Transcript: Konstanty Gebert on Poland, politics, and his life there | Jun 03, 2006

Electronic music plays as a series of sound waves move to the beat of the music against a black slate.

The title of the shows reads "Flying Solo."

To the right of the screen appears a picture of a man in his early fifties, with short light brown hair and a beard. He wears a beige suit, white shirt and patterned tie.

To the left of the picture, information about the man in the picture rolls. It reads "Konstanty Gebert. Born in 1953. Former political underground activist. Columnist, Gazeta Wyborcza. Publisher, Midrasz. Author of many books."

Konstanty says THEY SAID
THIS WAS A SCIENTIFIC SYSTEM.
WELL HAD IT BEEN SCIENTIFIC,
THEY WOULD HAVE TESTED IT ON
RATS BEFORE, RIGHT?

A black slate appears with the caption "After Communism."

Konstanty says IT'S VERY
DIFFICULT FOR DEMOCRATS WHO
HAVE PREVIOUSLY BEEN IN THE
OPPOSITION, TO BECOME THE
ESTABLISHMENT.
NOT NECESSARILY THE SAME
QUALITIES THAT MAKE FOR GOOD
OPPOSITION, OR INDEED, FOR GOOD
UNDERGROUND OPPOSITION FORCES
QUALIFY THE SAME PEOPLE AS GOOD
GOVERNMENT.
WHAT HAPPENED IN POLAND IS VERY
INSTRUCTIVE IN THAT RESPECT.
FIRST THE COMMUNISTS WERE VOTED
OUT OF OFFICE, THE DEMOCRATS
WON, TO OUR COMPLETE SURPRISE.
I MEAN WE WERE NOT PREPARED FOR
THE VICTORY OF '89, RIGHT?

A black and white picture shows images of a younger Konstanty surrounded by a group of men.

Konstanty says THEN WE
DID A REASONABLY BAD JOB OF
RUNNING THE COUNTRY, AND THE
ELECTORATE VOTED US OUT
EXTREMELY LEGITIMATELY.

A caption reads "Konstanty Gebert. Polish Journalist."

Konstanty says AND THIS
MEANT VOTING THE EX-COMMUNISTS
IN.
THE CRUCIAL TEST HAPPENED FOUR
YEARS LATER.
NEXT ELECTIONS, ARE HELD
DEMOCRATICALLY, THE COMMUNISTS,
EX-COMMUNISTS, DEMOCRATICALLY,
LOSE, AND DEMOCRATICALLY
RELINQUISH POWER.
NOW THIS IS THE CRUCIAL ISSUE.
DEMOCRACY IS NOT ABOUT A GOD-
GIVEN RIGHT BY DEMOCRATS TO
GOVERN.
DEMOCRACY IS ABOUT EQUAL
COMPETITION OF POLITICAL
FORCES.
AND THROUGH THIS SYSTEM, THE
EX-COMMUNISTS, INSTEAD OF BEING
A PERMANENT AUTHORITARIAN
MENACE, TRANSFORMED THEMSELVES
INTO YET ANOTHER FORCE ON THE
DEMOCRATIC MARKETPLACE.
WE GAVE THEM WHAT THEIR RULE
NEVER COULD GIVEN THEM,
DEMOCRATIC LEGITIMACY.

An image of the hammer and sickle appears.

