Interview with Stanislaw Michalkiewicz

conducted by Jacek Koronacki

Jacek Koronacki: Let us begin with the evaluation of Prime Minister Jan Olszewski's government (December 1991-June 5, 1992), so far the only postcommunist government that could be called rightist.

Stanislaw Michalkiewicz: It is an exaggeration to call that goverment rightist. It was rather center-right. The difference between it and the other two postcommunist governments was the intention of the Prime Minister to break away from the limitations imposed by the Round Table negotiations between communists and various other groups in society in Spring 1989. This intention brought about Prime Minister Olszewski's fall. While Mr. Olszewski himself participated in the Round Table, he and Mr. Jaroslaw Kaczynski were the only ones ready to give up power sharing with the communists. The rest have been unwilling to rock the boat because that would endanger their present cozy positions in the ruling circles.

In my opinion, it would be most useful for Poland to annul the Round Table agreements. My own party, the UPR, tried to support Mr. Olszewski mainly because of his intentions in regard to the Round Table. The limitations imposed by that agreement have acted as a brake for economic reform. They have brought Poland to the stage of a banana republic, preventing further developments. It remains unclear whether we shall remain a banana republic or whether there is still time to go forward. The communists and some sections of the Solidarity elites have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Yet it should be stated clearly that given our geopolitical situation, we shall not remain a banana republic for long but will eventually lose independence if the status quo is not changed.


When the Polish Communist Party dissolved itself in Spring 1990, conditions existed to repudiate Round Table agreements which gave the communists 67% of the seats in the present Polish Parliament.
When Prime Minister Mazowiecki's government fell, President Walesa was against designating Mr. Olszewski for premiership. He selected Mr. Bielecki, who was prime minister in 1991. This pushed the Liberal Democratic Congress, originally a small party (and one which is much less liberal economically than was thought at that time) into the forefront of politics. It was recently revealed that Prime Minister Bielecki ended his tenure with a deficit much larger than expected. The privatization which he and UD have sponsored amounts to the privatization of management. In other words, the state's monopoly has been divided into 15 bureaucratic consortiums called the National Investment Funds. Citizens will be able to buy shares in each such fund but not the shares of any specific factory which the Fund administers.

The Round Table agreements involved a vague promise by the communists that they would move over a bit on the power bench to make room for the new social forces, whose representatives in turn probably issued guarantees that the communists would never be prosecuted. Prime Minister Olszewski wanted to break away from that agreement.

JK: It is interesting that while Mr. Walesa seems to have wanted the Olszewski government to fall, he was an ardent supporter of special powers for the Mazowiecki government in Spring 1990. This took place at the time when the PZPR [the Polish Communist Party, Ed.] dissolved itself; thus the conditions arose to repudiate the Round Table, and to demand that new elections be called in which 0% (and not 67% as the Round Table agreements specified) of the lower house would be reserved for communists.

SM: Mr. Walesa was not entirely sincere in allegedly supporting the Mazowiecki government. To me, it looked rather like an attempt to compromise that government. Mr. Walesa knew that Prime Minister Mazowiecki would not ask the Parliament for special powers. This was the beginning of what has been called "the war at the top."

Mr. Walesa wanted power. I have no reason to say that he wanted it for its own sake. But it is clear that the President is a pragmatist and knows how to fight for power and win.

In any case, when Mr. Mazowiecki became Prime Minister, he and his party made an attempt to marginalize the President. He was assigned the role of a respected grandfather who is made fun of behind his back. President Walesa was supposed to step aside, while at the same time confirming the legitimacy of UD and the circles from which it developed. He was supposed to pass on to them, as the poet says, "the power over the souls." But the problem was that while Mr. Walesa had some claim to legitimacy, Mr. Geremek [a ranking member of UD, Ed.] had none. Before 1989, when political life was largely conspiratorial owing to direct communist suppression, a group of Polish intellectuals began to control the opposition, being helped in that enterprise by the western media. But that is far from having a genuine social legitimacy or having the right to a monopoly of power in future times. President Walesa opposed that, and was so successful that he prevented Mr. Mazowiecki from achieving presidency even with the help of Mr. Tyminski [the third candidate who took away votes largely from Walesa. Ed.] This was a real debacle for UD and for Mr. Mazowiecki personally.

Now, as President, Mr. Walesa seems to be in favor of the French model of presidency, by which he apparently means using the office of the prime minister as a buffer between himself and society. The prime minister would pay for the mistakes of the government and would have to resign if his government made political mistakes. For such a job, one needs a docile and obedient prime minister, someone like Mr. Bielecki. When the Bielecki government fell and Mr. Geremek was unsuccessful in his attempt to form a new government, President Walesa had to agree to offer the premiership to Mr. Olszewski.

