Today’s Raison d’Etat Is a Good Construction of Larger Structures. The Solution Is Continentalism: Interview with Lech Wałęsa

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Błażej Lenkowski: Mr President – both your 75th birthday and the 100th nniversary of Polish independence are prompting a deeper reflection on universal phenomena. I want to ask about the Polish raison d’etat – an important word that is often distorted by the ruling party today. What is the Polish reason of state today?

Lech Wałęsa: It depends on the times we live in and the challenges we face. When Poland was enslaved, the raison d’etat was the attempt to regain Poland’s freedom. In the relay of generations, fate gave us the conditions to abolish the divisions in Europe and the world, and at the same time, due to technology, gave the opportunity to build enlarged structures, like the European Union.

So today’s reason of state is taking part in building structures larger than a country. And there is no question whether to do it in the name of the raison d’état, but how to do it, to keep some of our experience and our personal achievements. But you cannot keep everything. When we make a move towards the transition from “state-country” thinking to “state-Europe”, we lose a few elements that simply do not match this. So today’s raison d’état is to start a good construction of larger structures and to think about what to keep and develop and what to “lose”.

BL: But today there is a strong narrative in Poland about patriotism identified with nationalism, which seems to contradict it.

LW: In the generation of my parents, the reason of the state was to fight the Germans, to fight the Soviets, because they used to fight our grandfathers. And in our generation it is to love the Germans, love the Russians, because you do not have to fight but build, to even out the levels of development over the old borders and to locate our compatriots so that they could make use of the whole world, and at the same time remember from what land they come from.

BL: I would like to ask about the European Union and its future.

LW: Sir, in order to create a “state-Europe”, there must be some people who fight for it, because it will not be done by itself. That is why we have described the EU as the economic equation of levels after that era of divisions.

And even if Hungary or the Poles managed to break it, a new union should be created, whose wisdom would rely on a simple principle of two lists – the duties and rights of everyone who joins.

BL: A common Europe is essential. But does the current European Union structure, according to you, have a long-term perspective?

LW: The era of divisions, borders, and systems ended mainly thanks to Poland. In fact, I am calling this time the era of the land – It was about borders, fighting for the land.

Then on the horizon appeared the age of intellect, information, globalization. It is such a separate era that it requires other programs and structures.

We are now in the moment between – one era has already ended, the other has not emerged in full yet. There is, therefore, a great discussion on how the new era should look like. And in my opinion, it’s good that there are figures such as Trump and Kaczyński, because they force us to discuss – they threaten and incite, which means that through these discussions we will be able to find a new solution. They have the right diagnosis, only their solution is completely wrong. So let us listen to what they say and give them better solutions.

There are three questions that I do not have an answer to: first, what should we choose as the foundation for this new construction? Each state had its foundations, its religions. We are now creating a common state, so what topics are common to all? It is important on what basis we will build Europe – some want it to be freedom, others – values, and so the discussion continues.

If we could agree on the foundation, then the question would be asked about the economic system. And if we continue this way of thinking, how will we deal with populism, demagogy, and political fraud on such a large scale? We need to find the answers to these three questions and try to sort this out.

BL: I just wanted to raise the topic of populists. To what extent should we enter into dialogue with them, give in to their pressure, and how much can we protect our own values?

LW: We should do what Rydzyk from Toruń does, that is, open microphones in all parties and organizations. Ministers should create schedules and open a social discussion on a given day. The EU minister could openly ask what he should work on to make Europeans’ lives better. He could explain what he is doing now and what will come of it. And now we have populists who talk nonsense and try to sell it to people. We should not give way to them, but communicate better.

Such an example, which I always recall, is the issue of anti-globalists. They gather in a city, they insult us, and then they pull out their cell phones and tell the world how they made us look stupid. The thing is, they should rather have pigeons, not cell phones, because this is a product of globalization and a bridge to the whole world. So if they do not want to participate, let them throw out the phones and breed pigeons.

The aircraft is another example of globalization. So we should only fly around Poland? Or we will not let our neighbors’ planes in?

BL: So, in your opinion, globalization is something good?

LW: It is neither good, nor bad. It depends on what programs and structures we will write into it: solidary, wise or good. But let’s focus on how to do it, because it is possible. Globalization is an irreversible phenomenon.

BL: Mr President, you have mentioned Toruń and therefore here comes my next question. In the roundtable structure of the Third Republic of Poland, the Catholic church was inscribed as a stabilizer of Polish democracy. You signed an informal pact in which the Church gained an influential position in the new political system in exchange for supporting a pro-Western and pro-democratic movement. It seems that it worked well for many years, while the Toruń trend, which has been growing within the Church for several years, has overturned this structure. Didn’t the Church terminate a certain roundtable agreement, ending a certain stage?

LW: The problem is that there are various discussions about what solutions will be best for us in the future, and a few people from the Church have joined in and are trying to do something. Again, let’s not talk about whether their solutions are good or bad, just let’s hear them, draw conclusions, and do something so that it works for the benefit.

