Before the Solidarity trade union emerged in 1980, Poland’s primary non-state institution – and often anti-state institution — was the Church. Catholic intellectuals created discussion clubs and published periodicals. Churches were relatively safe places to voice dissent. John Paul II, originally Karol Wojtyla, became the first Polish Pope in 1978 and inspired many in his home country to take a public stand against the Communist regime.
One of the most prominent voices of Catholic opposition was Tygodnik Powszechny (Universal Weekly), which published some of Karol Wojtyla’s early writings as well as the poems of Czeslaw Milosz even when he was in exile. Established after World War II, Tygodnik declared its independence by refusing to publish Stalin’s obituary in 1953. Under the editorial direction of Jerzy Turowicz, the newspaper served as both a forum for discussions of reforming the system and, later, a place to push for more radical change. Poland’s first non-Communist prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, came out of the Tygodnik milieu as did a number of leading politicians.
Maciej Kozlowski, when I met him in Krakow in 1990, was a prominent journalist and editor at Tygodnik who had just joined the ministry of foreign affairs as a newly minted diplomat. He served in the Polish embassy in the United States, became the ambassador to Israel, and was responsible for Middle Eastern affairs on his return to Poland.
“The whole Catholic Church was a kind of opposition,” Kozlowski told me in an interview in August 2013 in Warsaw. “The major question was: how far would we in Tygodnik and the Church engage in anti-government activity? When Tygodnik was closed [during Martial Law], the office wasn’t closed. It became a kind of underground saloon. People were going there from all over Poland. Underground literature was being distributed there. We knew that the authorities know about it. But they were pretty reluctant to go very openly against the Church. We had a kind of shield, particularly because of the Pope. Arresting someone from Tygodnik would have crossed a line.”
Kozlowski joined Tygodnik when it reopened in 1982. “When it was reopened, Tygodnik walked a fine line between publishing officially and supporting the opposition,” he continued. “We changed the layout of the front page. At first, our name Tygodnik Powszechny was in black letters on white background. Then we changed it to white letters on black background, as it is done in obituaries. It was a distinct sign, but censorship couldn’t do anything about it. Also, Krzysztof [Kozlowski] had a column, Events of the Week. At the top he put, ‘the 43rd week of Martial Law.’ It was a kind of a game.”
Tygodnik was very supportive of the Round Table process. “Now the war cry is to ‘abolish the republic of the Round Table,’” Kozlowski said. “But at Tygodnik we were all for it. Tygodnik was always for peaceful transformation. It’s now attacked for that, for cooperating with the Communists. Publishing a legal paper under Communism is called collaboration. In any case, we were very engaged as a result.”
After the convulsive years of 1989-90, Tygodnik began to suffer increasing attacks by the right wing of the Church, the same constituency that listened to Radio Maria, an ultra-conservative radio station. The content of the periodical began to edge to the right as well as it took more conservative positions on social issues.
More recently, Kozlowski said, it has veered back toward the center. “I read Tygodnik from time to time, not regularly, and I see that the paper is trying to come back its previous positions,” he reported. “It writes about pedophilia among the clergy, for instance. Of course, they are strong enthusiasts of the new pope. And once again Tygodnik is attacked by this part of the Church. Tygodnik, though, lost its credibility in the eyes of a certain group of people.”
Kozlowski also has had to endure attacks for his purported collaboration with the Communists. Indeed, as a result of these charges, he was forced to retire from the foreign ministry.
“One of the employees of Tygodnik, Roman Graczyk, a rightwing activist, wrote a book about the prominent figures of Tygodnik and their collaboration with the secret police. He accused four prominent people of collaboration. This book had a big impact. Some people condemned Graczyk. Others said that these people at Tygodnik claimed they were opposition but look, they were collaborationists. Graczyk read my files very carefully, and he defended me. He said, ‘This is a person who refused to collaborate.’ The judge said that the law is such that even one contact with the secret police is enough. And I had three. I said, ‘No, I’m not going to cooperate.’ But I met with him, so I’m an informer.”
In a recent email, however, Kozlowski reports that Poland’s Supreme Court cleared him of all charges of collaboration a few months ago.
We talked about his work on Christian-Jewish relations, the debate in Poland and Israel over the work of historian Jan Gross, and why a new liberal movement has yet to emerge in Poland today.
Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?
I was working at Tygodnik Powszechny. It was November 1989. It was already after the formation of the Mazowiecki government. We were all extremely excited about the things that were going on in Poland. So I would say that the fall of the Berlin Wall was not the biggest news here because we already had this landslide change a few months before, and we were very much preoccupied with the changes going on here.
What had a bigger impact were the events in Romania. There was still this huge question whether these changes in Eastern Europe would go peacefully or there would be some kind of violent backlash. Romania was the sign that it would not necessarily go smoothly. And Yugoslavia showed even more that it would not be as smooth as we expected.
Did you ever worry about violence here in Poland in 1989?
No. First of all, the Communists agreed to the peaceful change, and they kept their side of the bargain. The Soviet Union wasn’t as ready for any kind of tricks under Gorbachev. There was this Yanayev putsch, but that was later. So we were not worried about that here. We were worried more about the outbreak of ethnic violence around us — not in Poland, because fortunately or unfortunately, we did not have large ethnic minorities. But Czechs and Slovaks, Hungarians and Romanians over Transylvania, and then Yugoslavia. That was the worry: that these ethnic conflicts, which had somehow been kept frozen under Communism, would erupt. And we worried that this might also be the case in Ukraine and Lithuania. Our policy was to support the independence of Ukraine and Lithuania and dispel any thoughts that we might want to rebuild prewar Poland.
