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.
Kacper Pempel/ Reporter/ Eastway
Prof. Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, 84, has served as foreign minister in Warsaw, taught modern history at a number of universities, and spent time in jail under both the Polish communists and the Nazis. He questions the right-wing populism of Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who lead Poland now as president and prime minister, respectively. "They see dark, secret powers at work everywhere," he says.
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.
Sarcasm in Berlin: Polish President Lech Kaczynski called a satirical attack by the left-wing German daily Die Tageszeitung "disgusting and mean" -- but denies cancelling a 2006 summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over it.
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.