Konstanty says I WAS BORN
AFTER THE WAR.
MY PARENTS WERE PRE-WAR
COMMUNISTS.
THE PRE-WAR QUALIFICATION IS
IMPORTANT, BECAUSE IT MEANT
THAT THEY MADE THEIR CHOICES AS
MISGUIDED IDEALISTS, AND NOT
CAREERISTS.
EVERYTHING THAT MATTERED WAS
CONNECTED TO COMMUNISTS.
A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY STILL
REMEMBERS HOW AT THE AGE OF 6,
I WAS TERRIBLY WORRIED THAT
DEGAULLE WILL ALLOW THE
AMERICANS TO SET UP BASES IN
THE SAHARA.
THAT WAS A PERSONAL WORRY OF
MINE, OKAY?
THESE ARE THE THINGS WE'D BE
WORRIED ABOUT.
WHEN, IN 1960, WE FIRST
TRAVELLED ABROAD AS A FAMILY,
WE WERE IN VIENNA, AND MY ELDER
SISTER WAS VERY HAPPY ABOUT A
PAIR OF SHOES SHE BOUGHT.
I BURST OUT IN TEARS BECAUSE
SHE PREFERS CAPITALIST SHOES TO
SOCIALIST SHOES.
THERE WAS REALLY NO LIFE
OUTSIDE OF COMMUNISM.
AND OKAY, IT WAS INSANE, IT WAS
CRAZY, IT WAS INCREDIBLY
FORMATIVE.
THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH ANY
CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE LEGACY
OF COMMUNIST RULE.
MANY PEOPLE WERE QUITE HAPPY
WITH THE GOVERNMENT.
IT WAS A PACKAGE DEAL.
OKAY, FREEDOM WAS TAKEN AWAY,
BUT, TO AN EXTENT, SO WAS
ANXIETY.
IT WAS OBVIOUS EVERYBODY, OR
ALMOST EVERYBODY WOULD END UP
HAVING A JOB, AND PRODUCING AN
INCOME WHICH WILL ALLOW THEM TO
MOVE ON FROM THE FIRST TO THE
FIRST OF EACH MONTH.
IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT IF YOU FALL
SICK, THERE WILL BE A PLACE IN
THE HOSPITAL.
OKAY, THE HOSPITAL WON'T BE
GREAT, BUT THEY WON'T KILL YOU
EITHER.
THE STATE DID TAKE CARE OF
BASIC SOCIAL FUNCTIONS.
ACTUALLY WHAT HAPPENED WAS THAT
ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS FOR THE
RISE OF THE SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT
WAS NOT DISCONTENT WITH THE
SOCIALIST SYSTEM PER SE, BUT
DISCONTENT WITH THE FACT THAT
THE SOCIALIST SYSTEM WAS NO
LONGER DELIVERING WHAT IT
PROMISED TO DELIVER.
IF YOU RE-READ THE 21
POSTULATES MADE BY THE STRIKING
WORKERS IN THE LENIN SHIPYARDS
IN GDANSK IN AUGUST, 1980, THEY
READ LIKE A VERY GOOD SOCIALIST
PROGRAM.
AND FRANKLY, THE WORKERS DID
NOT GO ON STRIKE TO GET FREE
PRICES.
THEY WENT ON STRIKE TO GET A
BETTER SOCIALISM, AND
HOPEFULLY, EVENTUALLY, A FREER
POLAND.
HAD THE SYSTEM BEEN ABLE TO
COME UP WITH SOMETHING THAT
RESEMBLED ITS ORIGINAL
PROMISES, WE WOULD NOT HAVE
WON.
THE REASON WHY WE WON WAS THAT
THE KIND OF ECONOMIC SYSTEM
THAT THE COMMUNISTS PRODUCED,
WAS ULTIMATELY UNABLE TO
DELIVER ON ITS PROMISES,
ALTHOUGH IT DID DELIVER FOR
SOME TIME, IT GENERATED
EXPECTATIONS IT WAS UNABLE TO
FULFIL.
TO QUOTE LENIN, IT DUG ITS OWN
GRAVE.

(music plays)

A black and white picture of a group of workers appears.

Konstanty says THE RISE
OF SOLIDARITY CAUGHT EVERYBODY
BY SURPRISE, INCLUDING THE
PEOPLE WHO WERE MOST ACTIVE IN
CREATING THE CONDITIONS FOR ITS
SPECTACULAR SUCCESS.
POLAND IN THE '70s, WAS
GOVERNED BY A RELATIVELY
LIBERAL COMMUNIST REGIME UNDER
PARTY SECRETARY EDWARD GIEREK,
WHICH WAS CULTURALLY OPENED TO
THE WEST, AND WAS REWARDED BY
THE WEST BY HUGE AND VERY CHEAP
CREDITS.

A black and white picture of Edward Gierek appears.

