The Warsaw Pact was not without its internal rifts. When it came together in 1955, after news of West Germany entering NATO, the Soviet-sponsored security alliance included all European Communist countries – except Yugoslavia, which rejected Soviet leadership. In the early 1960s, Albania sided with China in the Sino-Soviet split and stopped cooperating with the Warsaw Pact. In 1968, Romania opposed the Pact’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Albania took the opportunity to formally withdraw from the alliance.
But the most interesting challenge to the Warsaw Pact came from a relatively small number of individuals scattered around East-Central Europe who began to resist military service in the 1980s. The most concentrated resistance came from an organization called Freedom and Peace (Wolność i Pokój or WiP) in Poland. WiP was one of the largest independent peace movements in the region, and it maintained close relationships with peace movements in Western Europe and the United States.
WiP began as a movement in support of Marek Adamkiewicz, who was imprisoned for refusing to take the military oath. Adamkiewicz wasn’t a conscientious objector. He wasn’t opposed to participating in a Polish military. But he objected to the integration of Poland’s army in the Warsaw Pact.
“It’s important to understand why he refused this oath,” recalls Jacek Czaputowicz, once a leading member of WiP. “The wording of the oath included: “I will defend socialism, I will defend peace in the alliance with the Soviet Union.’ He said that this was not something he could accept. The Soviet army was staying in Poland without the consent of Polish society. It didn’t defend peace in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Polish army was used against Polish society during Martial Law and, earlier, against Czech society in 1968.”
I met Czaputowicz in 1989 as WiP was gradually coming to an end. He went on to serve in the Polish foreign ministry and today teaches at the National School of Public Administration in Warsaw. We talked in August 2013 about the early days of WiP.
“When you look at the secret police files, WiP was seen as a serious threat to the system, the main threat at the time,” Czaputowicz said. “The Army was treated as the main instrument of Communists. People were refusing to go to the army. We eventually won because they changed the wording of the oath and introduced alternative service. But before that, when young people were against the army, the authorities decided to undertake activities to somehow detect WiP in every single Polish military unit and every commission. They had a big governmental body to deal with WiP and our program to change the military and the army from the inside and also from outside of course.”
Even the Warsaw Pact took notice of the challenge. “In March 1989 they even introduced this program at the Warsaw Pact meeting,” Czaputowicz told me. “The generals said, ‘We have to deal with the refusal to serve in the military.’ There were already people in Hungary, like Zsolt Keszthely, and in Czechoslovakia like Petr Obstil, who were doing the same thing as WiP members, refusing to go to the army. We defended these people. And this idea started to spread around the block. I remember an appeal about conscientious objectors initiated by Hungarian dissident Miklos Haraszti to the CSCE.”
What was remarkable was the relatively small number of people involved. When Yugoslavia, Romania, and Albania challenged the Warsaw Pact, they were of course entire countries. But WiP managed to unsettle the alliance with 200 core activists and a couple hundred supporters. According to the secret police, about 145 Poles refused to serve in the army or demanded alternative service in 1987.
“But at the beginning, in 1986, it was about a dozen people who were arrested for refusing to take the oath,” he remembered. “Then the authorities changed the military oath and the situation improved. The sentences we objected to in the oath concerned our alliance with the Soviet army, and it was changed because of our influence. People were released from jail. In 1988, alternative service was introduced. This new alternative service was very harsh and longer than military service, but it was something.”
We talked about how WiP pushed Solidarity away from the clandestine model it adopted during Martial Law, why NATO proved more attractive to Poland than the CSCE after the Cold War ended, and the subsequent shift in Polish foreign relations away from the United States and toward Europe.
Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?
It was a few months after the big changes in Poland: the democratic election that Solidarity won and the democratic government with Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister. We already had a feeling that the situation had changed. Thousands of East Germans came to Poland. Some of them jumped over the fence to get into the German embassy. And then, finally, the people somehow destroyed the Berlin Wall. It was while Chancellor Kohl was visiting Warsaw. As soon as he got the news, he decided to return to Germany to be with the German people.
