Photo Gallery: 'Relations Are Better than They Have Ever Been'
SPIEGEL Interview with Polish Foreign Minister 'We Want To See the Euro Zone Flourish'
SPIEGEL: Minister Sikorski, when you recently visited Germany, you lodged a complaint with the hotel you were staying at. What was it about?
Sikorski: You could watch more than 160 TV stations, even more exotic stations from Afghanistan and Iraq. But not a single Polish station was included. I found it surprising, because it was an excellent hotel in every other way.
SPIEGEL: How do you interpret that -- as German arrogance toward Poland or as a sheer lack of interest?
Sikorski: Perhaps it does show a little bit the attitudes of some Berliners, so many of whom haven't been to Poland and do not have the country in their field of view, despite the fact that the border is located only 70 kilometers (43 miles) away. Have no fear, though: You are welcome to visit us. Incidentally, the hotel made the TV channels available after I intervened -- and you can now watch Polish television there. I also wouldn't interpret too much into this incident: Taken as a whole, relations between Poland and Germany are better than they have ever been before.
SPIEGEL: German President Joachim Gauck chose Warsaw as the destination for his very first trip abroad.
Sikorski: Yes. We valued that very highly. A country that elects a freedom fighter known for his resistance to communism as its head of state is not a threat to us Poles. That our bilateral relations are so excellent now certainly also has to do with the fact that the chancellor and the president are both from the former East Germany -- they shared our experiences and can understand and sense what we are talking about.
SPIEGEL: In the speech you gave in Berlin in November, you called on Germany to lead in Europe. Why?
Sikorski: I spoke of leadership on reforms. I fear Germany's power less than I do its inactivity. I stand by that. Germany should not dominate Europe, but it also cannot slacken in showing its leadership strength when it comes to reforms. What is the greatest threat to Poland? It's not terrorism, and it's certainly not German tanks. It's not even the Russian missiles that Moscow wants to install near the EU border in our immediate neighborhood. The greatest threat for us is the collapse of the euro zone.
SPIEGEL: You called Germany the "indispensable nation." What did you mean by that?
Sikorski: Germany is the biggest shareholder in the European Union. In good times, you collect the greatest dividends. When the enterprise is in trouble, you carry the greatest responsibility for getting it back on the right track. You also have the greatest ability to do that. No important business can be done without you. In that sense, you are "indispensable." At the same time, Germany is not big enough to dominate. Berlin also needs partners -- and you need more than just one. These partners, including the Polish, also demand a lot of the Germans.
SPIEGEL: Can you provide an example?
Sikorski: As the politicians in Berlin know best, they are not the innocent victims of the transgressions of others. Germany broke the Stability Pact itself in the past and its banks irresponsibly bought risky securities. Because investors sold their securities from particularly threatened countries and then fled to a relatively safe haven, interest payments that Germans have to muster for loans are lower than they would be in normal times. Still, Germany bears the greatest responsibility for ensuring that the EU rules remain stabile. If the economies in your neighboring states implode, you will also suffer.
SPIEGEL: Is the German government living up to its responsibility in the euro crisis?
Sikorski: Yes. And we hope to soon have the worst behind us.
SPIEGEL: But the French and the Greeks, in both of their elections, have voted against Berlin's austerity policies. Do you really still see a future for Greece in the euro zone?
Sikorski: I don't want to speculate there. What is right, though, is that many hurdles still lie ahead of us. With Berlin's consent, the European Central Bank has poured liquidity into the European banking system and has eased the crisis considerably. I also understand Germany's historical aversion to inflation. But when the survival of the entire euro zone is at stake, then one must consider the risks and also be prepared to risk a bit more inflation than usual. Most of all, however, a crisis is too good an opportunity to miss to put some rules of financial probity into practice in some parts of Europe as well as to re-establish the ability of some member states to compete in the global market.
SPIEGEL: What will Poland's contribution be?
Sikorski: Poland was one of the first countries in Europe -- 15 years ago -- to anchor a debt brake measure in its constitution and we are not sitting on our laurels. By the end of this legislative period, we will have fulfilled the conditions for membership in the euro zone.
SPIEGEL: You still believe that it is attractive to introduce the euro in Poland?
Sikorski: We want to see the euro zone flourish and we want to be a part of it. I have been heard and the comments I received were heartening to me. They said that, for the first time, we were seeing ourselves as shareholders in the business rather than just as newcomers.
SPIEGEL: In Poland, the reactions to your speech were intense, with many in the opposition calling you a traitor.
Sikorski: That was only a few. The parliament gave me a vote of confidence with an overwhelming majority.
SPIEGEL: Are you sure that rapprochement among the people is as far along as it is among the political classes?
Sikorski: I spoke to the Germans not as a victim, but as a colleague, and many people like that. Okay, you are richer, but we are catching up. We have something to bring to the table and we are negotiating on the basis of what we have achieved, not on the basis of our past suffering.
SPIEGEL: Just a few years ago, cross-border mistrust was still significant. What happened?
Sikorski: There are still problems, on both sides of the border. But I think the element of fear has been removed from the relationship and we have actually realized that we have a lot in common. There are still many things that are better in Germany, some things where we are equal and even a few things where Poland is superior. I think this is one of the achievements of Chancellor Angela Merkel. She spent political capital to ensure that the history of World War II is discussed in Germany in such a way that takes into account our sensibilities and suffering.
