SPIEGEL Interview with former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski: "A Family Clan is in Power"

Former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, an Auschwitz survivor and a veteran of the Warsaw Uprising, talks to SPIEGEL about the center-right regime of the Kaczynski twins, dissatisfaction in Poland and soured relations with Germany.

SPIEGEL: Professor Bartoszewski, things seem to be going well for your country. The economy is booming, and Poland is now a member of NATO and the European Union. Nevertheless, hardly a week goes by without scandals, secret police affairs or tirades against Germany. What's wrong?

Bartoszewski: Many Poles are asking themselves that same question. Two centrist parties emerged as the winners from the election in the fall of 2005: the Kaczynskis' conservative, right-leaning PiS (Law and Justice Party) and the more liberal Civic Platform. A coalition would have been the natural outcome and would have reflected the will of a majority of votes, but it failed to materialize. There is more hostility between these two parties than among the post-communists. The PiS then decided to seek support from the right-wing fringe. It's like a coalition government of the CSU (Germany's conservative Christian Social Union) and the NPD (the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party).

SPIEGEL: Why wasn't a coalition formed?

Bartoszewski: Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the current prime minister, is not an easy person, nor is Jan Maria Rokia, the leading politician in the Civic Platform. Both men are arrogant and egocentric. Besides, the Civic Platform never realized what populists the Kaczynskis really are. That's why it lost not only the parliamentary, but also the presidential election. A family clan is in power for the first time in European history. It is tightly organized and relatively authoritarian.

SPIEGEL: The Kaczynskis seem to see the world in black and white. Anyone who isn't for them is against them.

Bartoszewski: Most staffing decisions are made at the very top. That's how they have managed to solidify their power.

SPIEGEL: Which Poland do the twins actually represent?

Bartoszewski: Unfortunately the niveau of political culture is not particularly high in Poland -- a relic of the communist past. Nowadays many people expect, just as they did then, "those at the top" to make all their decisions for them: Please get us work, and take care of our rent. But many Germans from the former East Germany think the same way. These people vote for those who shout the loudest and deliver promises that are ultimately impossible to fulfill.

SPIEGEL: Who supports the Kaczynskis? Is it mostly the older people who lost out as a result of reforms -- retirees, for example?

Bartoszewski: Retirees all over the world complain that they aren't doing well. But in our case they're truly in a bad way. They were in their late '40s when the transition to democracy happened. They may have been involved in Solidarity and probably suffered under the communists. Now they're 65 and are asking themselves: We won, but has it done us any good? Their expectations were enormous, and time is not on their side.

SPIEGEL: Not much has changed for this disappointed generation, even under the Kaczynski regime.

Bartoszewski: That's why the Kaczynskis suffered such a bitter defeat in local elections last November. The twins are now looking for excuses. They see dark, secret powers at work everywhere: old communist networks, the evil Germans. They are looking for reasons to explain why so many things cannot be fulfilled.

SPIEGEL: Hasn't Poland in fact neglected to clean up the networks from the old days?

Bartoszewski: That's true. A great deal was neglected in the first 15 years after the transition. Poland didn't experience a groundbreaking moment in 1989. We didn't storm the secret police building. The squads of secret police, with all their political baggage, remained unscathed. Incidentally, there were far fewer of these people in our country than in East Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary or Slovakia. But in those places they've managed to address this past. In those countries they've published lists of the names of the members of the secret police.

SPIEGEL: In other words, the Kaczynskis are right to demand that Poland finally deal with its old communists?

Bartoszewski: They are certainly right. Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak served in the first government under non-communist Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki -- but Kiszczak had been in charge of the communists' intelligence agencies. It's as if (then-president of the German parliament) Rita Süssmuth and (former East German spymaster) Markus Wolf had formed a German government in 1990. Because hundreds of thousands of former Polish secret police employees were never sentenced, they all enjoy all democratic civil rights today, and apparently collect better pensions than teachers or engineers. Many in Poland believe they would have been better off over the last 18 years if there had been a cleanup.

SPIEGEL: Would that have been possible?

Bartoszewski: Hard to say. The Soviet army was still stationed in East Germany, and it was in Poland until 1993. The USSR wasn't dissolved until 1991, by (former Russian President) Boris Yeltsin, although he was more of an official from the old ranks. Who could have helped us? The Americans? They warned us to move forward carefully. They were afraid.

SPIEGEL: Does Poland have to continue developing as a "Fourth Republic," as the Kaczynskis like to call their government?

Bartoszewski: As a historian I refuse to recognize an epochal boundary before the fact. The First Republic ended with the Polish partitioning in the late 18th century, and the Second Republic in 1939 by the German invasion. The Third Republic began with the end of communism. One cannot simply declare, after the votes have been counted, that we are now living in a Fourth Republic.

SPIEGEL: Part of the repertoire of the Fourth Republic is apparently Poland's assessment of Germany as a serious danger.

Bartoszewski: The greatest achievement of the Third Republic is to have reestablished Poland in Europe when it became a member of NATO and the European Union. That also includes close cooperation with Germany. There was and still is no alternative to that.

SPIEGEL: Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski warns against German revisionists. He claims that the Germans want to reclaim Polish territory, and that Germans pretend to be victims of history when in fact they are the perpetrators. Does he truly believe that Germany poses a threat?

Bartoszewski: There are Germans who want to redefine history. The clumsy Russia policy of the government of (former German Chancellor Gerhard) Schröder, applied as it was over the heads of the Poles, tore open a divide. The case of the Prussian Trust, which wants to assert German pre-war claims to Polish land, is an annoyance. And is it really a good idea for someone like Erika Steinbach, the head of Federation of Expellees (which represents Germans uprooted from Poland and other nations after World War II), to be a high-ranking member of the Christian Democrats?

SPIEGEL: The Polish government vastly exaggerates the importance of the Expellees and their demands.

Bartoszewski: Both sides are to blame. The issued is played up in both countries, by populists, by fanatics, scatterbrains and people living in the past.

SPIEGEL: And you include the twins in this group?

Bartoszewski: No, I don't. I have made it a habit not to speculate over the psychological state of our elected leaders. But I cannot understand where the prime minister gets this image of Germany. Perhaps it's because he has hardly ever been abroad.

SPIEGEL: What we have seen so far is really more of a worsening of relations. But isn't much more on the line?

Bartoszewski: One shouldn't exaggerate. There have been ill-considered remarks, irritations and cartoons. By the way, if (US President) George W. Bush were sensitive about cartoons he would have to take his own life immediately.

SPIEGEL: You are alluding to Lech Kaczynski's irritated reaction to a satire in Die Tageszeitung?

Bartoszewski: Yes. The next election in Poland will be in September 2009. It's now February 2007. And how long have the Germanic and Slavic tribes been in existence?

SPIEGEL: You mean to say that although Poland may have the worst possible government, it can't do too much damage?

Bartoszewski: That would be a less diplomatic way of putting it. I am almost 85, but the government will not be in office for more than another two years and seven months. I'm certain that -- God willing -- I will die under a different government.

Interview conducted by Jan Puhl and Gerhard Spörl.

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