This was also the beginning of the establishment of new relations between Germany and Poland. Mazowiecki decided to change policy toward the German Federal Republic. It was in accordance with what we did in the opposition in Poland, particularly in the Freedom and Peace (WiP) movement: to reconcile Poles and Germans and build together a new united, democratic Europe. So, this was also part of the feeling of success. We thought at the time that this was all possible due to our activity in the opposition and thanks to the victory of Solidarity.
We maintained relations with our friends in Eastern Europe, like with Wolfgang Templin and people from the freedom and human rights movement in East Germany. Just a few months after the Berlin Wall fell, I organized a study visit to Poland for a group of German opposition members. I was working at the time at the Senate, at the Center for International Affairs. The Senate was the chamber of the Polish parliament where 99 percent of the seats went to Solidarity activists in the June 1989 elections. There were six of them, including Wolfgang Templin, Ludwig Mehlhorn, and Barbel Bohley. I organized a meeting for them with Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and with Lech Walesa in Gdansk, where we travelled together by car . This was symbolic support for the opposition in East Germany just before reunification, a kind of tribute to them. In comparison to Poland, East Germany was in a kind of transition period, and no one knew what was going to happen.
Now of course the fall of the Berlin Wall is very symbolic. But at the time, it was part of the processes of changes in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and other states. As a member of the Solidarity movement, I’d visited Prague and Budapest to take part in rallies organized by the opposition. We had a feeling that this opposition was somehow connected and the changes were inspired by the social movements in these states.
I had a friend in the German embassy in Warsaw at that time who maintained contacts with the opposition. He was active at the time and supported us. Rudiger von Fritsch was his name, and he was a junior staff at the embassy. In 1988, he organized my visit to Germany at the invitation of Amnesty International for a meeting with the German president Richard von Weizsäcker, but I was refused a passport. Today he is the German ambassador here, and we meet from time to time. He said, during Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s visit in 1989, that the fall of the Berlin Wall was a disaster from a diplomatic point of view. Every visit was very carefully prepared. And in this case, given the circumstances, everything had to be changed immediately. The visit was broken, and Chancellor went to Berlin for the meeting with his compatriots.
I’m interested in your decision to become part of the opposition, in WiP. Was it a gradual decision or a sudden decision?
I was active when I was a student in 1970. In 1979 I was arrested for the first time. When you’re arrested – that’s when it becomes a crucial issue whether to become or not become an opposition activist. When you have to deal with the secret police you have to decide. You can withdraw and change your life, or you can stay in the movement. You make the decision when you are pressed by the police. They tell you, “This is illegal. You will ruin your career. You will lose your job or you will be refused a passport.” So, if you continue, you take these risks.
At the moment, I was a collaborator of the Workers Defense Committee (KOR) and the Student’s Solidarity Committee (SKS). The action where I was arrested was a demonstration organized in Warsaw to protest against the imprisonment of Charter 77 activists. It was during the trial when Vaclav Havel and others were sentenced. The Polish opposition organized this action. Some people organized a hunger strike. And we students organized this protest. This was a year before the rise of Solidarity.
During the Solidarity time, I was one of the leaders of the Independent Student Association (NZS). Students couldn’t belong to Solidarity since formally it was a trade union and students were not workers. So we organized a parallel organization, NZS. During Martial Law, I was interned for one year in what was basically a prison. After being released, I was again active in the student union, which was clandestine. One of our friends, Marek Adamkiewicz, decided not to take the military oath. He was imprisoned for that very symbolic gesture. We as his friends from the student movement decided to defend him. On this basis we created WiP. Our first action was a hunger strike to support him.
