Why Am I Involved in Politics: Interview with Janusz Palikot

What is politics for you?

I understand politics in a traditional way and according to Aristotle’s definition I perceive it as a service for common welfare together with all ambitions and everything that is connected with being a politician in the modern world. The value of a politician is the ability to serve for common welfare’s sake.

Does such politics exist in Poland?

I know that for many people politicians are populists. They follow opinion polls, make declarations, which are to increase the support for their parties. There are not many politicians who face the fact that people think in a different way and do not want to flatter them, who are ready to take the consequences. In real actions it looks like that: a politician is good when he or she comes up with a demand although they know that most people will be against it when they persist in their ideas and encourage this majority to change their minds.

Janusz Korwin-Mikke is such a person. 20 years ago he stated that he would be able to encourage Poles to follow his views. And we have to admit that he is rather steady in his opinions, he changes his mind only sometimes. We cannot call it politics, can we?

Let’s take an example of Balcerowicz, who turned from Finance Minister into the leader of a party. He did it, but very often he had to act against the majority and dispute with it.

I do not agree completely. Leszek Balcerowicz ended up in politics with great tools, and at the end of 1989 he got dictatorial power and actually he did not encourage anybody.

That is true, but I am talking about this second period after 1997 when – as the leader of the Freedom Union – he obtained a great result in Silesia, he was a candidate who discussed with people. He was the spokesperson of the whole campaign. He learnt not only how to smile but also how to listen to others and enter into discussion. He obtained a great result. The Freedom Union got I guess 13% of votes. It was a total surprise, bearing in mind the troubles of this party after Balcerowicz replaced Mazowiecki.

We can list many names, starting with Kuroń and Mazowiecki, who were courageous enough not to flatter people’s likings. It is not only the Freedom Union’s that should take the credit, but also Polish politics, especially from the ‘90s. In my opinion, in the ‘90s not only Korwin-Mikke, but also such people from the Christian National Union as Marian Piłka or Marek Jurek and Stefan Niesiołowski also picked up difficult subjects although they also had their faults. I have never agreed with them; their ideas were not in line with my views, but it has to be admitted that they were devoted people. Leszek Miller and Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) represent breaking up with the devotion to their ideas. Leszek Miller was a great, effective and fantastic Prime Minister. However, we should respect him for creating a “mechanism” called SLD and succeeding with it. It was he who transformed party’s actions into a “mechanism” in which ideas are meaningless, and that is what we regret. Now, politics is more professional, but it also lost its Aristotelian meaning.

What does this professionalism of today’s politics you have mentioned consist of?

It consists of various things. Firstly, public grants stabilised the position of those parties which keep a minimal machinery with small and basic research institutions. Secondly, the management of communication processes has changed a lot. Every party, even the weakest one, has a media marketing team. Thirdly, we should take into consideration the increasing number of legal documents, social and political projects. Constituency offices work in a better way than in the ‘90s. In this respect, parties have become more professional. However, we still do not have a good level of social consulting and the way of engaging people into politics, which should be happening continuously not only before elections. I also think that we do not deal with the demons which haunt Poland in the right way. Our society and mentality need modernising, which of course – according to politicians – interferes with gaining popularity.

You have just said one interesting thing. What is the role of politics and the Sejm in modernising our mentality?

I will give the example from my own experience – putting Anna Grodzka forward for the position of Vice-Marshal of the Sejm or placing her in the first row in the Sejm. That is the modernisation I think about. We all know that a small percentage of our society accepts it. That is why we do not have any chance of winning; if only this criterion was taken into account. Actually, the whole history of Palikot’s Movement is based on such a way of thinking.

It is not a secret that your opponents consider you a man of happenings. Not a man of work, politics, but a man of happenings. Putting Anna Grodzka forward for a position of Vice-Marshal of the Sejm had no chances of success, not only for reasons relating to customs, but also for purely political reasons. Wasn’t it a kind of a happening?

