WBJ: Do you think that Polish politicians understand the changes happening in the world and in Europe and respond to them appropriately?
Michał Kleiber: In the euphoria following the system transformation, the world seemed calm and open, offering us unprecedented rapid growth. Unfortunately, we are now becoming increasingly disillusioned. The world around us has once again become unstable, a number of different threats to our future are stacked before us.
What threats do you have in mind?
Perhaps somewhat naively, the thing that scares me the least is military threats, and nuclear in particular. My hope is rooted in NATO’s powers and the common awareness of how dramatic the consequences of any military intervention beyond the local level would be. It does not, however, mean I do not condemn the actions of aggressor states in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Granted, the equilibrium between the nuclear power of the East and the West that was used to maintain peace for many decades looks quite different now: there are new countries that have nuclear weapons at their disposal. Still, the bottom line is that if any of these weapons were to be used, it would mean an unthinkable disaster.
There will continue to be hard international disputes, and local unrest will continue to dominate world media. Controlling the threat of biological and chemical weapons will become increasingly important, particularly in the context of preventing brutal terrorism.
What can Poland do to improve these tensions?
Let’s remember that conflict in today’s ever more globalized world stems from growing inequalities within and between individual social groups. These problems have always existed; however, now – as a result of universal access to information – the awareness of historical injustice, both objective and even just subjective, has become ubiquitous. Alleviating the unrest is a great challenge for all of us, and for the richest countries in particular.
The problem of mass migration, which is far from being solved any time soon, is a clear example of how we need to change the way we think of the countries that were once called “third world.” The need these societies have to join the “first” world, which they have seen in detail on the internet, is not going away and it requires a completely new mindset from global and local leaders among politicians and the media.
Do you think Poland will change its position on migration?
I can understand the reserve the majority of Poles feels towards the influx of migrants with different cultural backgrounds. I believe this reserve can be traced back to the post-World War II period when, through no fault of our own, we became an ethnically homogenous country with a single dominant religion. Seeing migrants as aliens is what makes us different from many EU societies, where migrants of different skin color and religion have coexisted and worked together for decades.
I believe that in time, we will gradually see a change in our society’s mindset. Our deeply ingrained need to render humanitarian aid, effective aid to those in need in their own countries, good examples of how migrants can assimilate when proper safety measures are applied, and economic reasons in general will facilitate that change. Our attitudes towards our eastern neighbors seem to be very compelling evidence of that change. But for it to happen, the EU has to show some degree of understanding towards the different and historically determined mindset of our region’s societies.
What are Poles’ attitudes towards Ukrainian migrants then?
I know many Ukrainian academics and they talk of large-scale corruption in state administration, a mafia-like economic reality. It hinders proper cooperation.
Another issue that that divides us is the Bandera cult, a Ukrainian nationalist who, granted, fought for his nation’s freedom during World War II, but also inspired his troops to murder Poles, which led to the Volhynia massacres. It cast a long shadow over our relations, even though Poland has condemned Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and has supported the country’s European aspirations.
It’s a historic paradox that our political relations today are as bad as they are, despite both countries’ acute awareness of how important friendly relations between these two neighbors are, also for the whole of Europe due to the political and economic potential of the two countries. Improving these relations requires swift and decisive action. It is key that Ukraine comes to terms and reconciles its past honestly, but we also shouldn’t demonstrate our prejudice so emotionally – the stakes are too high to continue the dispute forever.
How do you see the relations between Poland and Russia from the point of view of our society’s interests and Poland’s status as an EU and NATO member?
Russia is a powerful neighbor with imperialist ambitions, which is a clear problem in terms of mutual contact. But due to its role in global politics and our economic interests, we have no choice but to try to maintain these relations. I would be the last one to disparage undertaking a variety of cooperation efforts on many levels. I know many positive examples of fruitful scientific cooperation, although it has been insufficient in recent years.
I am under no illusions: with vast political tensions dividing the two countries and with all international contact being influenced politically in Russia, it will be a long time before our economic, academic and cultural relations can be seen as normal.
Do you think that the discontent between Warsaw and Brussels will continue or is there a chance for improvement?
Poland is today deeply embroiled in the conflict between those in favor of integration on the one hand and those supporting separatist views, and the crux of the dispute between Warsaw and Brussels is the issue of court independence. Emotions run high in the debate, which mirrors our own Polish reality and can be traced back to both sides’ attitudes. Poland’s ruling party is being unwise by underestimating the threats to Poland’s EU membership and how much it benefits our country. They have rushed judicial system overhaul without a proper and sound debate, which Brussels has deemed to be inconsistent with the values that are at the core of the union. EU politicians, on the other hand, have taken a non-conciliatory and highly critical stance instead of engaging in a reason-driven process within clearly defined legal norms. We are all losing as a result of the protracted conflict and it is high time that was understood, both in Warsaw and in Brussels. A strong, pro-EU Poland that is respected is what both sides need.
Another, though no less important, issue is what type of union we are talking about. We can’t be unconcerned with such widely recognized facts as the lack of social legitimization of key EU bodies, the dominance of the strongest countries in decision-making, the insufficient solidarity on matters such as foreign policy and energy security, or the ever-growing bureaucracy at various levels. The EU needs to undergo some changes, which is a major challenge for all European politicians.
But Poland is not taking part in debates about the future of the EU.
That is exactly the problem of our country’s role in the community. And we are talking about fundamental issues here; about the future shape of the EU. The actual debate on matters of vital importance has yet to begin. We still don’t know what the eurozone will look like in the future. We have no solution to the problems of mass migration. I have a feeling that the indecisiveness we are seeing is caused by the fact that we are awaiting the new elections to the European Parliament and other EU bodies.
In the long run, however, I am convinced that the EU will one day become a much more integrated organism than it is today, including a common currency. The way we make this happen is also crucial. Making rushed decisions today could turn out to be counter-productive and delay integration and rational consolidation.