Konstanty says THAT
ENABLED THE POLICY ECONOMY,
WHICH WAS ONLY PRODUCING A
MAJOR DEFICIT, TO RUN, RUN ON
BORROWED MONEY, AND EVENTUALLY
TO RUN ON BORROWED TIME.
BUT
BECAUSE IT WAS SO DEPENDENT ON
THE WEST FOR CREDITS, THE
REGIME COULD NOT EASILY ENFORCE
THE KIND OF POLITICAL
REPRESSION WHICH WAS THE RULE
IN OTHER COMMUNIST BLOC
COUNTRIES.
A DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION STARTED
TO FORM IN THE SECOND HALF OF
THE '70s, AND INSTEAD OF BEING
SENTENCED TO LONG STAYS IN
SIBERIA, WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN
THE CASE IN THE SOVIET UNION,
WE WOULD BE PUT IN THE CAMP FOR
48 HOURS, AND BE RELEASED,
BECAUSE POLISH LAW DOESN'T
AUTHORISE YOU TO HOLD PEOPLE
FOR MORE THAN 48 HOURS, AND THE
GOVERNMENT DIDN'T WANT
POLITICAL TRIALS.
APART FROM THAT, POLAND DOESN'T
HAVE A SIBERIA, WHICH ALSO
HELPS.
SO THE OPPOSITION DEVELOPED,
UNDERGROUND PRINTING EMERGED.
THIS WAS A VERY VIBRANT SCENE,
BUT CONTRARY TO OUR MYTH-
MAKING, MY RECOLLECTION IS THAT
OUR MAIN PROBLEM WAS NOT THE
POLITICAL POLICE, ALTHOUGH THEY
WERE A PROBLEM.
OUR MAIN PROBLEM WAS CONVINCING
OUR NEIGHBOURS TO READ WHAT WE
WERE PRINTING.

An old document with the title "Portowife" appears.

Konstanty says THE ENTIRE
ENTERPRISE SEEMED SO QUIXOTIC,
SO RIDICULOUS.
SO YOU THINK THE SOVIET UNION
WILL BE OVER?
SO YOU THINK THIS COUNTRY CAN
BE INDEPENDENT?
GIVE ME A BREAK.
AND FROM A REAL POLITIC
PERSPECTIVE, THIS WAS
ABSOLUTELY LEGITIMATE.
OKAY, WE REFUSED TO ACCEPT THE
REAL POLITIC PERSPECTIVE.
WE WOULD RATHER HAVE ENDORSED
THE SLOGAN OF THE FRENCH
STUDENTS OF MAY '68, BE
REALIST, DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE.
BUT HAD YOU ASKED ME, '79, IF I
REALLY EXPECTED THE IMPOSSIBLE
TO HAPPEN, I WOULD HAVE JUST
LAUGHED.
AND THEN WHAT HAPPENS IS, WE
HAVE YET ANOTHER WAVE OF WORKER
STRIKES, ON THE BALTIC
[Inaudible] IN THE SUMMER OF
'80.
THE COUNTRY HAD GONE THROUGH
SERIOUS STRIKES BEFORE, AND
SERIOUS POLITICAL UNREST
EARLIER.
WHAT THE INDEPENDENT MOVEMENT
OF THE '70s DID, FROM THE VERY
BEGINNING, IT STARTED BUILDING
TIES BETWEEN THE INTELLECTUAL
OPPOSITION AND THE WORKER
OPPOSITION.
WE START HELPING WORKERS,
EDUCATING THEM TO THEIR RIGHTS,
WHICH THEY ACTUALLY HAD UNDER
COMMUNISM, BUT WERE UNAWARE OF.
AND WE WERE USING THE TRICK OF
USING THE REGIME'S LAWS, WHICH
ON PAPER, WERE PRETTY LIBERAL,
BECAUSE NOBODY WOULD EXPECT
THAT PEOPLE WOULD AVAIL
THEMSELVES OF THOSE LAWS, TO
CLAIM THEIR RIGHTS.
THE SAME WAY, WE HELPED WORKERS
REALISE WHAT RIGHTS, SOCIAL
RIGHTS THEY HAVE, TO USE
EXISTING OFFICIAL TRADE UNIONS,
WHICH WERE JUST A CONTROL
MECHANISM FOR THE PARTY, TO
TURN THEM THE OTHER WAY AROUND,
TO MAKE DEMANDS AND ORGANISE.
AND WHEN THE GREAT STRIKES
STARTED ON THE BALTIC SEACOAST,
INTELLECTUALS RUSHED TO THE
DANCE, TO BE OF ASSISTANCE AND
SERVICE TO THE STRIKING
WORKERS.

A black and white picture illustrating the strikes appears.