It’s important to understand why he refused this oath. The wording of the oath included: “I will defend socialism, I will defend peace in the alliance with the Soviet Union.” He said that this was not something he could accept. The Soviet army was staying in Poland without the consent of Polish society. It didn’t defend peace in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Polish army was used against Polish society during Martial Law and, earlier, against Czech society in 1968. After refusing to take the oath, Adamkiewicz was imprisoned for 2.5 years. He stayed for two years and was released with the amnesty.
After being active in WiP, I was also arrested and accused of organizing an illegal organization acting against the “Polish interest and alliances and weakening the defense capacity of the state,” according to Polish authorities. I was arrested in February 1986 and released in September 1986 after seven months with the amnesty. A few hundred people were released from prisons at that time with the amnesty. I was again active in WiP, and also since 1987 I was a member of Walesa’s Civic Committee.
When you were active in WiP, what did you think would be the outcome of that activity? Did you think that Solidarity and WiP’s victory were inevitable?
When I look at these events from today’s perspective, I’m surprised at how precise and correct our postulates were. We wanted Soviet troops withdrawn from Poland — this was in the letter we sent to Gorbachev, which was published and distributed in 1987. We wanted Europe to reunite. We wanted the reform of the Polish army so that it would act in the interests of Polish society and not as the armed forces of the Communist Party. We wanted democracy in Poland. These postulates seemed very radical at the time. Many people in the opposition thought they were unrealistic, though it turned out to be realistic. But we didn’t think that within a few months or years we would achieve these goals. What was important was to put this program on the table: to say what we wanted as a society. This was the reason we were treated seriously by Western politicians: because we were brave enough to put this program on the table.
We created a situation in which other people from the opposition could start negotiations and achieve an agreement – first, semi-democratic elections in which one-third of the Sejm and all of the Senate would be democratically elected, and then maybe to create something new under the umbrella of the CSCE. We thought about the dissolution of both the Warsaw Pact and NATO at that time. Our role was also important because of our relations with the Western peace movement, which was somehow treated in Moscow and also in Warsaw as good instruments for Russian policy because they protested against American troops in the West. For us, the peace movement was authentic. We maintained contacts and they supported our activity. That’s when they stopped being useful for the Communists. They initially could say that these people were against Reagan’s policies, but when they defended peace activists in prison in Poland, Moscow said that their policy was not consistent.
One of our important activities was the seminar organized in 1987 at a church in Warsaw. The title of the seminar was Bringing Real Life to the Helsinki Agreement, and it was based on the Memorandum prepared by the Western peace movement and politicians as well as people from the opposition in the East.
We discussed the issue and showed to the world that we were well organized enough to hold an international meeting with dozens of people from the West along with those from the East who got a passport. Many people were arrested even before we could have this discussion on the future of Europe.
After this seminar, which was in May 1987, there was a press conference by Jerzy Urban, the Polish government spokesman, who attacked us very strongly, “Wojciech Jaruzelski presented a plan to disarm part of Europe,” he said, “and then WiP organized an event that destroyed this activity of the Polish government.” So, we played this role in the discussions between East and West on the role of Western organizations and the role of the CSCE in particular.
It’s interesting that there was some skepticism from Solidarity about the proposals of WiP. Was that something you expected? There were debates within Solidarity in 1980-81 about what was and wasn’t realistic in the Polish context. Was Solidarity skeptical because the proposals were about international issues and Solidarity was focused on domestic issues, or was it the nature of the demands?
Generally there was an agreement in the opposition. We worked together with Bronislaw Geremek and Lech Walesa at the time, and Geremek was present at this seminar at the church where he gave an important speech on the role of Solidarity and peace movements. However there was a general understanding during the “Round Table” talks between Solidarity and opposition that security, foreign policy, and the army should remain in the hands of the Communists. It was thought that the Communists wouldn’t accept losing control over those functions. But the situation had been changing quickly. Gorbachev visited Poland and we had a feeling that he’d introduced real changes. It was also perceived by the Polish Communists that they had to do something. They were being criticized by the Russians who, at the moment, were more open. That opened the possibility for negotiations.
