Wiesław Górnicki, 20. 5. 1987, Warsaw, Poland

Questions to the narrator


Location Warsaw, Poland
Date 20. 5. 1987
Length 30:35

Watch and Listen

Full video (mp4, 30 min)
Preview video (mp4, 0 min)
Audio track (mp3, 30 min) Show player

TranscriptPlease note that this transcript is based on audio tracks and doesn't have to match exactly the video

Recently the Polish Government is taking initiative and with the aim of getting rid of nuclear weapons from Europe eventually. Do you think that the government, the Polish government would eventually like to see a sort of neutralised Central Europe as its ultimate objective?

Well, this depends upon what you mean by the word ‘neutralisation’. This recent Polish plan, which is third in a series, and the series is already thirty years old… The first plan of that sort that we suggested, was presented to the European public and European diplomacy in 1957. This plan cannot be understood without our recent history. We happen to live on a huge open plain. Just downtown Europe, so to say. And it’s a very central heart of Central Europe. Poland would be the very first country to lost everything in case of either deliberate or accidental nuclear attack. I'm not referring here to a full-fledged nuclear thermonuclear Holocaust, but even to a smaller, accidental, local and geographically limited incident. That's why we have no vested interest whatsoever in any situation, which perpetuates the temporary and unsavoury arrangements which rule or dominate now European politics. On the other hand, if neutrality means actual renunciation of any territorial claim, sufficient international guarantees, not written on paper but factual, and restoration of whatever was still left of Europe, then I think this is an idea which we would be willing at least to stream in this direction. Now, if neutrality means unilateral disarmament, certainly we're not in favour of it. We've got enough lessons in the past and may I remind you that Poland is the only, the only and single country of nowadays Europe to which territorial claims are publicly presented. I cannot pretend that I don't read newspapers and that I'm deaf as far as certain speeches in certain parliaments are concerned. I don't want at this occasion to engage into empty polemics, but let me say since you touched the subject, let me let me point out that the West of Europe, and I refer mostly to NATO countries, headed very good for last few decades. There was no need for imagination. We have a new tribe of disarmament specialists using even special jargon which is hardly accessible to most men in the street, even to newspaper readers. But there is no progress. I myself, I was quite hopeful ten years, twelve years ago after the final Act of Helsinki was concluded. But what was left was a very specific interpretation of Basket 3, while there is zero progress in Basket 1. And actually involutionary development in Basket 2. The point of our plan is of course peddle our own national interests. That's quite obvious. I don't think our national interest is contrary to real interests of other countries, but on the other hand, there is something in the background of it. This is our contribution to what I would like to describe as a need for new thinking, new atmosphere. Now, finally, breaking these ice blocks, which accumulated for last fourty years.

I would like to pick you up on that because… in a different context. And that is to remind you that recently there were some opinion polls, opinion polls which were carried out in Poland, which showed that there was a great deal of support for the army and the Church, but much, much less support for the Communist Party here. Now, after fourty years of socialism here, how do you explain that?

First of all, when I was in school, I was taught that there is a good old principle of Oxford University and it’s: “Gentlemen do not do not discuss facts. They discuss opinions.” I do not challenge the result, very strange sometimes for foreigners, of the public opinion polls that you're referring to as far as the army and the Church are concerned. That's easily explainable. Our history, particularly in 19th century, gives an answer why those two institutions are somehow deeply embedded in our hearts and minds. Now, when it comes to the Communist Party, I would first of all not rely on a very, first of all, dubious and very brief period. I cannot deny that such a reaction was conceivable, say, in 1980, when Polish shops were empty and even working people had enough grounds to be, well, to say the least, dissatisfied. But it is not much of an argument because if you would ask the basic Polish working masses, what do they think about the Party in late 40s after the peasants, for the first time in six hundred years, got the land they were dreaming of taken from the feudal landlords. Their workers, which suddenly became full-fledged citizens… I fully realise that some of my arguments in that respect may be not very convincing for the British audience, but I happen to be myself an example of a very fresh revolution that took place in our society. Well, I come from a very poor, very humble workers’ family and I had no slightest chance in a previous period to be a university graduate. Well, it's living conditions, as you know housing is quite a problem in Poland, but it is a very serious problem because a new apartment, a new flat, must be equipped with a bathroom with hot water, with running water. Now, this was not the case for about seventy percent of Polish workers before World War II.