No! Wanda Nowicka here, in this room, promised me and Anna Grodzka that she would hand in her resignation. It is difficult to assume the ill will of the Vice-Marshal of her own party. She promised us all, the whole presidium, and confirmed her decision on the club’s session. We all had strong grounds to assume that she would resign, that is why Anna decided to run for this office. We were talking and debating what would happen if e.g. Środa encouraged Wanda Nowicka not to resign. At that time, I kept saying that thanks to this situation, Anna Grodzka’s otherness and strangeness, we managed to draw media’s attention for two weeks.

I think that the media got acquainted with this subject when Anna Grodzka became a deputy. Do your people do something apart from showing themselves in the media?

Of course, they do. I will tell you about it when I finish talking about Anna Grodzka. At weekends I cook by myself and buy essential products, that is why I am very often on different markets in Lublin and Suwałki. It is a great opportunity to carry out real research in focus groups; they are even better than the official ones. At the time when the case of Anna Grodzka was well-known people kept coming up to me and asking about her, sometimes they used a bit rude expressions such as “bint” or “hunk”. But everyone wanted to talk about it and three months earlier we hadn’t had such a situation. That is why I think that something has changed. I do not mean that Poland will become an open country straight away, but it is enough to look at an increasing acceptance of civil partnerships, including homosexual partnerships. What do we do apart from showing ourselves in the media? We go through whole Poland. But not only. We have also prepared three pillars of economic programme: one of them was presented on 1st May. In September last year, in Krynica, we presented the amount of 50 billion for initiating the Plan of Changes, that is, 11 bills formulated together with Prof Modzelewski.

Together with Law and Justice expert?

Modzelewski has prepared some acts for Law and Justice party. He has also worked for us and prepared bills together with a big, six-person team. We have also prepared 21 demands for small and medium enterprises presented during an economic congress in Kraków. We have gone with this programme through the whole Poland. We have prepared 16 small congresses; the latest took place in Szczecin. Now we are visiting the capitals of ex-voivodeships. We are travelling around Poland telling people what these 21 bills include, e.g., a company on a trial basis, quiet consent, the change in payments for sick leave.

Dear deputy, it is a great PR movement. If we were to evaluate triggering a discussion on some topics, you are doing great, but you are a member of parliament, so the question is: “When will it bring any effect?” Please, do not tell me that it will happened when Palikot’s Movement has support of 50% of those voting. Elections justify happenings, but now – when you are a parliamentary club – your job is not to visit Suwałki or Szczecin, but to create projects and gain majority of votes. Is Palikot’s Movement ready to talk to other parties to get bigger support for its projects?

We have filed 77 bills and it is the highest number among all parliamentary clubs. Law and Justice has filed fewer than 70 bills, Democratic Left Alliance about 50, Civic Platform fewest of all. We have created the biggest number of projects; it is an impressive number taking into account the fact that Palikot’s Movement has been in the Sejm for barely one term. Among projects which are worth mentioning, there is a change of the procedure in preparatory proceedings formulated by Prof. Piotr Kruszyński, or a change of the Act of prosecutor’s office, but our projects concern many issues.

But what I mean is the effect. You have more than 15 deputies, you can file any number of projects concerning many different issues. But there is a question: “What effect will it have on me as a citizen?”

You can also ask this question to Law and Justice and Democratic Left Alliance …

If I have a chance, I will ask them this question. Now I am talking to you.

…because neither Law and Justice, Democratic Left Alliance, nor Palikot’s Movement managed to force any of our projects through.

But I think it is easier to do it for Palikot’s Movement than for Law and Justice, isn’t it?

No, it is just the opposite, because we are a real threat to Civic Platform, not to Law and Justice. Fourteen of our bills were seconded by Democratic Left Alliance, 6 by Law and Justice and some by United Poland. Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Party didn’t second any of them – the coalition does not second any of our projects.

The Freedom Union, which had 12% in the parliament, in the times of Democratic Left Alliance-Polish People’s Party coalition’s governance (I mean 1993-1997) could, thanks to the ability to cooperate, force at least some bills through.

To start with, the Freedom Union enjoyed an incredible respect and a complete media’s support. The Left, especially Kwaśniewski, wanted to “clear” themselves thanks to the cooperation with the Freedom Union. But it was a different kind of historical moment, just after the change in the system and the atmosphere was completely different.