I wanted to find out what happened to you after I talked to you in 1990. How long did you spend n Washington?
Four years and a couple months: until 1994. And then I decided to stay with the ministry of foreign affairs and change my career from Tygodnik, where I was a journalist, into state service, which I did until March this year, when I retired. For over 20 years, I worked for the ministry of foreign affairs.
When you came back here, what were your responsibilities?
I was director of the American department for nearly five years, dealing with the same things I dealt with in Washington. For a short time I was deputy minister. Then I went to Israel as ambassador for four years. Then I worked in the department of the Middle East. I changed from America to the Middle East. I retired as deputy director of the Middle East department.
How did you come to Tygodnik Powszechny? Was that your first assignment in the world of journalism?
No, it was much more complicated. As you know, I was arrested under Communism. I spent a couple years in jail. After jail, I couldn’t find a job. It was a difficult situation. But it was the 1970s, and Tygodnik was in a difficult situation as well. I had family relations with Tygodnik. The chief editor Jerzy Turowicz was a very good friend of my family. I knew him even before I was born, you could say. My cousin, Krzysztof Kozlowski, was a deputy editor. It was a circle of people I knew very well. I knew that, after leaving jail, if I asked Turowicz for a job at Tygodnik, it would be extremely difficult for him to refuse because of family ties. I didn’t want to put him into that kind of difficult situation. So, I didn’t ask for a job at Tygodnik.
But Tygodnik talked to a paper published by PSL, the Peasant Party, and they gave me a job. I worked there for seven years as a journalist. Then, when the 1980 revolution took place, and after Martial Law when Tygodnik was reopened, they offered me a job there. I was very happy about it of course. I joined Tygodnik in 1982, when it was reopened. When I left jail, I was just a young guy without much on my record. But by 1982, I had published hundreds of articles. I was a known journalist. So, it was easier. I worked for Tygodnik until I decided to join the government service, like many other people from the paper. Krzysztof Kozlowski became minister of interior. Mazowiecki became prime minister.
You were arrested for your participation in the student movement?
No, I was arrested actually for smuggling books from Paris to Poland. I established a smuggling ring. I went to Norway, then to Paris. I had a close relationship with Jerzy Giedroyc, the publisher of Kultura. This was at the time of the Prague Spring. I decided to smuggle Kultura books into Poland. During one of the trips, I was arrested and spent time in jail.
Your decision to do the book smuggling, was that your first act of opposition?
Yes. I was shocked with what happened in 1968. I was in France in 1968 but I returned in March. I was thinking of what to do here in Poland. I wanted to publish an underground paper, but it was too difficult, technically. Already I had some contacts in Poland with this kind of thing.
I’m interested in the debate in Catholic circles in the 1980s, after Martial Law, about engagement with the government. There were some in the Church working side by side with the government, and others very critical of the government.
Actually, at that time, there were very few working with the government. The whole Catholic Church was a kind of opposition. The major question was: how far would we in Tygodnik and the Church engage in anti-government activity? When Tygodnik was closed, the office wasn’t closed. It became a kind of underground saloon. People were going there from all over Poland. Underground literature was being distributed there. We knew that the authorities know about it. But they were pretty reluctant to go very openly against the Church. We had a kind of shield, particularly because of the Pope. Arresting someone from Tygodnik would have crossed a line. We knew that we could engage in what we did, but not in the name of Tygodnik, only on our own behalf. If someone wanted to engage that way, we informed Turowicz or Krzysztof.
From today’s perspective, this regime was not so very oppressive. It was unpleasant. You could land in jail. But contrary to what we know from Russia in the 1930s or Poland in the 1950s, people here who were repressed received support, not from the whole society but from enough people to feelthat support. The persecuted were not isolated. People released from jail came to Tygodnik to tell their stories.
So, when it was reopened, Tygodnik walked a fine line between publishing officially and supporting the opposition. We changed the layout of the front page. At first, our name Tygodnik Powszechny was in black letters on white background. Then we changed it to white letters on black background, as it is done in obituaries. It was a distinct sign, but censorship couldn’t do anything about it. Also, Krzysztof had a column, Events of the Week. At the top he put, “the 43rd week of Martial Law.” It was a kind of a game.
When the Round Table idea first came up, which I believe was in the fall of 1988, was there a debate in Catholic circles or at Tygodnik about this strategy? Some people in Solidarity were skeptical. Were there also skeptical voices in Tygodnik?
No. At Tygodnik we were very much for it. Turowicz was the one who opened the negotiations. Mazowiecki, however, was skeptical. Now there is a lot of false interpretation of that time. We now live as in Communist times. In Communist time, what was certain was the future. But history was changing all the time. Now it’s the same in Poland, with all this discussion of Magdalenka…
They’re still talking about Magdalenka? When I was here in 1989, a book came out about the secret discussions that took place there. People like Kaczynski are still talking about it?
Yes: the betrayal of Round Table. And now the war cry is to “abolish the republic of the Round Table.” But at Tygodnik we were all for it. Tygodnik was always for peaceful transformation. It’s now attacked for that, for cooperating with the Communists. Publishing a legal paper under Communism is called collaboration. In any case, we were very engaged as a result. After the first semi-free elections in 1989, Krzysztof became a senator. Hennelowa became a member of parliament. Turowicz was offered all possible options, but he refused. He said it was more important to publish Tygodnik.