There was a kind of division of labor within the opposition. We were younger, more radical and could take more risks. Solidarity activists had to be more responsible. There are different opinions about whether it was a good strategy in the end. But at the time, I thought it was good. We had our piece of work to do. I presented a program at Walesa’s committee – he invited me to be a member — and the reaction was rather skeptical. I said that the army doesn’t play a positive role, that it was time to reform the army, and that the Soviets had to withdraw their troops and that the Warsaw Pact should be dissolved. I said that we must maintain contacts with the peace movement in other countries.
Our contributions were very important for the methods of the opposition. After being successful we forced the opposition to change methods, to stop being clandestine, to act openly. We encouraged them to work under their real names, not to hide, like Zbigniew Bujak and other leaders who were followed by the police. When they were arrested, it was a feeling of defeat.
When you act under your name there is no such risk. But you have to be ready to pay for this. When you took part in a demonstration organized by Solidarity, 99 percent of the people could easily escape because they acted anonymously. Our actions always took place under our own names. Same with our hunger strikes. Our demonstrations were smaller. When we organized sit-ins, the participants knew that they would be arrested.
Our decision to send in our military documents was also a very brave act. We included a letter that said that we didn’t want to participate in an army that violated the conscience of young Poles and demanded that they change the military oath. It was a new method: proper nonviolent methods based on Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. We knew about this from literature. The civic committee created by Solidarity eventually started to act openly by revealing the names of its members– and it was probably under the influence of WiP. When you read the articles of that time, they say, “Okay, WiP was successful and we have to go this way.” At the same time, the Communist side came to an understanding that they couldn’t reform the system without big changes in the economy and opening up to the West. Jaruzelski decided to adopt this policy of negotiations with the opposition.
When you look at the secret police files, WiP was seen as a serious threat to the system, the main threat at the time. The Army was treated as the main instrument of Communists. People were refusing to go to the army. We eventually won because they changed the wording of the oath and introduced alternative service. But before that, when young people were against the army, the authorities decided to undertake activities to somehow detect WiP in every single Polish military unit and every commission. They had a big governmental body to deal with WiP and our program to change the military and the army from the inside and also from outside of course.
In March 1989 they even introduced this program at the Warsaw Pact meeting. The generals said, “We have to deal with the refusal to serve in the military.” There were already people in Hungary, like Zolt Keszthely, and in Czechoslovakia like Petr Obstil, who were doing the same thing as WiP members, refusing to go to the army. We defended these people. And this idea started to spread around the block. I remember an appeal about conscientious objectors initiated by Hungarian dissident Miklos Haraszti to the CSCE.
Do you have a sense of the numbers of people refusing to go to army and insisting on alternative service?
The secret police estimated that it was about 100 people a year between 1987-89. They reported every single refusal or demand for alternative service. In 1987 it was 145 and in 1988 it was 92. But at the beginning, in 1986, it was about a dozen people who were arrested for refusing to take the oath. Then the authorities changed the military oath and the situation improved. The sentences we objected to in the oath concerned our alliance with the Soviet army, and it was changed because of our influence. People were released from jail. In 1988, alternative service was introduced. This new alternative service was very harsh and longer than military service, but it was something.
Altogether, a couple hundred people were involved in WiP. It was not many. According to one estimate, there were 200 core activists and a couple hundred supporters.
That makes it even more impressive. With a small number of people, you were able to suggest a major threat, not only here in Poland but throughout the Warsaw Pact.
When you compare our activities to KOR in the 1970s, it was comparable. They were an even a smaller number. Of course, not many people were willing to take the risk of being in the opposition at that time. Imprisonment was a very realistic threat. It is reported that during Martial Law more than 100 people were killed by the secret police from different parts of the opposition or the Church. One of them was the priest Jerzy Popiełuszko, a patron of Solidarity, who will soon become a saint.