At the same time, there were internal disagreements in Porozumienie Centrum, a party of which Mr. Olszewski was a member. The disagreements had to do with the Olszewski-Kaczynski debate. When Mr. Olszewski’s government fell, he left the party. Yet it has to be said that it was Porozumienie Centrum that put forward Mr. Olszewski's candidature for the office of the Prime Minister. This party is headed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski. President Walesa dislikes Mr. Kaczynski so much that this dislike probably contributed to the fall of the Olszewski government. At the same time, Mr. Kaczynski weakened the Olszewski government by lobbying for the inclusion of UD into that government. That was obviously impossible, from Mr. Olszewski's standpoint. As I said earlier, Mr. Olszewski wanted to get away from the Round Table agreements, whereas one of the major goals of UD seems to be the sharing of power with the communists which the Round Table legitimized. This partly explains Mr. Olszewski's fall.

Some of the blame for the fall of the Olszewski cabinet lies with the Prime Minister himself. He failed to conduct a firm policy of faits accomplis which was the only way to stay in power. He was in a bad situation, and the only way to better it was ruthlessness of which Mr. Olszewski seems incapable. He is a righteous man of noble goals but he suffers from indecisiveness. His oratory about what needed to be done did not match his inaction. The last drop was Mr. Olszewski's treatment of the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Jan Parys. When the conflict between Mr. Parys and the Presidential Palace surfaced, Mr. Olszewski did not flex his muscles but rather allowed Mr. Parys to resign. This showed his weakness and inability to withstand pressure.

JK: When the Olszewski government fell and Mr. Pawlak failed to form a new government, UD returned to power.

SM: UD never gave up its attempt to monopolize power. They think that they exist in order to rule. Some members of UD, and I have in mind a fraction only, are the inheritors of the owners of communist Poland, and so it seems to me that they imbibed the predilection to rule with their mothers' milk, so to speak. They perceive themselves as heirs apparent to the throne. Many able people are members of UD, but in my opinion, the party has adopted a mafia-like structure, and hence the strong drive to the monopoly of power of the entire party. This is why I think that it would be dangerous to cede power to UD. President Walesa realizes this. However, he formed a tactical alliance with the UD in order to get rid of Prime Minister Olszewski. But already Mr. Pawlak proved unable to handle UD [Mr. Pawlak heads the agrarian Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe which emerged out of a small "communist satellite" party in People's Poland, Zjednoczone Stronnictwo Ludowe. Ed.]. By entrusting the formation of the new government to Mr. Pawlak, President Walesa tried to push aside the UD, or at least to deprive it of the leading role in the government. To put it bluntly, Mr. Pawlak was Walesa's man, not Mr. Geremek's. To outsmart Mr. Pawlak, UD decided to enter into coalition with Zjednoczenie Chrzescijansko-Narodowe, even though that party is ideologically hostile to UD, is generally hated by it, and economically speaking, favors state intervention of the socialist type. It is sometimes said in Poland that UD is capable of anything. As Boy-Zelenski once wrote: Zadnych politycznych nie ma on przesadow, /Kazda partia dobra, byle dojsc do rzadow." [Mr. X has no political prejudices and considers that party good which allows him to rule. Ed.]

JK: And what is the situation in the center-right circles?

SM: If every person that calls himself/herself "rightist" were really so, then everybody but the communists is "on the right." Even UD likes to talk "rightist" from time to time, while it exerts efforts to continue the social and economic structures of socialism. The UD represents those social strata which live off socialism and which will disappear when socialist economy disappears.

It is hard to say something for sure about PC. It looks as if they do not really know who they are. At one point they ally themselves with the Christian Democrats, at another, with the Thatcherites, and then they start talking about "the justice of cooperatives." Some of them, like Mr. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, do not like UD, others would prefer simply to sail close to the wind. It seems that PC's president, Mr. Kaczynski, does not have enough political vision to lead. His talents show themselves in political intrigues but he does not seem to know what he really wants and where he wants to lead his party. Just as one can overinvest, one can also overdo political games. I think he has done so. PC is clearly in crisis, it simply has no program. Yet at some point, it seemed that it could have become the strongest party in the country.

Mr. Olszewski's new party, Ruch dla Rzeczypospolitej, has a clear ideological profile. It proclaims anti-communism, de-communization and national independence but nothing else. Similar things could be said about Mr. Parys.

I am not quite sure what Partia Chrzescijanskich Demokratow stands for. What they have proposed to cure the ills of agriculture amounts not just to socialism but to etatism, or unlimited support for agriculture at the expense of other branches of economy. I once asked the author of this program which areas of economy were supposed to finance this agricultural development. He had no answer.