SPIEGEL: For example the planned Center for Flight and Expulsion in Berlin, a project that will document the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Poland and the Czech Republic in the wake of World War II.
Sikorski: We were never fond of the project and it still has the potential for conflict. We are still not sure exactly how history will be presented. But it looks as though the museum will now include the narrative of why the expulsions happened and who started them -- namely, the Germans.
SPIEGEL: Is rapprochement with the Russians also possible?
Sikorski: Rapprochement of the kind we have achieved with Germany -- and the kind we would like to achieve with Russia -- must be based on the truth. And there has been huge progress. Putin visited Katyn and the Russian Duma condemned the atrocity, where agents from the secret service agency NKWD murdered 22,000 Poles, as a Stalinist crime. But there are still problems. The families of Katyn victims have been unable to get justice in the Russian legal system. We are currently expecting a visit in Warsaw from the Patriarch of Moscow for the first time ever. And remember, with Germany it was the churches that led the way.
SPIEGEL: Are the Germans too naïve in their dealings with Russia?
Sikorski: Berlin and Warsaw have managed to come to a consensus view when it comes to Russia. At least Germany is interested in the east, which is not always the case with other EU countries. One also has to remember that Poland is on the external border of NATO, as Germany was 20 years ago. So naturally our perspective is different.
'The War Affected Every Family in Poland'
SPIEGEL: That can be seen from personal experiences as well, like yours for example. You have been influenced greatly by attacks from your large neighbors, fascist Germany and Soviet Russia. Can you completely move beyond such traumas?
Sikorski: It is less and less present, but it is still there to a significant degree. Whenever you talk about Poland, you end up talking about the war. For good reason. The war affected every family in Poland and it affected the lives and opportunities of two generations. My parents lived in Bydgoszcz, which was occupied by the Wehrmacht in the first days of the war, and the executions began immediately. For one word of Polish in the street, the Germans shipped people to a concentration camp and denunciations ended in death. My uncle ended up in Buchenwald, my grandfather was taken away by the Nazis as a forced laborer. Every Polish family has stories like that.
SPIEGEL: In your book, you mention the goodness of some Germans despite the horrific deeds of the Nazis. How did you experience the Soviet-controlled communism of your youth?
Sikorski: Communism oppressed us both politically and culturally leading to the economic degradation of two generations.
SPIEGEL: You joined the opposition movement Solidarity as a youth. Was it simply youth rebellion or did you even then have a vision of the end of the Soviet Union and a European community?
Sikorski: Joining the union was a moral imperative. Not one of us expected communism to fall. The Stalinization of Europe was the same everywhere. Those in power controlled the secret service, youth organizations, the press and they imposed terror. Some Germans shared our fate. The war in Poland wasn't just an experience of five years, it lasted much longer. It wasn't over until at least 1989 and ended happily with our accession to the EU in 2004. We still feel the results of the losses, the suffering and the abasement today.
SPIEGEL: You spent a few years living in the United States and have always sought to maintain a special relationship to America. Poland stood at Washington's side during the war in Iraq and has purchased US fighter jets. But the focus has not paid dividends; Warsaw does not play much of a role at the White House. Is your renewed focus on Europe an expression of your disappointment in the US?
Sikorski: The USA remains an important ally for Poland, Germany and all of Europe. It is important for both our countries that the US remains engaged in European issues. But Poland is in Europe and our fundamental interests are here.
SPIEGEL: What does your ideal Europe look like? More integration?
Sikorski: Last November, we really were threatened with the collapse of the euro zone, showing just how fragile Europe is. I distrust people who say the process of renationalization could be arrested at a certain stage. I fear that it would be a dynamic process which you cannot control. So integration in areas where it makes sense is preferable. We need to strengthen the community and give it more democratic legitimacy. Our future is Europe.
SPIEGEL: Is there not a danger that a split could develop in the EU between a prosperous north and a south struggling to keep up?
Sikorski: We all use such shorthand. One hundred years ago, Max Weber argued that Catholics were incapable of internalizing capitalism, but today Bavaria and northern Italy are among the richest regions of Europe. Poland was once Eastern Europe, now we are Central Europe. And we are Northern Europe when it comes to public financing.
SPIEGEL: Just as Germany once saw itself as a mentor for Poland in the EU, you are now trying to assist Belarus and Ukraine on their paths toward Europe. Given recent events, has that effort now failed?
Sikorski: At the level of society, there is great progress. It's the politicians who have not done their job.
SPIEGEL: Merkel has pushed for an EU-wide boycott of European Football Championship games scheduled to be played in Ukraine due to the ongoing imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Do you think that is a good idea?
Sikorski: When some politicians think that might have a positive effect, then that is their right. We feel, however, that further and tougher steps, spoiling the part of the sports festival taking place in Ukraine, would be damaging. It would be the common Ukrainians who would be most harmed, and most of them are pro-European. The games belong to them, not to the politicians. We have built a couple of beautiful, modern stadiums for the European Championship along with over 1,000 kilometers of highways. Of course we are hoping for a good party. It would be great if Poland were to play against German in the final ...
SPIEGEL: ... and lost.
Sikorski: If it must be so, then only because Poles play on both teams.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Minister, we thank you for this interview.