We agreed with Tusk upon some issues: firstly, upon the valorisation of the thresholds entitling to a benefit from social help – and in fact the government raised these thresholds by PLN 37 (it is of course not enough because we agreed upon PLN 70). According to the government, it improved the accessibility of social help to 200 thousand people. Secondly, we agreed upon a fund amounting to PLN 350 million. The fund was created and the government spent PLN 100 million to create places in nurseries. It is of course inadequate to our efforts, but it must be admitted that the chances to find a place in a nursery have increased. The third demand of Palikot’s Movement, which Tusk promised to put into practice, is examining people after 60 if they are fit to work (with respect to the reform of pension age).

In 2003, Civic Platform suggested introducing terms of offices in local governments: you can be a mayor or a councillor for two terms and later on take on a completely different position, e.g. change the position of a councillor into the position of a mayor, but you cannot be a councillor for three and more terms. We reminded everyone of this demand and filed our own project. But of course Civic Platform did not second it.

It is not shocking that Polish politicians are not consistent in their actions; it is quite common.

If we suggest a project, which Civic Platform itself had written on its banners, financing a party from the budget…

I have meant rather the question whether Palikot’s Movement – apart from undoubted talent in the scope of political marketing and PR – has also the abilities to work in the Sejm. You have partially answered this question, but not in full.

I have just one thing to add – I am not sure whether in Poland it is more important to pick up the issues that are being discussed or to force acts through. I mean, for example, civil partnerships. I keep telling the members of our party that we as Palikot’s Movement, thanks to imposing subjects, have the real power.

Do you believe that a word repeated very often becomes a reality in time? You mentioned the issue of civil partnerships, which for us – for our magazine and environment – was important. The number of bills showed that no attempt to reach a compromise was made. I think you will agree with me that parliamentary politics is all about reaching compromises. Even you and Civic Platform members, who were for legalising the institution of civil partnership, were not unanimous.

First of all, we filed a common bill together with Democratic Left Alliance. We engaged in far-reaching conversations with Dunin. As you know, there were two bills of Civic Platform, one of them was very conservative, the second one more liberal. I met this liberal group some times, Biedroń met them many times. Although even this so called liberal (for Civic Platform) bill didn’t satisfy us, we seconded it. Though it is actually quite conservative. It seemed that we would reach an agreement, yet Tusk called to vote for Dunin’s bill and he voted for him himself. You can resent Tusk not me because of the fact that Gowin and the group of conservatives outplayed everybody. Civil partnerships were the thing we agreed upon. This is an example of a situation when we thought we would have admittedly minor, but still, a majority of votes.

You have been engaged in politics since 2005, you are the leader of your party. Do you look up to any present or historical political leaders?

Let me come back to the Freedom Union. That kind of over-ideological activity is an unattainable model. Especially Henryk Wujec, from whom I differ because he is a conservative, Christian and pro-church politician. I remember him from the ‘90s; we come from the same town – Biłgoraj. We used to meet. He was a deputy then and used to come here very often. He used to visit enterprises and brought with him people who helped us establish the Biłgoraj Land Fund.

You know, this is a nice story, but Henryk Wujec has never been a leader of a party. He has always been a very effective politician of the Freedom Union, the secretary of the parliamentary club, but not a leader. I asked who you look up to as a leader, whose achievement and actions you appreciate.

Without doubt, Kwaśniewski, for his project of constitution. There were some other leaders like Mazowiecki, but without a great participation of Kwaśniewski this project would have turned out to be a failure.

Of course, some settlements could be more libertarian and the secularity of the country should be more clearly defined, but this is a project of historical importance.

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This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

I would like to find out more about this role model. Maybe someone from more remote past? Let’s run away from the contemporary times for a while.