But given that achievement, that which I accept, what is the reason for the unpopularity of the Party, which culminated in the crisis we went into now?

I believe the party was not fast enough in adapting itself, both its style of work and its programme, to the changes which were brought about by the process of education, by the revolution of rising expectations. This is a process of adaptation of institutions and ideologies which is not only our specialty. I may refer to institutions like, I don't know, Roman Catholic Church, after all, Conservative Party in Britain or even Labour Party in Britain. The roads that the Labour took from the early Fabian Societies to the Labour in the 30s and then to, I don't know, Mr. Bevin as Prime Minister is also an evidence that parties do adapt. Institutions do adapt. This is precisely what we have done.

But if the party was adapting to the new circumstances of the more educated and complex society, why was it necessary to impose martial law in 1981? Why couldn’t the Party be allowed to get on?

Well, here we are coming again. I mean, almost any question of a little bit broader scope that you may ask in Poland – actually, it doesn't matter whom you ask this question – must sooner or later come back to the historical roots. I'm not aware that the British audience knows that parliamentary democracy in the Western meaning of the word was in operation in Poland only for eight years, 1918, as soon as we regained our independence after a 125 years of slavery and partitions, and 1926, when a military coup d’etat was necessary to reestablish order. You know, democracy, let me quote Winston Churchil, “is the worst form of government except all others.” Now, the joke is the “except all others.” Now, what I, when I put emphasis on is “the worst form of government.” Why is it the worst? Because it needs several generations of training. Actually what we had throughout this 16 months was hardly reminding of democracy. It was occasionally full, full anarchy. In some other cases it was on the verge of anarchy. I was at that time not yet employed by the government. I was advisor to the government’s negotiators during all negotiations with Solidarity and, well, I'm the best conceivable witness of this side to tell you that this was a lost opportunity. Now, from the perspective of several years, it's practically irrelevant what could have been done, what could… what was necessary, but the fact is that Poland was not only going, but galloping, toward an abyss.

You said there's a period of sort of democratic anarchy, and you've implied that the 40 years before then weren't really democracy here either, in that sense.

Certainly not between 1926 and 1939. Certainly not. We did have a Parliament, but Parliament was hardly autonomous. There was a semi military type of government for thirteen years. Poland, while it was not a fascist country, but certainly to describe the pre-war, the last thirteen years prior to World War II, to describe it as a free democratic system, well, it's impossible. There is enough proof in in the records, hundreds of the debates in the British Parliament during World War II about whether Britain should commit itself to restoration of the pre-war order and further…

Indeed, but I what I was getting at is, are you saying from 1945 to 1980 there wasn't a democracy there either? It was more controlled form?

Oh yes, absolutely, absolutely. And if it in in proper time, I believe, late 60s or early 70s, the Party and the government system could adapt itself faster and in a more efficient way, particularly in the field of economy, but not only. In as far as the participation of people in executing power is concerned, we could have avoided. So, I'm not blaming only those elements which emerged in 1980. They do bear a very great responsibility, but the roots of it is what I describe as a belated, reluctant and inefficient adaptation. Actually, this is a…

Of the Party?

Well, you know. To speak about the Party is not enough because Party itself it has now two million members. But you have to refer to a system. You have, you know, people who are directors of hospitals or schools. The system, authority system is large enough and numerous enough to single out the Party which is a leading force but it is only one of the elements in the system, I prefer to refer to the system as such, but what I have in mind is that sometimes when I read critical reviews in the Western press about what's going on in Poland and how we should govern ourselves and how we should behave in order to be considered, you know, to deserve to be admitted to European table. Sometimes I’m very bitter about it and very ironical. Some of the Western nations have somehow got very short, very brief memory. Now if you come back to… not necessarily to the times of Cromwell, but even to the early industrialization era in Britain. Or if you have in mind, well, the royal times in Spain until the revolution broke out in late 30s. Or if you remember the enormous extent of democracy in Prussia between 1870 and 1914. So why all of a sudden we should have all virtues and no mistakes, and sins whatsoever?

Are you saying that Poles were not ready for full democracy in 1980 and that they actually needed the discipline of the army to stop them [inaudible]?

Well, you know it's a simplification what you said because, first of all, I'm not in position to tell that nation deserves or does not deserve something. Secondly, I was doing myself with a group of my friends at that time to prevent such development. So, I cannot buy such a simplified thesis, but if you insist upon putting my views in a nutshell, it will be, well, close to what you have said.