As you said, the WiP program was very far-reaching and quite realistic. The Soviet army withdrew, the Polish army was reformed, Europe reunified. The Warsaw Pact ended, but NATO continued. At what point did it become obvious to you that NATO would not go the way of the Warsaw Pact and we wouldn’t see a new CSCE replace NATO and the old alliance system?
I remember statements by the majority of politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Hans-Dietrich Genscher at this time saying that the CSCE would be the main institution. They also thought about the dissolution of NATO. The Mazowiecki government wanted to strengthen the CSCE and wanted the transition period to go smoother and not be against the Russians. The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact did not happen immediately with the change in the Polish authorities. But finally the Warsaw Pact was dissolved with the help of the Hungarians and Czechs in 1991. This came with the dissolution of the Soviet Union after the unsuccessful coup d’état of Yanayev and Boris Yeltsin coming to power. I was in the foreign ministry at the time, visiting countries with Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski. We wanted to establish relations not only with Moscow and the central state but also at the level of Russia and Yeltsin as well as Belorussia and Ukraine. It was the policy at the time to recognize immediately the independence of these states, including the Baltic states. We called it a double-track policy: to maintain relations with the Soviet center and at the same time to establish official relations with new states.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO started to reform and become open to cooperation with East European states. In 1992 Polish policy changed. Membership in NATO became a goal in order to avoid a security vacuum in Central Europe. The CSCE turned out to be ineffective as a guarantor of the security of Poland and other states. Generally, for Americans, NATO was a structure through which they wanted to act, and the American military presence in Europe was perceived as a guarantor of security from Russia. The same applies to Germany, which viewed the enlargement of NATO and the inclusion of Poland and other states as a means of enhancing stability in the region and German security. That was the program of Volker Ruhe, whom I met in spring 1989 when he was general secretary of the Christian Democratic Union and later minister of defense. The Germans supported NATO enlargement, but the Russians were against. For them geopolitically it was not a dream that these countries would join an alliance that was perceived as a threat to them.
Gradually, the importance of the CSCE diminished. It was not long before the European Security and Defense Policy was created. Finally, at end of the 1990s we joined NATO. Bronisław Gemerek, one of the leaders of the opposition, was minister of foreign affairs at the time and signed the agreement. He cooperated closely on the issue with Madeleine Albright.
Do you think there was a missed opportunity to turn the CSCE into a more capable institution or was it by definition incapable of filling the security vacuum because of its structure or because of lack of money?
I wrote a book on the evolution of European security in the 1990s. Now I teach at the university and deal with theories of international relations and international security. From a theoretical perspective, looking at the CSCE, there was a fundamental difference of interests between Russia and countries like Poland and other Western countries. The CSCE couldn’t play this role because there must be a minimum of shared values, culture, strategy. The Russians hardly accepted that there were independent states in Central and Eastern Europe. They were forced to do so. They had a right to do what they wanted within the CSCE. They could block any initiative on human rights, for instance, so Western states had to go through different institutions to guarantee their security.
Of course a big step was membership in the EU. This was something we proposed in WiP to overcome the artificial division of Europe into two camps. Poland belonged to Western civilization, and we’d been attached to the Eastern bloc without the consent of Polish society. From today’s perspective, EU membership is seen as more important than NATO membership. But at the time, NATO was a guarantor of our security due to its military strength, particularly that of the Americans.
The articles published in the West talk about a transformation in which Poland is much closer to the EU, is no longer the “Trojan horse” for American interests in Europe. How did this transformation take place in Polish foreign policy? Was this a question of political leadership recognizing geopolitical opportunities? The decline of American status in the wake of failures in Afghanistan and Iraq?
