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In Tribute to Prime Minister Jan Olszewski

Jan Olszewski, Prime Minister of the Polish government elected by the people of Poland in first free elections after the demise of communism Published: February 8, 2019


In tribute to Jan Olszewski, Prime Minister of the Polish government who came to power as a result of the first free elections after the demise of communism. Prime Minister Jan Olszewski passed away in Warsaw on February 7, 2019 at the age of 88.

Attorney Jan Olszewski became Prime Minister of Poland on December 6, 1991, as a result of the first truly free elections in Poland. This historic moment took place after decades of desperate struggle for independence. Unfortunately, this triumphant moment of real independence and genuine representation was short lived. His government was brutally overthrown by communist henchmen on June 4, 1992.

Prime Minister Jan Olszewski talks with Prof. Andrzej Nowak in 1995.

In the book "Pillars of Independence" published by Bialy Kruk, Prof. Andrzej Nowak carries fascinating conversations with people who played key roles in Poland’s contemporary history. In 1995 Prof. Nowak carried out such discussion with Prime Minister Jan Olszewski. It is worth recalling this important conversation on the day of passing of Honorable Jan Olszewski, because many of the observations he made in this 1995 conversation are valid on the day of his passing in 2019.

His assessment of the developments in Poland are important today, especially in light of the growing cult of the so-called “first free elections of June 4, 1989.” Not only that these elections were not free but merely contractual, but also after a terrible initial loss by the Communists the election procedure was falsified. The following day, on the evening of June 5, Bronisław Geremek appeared on television and announced that in two weeks there would be a second round of elections so that (the old nomenclature) would be in the right proportion in the Sejm. "Pacta sunt servanda" - the pacts must be kept - Geremek announced. What kind of pacts the people asked?!

No one knew that at the round table negotiations representatives of the Solidarity Movement and the Church carefully selected by the communist agents agreed to share power with the communists in post-communist Poland. They made a secret pact on behalf of the nation and they keep it until now.

Below are excerpts from the conversation of two preeminent patriots, prof. Andrzej Nowak and Jan Olszewski, that took place in 1995:


Andrzej Nowak: In the last days in office, Prime Minister Olszewski posed a dramatic question: To whom does Poland belong? Can we answer this question today, referring to common perceptions in this matter? It is the common wisdom that the most influential force in various aspects of public life is the post-communist nomenklatura. On the other hand, there is talk about the Belvedere power center, that is Lech Wałęsa. Here, however, some people question this power center, arguing that in fact both the economic sphere as well as the army and police are still dominated by a purely post-communist element. There are also two other real centers of power in Poland - the Freedom Union and the Polish People's Party. How do you assess these forces? How can this whole system be changed?

Jan Olszewski: Formulating my question on June 4 [1992], I made it clear that the alternative exists. On one hand there is the former Communist nomenklatura, 'owners of People's Poland', and, on the other hand, the rest of the society. Today, from the perspective of these three years, (since the government overthrow), which divide us now, I would slightly modify this alternative.

Well, on one side is the whole "elite of the Round Table." This is not purely a communist nomenclature, former "reds." Partly included in this group is also the new nomenclature. The interests of both groups of the nomenclature converge more and more in the context of the process of economic transformation - overlapping through joint seizure of state property. At the moment it is clearly visible. Some lines in economic policy are convergent - and more and more - between representatives of the SLD (communists), representatives of the Freedom Union, the nomenclature group of PSL (peasant party), and a group affiliated with the President [Wałęsa]. And this is one wide block of the mentioned alternative. The second one is created by the rest of the Polish society, which is currently being pushed to the margins not only politically, but also socially and economically. If it were to last and shape the situation in Poland for the next couple of years, it simply threatens to consolidate a social system in which, on the one hand, we will have a very hermetic elite - 10, maybe 20 percent of the society – enriched by stilling the state property, and on the other hand the rest of the society - a poor, pushed to the margins, degraded even culturally. The political equivalent of such a state of society cannot be a democratic system. Obviously then it will be necessary to return to some form of authoritarian government. How far it will be the formula of the old PRL regime? The used up forms never come back the same way because they worked in a wider context that no longer exists. It will be a largely police system, but of a different type. This will undoubtedly be a new formula between the formula of Asian-led democracy and just an ordinary, overt dictatorship or illiberal democracy, covered with the appearance of a Latin-style democratic system. (...)