The foundations of politicians and the Church actions can be similar. Let’s just make one condition – those from Toruń can work for our future lives, and we will work here and now. We can work on the same principles without creating conflicts.

BL: So a stronger division between the Church and state.

LW: Not really, it’s about hammering it to their heads – you’re working for our future lives, after death. And we’re working here and now, and these are not your fields, so do not interfere.

BL: Last night at European Forum for New Ideas I had the pleasure of listening to the three leaders of the opposition – Katarzyna Lubnauer, Barbara Nowacka, and Grzegorz Schetyna. Mr President, do you think that the three of them can really make a change, stop these bad political trends in Poland?

LW: They can stop them very quickly, but why do it. If we do not have an answer on what foundation, what system will we build, why do it? Maybe they will succeed, maybe not. It is a matter of asking the right questions and giving the right answers.

We – as an opposition – should now collect what the government undermines and make programs out of it. Therefore, when shaping Polish democracy, we wrote that the politicians elected by people have broad rights, but not to change systems, courts or science. For such things they must ask once again, this is what the Constitution is for.

We currently have bad laws on many matters. That’s why we should pick up what’s wrong and sort it out so that no one would do anything stupid again. And as we will have these proposals, we should push for a change. We cannot change anything without prior arrangement of such issues. Political parties should enable the work on programs.

BL: When you look at the social moods in Poland, what do you consider the most important matters, the most important things to do today?

LW: I have no answer to this question. For each person something else is important and we differ in many things. However, almost everyone would like to live in peace and prosperity, and this is possible if we set the system well; if we discuss well and choose the right people who will not lie, like these present authorities. At least they are useful for pointing out things that we need to change in the Polish law.

BL: I also wanted to ask about the value of credibility in politics. It seems that in Poland the truth has ceased to have meaning at all and everything can be said. How to fight it?

LW: We should have a culture of freedom of speech in Poland, but also a responsibility for it. It means that when someone lies, he should lose public support. If the prime minister is lying, he should not be the prime minister. That would be on the list of rights and duties – freedom, but also responsibility for your words. If we arrange it well, we can handle what is happening now.

BL: What solution do you consider the best for Europe?

LW: The European Union was created in opposition to communism and we built it that way. Now we need some novelty and here the question arises – should we renovate the EU or should we destroy it and set a new one?

The three largest countries in the EU – Germany, France, and Italy – should be prepared for a change. Primarily, the need for a change results from the fact that the rights and obligations of the members of the European Union should be redefined.

BL: And should the European project be further opened – for example to Ukraine?

LW: The old age has divided us terribly, but actually God has given us the whole world. Maybe in the next decades the doctors will prove that if you want to live a long and healthy life, you should not live in Poland for more than 5 years. And then everyone would have their own route. No longer some would sunbath their whole lives as others would not take their clothes at all because of the cold, but everyone would spend a few years elsewhere. So it could be that way, but all these divisions into countries and systems…

We have also included religions for which we fight and die for. We are now slowly leaving this state, but the systems still need to be refined. And it is not difficult at all. After all, what we have already done in Europe is inconceivable. My father died in the war with the Germans, and today we are in friendship. It’s great. If I could tell him today: “Dad, you were killed by the Germans and now we removed the border. Dad, there are no soldiers on the border “, he would die for a second time – this time of a heart attack. Because how is it possible?

Our progress is already big – for example, you can work almost anywhere in Europe. But we have reached the wall – because we don’t know what foundation, what system we should have. When we do not have solutions, demons wake up. Some go back to the idea of closing the borders, but it does not correspond with the development. Brexit happened because the politicians did not make it on time with the solutions.

BL: We are to celebrate a centenary anniversary of iPolish ndependence. There was a very controversial slogan: “100 years is enough.” What kind of EU should we create?

LW: Our system is aging fast. Our grandchildren will stop paying taxes for the monuments built according to the principle “who killed more, he has more monuments”, because they will not understand why people used to destroy instead of building. They will not understand what is happening in the world right now. For them, a wise compromise and development will be natural.

And that’s why we have to look at it from a distance – this is what our era is all about. Let’s not set too large monuments of the EU, but also let’s not mourn it – it’s a time of inappropriate solutions, but it was necessary to survive them to draw conclusions.

BL: So, what concept of sovereignty should we fight for?

LW: Today’s solution is continentalism. We have to think about how to build it, to make it better, smarter, more just. The age of nation-states is over. Neither Brexit, nor Trump will change it in the long run.

BL: So we should build the future of Poland in the European Union.

LW: Actually, there is no Poland now – there is Poland in Europe, there is Europe. You know, to understand this, let’s take the example of the Mazowsze song a dance band that works well in Poland. In the same way, we will need a song and a dance band called “Poland” in Europe.

Current identities will remain, but they will be more and more of a museum in nature. We must accept that everything cannot be stopped and our identity is more and more both Adam and Eve.

The article was originally published in Polish at:

Translated by: Marek Lewoc

Edited by: Joanna Kwiatkowska