Tygodnik was a very important part of these preparations because it was the only legally existing opposition body. I’m talking about the Tygodnik milieu, not just the paper. There was also Znak, Wiez, the Clubs of Catholic Intellectuals (KiK). That was the only legal opposition in Poland, actually in the whole system, because there was no such phenomenon in other countries. It was quite natural that the first government would be made up of these people. They actually formed the first non-communist government in the region
It had additional legitimacy because Poland is a largely Catholic country. At the time we talked, you said that Tygodnik continued to be a place where you could have a debate openly about a variety of issues such as abortion. The week before we talked there had been a debate in which you could be against abortion but also against the penalization of people who have abortions. Has that space for debate continued?
It’s a very difficult question. The answer depends on whom you ask this question. I’ll tell you what I think. Tygodnik underwent a convulsive evolution. After the death of Turowicz, there was a group of young wolves who were very much against the political line of Turowicz, Kozlowski, Hennelowa — the leadership of the editorial board – in other words, full support for the Round Table and the government that was created as a result (Unia Demokratyczyna, which then became Unia Wolnosci). It was obvious that Tygodnik wanted to be politically engaged. Turowicz wrote several articles about it. I wrote an introduction to the collection of Turowicz articles, so I read all of them.
But these people were much more right wing. They said it had been a mistake for Turowicz to get involved. Tygodnik should be more balanced. So they started to become more radical. The result was that Krzysztof was more or less fired. It was a very unpleasant moment. A lot of people stopped cooperating with Tygodnik. After a couple years, they found that they’d made a grave mistake. They could never be as radical as the right-wing papers, and they would lose people like myself. So they started to backtrack. There was a very strong action against Adam Boniecki, who became chief editor. He was disciplined by his order. He’s not only a priest, he’s a member of the Marian order. They forbade him from speaking publicly. That showed that Tygodnik, however much it might try to get support from this part of the Church and this part of society, would never get it. So, they started to backtrack. But it wasn’t very easy. The divisions were very strong. Two years ago, for instance, there was a ceremony of the 80th birthday of Krzysztof. It was a huge party, but no one from Tygodnik was invited. Instead, they sent 80 roses.
I read Tygodnik from time to time, not regularly, and I see that the paper is trying to come back its previous positions. It writes about pedophilia among the clergy, for instance. Of course, they are strong enthusiasts of the new pope. And once again Tygodnik is attacked by this part of the Church. Tygodnik, though, lost its credibility in the eyes of a certain group of people. For instance, Boniecki was at the Polish Woodstock, and he was publicly condemned by the bishops for taking part in it.
This division between the more liberal intellectuals and the conservative wing: is that representative of the debate within the Church as a whole?
Yes. Unfortunately, though, the liberal wing is very tiny, and the conservative wing is much more prominent.
Back in the 1980s, there was a sense that liberal intellectuals within the Church were much stronger.
That has changed dramatically. I’m talking about the bishops here. The church now is the bishops. This story of Wojciech Lemanski, one of the very liberal priests, who was engaged in Polish-Jewish dialogue –
The one who was kicked out, asked to leave?
Yes. This shows that the liberal wing is not so strong. But it exists. I’ll tell you about one of my initiatives, because it shows quite well where we are. My responsibility in the ministry of foreign affairs was Polish-Jewish issues. I thought that we would not move the Polish-Jewish dialogue within the Church. The Church is historically part of the anti-Jewish prejudices here — that’s a historical fact. I was proposing a course on Christian-Jewish relations for many years. I got the typical Church reaction: it’s a wonderful idea, let’s talk about it later.
But finally, I approached Cardinal Dziwisz. I knew him. For the first time, he didn’t say no or let’s talk about it later. He put me in touch with the then-rector of the Krakow seminary, Father Rys and a priest from the Papal University. Together, we built a course three years ago called the “ABC of Polish-Jewish Relations” for the seminar students. At first, it wasn’t going that well. There were not a lot of students. Then, Rys, who was very liberal, was nominated to be a bishop. We went from 15 students to 100 students. As a bishop, he’s still teaching this course. This fall, we started this for all Poland. It will be at Auschwitz — on the weekends for the seminarians and the teachers of religion from all of Poland. We’ll see how it works. This kind of liberal church still exists. But unfortunately, it is numerically small. I hope things will change with the new nominations of the new pope.
I read Cardinal Glemp’s comments on the’’Neighbors’’ controversy. I remember from his comments earlier on Polish-Jewish relations that he was not exactly a liberal. Obviously he was an obstacle in promoting Polish-Jewish relations.
He was not the strongest leader on this issue. But there are some obvious anti-Semites in the Church, like Father Rydzyk at Radio Maria, and the bishops who support it. You heard about this controversy about Father Lemanski, fired from his parish. He was very much engaged in Polish-Jewish relations. I met him several times, and also at Jedwabne. I was in touch with him because of his engagement. When he was fired, he asked the reason. According to what he said, his bishop told him that he was too much into Polish-Jewish dialogue. There was no point in having this Polish Council of Christians and Jews because there was nothing to discuss. Then the bishop asked him, “Are you circumcised?” So, you see where we are.
Other than Tygodnik Powszechny, are there other groups in the Church or associated with the Church trying to liberalize the institution?
