The Sarmatian Review
Former Prime Minister of Poland and Chairman of the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland
Sarmatian Review: Today [May 25, 1997] Poles vote in a referendum on the project of the new constitution prepared by the left-dominated Sejm. What is your opinion of this constitution and the referendum itself?
Jan Olszewski: This project is an attempt to impose on Polish society a process of political restructuring based on the premises characteristic of [Soviet-occupied] Poland in 1945-1989. The project is a natural consequence of the Round Table agreements of 1989 which were crafted by the communist side and to which Solidarity representatives consented, treating them as a lesser evil. Since then, it has become clear that Solidarity did not understand the extent of communist manipulation in the 1989 negotiations. A large part, if not the majority, of the Solidarity elite accepted the conditions under which the communists were willing to share power. At this point, it appears clear that what the communist side had in mind was a restructuring of the system in postcommunist conditions, while rejecting the fundamental conception of the independence-oriented opposition: the rebuilding of a sovereign Polish state.
SR: Wasn't Solidarity's consent an expression of political realism?
JO: I do not think so. What happened in 1989 could be compared to a decision, in 1918, to agree to become another Soviet republic on the premise that the Soviet danger was unavoidable, that Russia would always dominate that part of Europe, and therefore it was unrealistic to try to build an independent Polish state between Russia and Germany. In a sense, those who said so were right. Yet thanks to the 'unrealistic' decision by Pilsudski
and others to restore sovereign Poland, we gained twenty years of independence, and in consequence a chance to build an independent Polish state today.
SR: So in your opinion, the postcommunists are consciously steering Poland toward a new dependence on postcommunist and 'reformed' Russia?
JO: I would not put it so categorically. However, some persons in the postcommunist establishment have continued their previous orientation. As Prime Minister, I had access to information warranting these conclusions. Some elements of that old system of servility toward Soviet, and now Russian, interests remained intact.
SR: In the United States, we often ask ourselves why, when you were Prime Minister and had power, you failed to carry out a radical purge of the communist networks, of the kind that was carried out in the neighboring Czech Republic.
JO: I agree that such 'lustration' is a necessary condition of genuine
sovereignty. We fought for it at the time. When the government I headed was
installed in 1991 by the first freely elected Polish Sejm, I requested that the Interior Ministry prepare an appropriate bill entitling me to conduct such house cleaning. Even earlier, the Sejm passed an emergency bill requiring that the Ministry of Interior prepare a list of former agents of the communist 'security services' who continued to occupy positions in government structures and in the Sejm itself. We tried to carry out this bill, and as a result the government I headed fell, a development which confirms the strong influence of the pro-Soviet, and pro-Russian, orientation in the political structures of postcommunist Poland.
SR: Let us now turn to contemporary matters. What is your relation to the Solidarity Electoral Action [AWS], a Solidarity-led coalition of parties and groups whose goal is to win the elections in the fall of 1997?
JO: In the course of the campaign preceding the constitutional referendum, ROP and AWS came together on many issues. We jointly opposed the postcommunist constitution project. It is possible that this closeness will continue as we jointly oppose the constitutional order imposed by forces presently in power in Poland (should the constitutional project be accepted in today's referendum). Should the referendum fail - which is what I expect - we will continue to lobby for our project of the constitution.
SR: Do you expect the postcommunist project of the constitution to be rejected in today's referendum?
JO: I certainly hope so.
SR: As regards the anticipated parliamentary elections in the fall of 1997, will you form a coalition with AWS and will you draft a common list of candidates which you will continue to support until the distribution of cabinet positions is completed?
Persons and groups hostile to Polish sovereignty...made a contribution to... the parting of ways of various groups in Poland concerned with genuine independence, as well as to the splitting of the Solidarity movement.
JO: We have already submitted, and the
AWS has accepted, a proposal for a common list of candidates to the Senate. As to a list of candidates to the Sejm, we shall consider drafting it in the light of the post-referendum situation. I certainly hope for a reactivation of the proposal submitted to Solidarity leadership in 1996 and dealing with a possible coalition between ROP, Solidarity and other political parties whose chief goal is Polish sovereignty. I stress this issue of political sovereignty, because we shall consider coalition only with those parties who genuinely support it.
SR: The Polish press in Poland and abroad, as well as the mainstream American press, have indicated that it was your party, rather than the Solidarity labor union, that blocked the creation of such a coalition. Do you confirm or deny it?