Everything indicates that we are now dealing with the formation of a new formula of this economic system, which arises mainly in Russia, but also in other post-Soviet countries. Such a formula of capitalism is sometimes called cryptocapitalism, but I would use a term that more closely matches the essence of things – this is mafia capitalism. The class of owners, that is, the former appropriated power apparatus, this time combines its functions of private property owners with continuing political power. In Russia, it can be exemplified with the figures who play a leading role in governing the country. The same mechanism will draw us into this system through the synergy of economic interests of the groups that currently govern Poland. This is the perspective in the worst case scenario.

How can it be reversed? I believe that there is a highly probable alternative in light of historical experience and the analysis of the existing state of affairs in Poland. We are already observing symptoms that the direction of the socio-economic change process occurring in Poland over the past six years is running out and is beginning to collide in a visible way with the barrier of social resistance. I believe that the last workers' demonstrations in Warsaw, the Ursus workers and Silesian miners, are such a first symptom. (...) In short, if we do not find a solution to this crisis, which is unfolding at the moment, in some form adapt democratic procedures, then the phase of social rebellion is inevitable. I do not see at the moment the possibility that this social unrest could be suppressed by the internal forces of this system. And external intervention is not yet possible. In this situation, such a rebellion would overthrow the system - we will have to deal with some sort of revolution. I would like this revolution to be as velvety as it was in the Czech Republic. The revolution will sweep this round table pact. This is obviously associated with enormous risk, with some costs. It would undoubtedly be better for us in every respect if we could solve this problem with democratic means. (...)

Prof. Nowak: The vision now drawn by you, the Prime Minister, has a strong historical foundation. This opens up the possibility of confronting the accusation, which is often advanced against you, that you are only thinking in historical categories that are already anachronistic and cannot reasonably describe today's reality. After all, the civilizational context of 1956 and 1995 is different. Is counting on social rebellion or revolution a manifestation of such anachronism? (...) Unpreparedness of the social side meant that each subsequent rebellion ended up with the takeover and the use of its fruits by one of the mafia groups inside the system, which does not change de facto for years. How to avoid such a situation? Is it avoidable at all? Can you find effective institutional support for such a rebellion?

PM Olszewki: Indeed, the civilizational context has changed very much, but above all, the economic, social and political context. Not so much, however, that certain phenomena occurring in the "past era" have completely lost their relevance to the present situation. (...) But here is the signal of something more, as it has always been in the past years of the People's Republic of Poland. In general, it signals the dissatisfaction of almost all social groups except the ruling layer. Today, this dissatisfied group consists of peasants, intelligence - largely those who work in state institutions. Most importantly, a group of dissatisfied people includes a new social group of Polish small entrepreneurs today. The current system also begins to hit this group, begins to discriminate against them. Can such a wave of rebellion be transformed into a constructive element of the new system? It can, however, the conditions for it are forming very slowly, but nevertheless are forming. The new political and intellectual elite of the country, has not only organizational forms, because it is always easier, but above all the program. Not just certain slogans, general ideas that the opposition has, especially the independence group of the democratic opposition in the eighties. It should be a concrete program for building a new state. (...)
We should create, as part of the presidential campaign, the organizational foundations of a new political formation that would be able to come up with a constructive proposal at a time when the wave of social rebellion will undermine the system. To finally use this social system to build a new system of the Polish economy, Polish statehood, I would even say something broader - to attract Poland to a new civilization system. Mentally and in social structures to a large extent we are stuck in the structures of real socialism. (...)
Prof. Nowak: Returning to the problem of the lack of tools for communication with the public, the lack of media that we could use to present this program, which is currently being prepared by the Prime Minister. How to pass it on to voters, how to make them aware of its relationship with your candidacy, how to prevent its manipulation by media-equipped competitors?