The fact that the army took control here in 1981, that seemed to breach something very basic to the whole communist system Marxist-Leninist philosophy, which was the idea that the Party should always be in absolute control and should never allow the army to take control. Never allow bonapartism. Aren't you, in Poland… Haven't you done just that?

Well, first of all, I don't think that this sets any precedence whatsoever. As you know, there was no military coup d’etat in Poland. Not a single civilian authority was infringed in its scope of activity. Army was acting only as an auxiliary instrument. First of all, there was no military coup d’etat in Poland. Not a single area of civilian authorities was infringed upon. Besides, if there is a general Eisenhower as a president or a general de Gaulle as a president, that's alright. But if a Jaruzelski appears, emerges on political scenes, that’s bad, right?

But you did have things like curfews and people could be arrested on the authority of the army, couldn't they? Couldn’t that be considered rather different from Eisenhower’s reigning America?

I was not expecting this sort of a question, but if I were, I have a list of curfews and emergencies and even martial laws which were introduced in Western Europe in last 40 years. So we are by far not an exception. Now, when it comes to detention, not imprisonment but detention of certain people, may I remind you, well, not only the British practice in early of this century in Africa, but well, detention of about 200, over 200 Japanese of American origin. This was a necessity when the stakes are so high. Well, one has to choose lesser evil. This is precisely the words as that the general used while proclaiming the martial law, and I don't think there was another way out. Well, there was another way out, but much, much more harmful and dangerous. That's possible.

What was the other way out?

Civil war.

Civil war? Between whom?

Do you remember how the war, civil war in Spain began? Actually, this was a revolt of about what a hundred and twenty officers in a provincial garrison and it, in four years, it consumed lives of a million people and brought untold damages to the Spanish nation. Uh, do I have to…? Whatever my opinion may be about IRA, but after all the Irish history…

In Poland, who would this, might this civil war have been between?

It will be very difficult to name sides. You know in, for example, in Hungary in 1956, in the early stage, it was practically impossible to say who was fighting whom, because on one hand you have party members and, well, people of extreme right with fascist past, and this was precisely, almost precisely the same on the other hand. Civil wars and civil conflict and civil strifes very often are ruled by very strange psychology. Actually, we have been facing a danger with a very concrete term. This was this Sunday, December 17th at 12:00, noon, in five large, largest Polish cities, mass demonstrations were called with an explicitly stated purpose to proclaim a provisional government. Now, this was on 17th. We had only four days to go. Mind you, this is not a bogy that we are using in order to explain our actions.

So the civil war would have been between the army on one hand and Solidarity and its supporters on the other end?

You know this is sheer speculation. Sheer speculation, because once it begins, the temperature goes so high that it is absolutely irrelevant who fires the first shot. Now, but what I said is, it's not a justification ex post. Just a few weeks after, after the introduction of martial law, I gave an interview to a West German illustrated weekly. And answered that this was our greatest defeat and used the word defeat. They asked me whether they can use it as a title. I said yes because I consider the events of 1980 and ‘81, ending with martial law, as our Polish defeat, as our inability to solve the outstanding problems and in really peaceful means. This is exactly what we are trying to do now. We are…

What you're trying to do with the army essentially, but the core of it. I mean this specific situation in Poland is very strange in the sense that the army takes over, different from what it would be in Western Europe in this sense that here, that the ideology, the ruling ideology is that the Party must always play the leading role.

Party does so. Army is, well…  I'm myself… Besides, I'm not a career officer, you know. I'm a reserve officer just preferring to stay in the uniform. But I may leave the army at any moment. It’s a purely personal thing. The army is absent. We had very good, two very good generals running two industrial ministries. One was probably the best minister of mining that we ever had, but he left since and we have not anymore generals except the Minister of Defence, Minister of Interior. That's all.

So you say that the Party is now ruling rather than the army?

Yes, right, there is not the… First of all, the Parliament is running the country and I really mean it. I really mean it because, well, I happen to remember more than ten bills which were born precisely in this building, which is a government building, which were supported by the Party, went to the Parliament, were killed by the deputies before they ever reached the commissions, before they ever reached the floor of the Parliament. Now, may I remind you that just merely three months ago the socialist government lost twice the case in the Constitutional Tribunal, which is more or less an equivalent to Supreme Court, American Supreme Court, because we do have our Supreme Court in penal cases or civil cases, and this is a Constitutional Tribunal. Now, we have a Consultative Council, which is very loose body so far. Sooner or later probably it will be institutionalised in a way. Well, just a few days ago there was a meeting of the Council. And some of the voices which were raised, well, nine years ago were not conceivable. I mean, there are beyond any reasonable expectation.