Yes, but they are very isolated. They have no support from the bishops. Maybe people like Rys will change things eventually. There are a few liberal bishops, like Dziwisz in Krakow. And that’s it. It is not so easy when these non-liberal groups are getting stronger and stronger and are very active and very prominent.
When the Jedwabne controversy broke out –
I was in Israel at that time. I observed it from Israel.
What was the reaction in Israel?
Very positive because of the attitude of President Kwasniewski.
He gave a good statement.
It was very well received in Israel. For Israelis, Jedwabne was not a revelation. They have a stereotype that Poles were doing nothing other than murdering Jews during the occupation. “We told you so” — that was the attitude. But the attitude of Kwasniewski was something new, and therefore well received.
And the foreign minister as well. He had participate in Zegota, hadn’t he?
Bartoszewski. Yes. I was at that ceremony in Jedwabne. But the Church was represented only by Boniecki and Lemanski. Glemp organized the ecumenical ceremony in Warsaw to commemorate it. But the presence of the bishop at Jedwabne would have been something absolutely different.
Some people thought there was an opportunity missed after Jedwabne to have a larger institutional effort to have this discussion reflected in textbooks in schools, for instance.
I wouldn’t say it was a missed opportunity because the discourse changed to a great extent. On the other hand, I am very critical about Jan Gross who wrote the book Neighbors, which I thought was a good and appropriate book. But he went too far. He wrote Fear. Then he wrote Golden Harvest. These two books are false because he is not describing events, but rather he generalizes. And all the generalizations are, in such a loaded field, inappropriate. You cannot say that “Poles did so and so.” Just as you never say “Jews are so and so.” But for Gross, he wrote “Poles.” He should have said, “Mr. Kowalski” or whomever. You should never say “Poles.” In Neighbors, he never said “Poles.” In that way he gave ammunition to the other side, which said that all his books are wrong. So, I don’t think the opportunity was missed. But unfortunately it should have been kept at the level of historical facts rather than generalizations or false accusations.
This Golden Harvest was a scandal. He took a picture and said it was in Treblinka. It wasn’t in Treblinka. He built a whole book around this picture that wasn’t taken in this place. And he made a big issue about people robbing graves. Well, people have been robbing graves for as long as mankind has been around. The Pharaonic graves were robbed. Unfortunately people are like that. It’s not just Poles. Some Jews have also robbed graves.
One of the questions Gross asks in the debate after Neighbors was: why hadn’t people written about these incidents during the previous 40 years? Have historians started to do their own original research here?
A lot of original research has been done. The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which was then a different IPN then it is now, published two big volumes of research on Jedwabne and 70 other places. It was all described. There’s a whole institute at the Polish Academy of Science on research into the Holocaust, which published a lot of books on the other events. Here, this kind of research is quite normal. The fact that it wasn’t written about during Communism is quite obvious. All Polish-Jewish relations was quite taboo, especially after 1968.
Let me switch to Israel. There’s a conception, not just in Israel but in the United States as well, that all Poles killed Jews. As you said, “we told you so,” was the reaction to Neighbors. During your time in Israel, were you able to show a different side or succeed in changing Israeli public opinion about Poland?
It’s an ongoing process. The stereotypes and prejudices die hard. But I see progress, though not as quickly and deeply as I would expect. I haven’t made any sociological research, but during my four years in Israel I did see a change in attitude in people. People I met at the beginning who said that they would never go to Poland, because Poland is a cursed land, they eventually went to Poland, more than once.
Unfortunately, the Israeli government isn’t helping much. These tours of young Israelis coming here are not something that supports this change. They just visit the sites of the Holocaust, and they are told that this is a country of anti-Semites so don’t talk to any Poles. They are surrounded by armed guards, which they claim are against terrorists.
Young people come here surrounded by armed guards?!
Yes, they claim it’s necessary because after Munich there is a law in Israel that any group of Israelis abroad must have its own armed guards.
I don’t remember that in 1989 with groups of Israelis visiting Poland. Is that relatively new?
It started in 1988, actually. But we have made a lot of effort to change this. And there are some people in Israel who understand how wrong it is. And there are some meetings with Polish youth, some dialogue. But it still is only a part. The Israeli embassy is proud that a third of these groups have these programs. What may change things is this new museum of Polish Jews. They can’t skip it. And they will see not only the Holocaust but the whole picture: the history of a thousand years of good relations between Poles and Jews. In Israel, there is growing movement to change it. Unfortunately, because of Israeli politics, the rightwing parties have more and more to say, and they are hard to discuss with.
That applies to Middle East more generally.
Yes. Unfortunately, Netanyahu is an opportunist. Like most politicians, he thinks about the next elections and nothing more.
And Netanyahu, compared to some Israeli politicians, is a compromiser.
Let me ask about the role that Adam Michnik played. He wrote a book about the role of the Church. He played a key role in the Round Table…
And now he is presented as the devil incarnate, the symbol of all that has gone wrong in Poland or is going wrong in Poland. Anything that is wrong is Michnik’s fault. Because there is here, like all over the world, a shift to the Right, generally speaking. I’m talking about Right and Left not in exact terms. Left and Right in the 19th century and now are two different things. But generally speaking there is a resurrection of nationalism all over the world. These right-wing nationalist groups are gaining importance and influencing mainstream politics. You see it France, Germany, the Netherlands, and you see it in Poland. It’s scary. Because our generation was born during or after World War II, we still have personal memory of it or a family memory of it. Members of our families perished. It was alive for us. For this generation, World War II is like the Thirty Years War in Europe. It’s ancient history. This kind of right-wing radicalism is growing all over Europe, and it’s very visible in Poland. The parties that claim to be mainstream, like PiS (Law and Justice Party), are feeding off it.