JO: Solidarity and AWS are of course our natural political partners. We have supported the formation of a tripartite coalition between three equal partners: ROP, Solidarity and other independence-minded parties. Such a coalition would have had a good chance of winning the elections. But this proposal was rejected by the present leadership of Solidarity which offered a counter-proposal: that such a coalition be further broadened to include the Freedom Union. Such a move was advocated by [Lech] Walesa. We could not not accept this because it appeared clear to us that the Freedom Union was not going to change its fundamental policies. Our assessment was confirmed by later developments. Today, during the referendum vote, the Freedom Union goes hand in hand with the postcommunists in accepting and supporting the constitution project drafted by postcommunist forces. Such was the first counter-proposal by Solidarity leadership. Then Solidarity formed its own coalition, Solidarity Electoral Action [AWS], to which it invited all parties and groups associated with the center and the center-right part of the political spectrum, i.e., all former Solidarity groups with the exception of ROP. This new conception [of AWS] differs from ours, but we still treat it with a measure of sympathy. It has one good point. It allows for a formation of a center-right coalition dominated by Solidarity to be sure, but a coalition nevertheless. So far, the AWS works. We are concerned, however, that it took in some groups whose ideology is alien to our goals, such as Stronnictwo Ludowo-Demokratyczne [People's Democratic Union] headed by[ Jan] Rokita and [Artur] Balazs, or Ruch Stu [RS, Movement of a Hundred People headed by Czeslaw Bielecki]. These groups have much in common with the Freedom Union in their program and ideology, and they appear alien to Solidarity and ROP.
SR: Is Ruch Stu now part of the AWS?
JO: I think that the final decision will be taken at the time when the electoral program of the coalition is formulated.
SR: On the other hand, a recent column by Dariusz Lipinski in Tygodnik Solidarnosc recommends that the Freedom Union not be admitted to the coalition, because its policies are unabashedly opportunistic. Whom do you see in Solidarity that wishes for a contrary solution?
JO: I could not mention names because I am not party to their inner discussions. My impression is that many leading figures in Solidarity, as headed by
Marian Krzaklewski, would find such a solution satisfactory.
SR: At the same time, [Tygodnik Solidarnosc Editor] Andrzej Gelberg said in a recent editorial that Polish citizens should vote against the constitution project.
JO: Yes, I think ROP and AWS have a great deal in common. I therefore hope that our 1996 proposal [concerning a coalition] will be reactivated.
SR: As an English saying goes, politics is the art of the possible. Don't you think that there are areas in social and political life where your party could collaborate
with the postcommunists, the AWS and the Freedom Union?
JO: Yes, I think one can collaborate with all the parties whose goals include Polish sovereignty. In all post-Solidarity groups there are people who truly desire
Polish independence. In our opinion, they have sometimes drawn wrong conclusions and adopted wrong policies. In case of danger, we could collaborate. This also includes the postcommunists. But political sovereignty has to be a genuine goal, not merely a slogan. At present, Poland does not face any immediate danger, in my opinion, while the postcommunist camp is oriented not toward sovereignty but toward continuation of the system, a reformed communist system to be sure, but in essence a system grounded in the same conceptions which triumphed at Yalta.
SR: Yet the postcommunists seem to favor Poland's admission
We believe that Poland's place is in a united Europe... Poland...has aspired to be a Western democratic nation.
JO: At present, yes. Over the forty-odd years of communist rule in Poland, however, the communist camp assumed many faces. I remember that after World War II, members of the [communist] Polish Workers' Party would hotly deny that Poland was slated to embrace communism, or that the Polish Workers' Party was a 'bolshevik' organization. One could go to jail for saying such things. I remember how [President of the Soviet-occupied Poland] Bolesaw Bierut kissed the cross during a Corpus Christi procession on Krakowskie Przedmiescie in Warsaw, pretending to be a Christian. I remember him using the formula 'so help me God' during the swearing-in ceremony on the occasion of the adoption of the 'little constitution' in 1947. I remember how the communists said things they did not mean, and meant things they did not speak about. Today, it is advantageous for the postcommunists to demonstrate a certain attitude toward the West.
SR: So your party wholeheartedly supports Poland's admission to NATO?
JO: Yes. This has been our position all along.
SR: What about the European Union and the ensuing necessity of changing Polish laws to conform with those of the EU?
JO: We have always advocated equality in this area. We believe Poland's place is in a united Europe. Poland has been part of the circle of Western civilization, and has aspired to be a Western democratic nation. Such has been our history for a thousand years. World War II was fought over related issues. Poles have never abandoned
the aspiration to return to the Western world after that war and after Yalta. We think that entering the EU calls for a long period of preparation, or a lot of money if the process is to be accelerated. We really do not see a possible source of such financing. We know how costly it has been for the Germans to integrate the eastern Länder into West Germany. Who will cover such costs for Poland? We know it is unrealistic to demand instant economic integration with western Europe.