As to my own party, Unia Polityki Realnej, it is undoubtedly a rightist party. I would also call rightist that fraction of UD that left that party and is headed by Mr. Aleksander Hall. But there is a "but" to Mr. Hall's conservatism. He has worn quite a few hats in the past. He used to be a national democrat, then a Christian democrat, then a liberal, and then a UD member. One wonders what he will become tomorrow. Also, when he left UD, he received from Mr. Geremek a sort of certificate that he was now forming a "responsible rightist party," European style. This implies that those conservative groups in the country that do not possess Mr. Geremek’s attestation should be dismissed. It appears that Mr. Hall left UD at Mr. Geremek's bidding, so that UD can acquire a "rightist" party controlled by it. In other words, the center-right group is weak and divided, and its programs remain unclear.

JK: And the communists?

SM: They are still well established in the banking industry. Actually, banks today serve largely as tools by means of which ordinary citizens are robbed by the former communist elites and also by some members of the Solidarity elites. The Round Table agreements created a new-old nomenklatura which is prone to corruption and thievery. The banks have not been privatized, and they remain great instruments to exploit the taxpayer. One way to rob citizens is the bankruptcy of insolvable firms underwritten by state banks. This feature does not derive from communism but rather from mafia-like structures. It is characteristic of those states that are dubbed in Polish "the banana republics."

Thus the state is in danger of anarchy. Legislative and executive powers are not clearly separated. The Parliament passes bills that contradict the Constitution. Prime Minister Suchocka conducts negotiations not with the legislative Parliament but with the trade unions. It is ridiculous for the government to sign any agreement with the trade unions, and yet such an agreement is currently in the works. According to Polish law, a state official can also be an MP, and so it is unclear what such an MP represents: his party, or the government? The Suchocka government issues orders to the wojewodas [governors of provinces, Ed.] how to vote, yet those people sometimes represent parties hostile to Ms. Suchocka's government.

The trade unions are used as a political weapon by President Walesa, by the government, perhaps by some foreign powers. For instance, the tiny agrarian trade union Samoobrona [Self-defense, Ed.], headed by Mr. Lepper, maintains contacts with representatives of Lyndon La Rouche. The OPZZ, a trade union run by so-called former communists, obviously has communist connections. The leaders of such trade unions are power hungry and susceptible to corruption. They aspire to becoming "the fourth power" in Poland.

One should add however that negotiations with the trade unions were started during Mr. Olszewski's tenure. One remembers his famous saying that without Solidarity nothing can be done in Poland. He started this anarchistic trend [of negotiating with trade unions].

In this situation, talking about the rule of law makes no sense. The law which is in force today may be changed tomorrow if the trade unions so desire. Needless to say, this has negative effects for building a market economy.

JK: What about foreign policy?

SM: There are, actually, several "foreign policies." Different forces in the country seem to conduct their own foreign policies. It sometimes happens that the President pursues one option and the Minister of Foreign Affairs another. But I am not competent to comment on these matters with authority.

There are dangers here as well. Some experts say that Germany may cease to be a democratic country in ten years. The return of communism in Russia cannot be excluded either. Mr. Nixon has warned Mr. Clinton that the cold war may be revived. For the United States, this would mean a slightly larger military budget, while Poland would be in danger of losing her independence. We are not prepared for the worst scenario. We are in a worse situation today than we were in 1939. Militarily, we are unprepared for aggression against our country. During the last three years, we did next to nothing to prepare ourselves for a possible change of course either in Germany or in Russia.

Yet it stands to reason that neither Germany nor Russia will forever have their hands tied by domestic problems. Our internal situation is getting worse, society is disillusioned and politically uncertain. Poland is not getting stronger, just the opposite. Economically speaking, we lost 11 years, thanks to Mr. Jaruzelski’s eight-year rule after suppressing Solidarity in 1989. Mr. Jaruzelski carries the responsibility for these economic doldrums and not just for introducing martial law.

Society has lost faith in those elites which presently rule Poland. The last straw will be added in early 1993 when the amount of taxes we all pay will become clear to everyone and when prices will again go up. Even some UD economists, such as Dabrowski or Skalski, admit that budget revenues will be significantly lower than expected. I think that the IMF and the World Bank only pretend, for political reasons, that they believe the estimates given them by the Ministry of Finance.

In this situation, there exists a real danger that the tired society will tend to condone unsavory solutions. Poland has two choices, in my view. One is to congeal into a banana republic with a strong and perhaps decisive communist influence. The other is to undertake real and liberal reforms, of the kind recommended by my own Unia Polityki Realnej. If we take the banana republic route, corruption will remain a regulatory feature of the economy, perhaps to the point of replacing the law, and the country will become a sea of poverty with a few enclaves of affluence. Thus we shall repeat the sad story of Latin America. UPR is of the opinion that the strengthening of the state and preservation of independence can take place only on the basis of a strong economy, which implies radical and speedy reforms.

Stanislaw Michalkiewicz is secretary of the National Council of the Unia Polityki Realnej, a party espousing 19th century-style liberalism, headquartered at 41 Nowy Swiat Street, Warsaw


Return to January 1993 Issue
The Sarmatian Review
sarmatia@rice.edu
Last updated 04/15/97