Konstanty says THIS, COMBINED WITH THE FACT
THAT THE ECONOMY WAS BROKE, THE
REGIME WAS DESPERATE TO AVOID
CENSORSHIP-- CENSURE FROM THE
WEST, AND THE SOVIET UNION,
WHICH WAS GETTING DEEPER AND
DEEPER INTO THE AFGHANISTAN
MORASS, WAS NOT
ENTHUSIASTICALLY THINKING ABOUT
OPENING A NEW FRONT OF
CONFRONTATION.
ALL THIS LED TO THE COMMUNIST
GOVERNMENT'S SPECTACULAR
BLUNDER OF ALLOWING FREE TRADE
UNIONS.
JACEK KURON, THE VETERAN
SOLIDARNOSC ORGANISATION,
PASSED AWAY A COUPLE OF YEARS
AGO, AND WE SORELY MISS HIM.

A picture of Jacek Kuron appears.

Konstanty says HE WAS ONE OF THE ONE OF THE
GREAT HEROES OF THE CENTURY,
HAD VERY APTLY DESCRIBED THIS.
YOU HAVE A RAILROAD SYSTEM, AND
IN THAT RAILROAD SYSTEM BARGES
IN AN INDEPENDENT TRAIN,
RUNNING ON ITS OWN SCHEDULE AND
CHOOSING ITS OWN TRACKS.
THERE WILL BE A FATAL CRASH
SOONER OR LATER.
ACTUALLY, THAT TRAIN RUNS
AROUND FOR 15 MONTHS, WITH MOST
EVERYBODY JUMPING OFF THE OTHER
TRAINS AND JOINING THE
BANDWAGON.

A poster in Polish appears.

Konstanty says WE HAD OVER 1 MILLION PARTY
MEMBERS WERE SIMULTANEOUSLY
SOLIDARNOSC MEMBERS, RIGHT?
WHEN FINALLY IT WAS OBVIOUS
THAT THEY SYSTEM CANNOT
ACCOMMODATE THIS ANY MORE, THAT
THE SYSTEM HAS TO CHANGE OR WE
HAVE TO GO UNDER, THEN THE ONLY
QUESTION WAS WHEN.
AND THE MILITARY, WHO
EVENTUALLY MADE A COUP, CHOSE
THEIR TIMING WELL... WINTER,
WHEN YOU CANNOT HAVE AN
OCCUPATION STRIKE.
THEY BROUGHT UP THE POLISH ARMY
IN FORCE.
THE WORKERS WERE NOT GOING TO
FIGHT THE POLISH ARMY.
AND IT SEEMED THAT THEY BROKE
OUR BACKBONE.
IT CERTAINLY FELT SO AT THAT
TIME.
BUT WHAT HAPPENED WAS, IT WAS
LIKE A MAILED FIST, GOING
THROUGH A CHUNK OF BUTTER.
BANG, IT'S THROUGH.
THEN WHAT?
THE BUTTER IS STILL THERE.
IT'S FLOWING ALL AROUND THE
MAILED FIST.
YOU COULD CRUSH THE BUTTER
SURE, IT'S STILL THERE, IT'S
STILL BUTTER, RIGHT?
COMMUNISM WAS VICIOUSLY EVIL,
AND IN TERMS OF VICTIMS,
INCOMPARABLY MORE EVIL THAN
NAZIS AND FASCISM.
THE HISTORICAL RECORD IS
STRAIGHT.
AND MY PARENTS CONTRIBUTED TO
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THIS
INCREDIBLY EVIL SYSTEM.
AND WE WOULD NOT BE RECEPTIVE
TO A NOSTALGIA TO A FASCIST
FAMILY, BECAUSE FASCISM HAS
BEEN COMPROMISED TOTALLY,
ESSENTIALLY BECAUSE FASCISM WAS
NO ESCAPE.
IF YOU BELONGED TO A GROUP THAT
FASCISTS CONSIDERED REDUNDANT,
YOU WERE DEAD.
YOU MIGHT NOT YET KNOW IT, BUT
YOU WERE DEAD ALREADY.
COMMUNISM GAVE YOU A CHANCE TO
SAVE YOUR SKIN BY BETRAYAL.
YOU MIGHT BE A BOURGEOIS, BUT
IF YOU BETRAYED YOUR SOCIAL
CLASS AND COLLABORATED WITH THE
COMMUNISTS, YOU COULD GET AN
EXTENDED LEASE ON LIFE.
SO FRANKLY, IF I HAD THE CHOICE
OF LIVING UNDER A FASCIST
REGIME OR A COMMUNIST REGIME,
I'LL TAKE MY CHANCES WITH THE
COMMUNISTS.
THERE WAS A CHANCE OF SURVIVAL.
HAVING SAID THIS, THE IDEA THAT
THIS IS THE ONLY CHOICE IS
UNACCEPTABLE.
IT MIGHT HAVE LEGITIMATELY
SEEMED SO IN '45... NO LONGER
IN '56.
AND WHEN I DO BLAME MY PARENTS,
IT IS FOR ALLOWING THEIR
ILLUSIONS TO LINGER FAR TOO
LONG.
BUT I CERTAINLY WILL NOT PASS
JUDGEMENT ON THEM.
I WAS LUCKY TO BE BORN AFTER
THE WAR.
I NEVER HAD TO MAKE UP MY MIND
WHETHER I'D PICK MAJDANEK OVER
THE GULAG.
MY MOTHER WAS A SOLDIER IN THE
POLISH ARMY IN THE SOVIET
UNION.
IT SO HAPPENS HER REGIMENT
LIBERATED MAJDANEK, A NAZI
DEATH CAMP.
AND THE OVENS WERE STILL WARM
WHEN THEY ENTERED THE CAMP.
THIS IS THE ONE CAMP THE NAZIS
DID NOT HAVE THE TIME TO BLOW
UP.
AND WHEN I... YEARS LATER, WHEN
I ASKED HER, "HOW COULD YOU
HAVE REMAINED A COMMUNIST AFTER
WHAT YOU HAD SEEN IN THE SOVIET
UNION?"
SHE SPENT ALL THE WAR YEARS AS
A REFUGEE IN THE SOVIET UNION.
SHE SAID, "LOOK, IT WAS VERY
SIMPLE.
IN '45, THE ALTERNATIVE WAS
MAJDANEK OR THE GULAG."
SOME PEOPLE ACTUALLY SURVIVED
THE GULAG.
NOBODY SURVIVED MAJDANEK.
THAT MEANS THERE IS NO CHOICE.
YOU WILL REMEMBER THE ICONIC
PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE GATES OF THE
GDANSK SHIPYARDS HUNG WITH
PORTRAITS OF THE POPE AND ICONS
OF THE VIRGIN MARY.

