of economic growth in Europe”, presenting the vision of the necessary reforms both in the EU countries, whose economies have been weakened by the recent crisis and in Central and Eastern Europe countries which struggle with development pitfalls and political conflict in the Region. The speech on the condition of the European Union in turbulent times was given by Jarosław Pietras, former Minister for European Affairs and Director General in the EU Council. He also shared with the Kirkland Program alumni his expertise in the area of negotiation, as he was one of the negotiators of Poland’s accession to the EU. In turn Andrew Nagorski, a columnist and writer, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Polish-American Freedom Foundation, presented his reflections on „The United States in the world: 2000-2015”, that is in the period of PAFF operation and implementation of the Kirkland Program. Each lecture was followed by an animated discussion between the participants and the lecturer.
On the second day of the conference workshops were held, in the form of 15 thematic meetings held in three rounds. Each participant attended three workshops, selected at his own discretion. The meetings, conducted by the Polish guests, had mainly the form of Poland’s experience sharing in such areas as anti-corruption, conducted by Grażyna Kopińska of the Batory Foundation; the role of civil activities in the transformation process, conducted by Jakub Wygnański of the Unit for Social Innovation and Research “Shipyard”, watch-dog activities, discussed by Katarzyna Batko-Tołuć, Vice President of the Watchdog Polska civil network, and many others. The important subject was the problem of migration and its social consequences, that is the workshop conducted by Maciej Duszczyk, Ph.D. of the Institute of Social Policy at Warsaw University, as well as the workshop on ways of shaping the political situation by sources of information and various forms of media communications, presented on the example of Ukraine. That workshop was conducted by the KirklandPprogram alumnus Oleksandr Piddubny, a Ukrainian journalist and Maria Przełomiec, a Polish journalist, author and the host of the “East Studio” program. Two thematic meetings on establishing and continuation of the Kirklanders cooperation in the pro-reform activities and scientific work were conducted by the program alumni Oleh Levchenko and Sergiy Vasylyk from Ukraine.
Each alumni congress is first of all a meeting of friends from the time of their stay in Poland. Today they are academics and professionals in various areas who face similar challenges in their countries. Their opinions and declarations confirm that the Kirkland program played a significant role in their lives. “I think about what the Kirkland Program gave me. I have ever thought high of all my experience gained during my studies in Poland. But now I value that even more because I understood that the biggest treasure I got are people. The Program has also broadened my horizons, gave me a great sense of self-confidence, of belief that I can succeed, and of course it gave me a lot of knowledge. I use all that now. I’m not sure if I have already achieved all that I could or if I still face new challenges. This conference was great. Once again thank you very much for everything,” Roman Kiflyuk, the Program alumnus of 2003/04 round, presently a member of the Ukrainian Radio and TV Broadcasting Board, said.
The Lane Kirkland Scholarship Program, launched in 2000 by the Polish-American Freedom Foundation, has already had 654 alumni representing Central and Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia, who studied in Poland at a one-year postgraduate courses. The scholarship holders represent such professional groups as academics, lawyers, civil servants, local government officers, NGO leaders and politicians. Many of the Program alumni play important roles in public, academic and social life in their countries. The Kirkland Program Alumni Conference, held on May 15-16, 2015, was the fifth in row; the former ones were in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2011.