For me, politicians such as Piłsudski or Dmowski are outdated. In contemporary world, there is no point in referring to them. In the case of Pericles or other Greek democrats, it is more about philosophical issues rather than political ones. If I had to choose from among politicians, who are active now or used to be active some time ago, without doubt I would list Kwaśniewski because of his ability to cross the limits; it can be stated that he is a master of reaching compromises. I would also choose Henryk Wujec for his social devotion and his organic work. Maybe I would also list Tusk – mainly for something that is said to be my shortcoming, that is, for his incredible marketing and PR talent. His team was the first to overcome these crises which were impossible to overcome either by Democratic Left Alliance, Solidarity Electoral Action or any other party. And the list of scandals in the times of Civic Platform governance is as follows: scandal in Wałbrzych, hazardous scandal, Amber Gold case, the tapes of the Polish People’s Party, Sawicka’s case …

There was also a scandal connected with financing the election campaign in Lublin.

Exactly. And this party managed to overcome nearly all these problems, even if Schetyna or someone else had to be thrown away.

I am asking about these role models because maybe in this way I will find out why you are engaged in politics.

To make Poland a more modern country.

Now you do not treat me and for sure the readers seriously. It is obvious that everyone is engaged in politics to make Poland stronger and richer. Janusz Palikot, who used to be a member of a conservative-liberal party, introduced himself as a conservative, later on created a party which is not conservative at all. Why are you really engaged in politics? What do you want to achieve within 2, 5 or 10 years?

When I was in Civic Platform I was a liberal not a conservative. I have always been in a liberal section. When it comes to my goals, first of all – at the European level – I would like a faction of European Federation Followers to be created. I would like us to make a mutual effort together with European socialists towards a better integration.

Actually, nobody apart from you and your co-workers mentions federalists. Europe Plus is to create a strong Polish representation among socialists, which will allow Aleksander Kwaśniewski to play an important role. 

Poland – no matter if thanks to federalists or socialists – has to be a part of the main stream of European integration, which is being defined anew. It turned out that the present construction didn’t stand the test of time. Now we need a better Fiscal Pact, a more precise bank union to make euro a real currency and it takes more serious political decisions. The case will be settled between German elections in autumn 2013 and the next French elections in 2015. At that time elections to the European Parliament will take place. This time is extremely essential. And so is whether Poland will have a date of the adoption of the euro. I am for the adoption of a common currency, I think it should take place in 2015-2017. I would like Poland to be in the commanding centre. It has chances to be there.

Then you should strengthen the people’s faction, because it makes decisions…

But they are not the followers of federalism. Actually, we do not know what will happen after the next election. When we look at elections in Italy, let alone elections in France, it can be noticed that a social democratic or left-wing wave is approaching. In any case it isn’t the wave of Christian democracy. Elections in Germany will be important. Everything indicates that Merkel is going to win, but the question “who will be her coalition partner?” has not been answered yet. This answer cannot have a profound effect on Christian Democratic Union’s views, also the ones concerning European issues.

Correct me if I am wrong, but there are no deputies of Europe Plus among liberals or federalists, but there are among socialists.

Of course, Kwaśniewski – if he decides to run for election – will be attracted towards socialists, so we may end up among socialists. Anyway, socialists, if they keep a strong position, will need liberals and the greens to create a coalition in European Parliament in the issues concerning federalism. Common European army, English as official language etc. The work on Eurobonds to finance public debt on the same terms in every country is a task for years. If you ask me what is important in politics for me, my answer is: one day I would like to see Europe which is one political organism. In Poland we lack social capital and all actions we undertake, the whole fight against foreclosure, come to creating a social capital beyond religious bonds. The religious bonds in Poland are among the biggest barriers and obstacles in creating social bonds. That is why we should change pedagogic system both in primary and secondary schools. It is essential to change this extreme liberalism and individualism into community education, which consists in such a solution that some students take an exam at the same time, do their homework together, students should work more in groups. That is what we lack. It can be seen in all social confrontations. It is noticeable that we lack this social capital, that it has to be created, but it requires a completely different way of education.

Dear deputy, there is a discrepancy when you talk so much about creating a social capital and at the same time you are in conflict with everyone, at least from media point of view. You are creating Europe Plus in a way which is not understandable to the voter. Why isn’t Leszek Miller in this socialistic circle? Even if you say that Miller is a difficult partner, still I will not regard it as a good explanation.

Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who is the spokesperson of Europe Plus, suggested during the well-known meeting in the Sobański Palace that Leszek Miller should take part in this project. Miller refused to cooperate with Kwaśniewski and did not regard him as a partner. The truth is, that after many months he stated that Democratic Left Alliance was ready to cooperate with the ex-president but it happened under the pressure that Europe Plus started to be created. Maybe one more year of such a pressure and Leszek Miller will be on the Europe Plus lists, maybe not him personally, but members of Democratic Left Alliance.

Mr. Palikot, you are telling me about the idea of Europe, with which I would eagerly agree, but when we get down to brass tacks, it turns out that we have a “Brown Robert” as a candidate. Is it really impossible to do without Kwiatkowski? This is the centre of the Rywin affair, the centre of “a group holding power.” Firstly, like in a poker game, everyone keeps their cards close, but later on they are on the table. On one hand, Robert Kwiatkowski  is your full on aces, but on the other hand Ryszard Kalisz as a representative of female movements. Can’t you see a discrepancy here?

Let’s have a respect for the historical role of Robert Kwiatkowski at that time, in the times of Miller’s Democratic Left Alliance and Belka governance. The case is unsettled yet. Kwiatkowski has sued Poland to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and is claiming his rights there, no final verdict has been passed yet.

Right, even if we put aside the Rywin affair, it cannot be denied that Kwiatkowski was a villain for many years. Let’s make it clear – he is not the Maid of Orleans…

But he is not the founder of our project.

Mr. Palikot, we will not be able to vote for Alesander Kwaśniewski in every constituency. In the West Pomeranian constituency people will be able to vote for Robert Kwiatkowski. With all respect for Kwiatkowski, I do not want to make fetish out of him, but I have a feeling that there will be many more people like Robert Kwiatkowski on the lists and many fewer people like Aleksander Kwaśniewski.

There will be such candidates as Robert Biedroń, you will see. Firstly, six women and six men on a one sheet, secondly there will be as many so called “old boys” as new faces.

But what does the situation look like when it comes to other women? There are four of them in the club. Parity, the “zip[1]” and four women? Additionally, the ones who do not appear in the media apart from Grodzka and Nowicka. Why is it like that?

It is because the media invites a certain person and we have nothing to do about it. As you know we have no influence on who is invited to the programmes of Rymowski or Olejnik. They just think that Biedroń is cool.

So everything is alright with these women in your party?

There are as many women as there are and they are the way they are. We always encourage journalists to invite women. This is not only the problem of Palikot’s Movement.

But you have it written on your banners. If Law and Justice party does not use the parity or the “zip”, nobody is surprised – their spokesperson is Jarosław Kaczyński and maybe some other deputies.

But you know that neither the “zip” nor the parity guarantees that the media will invite certain deputies. If, starting with the next campaign, also in party’s leadership, we will have as many women as men, then after some terms, a woman taking part in election will have the same chances as a man.

So, tell me why Ryszard Kalisz is a representative of women rights in Europe Plus? I think he is a man, not a woman.

This was Aleksander Kwaśniewski’s idea.

I cannot believe he doesn’t know any nicer women.

I am sure he does, but he treated it as another chance to engage Democratic Left Alliance into this project and Miller reacted to it sharply and turned it into a war against Kalisz.

I guess it did not make the situation better.

But it was Kwaśniewski’s idea. I warned that Miller would rather get rid of Kalisz from Democratic Left Alliance than we would manage to encourage him to cooperate with us.

People from your environment very often reproach Democratic Left Alliance that they are stiff, especially with Leszek Miller in the forefront. You introduce yourselves as a new, better left wing. Could you tell us how are preparations for 90th birthday of Jaruzelski going?

Ask Aleksander Kwaśniewski – he is the president of the Committee of Honour.

But you are also on this committee.

Your statement reflects the poor situation of the media. I am one of forty people – from Wiatr, through to the head Kuźnica in Kraków.

Mr. Palikot, even if you were one of 40 thousand people there, in a situation when your party talks about the stiffness of the left wing, from which it wants to dissent, it is difficult to show bigger attachment to the People’s Republic of Poland than by being on the committee celebrating the birthday of the dictator of martial law. I cannot imagine anther, more obvious proof of the side you take in this dispute.

