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Eastern Europe: Bronislaw Geremek Talks To RFE/RL At Forum 2000

Bronislaw Geremek at Forum 2000 Former Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek spoke to RFE/RL on 10 October during the Forum 2000 conference in Prague.

RFE/RL: Nine months ago there was a lot of euphoria and enthusiasm all over Europe for the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Now it seems it is perhaps turning into a bit of a disappointment -- there’s been a change in the government, the new prime minister has already been to Moscow to patch up relations, and people in Ukraine are starting to wonder if it was all worth it. Is it a disappointment to you personally, and how do see the situation?

Geremek: I am not disappointed because the situation after the Orange Revolution is absolutely normal. After that, the time comes for stabilization of politics, and some problems appeared. That’s normal -- politics means problems. In my sense, what is important now is what will be the attitude of the international community to Ukraine. The international community invested very much hope and enthusiasm and [showed an] appreciation of Ukraine’s situation. But the problem is what can be the future of this relationship between Ukraine and the different international organizations, first of all NATO and secondly the European Union?”

RFE/RL: Do you think Ukraine still has not resolved this issue of whether it wants to be closer to Europe or closer to Russia? It seems it has this eternal dilemma it cannot resolve.

Geremek: I think there are no doubts in Ukrainian society about where is the future of Ukraine, and I hope that Ukraine will establish a normal relationship with Russia. It concerns trade, it concerns investments, but it will not be any more this relationship of dependence, the relationship of Russian domination over Ukraine. There are common interests -- it’s good for the world and good for Europe to see that Ukraine is able to manage the relationship with Russia, but the future of Ukraine depends on market economy, freedom, and democracy. And market economy, freedom and democracy means the West, it means Europe, the European Union and the United States and the Euro-Atlantic community. They are the future of the Ukrainian people.

RFE/RL: A two-part question regarding Belarus. What’s your prognosis and is there a double standard in the sense that there’s a lot of emphasis on criticizing Belarus and its current regime. But when it comes to regimes further east perhaps in Central Asia or the Caucasus where things occasionally are not that much better than in Belarus, there’s not a lot of world attention. Is there a double standard in the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], for example, or in the world community that if it’s in Europe we’re interested, if it’s farther east we have different standards?

Geremek: I sometimes have this bitter impression that there are double standards concerning different countries and regions in Europe. In 1998 I was chairman of the OSCE on behalf of the Polish government and tried to emphasize the situation with Central Asia from the point of view of democracy, human rights in the same way as the situation in Georgia, Ukraine, or Belarus.

We have to understand that it’s not just the question of political will but also the question of sensitivity of different societies. The European societies are more sensitive to the situation in Ukraine or Belarus than to the situation in Uzbekistan or in Tajikistan and we see the same in American public opinion, so the problem is how to inform about the situation, the information and communication is becoming the main problem, sometimes the main obstacles to the progress of democracy in the world. And, secondly, how to obtain the commitment and public opinion for these sometimes exotic countries like Central Asian countries.

But coming back to your question about Belarus, it makes sense. Belarus is the only dictatorship on European soil, and should not be treated like some exotic exception to the rule. It is a violation of the rule. It means in Europe that democracy and the rule of law are the universal principles. But it cannot be imposed from abroad. This process, similar to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, or in Georgia, such a similar process is beginning now in Belarus and it can only be seen with sympathy by European and world public opinion. And it should be also supported.

In what way can it be supported? First, I am against this silence about it. I do remember when I was a dissident how important it was to see that the information about our activity are present in the public life of other countries so we should not be silent. Secondly, we should say in a clear way that the community of democracy does not respect dictators and, thirdly, we should invest in the education of the younger generation. We should give, by the hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, grants to young people to give them access to democracy, to the university, to an education.

And finally we should support free media. I understand they are poor and they are underground, but we can give to them support and if it will be done by the international community I hope that will help in an effective way the Belarusian people to understand that the future of this country is in freedom, rule of law, and democracy.

RFE/RL: Asking you, as a European parliamentarian, there seems to be kind of angst, a lot of worry about a sort of looking inward. People are worried about growing unemployment and outsourcing to the East. There seems to be a negative feeling especially after the unification into the EU of the 10 new member states. How does that strike you? And do you see a danger that politicians may be getting too far ahead of the voters, they may be pushing too hard and getting some resistance and that there could be a counterreaction?

Geremek: I am concerned about the present situation in the European Union and I have the feeling that European integration is going a little too fast for the taste of European society. And I hope that it is only a short-time reaction which European citizens are asking themselves whether they need a European Union, whether they need such a community. They are afraid about social problems, instability of employment, mass migration, the crisis of the traditional family and local community.

But they are also afraid of the idea of the next enlargements, the enlargement concerning Turkey -- a country with a different religion and different culture, a very big country. It is now considered by a large part of the European public opinion as a threat to the European Union and now when they see that after the 10 countries in 2004, there are -- with Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, and Turkey -- there are four new countries, and the question arises and "why not Ukraine, why not Georgia?" These are countries that fought for democracy and fought for freedom and know what it is and they have some merits, that they fought for European ideas.

Europe is in the situation of angst. It’s a rather, I would emphasize, collective psychology. The European economy is not going bad, we have a kind of stagnation in the big European economies, but I think that’s a shorter problem.

So the real question is that the end of this year, or beginning next, Europe should take two very important decisions – firstly, to have a public debate on democracy in order to answer the question of whether Europe needs a constitution. Secondly, to decide what will be the financial perspective of the years 2007-13 and in what way we can say, we Europeans, we can face a tendency toward national egoism of the big and rich European countries which appear just now facing the need of European solidarity. It’s a dramatic prediction, but I do believe Europe is able to go out of this critical situation.

RFE/RL: As a Pole how do you see Polish-Russian relations evolving? There has been a dramatic worsening in relations and there’s going to be a whole new set of politicians at the helm in Poland right now. How do you see the scenario unfolding?

Geremek: Poland should avoid to adapt itself to this deterioration of the Polish-Russian relationship. It was in a sense organized, and it is managed by the Russian authorities. I have the feeling that the Russian elite think that Poland was a driving force of the Ukrainian march to freedom and that Poland is now the main force in the EU trying to deteriorate the image of Russia.

What is wrong? Poland is simply a free country participating in the European community and asking for the same principles. We are the first country to be interested in a good relationship between the EU and Russia, but we do believe that some new inferior tendencies are appearing in Russian politics and policy.

When we see different proposals concerning the energy supplies from Russia -- when Russia is trying to use natural gas and oil as a means of economic if not political domination in the region -- we have to say that’s not a good way. We have to say it’s not good for Russia, it’s not good for the European Union. And sometimes, on the European countries’ side, one sees a policy of Russia first -- it’s wrong.

For myself, Poland is a country that is interested to have Russia as a neighbor -- Kaliningrad -- as a neighbor of Central European countries, accepting the democratic way of politics, going to the principles of the rule of law and freedom and democracy, and that is in the interests of the Russian people as well as the interests of the European Union.

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