There were changes in the structure of international system, as you said, which can be demonstrated by the weakness of the United States and its leadership in the world. The question is: was this the reason for the change of Polish foreign policy or was it something internal to Polish society, for instance a more pro-European approach by the Civic Platform (PO) when it came to power? It’s true that people who are now in power conduct policies that are more pro-EU and less pro-American. And people say that the Kaczynski government in 2005-07 was more skeptical towards the EU and more pro-American than current Prime Minister Donald Tusk. But it’s not so simple. From 2000 to 2004 Polish leaders were very pro-American and very skeptical about a common European defense policy. They were Atlanticists; they supported Polish involvement in Iraq. It was before Jarosław Kaczynski and the Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power. And when they did they were very pro-European. Kaczynski proposed the creation of the European army of 100,000 soldiers. It was an honest proposal even though it was criticized as unrealistic. They weren’t anti-European as they have been since portrayed.
There are two important issues here. First, the Polish government, and in particular Radek Sikorski who knows the United States very well, realized that the security guarantee given by the Americans was not deeply rooted, not 100 percent certain, given the changes in American policy. This was also due to the relative decline of American power in the world. Secondly, joining the EU changed our perspective toward this organization. When Polish leaders at the beginning of 2000 criticized European security and defense policy, they were looking at the issue from the outside. We were members of NATO but not a member of the EU and didn’t have any say within the organization. After joining our perspective changed.
Poland is a leading country in the field of security and defense in European integration. There is no immediate threat to our security but after 2008, the war in Georgia changed our perspective. It turned out that a military threat in our neighborhood is possible. Therefore in comparison to other states, Poland did not reduce its military budget due to the fact that we don’t think of security as an abstract issue. Guaranteeing security is a practical issue not a theoretical issue. Currently there is a move to be more self-reliant in terms of security, less involved in military operations abroad and more focused on the territorial defense of Poland. To create a structure of forces capable of doing this will require a different kind of forces, equipment and training. Because the economic crisis also came to Poland, we’ll see whether we can continue this program of reforming Polish military.
You bring up the difference between the military spending of Poland and all other European countries. The reduction in the military spending of other countries is in part because of the European financial crisis. But it’s also a longer-term issue – the perceived redundancy of capabilities, the perceived reduction of threat, the winding down of the Afghanistan operation. I found it quite interesting that Poland went against this trend, and your explanation is quite convincing. But money aside, is there a well-defined measure of sufficiency for territorial defense? The United States and other countries make similar arguments, but there are no hard budget constraints. Is there a sufficiency standard here, or is it elastic?
That’s important, but the main discussion going on in Poland is what kind of army we should have. Should the army be expeditionary and take part in operations with allies, as in Afghanistan? Until recently, we thought that we have to be together with allies and support Americans in Iraq. Then we decided to go to Afghanistan, because in this way we would strengthen NATO. It is a philosophy – if we support them in need then we can expect them to support us in need. That’s why Kaczynski sent Polish soldiers to Africa, to Chad within the EU operations. We have nothing to do with Africa, it’s important maybe to France, but we did it to show our commitment to the European security and defense policy. We thought not only about NATO but also the European dimension – and this was Kaczynski’s position as well.
Now the Polish government says that we should not be so active abroad. If there’s no direct Polish interest, it’s hard to convince people that Poland should be involved – for instance, that it’s a fight against terrorism and terrorists might also strike in Poland. At same time, it was understood that our activities abroad helped transform Polish forces to become more mobile, more open to international cooperation, more efficient, more self-confident. They can run important operations. Within the EU, Poland is part of three battle groups – with Germany and France, with the Visegrad nations, and with the Baltics. We are the frame nation, which means that we are the responsible party.
Now there is discussion here to use our forces only when our vital interests are at stake. That means that it’s not crucial for us to have the transport capability to go to Afghanistan and Africa, but we should rather focus on defending Polish territory, which implies different kinds of forces and training. If you imagine a Russian aggression like in Georgia, then you have to have forces that can defend against this aggression. Poles have discovered that aggression is possible in the world, as in Georgia, and NATO or the Americans do nothing. So now it’s on us to take on this threat if it happens. We cannot rely so much on the alliance. We have to be active and be a leader in NATO and EU. But at the same time, we have to rely on ourselves because no one else cares. This is how our military leadership thinks and also President Bronislaw Komorowski who just this year introduced a new program to transform the Polish military.