You mean that it now shows now liberal poses [inaudible]?

Now, the word liberal is again taken from the vocabulary that you are using and the West: something is either liberal or conservative. Now, first of all…

Please, use your own vocabulary.

Well, this is a direction… Democracy as such is nothing as a set of instruments. This is not an aim and a goal in itself. It happens that this set of instruments is, in most cases where it is really applicable and applied in reality, is very efficient as the best we know. So we are trying to improve those instruments that already exist, to modify them when they are obviously obsolete, and to institute new methods, new ideas, new institutions. Some of them do not have corresponding ideas or institutions in Western societies.

No, I was saying that [inaudible] in this society ruling force has traditionally been the Communist Party. But now it’s seemed for a while that the army had replaced the Communist Party. But you would not say that.

No, absolutely no.

How would you describe what happened?

The army was actually discharging its duty outside the barracks only during those 500 days when martial law was in force. This meant that in certain communities there was a military commissar, who did not have a veto power over the local head of community. But he could, according to the decree, he could advise him contrary to what he said. As soon as the martial law was abolished the commissars were withdrawn.

But we have a general running the country now.

Well, so I was just trying to say that general de Gaulle was running France and if you remember the origins of his power I remember that he was about to call General Massu and his paratroopers to take over.

I want to make this… I don't want to misrepresent you. So you are saying that general Jaruzeski is in power because of the position in the Communist Party, not because of his role in the army.

Certainly. Certainly. He is not anymore the Minister of Defence. He's a chairman. As always there was a chairman of the National Defence Committee, but National Defence Committee was established in 1967. All basic laws were adopted in 1967, including the regulations concerning martial law. He has no active role in running the armed forces. Well, he is a general and he's not going to deny it because he's a professional soldier. He's… This is his trade, his job.

But the Communist Party is now ruling programmes now, government programmes.

Absolutely. I mean, if you ask in terms of this type of structure, that's no doubt about it.

The Communist Party itself suffered a great deal, it’s very demoralized, lost lots of members after the Solidarity-martial law period. How have you been able to build up the party since then?

Well, the loss of membership was not only inevitable, but I would say even welcomed. The previous leadership, well, wanted to achieve a very large membership. At one point the membership of the Party passed three million mark in the nation of thirty-one million, which is a nonsense. You can't have ten percent of all population, including, you know, children to be politically active and unequivocally committed to one side. The Party is only as efficient as it is reliable as a political and social force and as it is really a congregation of dynamic people.

So it must be small.

Absolutely, absolutely. I mean there is no prescription. You have socialist countries where the membership of the Party is even larger, but you do have countries where it is relatively small. GDR is an example where the Party is relatively small but very active and very significant in terms of its actual position.

So that’s what the Party is like in Poland?

Yes, and we are, we are now… First of all, the criteria to adopt new members are rather sharp. Uh, well, very strict, very strict supervision of the local Party organisation is introduced, but… I don't know why I'm speaking about things like that. I do not speak for the Party. And being a member of the Party, I may only share some of my private experiences.

But you believe that you have succeeded in restoring… in giving the Party a new morale, new form.

Well, it would be a little bit too early to say.

Wiesław Górnicki (1931–1996)

Wiesław Górnicki

Zdzisław Rurarz (24 February 1930 - 21 January 2007) - Polish economist, diplomat, university lecturer, Ambassador of the Polish People's Republic in Japan. 1971 - 1972 one of Edward Gierek's economic advisers. 1973 - 1976 Special Adviser to the Secretary General of UNCTAD. 1976 - 1981 head of the Team of Economic Advisors to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. On February 6, 1981, he was nominated the Ambassador of the Polish People's Republic in Japan, also accredited in the Philippines. After the declaration of martial law, on December 23, 1981, he took refuge in the US Embassy in Tokyo, asking for political asylum. Transported with his family to the USA, where he lived until the end of his life. The authorities of the Polish People's Republic sentenced him to death in absentia for "betrayal of the fatherland", loss of citizenship and confiscation of property. The sentence was revoked in May 1990.