The pictures appear on screen.

Konstanty says THIS EXPRESSED A VERY DEEP
CATHOLICISM IN POLISH SOCIETY.
IT ALSO EXPRESSED THE FACT THAT
THE CHURCH WAS THE ONLY
INDEPENDENT INSTITUTION IN THE
COUNTRY.
AND
THEREFORE IT BECAME THE NATURAL
AND LOGICAL INSTRUMENT OF
EXPRESSING DISCONTENT, AND ALSO
THE ONLY MORAL AUTHORITY THAT
HAD CREDIBILITY TO THE WORKERS.
UM, IT WAS
A VERY IRONIC ENDING TO A
MARXIST UTOPIA GONE SERIOUSLY
WRONG.
BECAUSE IN A WAY, THIS WAS THE
ORIGINAL MARXIST IDEA.
THE WORKING CLASS RISES IN A
GENERAL STRIKE, OVERTHROWS A
SYSTEM THAT IS POLITICALLY AND
ECONOMICALLY OPPRESSIVE, AND
LIBERATES THE ENTIRE SOCIETY
INCLUDING THE OPPRESSORS
THEMSELVES.
SOLIDARITY WAS, AT THE SAME
TIME, A GENUINE VINDICATION OF
A MARXIST DREAM, AND AT THE
SAME TIME, IT'S PALL BEARER.
IT BURIED ANY HOPES FOR A NON-
COMMUNIST LEFT, BECAUSE
EVERYBODY HAD SEEN WHAT THE
LEFT HAD OFFERED, AND NOBODY
WAS WILLING TO TEST IT AGAIN.
INTELLECTUALLY, YES, SURE, WE
CAN PLAY AROUND WITH THE IDEA.
THE IDEAS WERE GOOD, BUT THEY
WERE BADLY IMPLEMENTED.
YEAH, JUST DO IT SOMEWHERE
ELSE, OKAY?
WE'VE BEEN THERE, WE GOT A T-
SHIRT.
WE DON'T WANT ANY MORE T-SHIRTS
OF THAT KIND.
THE SOCIAL INTERESTS WHICH HAD
BEEN PREVIOUSLY ARTICULATED BY
MARXISTS, AND WHICH DID NOT
DISAPPEAR WITH THE DEMISE OF
MARXISM HAD TO BE REARTICULATED
SOMEWHERE ELSE.
RE-READ THE PAPAL SERMONS THAT
HE GAVE DURING HIS VISITS TO
POLAND IN '83 AND ESPECIALLY
'88.