I want to ask you about that. But I want to continue on Michnik for the moment. He’s criticized as the devil incarnate by the Right. I’ve also talked to people on the Left who criticize him for making a bargain with the Church in 1989-90, which was a mistake of Solidarity in general. It was a kind of concordat that never should have been made.
What I am critical of is Gazeta Wyborcza, though Michnick is no longer running it day to day. It is in my view going too much to the Left. Michnik’s Gazeta Wyborcza, like Tygodnik, was in the beginning liberal. And liberalism hates extremism of both the Right and the Left. Now Gazeta publishes all these pieces by Krytyka Polityczna, and it takes Krytyka’s positions. I think this is wrong. This kind of beautiful Mills-ian liberalism is gone. There’s no place anymore, except maybe Politika, where this kind of liberalism is presented, which I regret.
This seems to be a disappearing species in general, and not just in Poland, as people are drawn over to the Right.
Or to the Left.
The middle is disappearing.
And that is a problem.
Why do you think that is happening?
History never repeats itself. But that was exactly the way it was in the 1920s and 1930s. The situation blew up because this center, which was a bourgeois center, disappeared in the face of rightwing radicalism and leftwing radicalism. And the result we know.
One argument — which applies to the 1920s and the 1930s as it applies today — is the reason that liberalism is pulled to one extreme or the other is because of growing economic inequality in society. Greater economic polarization translates into greater political polarization.
No. Here, I am very much opposed to the Marxist thinking that economy is everything. The Marxist legacy — explaining everything through economy — is wrong because people often act against their economic interests. Look at what’s going on in Syria. Nobody is thinking about the economy, that the country is being ruined.
Or the example of Kansas, where people vote against their economic interest.
This right-wing radicalism is not connected to the rich. It’s poor people. And explaining that it’s because of poor people who are frustrated is too easy. It’s more that young people are naturally radical. Since Communism was more compromised than nationalism, they come back to nationalism as an uncompromised ideology. It has nothing to do with their material standard of living. Among those people you can find jobless people but also very well-to-do people from so-called good families. It’s the natural tendency of young people to say no to the world as it is.
Then why wasn’t KPN more popular back in 1989? Why didn’t nationalist movements play a –
KPN was never nationalist. It favored Pilsudski, who was a socialist. Leszek Moczulski was a great admirer of Pilsudski. He was never anti-Semitic.
Then let’s say the inheritors of the Dmowski tradition.
Back at that time, the strength of liberals like the Tygodnik group was because they were the only opposition under Communism. That’s what made them so prominent. That’s why the young radicals hate the ones who were in opposition, like Michnik. People who were conformist under Communism hate those in the opposition.
You mentioned the rise of nationalism in other parts of Europe — France, the Netherlands –
Yes, but let’s put Hungary to one side for the moment. One reason nationalism has grown stronger in Western Europe is because of immigration and changing demographics in society. But that hasn’t really been the case in Hungary or Poland. There hasn’t been large-scale immigration. It’s been the opposite: people have left the country. So, the sources of nationalism here are different from places where the national identity is challenged.
It’s this kind of natural tendency against the existing order. It’s true that it’s somehow connected with frustration. Frustrated people want to break the existing system, hoping that in the new system they will have a more prominent role. All revolutions are done by frustrated people who want more prominent positions in society. You mentioned the social issues that these frustrated people look for to get support. Immigration is the case in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, it’s anti-Semitism, anti-Roma sentiment, or anti-Communism. It’s not that this movement in the west was created by immigration. Rather, because of the frustration, they found immigration as a wonderful tool to get popularity. No one denies that immigration is not a problem — a social, economic, and cultural problem. If you look at these big Muslim ghettos in Western society, it’s scary.
What if anything could have been done in Poland at the time when liberalism was the consensus — at the top level at least — to avoid the scenario we are now in with rising nationalism and rising right-wing sentiment. Or was it inevitable?
To a certain degree it was inevitable. It’s a phenomenon all over the world. So it would be a bit megalomaniacal to claim that Poland could be spared this trend. But of course some mistakes could have been avoided. One of them I blame on myself.
In 1990, there was the beginning of a controversy between Walesa and Mazowiecki. Mazowiecki became prime minister, and Walesa became a bit frustrated. Tygodnik organized a meeting in a Jesuit monastery in Krakow where the party that would eventually become Unia Wolnosci was created. I said that we cannot organize this meeting without inviting Walesa — because he will feel rejected.
Then Henryk Wozniakowski, who was the spokesman for the Mazowiecki government, said, “No, then we would have to invite Mazowiecki as well. And Mazowiecki would not come as a prime minister. So let’s leave both Mazowiecki and Walesa out of it.”
I said, “They’re different. Mazowiecki is the prime minister, Walesa is a private person right now.”
He said, “No, Mazowiecki would be offended.”
I was not assertive enough to fight for my position. That was the beginning of the split. Walesa felt offended and that led to the attack of Walesa against Turowicz a few months later. Not to get Walesa into that camp was a mistake. Then he took Kaczynski as a standard bearer of the movement that today is PiS.