SR: Visibility is essential to every politician and party. What are the strategies used by you and your party to gain visibility in Poland and abroad, especially in the United States where so far Poland seems to be represented by one party only: the Freedom Union and its spokespersons?
JO: ROP is a young party. It was formed a year and a half ago. We are concerned primarily with visibility in Poland before our electorate, for this is our most important source of strength that will in turn impact our image abroad. We might have somewhat neglected the issue of visibility abroad, especially in the United States, however. We do have contacts in the U.S., primarily in Chicago where we keep in touch with organizations which share our point of view at least to some extent.
SR: Which organizations or persons?
JO: Several organizations which actually mention ROP in their names. Among our friends in Chicago are Mr. [Mirosaw] Rogala and the former Pomost group. We have friends in the network of Polish Clubs, Polish veteran organizations, 'Solidarity with Solidarity' and others.
Solidarity and AWS are our natural political partners.
SR: Some persons believe that Polish organizations in Chicago and elsewhere have been penetrated by a small but effective network of persons who, under the guise of working for 'Polish causes,' actually strive to render the Polish community ineffective, reinforce its inferiority complex, and keep its publications and periodicals on a level of primitiveness which precludes gaining credibility in the opinion-making circles in
America. Any comments?
JO: Of course we realize that this may be the case. The same is true of Poland. Persons and groups hostile to Polish sovereignty have certainly made a contribution to the process of differentiation, not to say the parting of ways, of various groups in Poland concerned with genuine independence, as well as to the splitting of the Solidarity movement. This is doubtless a planned campaign which wishes Poland's place in Europe to be weaker rather than stronger. Such activity has played a role in Polish
affairs, but of course there are other influences as well. It is to be hoped that the referendum campaign and the subsequent electoral campaign will mark a weakening, if not an end, to such activity.
SR: Don't you think that another negative factor is Polish 'jasniepanstwo' [haughtiness] and, among the intelligentsia in particular, a tendency to form parties around personalities rather than around programs?
JO: Polish political life is severely crippled by a lack of experience. Two generations of Poles were prevented from participating in the political process under normal conditions. For almost fifty years, the entire political process was dominated by those who served the political system of the Soviets imposed on Poland against the wishes of her citizens. This is one reason. The second reason is the Round Table agreements which were structured in such a way as to lead to Polish dependence on the political forces which were a continuation of the communist system. These agreements were accepted by Solidarity leadership partly out of naivete. But I am not excluding a possibility that the negotiating teams on both sides contained persons who consciously led the negotiators to adopt a
phraseology favoring the postcommunists. Signficantly, certain things unfavorable to us have been enshrined in law. For instance, parties demanding genuine sovereignty for Poland have been legally cut off from any financial help from the emigre circles. On the other hand, excessive individualism has been part of the Polish character, and it has its good and bad sides. Individualism is good for the economy where it provides leadership, but in political life it is indeed an impediment.
SR: Why are conservative movements so weak everywhere, including the
JO: I cannot speak about the situation in the United States or in other first world countries. But in Poland, and in post-communist central Europe in general, the fundamental problem is to free those countries from Russian-Soviet domination. This creates a situation where labels such as 'conservative' and 'liberal' mean different things than in the West. Often what is called right, or center-right, is really not right-wing at
all, just oriented toward a nation's self-determination. Sovereignty-oriented groups cover a wide spectrum, and the anti-communist camp is also quite diverse. A right-wing label is attached to these groups largely because the communist side called them so. The communists kept saying that they are the only genuine left. Thus the Polish Socialist Party of Józef Pilsudski and others, a leftist organization par excellence and one with which my own family was associated, acquired the label 'rightist' or even 'fascist' in Soviet-occupied Poland, and this communist label became widely accepted abroad. The communists made sure that anyone who wanted genuine political sovereignty for Poland would be labelled right-wing. One of the urgent tasks facing us is to make sure that accurate labels are put on all groups of the political spectrum, both on the left and on the right. However, in my view, all parties should support Polish sovereignty, whether of the left or of the right, just as is the case in other normal countries. Their social and political programs may be different, but they should support the national interest This problem of rebuilding normalcy in political life is one of the most urgent tasks which Poles face.
SR: Thank you for the conversation.
The interview was conducted in Warsaw, in the ROP Headquarters. The new constitution project mentioned in the interview has been approved.
Return to September 1997 Issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 09/16/97