The interview took place on the sidelines of
the 10th annual Forum 2000 in Prague, a major international venue for
exploring ways to avoid conflict. RFE/RL has a close relationship with
Forum 2000, whose theme this year is "Dilemmas of Global Coexistence."
With the Our Ukraine party now officially in opposition, do you think that the Orange Revolution is over?Bronislaw Geremek:
I hope that the present situation in Ukraine is not stable, and I do hope that the Orange Revolution will continue and finally, to say it very simply, will win. But, frankly speaking, I'm very much unquiet about the evolution of the situation in Ukraine. In my sense, Ukraine is now losing time.
The objectives of the Orange Revolution concerned the internal
situation, of course. That means political freedom, a reasonable
economic policy. But it also means finding a place in existing
The objectives of the Orange Revolution concerned the internal situation, of course. That means political freedom, a reasonable economic policy. But it also means finding a place in existing Euro-Atlantic structures. As far as this is concerned, I would say that Ukraine is blocked by present policy. I couldn't understand why the prime minister [Viktor Yanukovych] declared in Brussels [recently] that Ukraine is not looking for a place in the North Atlantic [Treaty Organization].... So I am not happy with the situation, but I do believe that Ukraine will find its path, and the Orange Revolution will be victorious in all senses of the word.RFE/RL:
A lot of people in Ukraine put the blame on both sides, not only in the internal squabbling between different Ukrainian Orange parties, but also on the West, because the West didn't show a clear perspective for Ukraine, either in the European Union or in NATO. What do you think about it? Geremek:
I think that Ukraine, in a sense, misjudged the international situation with too much hope. I remember that for Poland in 1989, it was surprising that the West, [while] declaring its happiness and satisfaction with the situation, was doing nothing, but it was up to us to define our strategy.
And our strategy, in my opinion, could be -- I wouldn't say a lesson, but simply a path to follow -- understanding that this Polish evolution was, in a sense, successful. That means [for Ukraine] an association agreement with the European Union, becoming a member of NATO, and hoping that the third step would be full membership in the European Union.
The atmosphere in Brussels has changed. I remember that at the beginning, [as we were] trying to convince European officials, members of the European Commission, and my colleagues in the European Parliament -- we, I'm saying we because the Polish delegation was absolutely unified in this -- we tried to convince them that the situation in Ukraine, in a sense, is important for the European integration process. Secondly, that Ukraine aspires to be a European country. And thirdly, that Ukraine should obtain a perspective of joining the European Union.
It was extremely difficult to obtain it, but in the European Parliament we obtained a text of a declaration that went very far [toward these goals]. The sentence was that the European Parliament understands the European aspirations of Ukraine, and will support their implementation. That was a clear declaration. After we convinced a good part of European opinion that Ukraine is not simply a vassal of Russia, that Ukraine has no historical traditions of independence, we tried to explain the present situation -- believe me, it wasn't easy, and it's not easy.
So my conclusion is that it's up to Ukraine to continue on the path of the Orange Revolution, and to work on convincing the European countries that Ukraine has a European future and has true European aspirations.RFE/RL:
The coalition-building process started in Ukraine half a year ago, and it's still not over. In Poland, the coalition is breaking up all the time. Why do you think it's so difficult to build a solid coalition with the people [with whom] you share ideology?Geremek:
I am not very happy with the situation in Poland. I see the present situation with a kind of bitterness. It's not a question of the political colors of the present government, or the president, it's a question of the continuation of what we began 25 years ago.
I am not very happy with the situation in Poland. I see the present situation with a kind of bitterness.
Poland was at that time a communist country, and the democratic opposition was a small minority, with the moral support of society at large, but still a minority. And at the time, we were unified in the Solidarity movement, after that in the underground in the different structures of the opposition.