A second mistake was that Unia Wolnosci felt too strong and too self-confident in government. In democracy, a mandate is not forever. You should always know that you can be swept out of the political scene quickly and all the former credits do not count. Unia Wolnosci should have been more humble, closer to people, not acting as if we intellectuals know better. Maybe then this process would not have gone so deep and so far as it has reached today.
Given the experience of the last 25 years, and the shrinking of maneuvering space for liberalism, do you think there is a rethinking going on in liberalism in response to what happened? Not neo-liberalism but a new new liberalism that could regain influence here in Poland and elsewhere?
Unfortunately, I think that there is not enough intellectual effort in this direction. What is liberal right now? Platforma Obywatelska, the governing party. But they are so much involved in day-to-day politics, and they do not have strong intellectual support or background or centers — such as Tygodnik was. There’s no strong liberal movement or milieu that could influence or think further than the next elections.
Res Publica, for instance?
Well, nobody reads it.
Even though it is very smart and –
Nobody reads it. There’s no such thing for liberals as Krytyka Polityczna, which is a very active group, is for the left. There is Institut Obywatelski, but it is not strong enough. What is needed is strong intellectual activity that focuses this new liberalism. But there is no such effort. I can’t see where it could come from. Not from our generation. We are not attractive to the young generation any more. It has to come out from the new generation, someone like Slawomir Sierakowski, someone with charisma and good organizational skills. Someone in their twenties or thirties, but I can’t see anyone like that anywhere in Europe — not just Poland. If there would be such a center somewhere, but there is not. My generation, people like Marcin Krol, we do not have the kind of appeal as the rightwing or the leftwing has.
What we might call fighting liberalism has appeared before in history. There was in the 1950s, in the United States, in response to –
It should emerge in response to this growing nationalism. There is a organization called Nigdy Wienciej, Never Again, which fights against this right-wing nationalism. But they are too much focused on practical fights. Actually I am going to meet with them. Maybe I will talk about this with them. Maybe they will be able to do something. They’re young people, the leader is in his late thirties.
So, there are some islands, like the place where I am now working, Collegium Civitas. This is the best private university in Poland, and it promotes liberal values. But there is not a strong enough of a movement around it.
You were in the United States in the mid-1990s. Poland and the United States were very close at that time, up through the first part of the Bush administration. But the general consensus is that Poland has shifted its perspective and is putting more emphasis on the European Union and Germany.
In a sense this was inevitable. The United States was so prominent in the beginning of transformation. Everyone who is not prejudiced must give credit to what the United States has done. But later, Poland becoming more European was natural. We are part of Europe. We cannot be an American colony in Europe. Our membership in the EU, however, does not necessarily mean that we have to be anti-American. Over the last 20 or so years we have been able to maintain relations with American at the same time as being good European. Chirac called us America’s Trojan donkey in Europe. But with Chirac gone, there is no longer this kind of accusation.
These two wars did not help. We were fully engaged in Iraq as one of the strongest supporters. Now we hear that it was all deception, even from America. It was exactly the same case with Afghanistan. We’ve spent 10 years there, lost something like 30 people, and we will leave without achieving anything, just like in Iraq. It was a cold shower. Supporting America has been costly and dangerous. And America has not always been right in its choices.
Do you think it was a mistake to pursue those policies at that time?
No. I don’t think it was a mistake. As an ambassador to Israel at the time and a specialist in the Middle East, I believe that the world without Saddam is better than a world with Saddam. Even if Iraq is not the best place to live right now, they are still better off than they were under Saddam. What is wrong was not the toppling of Saddam but what was done later. America had no strategy. It thought that Iraq was Germany, that de-Baathification, like de-Nazification, would bring democracy to Iraq. In Afghanistan, they understood it better, but the situation is more difficult there.
I teach a course on the Middle East. I always give this anecdote, though I don’t know if it is true. But even if it is not true, it shows the kind of attitude. There was a meeting before the second Gulf war organized by George W. Bush. There were prominent Iraqi émigrés there like Ahmed Chalabi and the others who said, “The Americans will absolutely be welcomed with flowers, Saddam will be demolished, and we’ll go back and build democracy.”
And someone said, “Well, there might be a problem because of the animosity between Shi’ite and Sunni.”
And Bush asked, “What are Shi’ite and Sunni?”
I don’t know if it is true, but it could be, yes?
It was definitely reflected in U.S. policy, that’s for sure. There was also the famous example of Spy magazine interviewing a large number of congressional representatives, none of whom could tell the difference between Shi’ite and Sunni.
And the United States should know better than to announce the cancellation of its missile defense system here on September 17 [the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939]. Such wrong steps were also felt here very strongly. There was also the disinterest of Obama during his first term toward Europe and Eastern Europe more specifically. There were his dreams of a “reset” with Moscow, and you can see where that is now. And there was the stupid question of visas for Poles. Obama can’t say that he can’t do anything because of the law. The law is made by people! It’s not given by God. If he wants to change it, then change the law. He says, “We can’t do it because of Congress.” Then change Congress!
If it’s a national security issue, they’ll do provide a visa waiver. They did it for South Korea — largely because the Korean embassy and Koreans in the United States mobilized and had political influence on that issue.
It’s more a question of national pride than a particular interest. Not as many people go to America these days to earn money. It’s much easier in Europe. It’s closer, they can earn more money, and there are no problems. We can now travel all around Europe without visas, and even without passports. And the arrogance of America, saying that we have to pay for the visa application — it’s crazy! And you want to know why people don’t love America?
