Ausgabe 29/2006

SPIEGEL Interview with Lech Walesa "These Are People with a Very Limited Sense of Humor"

In an interview with DER SPIEGEL, Solidarnosc founder Lech Walesa, 62, discusses Poland's ruling Kaczynski brothers and his country's relationship with its German neighbors.

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, should the German government apologize to Polish President Lech Kaczynski for the satirical article in the small left-wing newspaper Die Tageszeitung?

Former Polish President Lech Walesa says the Kaczysnki brothers have "no political recipe for Poland."

Former Polish President Lech Walesa says the Kaczysnki brothers have "no political recipe for Poland."

Walesa: You must be joking. We too have freedom of the press. Diplomats and journalists can talk about such ill feelings, but the government absolutely should not react.

SPIEGEL: Does the sharp reaction by the twins (President Lech and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski) have something to do with the fact that the satire came from Germany?

Walesa: No, these are people with a very limited sense of humor and many complexes. I find it embarrassing, but that happens to be the kind of response you get from people who lack the necessary stature. Unfortunately, democracy is not representative. Too few Poles voted in the last election, and this is what we get for it. It should teach us a lesson to vote more sensibly next time.

SPIEGEL: Has the climate between the Germans and the Poles deteriorated under the Kaczynskis?

Walesa: The face of this relationship could be better. Fortunately, life goes on, and even the Kaczynskis can't do too much harm. Of course, canceling one's attendance at a summit meeting is inappropriate. But this won't seriously damage the relationship. Our economic ties are too close for that. If we want to be treated seriously we must also react in a credible way.

SPIEGEL: The Germans are quite taken aback by sensitive reactions coming from Warsaw. Why do the Poles barely acknowledge the fact that Germany has dealt with its past?

Walesa: This sensitivity has to do with Polish complexes. Besides, we are still in the process of learning how to handle democracy. On the other hand, the Germans are also quick to judge the Poles. They should first take a few deep breaths and walk around the block three times before reacting. Time will show that the damage from such incidents is far less severe than it would seem at first glance.

SPIEGEL: The Kaczynskis are harshly judging the Poles from the days after the fall of communism. Does your country need a "Fourth Republic?"

Walesa: That's just a catchphrase. In truth, the two have no political recipe for Poland. No one seriously knows what this Fourth Republic is supposed to be. When the change in our political system was negotiated at the round table in 1989, the Kaczynskis didn't play much of a role. It's easy for them to say today that they would have done everything differently.

SPIEGEL: Doesn't Poland have to address its communist past so that it can finally destroy the old networks of communist cadres?

Walesa: We could in fact do more in this respect today. But back then, in 1989, it just wasn't on the cards. The Soviet Union still existed and the communists were too strong.

SPIEGEL: The twins are governing in a coalition with the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families and unpredictable farmers' leader Andrzej Lepper. Don't these coalition partners jeopardize Poland's standing?

Walesa: They only came to power by accident. The people in Poland had to deal with painful reforms. We had no Marshall Plan here after 1989. We, the political elite, weren't good enough at explaining what was at stake to our fellow Poles. That's why demagogues and populists were able do so well in the election.

SPIEGEL: What are the dangers this political spectrum poses?

Walesa: Their behavior is ugly and in poor taste. But the economy continues to hum along and they won't be able to cause any significant problems.

SPIEGEL: Will the Kaczynskis remain at the helm for long?

Walesa: No. I threw them out of my office back then because I recognized that they destroy more than they achieve constructively. I hardly expect them to last until the end of the legislative period.

Translated from German by Christopher Sultan


© DER SPIEGEL 29/2006
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