One of the members of WiP, Bogdan Klich, was the minister of defense. He introduced the professional army and finished the conscription army. He said it wasn’t because of his WiP background but because of the necessities of the army and general trends. Another WiP leader from Krakow, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, is currently the minister of interior.
I can’t think of any other country in the world where so many leaders of the peace movement went on to lead top foreign policy organs. George Fernandes, the former peace movement advocate who became India’s defense minister, is only one I can think of. You have quite a distinction with WiP.
People in WiP who had an interest in politics became politicians. Klich was the one who wrote and presented to the Soviet consulate in Krakow the letter to Gorbachev calling for Soviet troops to withdraw and the Warsaw Pact to be dissolved. We were not a normal peace movement. WiP was rather an anti-Communist and democratic movement. Some people were very close to the Western peace movement. But it was an oppositional movement. Marek Adamkiewicz, who refused to take the oath, said in court that this army did not defend Polish interests, and his superior confirmed that he wanted to be a good soldier. These were patriotic people. The people who refused to take the oath protested against the army being an instrument in Communist hands. WiP was a pluralistic movement. There were also people connected to the environmental movement and some anarchists who refused to go to military service.
Do you see a role for an average peace movement today in Poland?
That’s difficult to see. If this movement is against the army, it means it will weaken Polish sovereignty vis a vis Russia. We live in a democratic state. The government represents society and has legitimacy to act. People who were in opposition in 1980 are now in government. I don’t read much news about protests, as I did in the 1980s when the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was a mass movement. It doesn’t mean that you should not discuss the ethical use of military force in Afghanistan and elsewhere. You should raise these questions. I read today that 12 people were killed by drones somewhere in Yemen. That’s another issue: how the use of force has changed in current days.
Is the CIA prison that was here in Poland still an active topic of conversation? Or has it faded?
At that time, President Alexander Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Leszek Miller, both former Communists, were in charge. You rightly said this was a CIA prison run by Americans, and any accusations should be directed to them. But the general attitude in Poland at that time was that we should support our allies, meaning the United States. This was the attitude in the government, which was run by the former Communists. But the opposition probably would have done the same. At least the opposition doesn’t criticize the government for this.
Has it had any impact in changing government policy?
It’s difficult to say. You can argue that maybe it helped change our pro-American approach to a pro-EU one. But that didn’t happen because of this fact but rather because of the change in balance of power. It was a coincidence that took place at the same time.
For you, what was the most profound change moving from an NGO to the government sector? There was some continuity in perspective and issues. But, thinking back, what were the differences?
Many people went this way. We were in NGOs because we didn’t accept the government at that time. We weren’t accepted in the system. Political loyalty to the Communists was crucial everywhere, in the Polish government but also in the university. Clever people at university, if they were not loyal, were not employed and were refused passports. It just happened that I was in the opposition. Otherwise I probably would have been working in an official institution. But I couldn’t because I was against the state structures. Many people in the opposition, in Solidarity, couldn’t find work in official structures. They were released from factories. When I joined the official structures, after the change of government, I started to act normally..
Did it have any impact on your emotionally or how you saw yourself in relationship in society going from prison to a position of power?
I wouldn’t say position of power, which has negative connotation. As a member of opposition, I met many important people at the time. Even if I joined the foreign ministry, my position didn’t change in terms of social structure. I decided not to become a politician. I didn’t join a party. My friends joined and some became ministers. After the Round Table agreement with the Communists many people were left aside from Solidarity. I maintained contacts with friends from WiP. Many did not find their way in the new situation. They didn’t find good jobs. They were nonconformist and very brave during the opposition period. Afterwards, this feature of character was not good for a situation when you have to deal with former Communists, when you have to be more diplomatic and accept compromise. In Poland many former Communists had good careers while many opposition leaders who spent time in prison live very modestly without any career. Members of secret police have very high pensions whereas Solidarity members can’t make ends meet. You can raise the issue: was it worth it or not?