That’s the current problem. But the first problem was the debt issue — the debts countries had from the Communist regime. It was better here in Poland than in other countries, because there was some debt restructuring. But in general, it was ridiculous that the new governments had to start off several steps behind.
We were fortunate enough to overcome this problem, and it’s no longer an issue. If you look at Polish-American relations, it is America’s fault that they’re not as good as they could be. It’s not just a question of state-to-state relations, but it’s also reflected in public opinion. America is no longer the country that had such strong support as it once had, and it’s losing it very fast. Poland is becoming more and more European in this respect. There was always anti-American sentiment present in Europe. In Poland it did not exist. But now we are becoming like Germany, where there is still some pro-American sentiment but it’s not as strong as it was during the Berlin blockade.
That’s a good comparison. The last question is the same question I ask everyone. When you think back to your worldview in 1990-91, is there anything that has changed? Would you do things any differently?
I was not in a position in which I could do things differently. I was just a government official in Washington at that time, so I couldn’t change much. I had a very short period of influence when I was at Tygodnik and it was an important place where some important ideas were being born. I remember when my boss, Kazimierz Dziewanowski, and I were convincing Mazowiecki to run against Walesa for the presidency, and we were wrong because it was obvious that he would lose, and it would unnecessarily deepen the split. If Mazowiecki had declined from running, and if Tygodnik and Michnik hadn’t been so strong in taking the side of Mazowiecki, maybe…. Now Walesa has changed his attitude, and he’s one of the greatest critics of Kaczynski and so on. But at that time, the split was unnecessary. But I don’t believe my discussion with Mazowiecki changed his mind.
What about your worldview in terms of your thinking of politics and economy?
I very much regretting that the ideas I feel strongly about — liberalism in the good sense — are shrinking. I hate radicalism in any embodiment. As a historian, I know what radicalism can lead to. Even if they are the best ideas, when you force them on people, the result is rather terrible. You can’t get good results with bad means. The means are everything. There was a saying from Prince Czartoryski: do what you should do, and the result is what God wills. You never know the results, so you should do what you should do.
The last questions are quantitative. When you look back to 1989, everything that has changed or not changed, how would you evaluate that on a scale –
It was obviously the biggest change in the history of Poland. Poland never had such a good period in its history since the 16th century. No question about it.
That’s interesting, but I was looking for a numerical answer. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you evaluate those changes since 1989, with 10 most satisfied and 1 least satisfied?
7. As you see here, Poland has changed. We live in a free country. We live in relative economic prosperity that has never been enjoyed on such a scale in Poland in history. But of course there are a lot of things that I don’t like, and a lot of things that I think should be done differently. But I’m a realist. Building a paradise on earth usually produces terrible results. So I’m not expecting paradise.
Same scale, same period of time: your own personal life?
That is more complicated because I had some very unpleasant personal issues. If you want, I can talk about it. It’s another story.
Involving your professional life?
Yes, involving my professional life. I was just recently, two months ago, condemned as a former secret police informer.
But you’re retiring! I thought they were supposed to apply lustracja when you are applying for a job.
They did it because I had this position in the ministry. I’m not the first innocent person to be condemned by the court. There were tens of thousands of witches burned, tens of thousands of Jews killed for ritual murder. They were all condemned according to the law. Being wrongly condemned doesn’t help much if you’re put to death. I know that I wasn’t an informer.
I interviewed Jan Kavan about his case. He went to civil court to clear his name. Have you pursued a similar strategy?
There is no way. I was condemned in two instances, and nothing can be done about it. Technically, I could go to the Supreme Court, but I believe the ideology of the court is as it is. One of the judges in the court opposed the judgment, but it was only one of the judges. My personal explanation is that the judges in general hate the former oppositionists. They were all very deeply involved in the former system, so they have a natural antipathy to people in the opposition.
This is why people like Jan Urban and Adam Michnik opposed the law.
It is very similar to the laws against the witches.
Can anything be done to change the law?
No. The problem will die with the death of people like myself. We are the last ones. In 10-15 years, there will be no one like us left. Biology will solve it. Victims like myself have to live with it.
Are there consequences other than reputation?
Yes and no. I was forced to retire. My retirement age was 65. The fact that they kept me until 70 was exceptional. I was the oldest employee in the ministry. Many people opposed the lustracja. They proposed a job for me at the Collegium, so that’s where I work. Practically, not much has changed. But of course it’s not a nice thing.
One of the employees of Tygodnik, Roman Graczyk, a rightwing activist, wrote a book about the prominent figures of Tygodnik and their collaboration with the secret police. He accused four prominent people of collaboration. This book had a big impact. Some people condemned Graczyk. Others said that these people at Tygodnik claimed they were opposition but look, they were collaborationists. Graczyk read my files very carefully, and he defended me. He said, “This is a person who refused to collaborate.” The judge said that the law is such that even one contact with the secret police is enough. And I had three. I said, “No, I’m not going to cooperate.” But I met with him, so I’m an informer.
It’s the reverse of the Biblical story. You weren’t refusing Jesus, you were refusing the secret police.
All my friends are still my friends. And the others….well, I have to live with it.
I interrupted you when you were going to come up with a number for your personal life.
It’s close to zero.
Looking into the near future, the next two or three years, how would you evaluate the prospects for Poland, with 1 being most pessimistic and 10 being most optimistic?