But, on the other hand, he created the round table, he was the president of our country after regaining independence, this is a person, who didn’t lead to excessive bloodshed after the change in the system.

Do you know what it sounds like: “he didn’t lead to excessive bloodshed”?

Wait a minute. I mean something else, I agreed to be one of these 40 people and I play a minimal role there, I am more an advisor. I am on the committee for one reason. In the times when people walk with brands and want to set fire to Poland, people who are not aggressive take part in these meetings. I think that such gestures of reconciliation and consolidation are needed and it does not change my objection against martial law, especially against the things that happened after martial law. But today, before creating ghettos by the right wing, Poland needs gestures, which connect.

It is difficult for me to agree that the right answer to brands on the streets is a gesture towards a man because of whom these streets were full of tanks. I will dare to be a bit mean. In your interview for “Gazeta Wyborcza” from 2005, I found such an answer to the question about the bond with children: “[…] I think that I have a great contact with my sons, I will tell you a joke […]. Some days ago my sons texted me such a message, knowing that I had not been there for some days: “Jaruzelski died, the funeral will take place in Lublin”, it was before 31st of August. I texted them back: “It is so ice of him to do it for the 25th anniversary of creating Solidarność, it is a real reconciliation”.

To some extent I still agree with that. My presence on the committee is a great example of the aptness of this joke.

If I heard news that it was a funeral committee and you took part in, I would really consider it a convention.

I wish president Jaruzelski as much health as possible, but I am afraid that it will be the last celebration of his birthday. He is not in a good shape.

Which communistic leader would you also grace with your presence on such a committee? Gierek, Gomułka, Bierut, Ochab, Kania?

No, we have nothing in common. They are quite awful creatures.

Only Jaruzelski?

Jaruzelski was a man who led to the sittings of the round table; he was the first president after 1989. If Wałęsa makes a fool of himself with his recent scandalous statements, does it mean that we have to hit him with everything we have at hand?

Martial law decree was real verbal antics.

In a sense, we should take care of Wałęsa in the same way we have to – respecting our own country – respect Jaruzelski as the former president of Poland. Although we have a lot to impute to him. I bear the biggest grudge against him because of the fact that in the ‘80s he didn’t carry out any reforms although he could have.

So he didn’t do what later on Tusk dreamed about, mainly to reform the economy with a limited democracy. The democracy in the Times of Jaruzelski was limited to zero level.

Some communistic leaders like Kádár in Hungary made history because they carried out economic reforms. If Jaruzelski had had enough courage after martial law to carry out these reforms, he would be a great person now.

Do you know that there are people in Lublin who are convinced that you began your political activity in Law and Justice party and that you agreed upon it with deputy Kruk on a local level, but the interference “from above” prevented you from starting this activity?

You are referring to the coalition with Law and Justice, not with the Polish People’s Party in provincial assembly.

I am talking about your individual decision. You are said to have tried to enter Law and Justice party before becoming a deputy of Civic Platform.

No. Never ever. My word of honour. Nobody from Law and Justice party has ever offered me anything. Before I became active in politics, I was an enemy of Law and Justice. It will not change, no matter what. For sure I have changed my views – in 2005 I wasn’t anticlerical. Here, everything changed radically. It can be explained by what happened in 2010. What has always characterised my activity were actions towards social capital and the fight against foreclosure. It binds business and political periods in my life. Independently of – as you have called it – giving liberals or the generation of John Paul II a wink. There are still some issues which will not change. But I emphasise it once again that I have never had anything to do with Law and Justice party.


Janusz Palikot – politician, deputy, former businessman, founder and leader of Palikot’s Movement, former member of Civic Platform.


Editing: Noemi Witczak vel Frontczak

Translation: Anita Stradomska

Proof – reading: Katarzyna Różańska

[1]The “zip” – zipped lists; the proposal of Palikot’s party of alternate arrangement of men and women on ballot lists for the Sejm and in local elections (przyp. tłum.)