I am in public service and try to do something for society, always dealing with similar issues: human rights, democracy. I’ve also tried from within to strengthen the state that represents those interests of society.
When you think back to your worldview of 1989, has anything major changed? You’ve mentioned some continuity – your commitment to public service, your interest in key issues like human rights and security. But have you changed your mind about anything over the last 25 years?
I discovered a bit more realistic world. I was more idealistic at that time, in terms of international relations. Now when I want to assess the policies of other states, I look at the interests of the state first and then the presentation of these interests. You can learn a lot from Morgenthau. The world is more complicated and human nature is not always positive. People act according to different motives. It doesn’t mean that I’m a realist. But you have to fight for ideas and try to realize them. You have to have good instruments.
When you look back at 1989 and everything that has changed between then and now, how would you rank that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being most dissatisfied and 10 most satisfied?
Same scale, same period of time: your own personal life?
When you look at the near future, the next two or three years, how would you evaluate Poland’s prospects on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being most pessimistic and 10 being most optimistic?
Warsaw, August 7, 2013
Once an activist with NZS in the 1980 period and then with Freedom and Peace (WiP) from 1985 on, Jacek Czaputowicz is now a foreign policy advisor for the Citizens’ Parliamentary Caucus in the Senate. Several people work with him as advisors on international affairs, providing expertise, inviting visiting experts from the West, for instance from West Germany, to talk with Mazowiecki–it operates much like any other scientific institute in Poland. One of its major concerns is work with Eastern Europe, with Germany and Russia, with the Baltic states.
I asked about European integration. First, Czaputowicz replied, Poland will join the Council of Europe but that will have little to do, in any real sense, with integrating with the Common Market. When and how Poland becomes integrated with the EEC is not a decision of Poles, but a political decision of the EEC. Various conditions are put forth–domestic democratic institutions, a certain level of economic success–“and I think that Poland has a chance to fulfill these conditions.” I asked about German integration, was it a positive occurrence for Poles? “Positive, of course,” he replied.
Lithuania? Now, relations are very good, he said. Are these official or unofficial relations? In what sense, he wanted to know (why was he being so difficult? I wondered). I brought up the U.S. dilemma of recognition/non-recognition. Poland, he said, was following the line of France and Germany and other European countries. As a small country, Poland cannot strike out on its own. Parliament issued a declaration in support of Lithuanian independence. Geremek and a group of ten parliamentarians went to Lithuania. Polish independence from Gorbachev is somewhat greater than the U.S.’s. When Bush talks about freedom for Lithuania but doesn’t recognize the country, that is simply demagoguery. But, he reiterated, Poland plays only a modest role in international affairs.
I asked about differences of opinion between Eastern European countries, quoting as an example Walesa’s refusal to see Havel when the latter visited Poland (because, it was said, Walesa was annoyed that Havel visited Germany before Poland). No, Czaputowicz replied, there were no contrary feelings. Havel simply didn’t go to Gdansk and Walesa didn’t go to Warsaw. It was simply an internal Polish affair, nothing to do with Polish-Czech relations.
I asked about the Third World. Yes, he replied, there will be economic cooperation. There was some discussions with Chile already; Poland would be a transit point for Soviet Jews wanting to go to Israel. And competition for foreign aid moneys? Poland doesn’t want special moneys: it wants to be treated like any other country. It doesn’t want grants of money but business interest.
I asked about different points of view in the Senate. He replied that the OKP represented various different points of view. Even the Senate is not a monolithic structure with its social democrats and liberals. There were differences of opinion voiced toward Kohl, for instance, when he waffled on the border issue.