Now, 25 years later, and 15 years after independence, I have the feeling that we are unable to find a framework for political cooperation. I know people who are now in the government, but I do not recognize the moral silhouettes of these people. Something has changed. And what has changed is firstly power. One British historian said that power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. RFE/RL:
But in a democratic country, there shouldn't be any absolute power.Geremek:
Yes, but the temptation of such authoritarian tendencies always exists, even in democratic countries. When you see the role of the presidents of European countries, it's very different from the situation, let's say, 35 or 45 years ago -- that means after World War II, when democracy was defined by parliamentary life, by the free relationship between different institutions of the state.
It's over. In present-day Europe, we see also, and I mean not only in postcommunist countries, we see a kind of authoritarian temptation. But hopefully, civil society and democratic institutions, all these checks and balances, work well. In no country is the political culture lacking.
Take the example of Poland. It's a very European society, in the sense that in polls of public opinion, some 80 or 83 percent give their support to the European Union, to the European constitution. And after that, Polish society elected anti-European leaders! How do you find the logic in that?
The logic is that people in a postcommunist country are disappointed by the costs of the transition. And also, by the inequality. Of course, the situation is better than it was during the communist times, and everybody knows it and can see it. But the differences in material situations are crying out -- you know, seeing people with big cars, beautiful residences, traveling. So, public opinion is that everything we obtained has been stolen by a corrupt elite.RFE/RL:
To what extent do you think the present scandals, and the present state of stability in Poland, influences or undermines its role in the European Union, and in its relations with its neighbors, especially Russia?Geremek:
In the European Union, Poland now doesn't have a very good image. That means the moral capital from the time of Solidarity, the time of the fight for freedom, is over. It's a pity, because it was our founding capital in the European Union. Now, think what is happening: the destabilization of political structures, the anti-European propaganda, declarations of the Polish extreme right.
In the European Union, one can see a kind of deterioration in the attitude toward Poland. I do not think that it's a long- or medium-term process. It's a short-term process; Poland is and will be a European country, with this government or with another government. With the anticipated elections, or without them. Because Poland is already rooted in NATO, in the European Union, and so the political standards of the European Union and NATO also influence the situation in Poland.
But now, Russia is watching the situation with a kind of satisfaction. Russia -- I mean the Russian administration, the Russian president -- was not very happy with Polish policy, with Polish support for Ukrainian independence, thinking that what is happening in Ukraine, what is happening in Georgia, or what will happen in Belarus is [the result of] Polish influence. Of course, it's not Polish influence; it's the influence of the idea of freedom, of European values. But the Russian administration has the feeling that all these processes are the result of Polish policy. RFE/RL:
Polish, and Western, and the United States' policies.Geremek:
Exactly. Maybe the United States, first of all, but the United States is far away from Central and Eastern Europe. And so now, seeing Poland's weakening position in the EU, Russia is very glad, and very satisfied by it. Russia even hopes to see a weakening of Polish influence in the region.
And Russia thinks in new imperial terms. It's no longer the imperial policy of Stalin's times. It's now a kind of imperial policy based on oil, based on natural gas, and using this means of power, Russia hopes to achieve a kind of domination of the region. RFE/RL:
You mentioned that Poland is now deeply rooted in European structures, in the European Union and NATO. Is that the explanation of why the economy is still growing and improving, while the political crisis is never ending?Geremek:
It's a question for a Nobel Prize! Nobody can understand how it is possible, with such a political situation, to see the economy doing well. We've obtained a separation between the economy and politics. There's no direct influence of the political destabilization on the economy. You have a rate of growth for this year between 5 and 6 percent, and we have new individual family enterprises created by the thousands.
One can say that every day there are new enterprises created. And that's extremely important because it's an expression of hope. If somebody's taking a risk to create an enterprise, that means that he's thinking with hope for the future.
How can we explain that this reaction goes together with the lack of trust in the government, with manifestations against the government, and with a very ineffective executive branch? Without saying that I understand the reason for this discrepancy between the economy and politics, I can say that there's a surprising satisfaction in seeing that the free economy is doing well, even when the politics are not in good shape.