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Polish Dissident Says Life 'Probably Not A Paradise, But It's Not Hell Anymore'

Adam Michnik: "Democracy does not just solve everything. Democracy offers freedom and basic civil rights. But democracy cannot decide who of us will be happy."
Adam Michnik: "Democracy does not just solve everything. Democracy offers freedom and basic civil rights. But democracy cannot decide who of us will be happy."

Adam Michnik, the editor in chief of Poland's "Gazeta Wyborcza" and a leading member of the Polish democratic opposition from 1968 to 1989, was in Prague this week to attend a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. He spoke to Irina Lagunina of RFE/RL's Russian Service about Russia, the West, and the post-Soviet letdown felt in the former Eastern bloc countries.

On Russia and the fate of the former Soviet bloc countries, 20 years after communism:

"In all of our [postcommunist] countries there is a tendency toward our own kind of Putinism. What is Putinism? Putinism, according to [chief Kremlin ideologue Vladislav] Surkov, is a sovereign democracy. A sovereign democracy means that I am the sovereign; I can imprison all my opponents, in spite of Strasbourg, The Hague, or Brussels.

"When I was in Moscow, I went to court to watch the Khodorkovsky trial. It was a trial typical of the early days of Stalinism. Of course, not like in 1937; it was more like the Industrial Party trial. On the other hand, when I bought [the Russian newspaper] 'Vedomosti,' what did I see? An article written by Khodorkovsky, where he commented on a speech by [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev. This is not a normal authoritarian regime; it is something else. It is a mutant, I would say. Russia today is a mutant, a cross between an authoritarian regime and a democracy.

"With regard to our countries, this is not exactly a full-grown version of Putinism. It is a kind of Liliputinism. Look at Poland. We have had twins in power. That was a Polish version of Liliputinism. Look at Slovakia -- they have [Vladimir] Meciar, [Robert] Fico, [Jan] Slota. If you look at the Czech Republic, look at the president -- despite the slogans, the Czechs like him just as much as the Russians like Putin."

On the disappointment felt in post-Soviet countries that democracy has failed to cure all ills:

"Where does this disappointment come from? I would say we had a complex. We were good nations, very good people, but we lived under the Bolshevik, Soviet regime. And [we thought] if we got rid of that regime, we would become richer, make the same amount of money as people in the United States, enjoy the same social protection as people in Scandinavia, but continue working the same way we did under the old regime in Poland. This is a very difficult task. In this sense, we're out of luck. We have to start working differently. We will not be America or Scandinavia.

"But in the end, I think that 25 or 24 years after perestroika, the balance is absolutely positive, despite the fact that each of our countries has its own scandals, corruption, crime, and authoritarian tendencies. Compared to the Brezhnev years of stagnation, it is just a different world.

"After any revolution, the revolutionaries become disappointed after their victory. Because although they were the ones who had done the fighting, it was other people -- who were perhaps dishonest, who were thieves -- who came to power. That's life. Freedom and democracy are for everyone, not only for decent, heroic revolutionaries. Society has respect for decent, heroic revolutionaries for only the first five minutes after the revolution. Then it forgets them. And then it doesn't like them anymore.

"I don't think anyone should hold a grudge against democracy or society. There shouldn't have been any illusion that it would be a paradise. This is probably not a paradise, but it's not hell anymore.

"Many people -- perhaps fewer among dissidents or revolutionaries -- thought that if the pressure of a totalitarian police state was lifted, everything would be all right. It was not a utopia, but it was an illusion that democracy solves everything. Democracy does not just solve everything. Democracy offers freedom and basic civil rights. But democracy cannot decide who of us will be happy."

On Russian foreign policy:

"I think that the Caucasus and Moldova are great mistakes in the Kremlin's policy. I think this may be the result of an imaginary inferiority [complex] -- that now [the Kremlin] will show everyone who wears the pants in the family, and teach the damned Georgians and those traitors in Estonia a lesson. But realistically, looking at this complete nonsense, this policy will not bring anything good for Russia."

On dependence on the West:

"All of our countries have this trend that they blame foreigners for anything that goes wrong. At the time of the Soviet Union, of course, it was the Soviets, and now it's Brussels, with its dreadful conditions and standards. I have heard this from very serious people, for example, in Budapest. Maybe it is happening in Ukraine, too. Someone [in Ukraine] asked me: Why doesn't Europe support us? [My answer was]: What kind of support can there be when you're putting on the kind of theater performances like the war between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko? What can Paris, Berlin, or Warsaw do about it?"

Translation from Russian by Pavel Butorin

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