Yes, this "little thing" is necessary. In this respect, the post-communist system proved effective in 1993 and is still working. At the same time, it is not that we don’t have any arguments. First of all, we need to accumulate the intellectual potential strong enough to be able to spread. It cannot be just a political group program; it must be something broader. It seems to me that we are slowly going through such a framework of a wide base, also intellectual and cultural, for this program. (...) The second part: technical measures. How to get to the media, how to run it? I think, however, that we have some possibilities, provided that we really want to reach for them. At present there is, for example, a decentralized and still independent cable television network. These are millions of families and it is growing exponentially. Foreign corporations, not always of clear provenance, attempt to enter this market, and a fierce economic struggle for this market begins. These are our natural allies, if we reach to them - there are common interests here - they are consolidating at the moment. If we are able to create a solidarity here, we gain a great opportunity for influence. The same applies to a number of local radio stations, which are now trying to take over monopolists in this area. Finally, there is some Catholic media facilities - this is a huge force that our opponents will not be able to ignore.

Prof. Nowak: You are talking, Sir, about internal allies, which must be found and how to establish cooperation with them, but the Polish question also has an external context. I would like to talk about it at the end. How do you Mr. Prime Minister see the possibility of Poland regaining its proper place in Central and Eastern Europe, which due to its population, intellectual and economic potential, Poland should occupy, but which it seems to me Poland renounced in recent years? What kind of allies should we look for in this area? What are the threats?

Our geopolitical position is a curse for Poland, but also a chance. Because of the size of the nation, its certain social and economic strength, Poland represents an area that is in some way crucial and perhaps decisive for the situation in the entire region. Therefore, Poland should be treated as a very important player. So far, for sure the Russians are aware of this attribute of ours and the importance of the Polish element, but they are drawing only negative conclusions from it. There is a very firm course of Russian policy calculated to block Poland's initiatives. Russia is signaling to the outside world that this is an area they consider as at least partly the sphere of their interests, that these interests must be respected. In short, Russia grants Poland the status of a partially sovereign country, which proves that Russia is aware of the importance of this area, while not being able to break away from historically determined, and - in my opinion - completely anachronistic methods of influence.

The situation looks different on the western side. It seems that the only western country in which the significance of Poland is understood is Germany. If it could be assumed that Germany has already become part of the wider European system and that therefore they are our partner only to introduce us into this system, it would be a positive element. The perspective of the threat opens with the fact that at the moment the structure of Western Europe is still in a phase in which a moment of crisis, in a few or a dozen years or so, may destroy this system. Then we can face events that God knows where they will lead us. There is a traditional Russian policy that always is at play to break up a single camp in Western Europe. (...)

For us at the moment, the basic element is to enter as closely as possible into NATO structures, because, first of all, it is still a collective system in which all participants have a voice, and - most importantly - its main strength is still the United States. A country that has some broader interests here. If American policy could understand the importance of Poland in this area and would like to take it unto consideration, then we would find ourselves in a comfortable, somewhat comfortable situation. Will this happen? We must strive to achieve this goal. But there is a factor that we have not been able to use so far - the American Polonia. The American Jewish community shows "how to do it," how much can be gained from skillful and consistent lobbying in Washington.

The second direction for our policy is simply to seek help and support in creating solidary arrangements with those who are in a similar situation. Here is one point, key for Poland, which will decide on the future, what will be the system in this region and whether we will be able to maintain our independent position - that is Ukraine. If independence of Ukraine will be maintained, it will change automatically all the system formed for over 200 years in this part of Europe, or perhaps more broadly - throughout Europe. Of this, the West does not generally know. Polish politics and Polish politicians should therefore be a kind of promoter of the importance of this problem for the West. To some extent, some centers try to do it - unfortunately, they are still not decisive centers. Polish eastern policy should be focused on maintaining, almost at all costs, independent Ukraine, because it will in the long run decide about the independence of the Baltic countries, even Belarus and the entire system in Central and Eastern Europe. We can be here primarily advocates of the Ukrainian case towards the West, but also we should make some effort to overcome what is an authentic problem in our country, but in the face of the stake for which it is played is less important - the burden of historical events between Poland and Ukraine. If it works, in the second and third decade of the 21st century, we will find ourselves in a different, safer Europe that will provide Poland with the best possible conditions for development, which is a challenge for our nation and our state.


This conversation between Prof. Andrzej Nowak and Prime Minister Jan Olszewski took place in June 1995.


Source: Bialy Kruk https://bialykruk.pl/wydarzenia/rozmowa-andrzeja-nowaka-z-janem-olszewskim-w-polsce-trwa-elita-okraglego-stolu

Photo: Bialy Kruk