Contrary to my personal experience, I’m still very optimistic. I believe that PiS will not win. The problem is, and here I am pessimistic, in a democracy, the party that is too long in the government suffers a natural fatigue in governing, and PO shows this fatigue very much. I cannot think of any kind of force that I like that could replace Platforma. It is the lesser evil that Platforma will win. It’s not perfect, but it’s bearable. If PiS wins, we’re in deep trouble. I hope it won’t happen. And I have full confidence in Jaroslaw Kaczynski that he will do something so stupid that it won’t happen.
So, a number?
Warsaw, August 13, 2013
Tygodnik Powszechny has, until recently, been the only weekly in Poland that had any independence from the government. A Catholic paper, it had nonetheless served as an organ of a diverse intelligentsia–it was catholic in the more general sense as well. Most of my intellectual friends in Warsaw were reading the paper last year on a regular basis. But, as Ryszard Holzer told me, the secular and half-lapsed Catholics are not as interested these days in wading through the religious articles that Tygodnik Powszechny still prints.
A Tygodnik editor, Maciej Kozlowski will be leaving the newspaper shortly to become deputy ambassador in Washington. His English is excellent and, he says, he must now improve on his diplomacy. Though he is leaving the paper, he still feels very much attached to its outlook.
Was Tygodnik Powszechny still necessary now that Polish mass media was a wide open field? Yes, he replied emphatically. Without censorship, the Polish press was probably one of the freest in the world. But Tygodnik still had a place in the market even if its popularity was declining. First, he stressed, the quality of the paper was high, especially compared to “all the other papers which have sprung up like flowers.” Moreover, it offered a particular political and moral position that was important and necessary: Catholic and liberal (in the European sense). The paper would be fighting the twin threats of clericalism and xenophobia in Polish society and the criticism would be that much more effective for coming from within the Catholic tradition.
He gave the example of the abortion issue. In the last issue of the newspaper, they ran an article which maintained that one could be against abortion for moral reasons but also be against the penalization of abortion. The paper also argues against the new movement to put religion back in public schools. 90 percent of Polish children attend optional religion lessons and, Kozlowski argued, the best way to turn Poland into an athiestic country would be to make these lessons a mandatory school duty which would be then detested like any other subject. The paper has also cultivated Jewish culture and opinion in its pages and that has laid it open to criticism.
In terms of the liberal part of the equation, the weekly has supported a free market for 40 years but, he stressed, it also opposes free market dogma. Pragmatism, not ideology, should be the guide to economic reform.
What changes is the paper going through? It can now expand its size (from 8 to 10 pages so far) and increase production if the demand warrants. It is now printing advertisements. Since it is no longer the only Catholic newspaper, it need not print as many articles about religious topics. Will it move toward the reporting of hard news? No, Kozlowski replied. Poland will need quality journals of opinion and Tygodnik will continue in this tradition.
We then turned to more general political and economic topics. In terms of political likelihoods, Kozlowski predicted that the next parliamentary elections would be held in the early spring next year in time to ratify a new constitution before May 3 (Constitution Day). A new constitution would then mandate new elections for the President and the awkward situation of having to force Jaruzelski out of office would be avoided. At that point, too, real political questions will emerge. For example, people will truly debate whether the Balcerowicz plan should be discontinued and replaced with a more liberal or more socialistic plan. Also, many small parties will have disappeared and the question of Walesa’s candidacy for the presidency will be clarified (Walesa may not want to run; other strong candidates might emerge).
The upcoming local elections, meanwhile, he feared would not prove anything. He didn’t think there was any political life in the country at the moment. The Citizens’ Committee would, he hoped, win overwhelmingly because this group had the greatest chance of providing able local administrators. I asked about the Green victory in the Krakow mayoral elections and whether that portended unexpected victories for small parties in local elections. Krakow, he explained, was an unusual case. The Citizens’ Committee candidate was so sure of victory that he announced during the campaign that as mayor he would lay off half of the city government. The city council, representatives of the old guard, simply protected its interests by supporting someone who wouldn’t make such drastic changes in the short interim presidency.
He talked about the development of professional politicians. The idea, he said, of a new Solidarity nomenklatura was crazy, and was simply the frustrated criticism of those who did not have the credentials. But he thinks that the present governing elite are the best people for the job–those who had proved themselves in underground movements as having integrity, courage and incorruptibility (though he acknowledged that their new-found power will probably affect that last category). He is afraid of the Walesa faction because he thinks that many under-qualified people hope to ride Walesa to power. His ideal for the political interim would a kind of revolving political elite with politicians who are distinguished in other professions serving time as a civic responsibility. But in the long term, he would like to see the development of real parties, the emergence of a strong central left and center right.
Recently, he wrote an article on the possibility that Poland might develop a one party system a la Mexico or Japan. In the article, he speculated that the conception of party in the 19th century sense of the word might have died out. He wasn’t supporting such a development, simply saying that should it happen, the monopoly should be developed along democratic lines. He hopes that the Citizens’ Committees will split in half on the issue of free market versus social care. The Peasants, he argued, should be united but they are not. Alliances, such as the one between the Peasant Party–Renewal and the right-wing National party will probably not be terrible successful since there aren’t any Jews around to provide the anti-Semitic glue.
In terms of attracting capital to Poland, Kozlowski argued that Western governments should be providing incentives for corporations to invest. It is in the governments’ interests to create a stable Poland that this would mean long-term profits.