A picture of Pope John Paul the Second appears.

Konstanty says THE SERMON THAT HE GAVE IN
GDANSK TO ALMOST 1 MILLION
WORKERS, ABOUT THE DIGNITY OF
LABOUR, WAS THE LAST GREAT
SOCIALIST SPEECH GIVEN IN
EUROPE.
IT COULD HAVE BEEN JEAN
DORESSE, USING A DIFFERENT
VOCABULARY, TO BE SURE,
DIFFERENCE REFERENCE POINTS,
BUT EXPRESSING AN IDEA WHICH IS
DEEPLY ALIEN TO A LIBERAL
VISION OF THE ECONOMY.
LABOUR IS NOT ONLY A COMMODITY,
IT HAS MORAL VALUE.
THE MAN, THE WOMAN WHO DOES
LABOUR, NOT ONLY PRODUCES
MATERIAL GOODS, INCREASES HIS
DIGNITY, AND SPREADS THAT
DIGNITY AROUND TO OTHERS
PARTICIPATING IN THE PROCESS.
AND THIS LANGUAGE REAPPEARS...
REAPPEARS IN THE SOCIALIST,
STATIST ECONOMIC PROGRAM OF THE
RIGHT WING LAW AND JUSTICE
PARTY CURRENTLY GOVERNING
POLAND.
AND THIS APPEARS AS A MUCH MORE
SLEEK AND MUCH MORE LIBERAL
ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL LANGUAGE
OF THE POST-COMMUNISTS.
MARXISM IS DEAD AS A POLITICAL
FORMATION AND AS AN
INTELLECTUAL CHURCH.
MARX IS NOT DEAD, HE IS AN
IMPORTANT THINKER OF THE 19th
CENTURY, THE WAY THAT FREUD IS
NOT DEAD.
AND CERTAINLY THE ECONOMIC AND
POLITICAL INTERESTS THAT HAD
BEEN ARTICULATED BY MARXISM ARE
NOT DEAD, EVEN THOUGH MARXISM
IS, BECAUSE THEY'RE REALLY
THERE.
I MEAN THERE IS A WORKING
CLASS, IT DOES HAVE INTERESTS.
IT TURNS OUT THAT A
DICTATORSHIP OF THE WORKING
CLASS IS THE WORST POSSIBLE WAY
OF FURTHERING THOSE INTERESTS,
BUT IT DOESN'T INVALIDATE THE
INTERESTS THEMSELVES.
SO IF THERE ARE NO MORE
MARXISTS TO ARTICULATE THAT,
SOMEBODY ELSE WILL PICK UP THAT
LANGUAGE AND CONTINUE.

(music plays)

Konstanty says COMMUNISM WAS EVERYTHING IT
WAS, IT WAS WHAT MY PARENTS
DID.
THEREFORE IT WAS GOOD.
BUT IT WAS ALSO SUCH A
WONDERFUL, NOBLE DREAM, AND YOU
COULD BE DREAMING IT AS LONG AS
YOU KEPT YOUR EYES AND YOUR
EARS TIGHTLY SHUT, RIGHT?
AND FOR A KID, IT ISN'T
DIFFICULT.
A KID GROWS UP IN A WORLD FULL
OF DISCREPANCIES.
MY PARENTS COULDN'T BE WRONG,
RIGHT?
AND SO IS SOMETHING DIDN'T FIT,
WELL I SIMPLY DIDN'T UNDERSTAND
SOMETHING, IT WAS AS SIMPLE AS
THAT.
AND IT REALLY GAVE YOU A
FEELING OF HOPE AND POWER AND
BEING ON THE SIDE OF THE
ANGELS.
I'M SURE THAT KIDS GROWING UP
IN FASCIST FAMILIES FELT THE
SAME WAY.
ANY TOTAL IDEOLOGY GIVES YOU
THE KIND OF TOTAL FULFILMENT
THAT IT TAKES TIME TO
UNDERSTAND IS NOT THE SOLUTION,
BUT THE PROBLEM.
NO DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT CAN COME
REMOTELY CLOSE, AND IT TAKES
TIME WHEN YOU WEAN YOURSELF ON
THIS KIND OF IDEOLOGY, TO
REALISE THAT THE FACT THAT
DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENTS DON'T GIVE
YOU SUCH A KICK, IS NOT A
DEFECT BUT A STRENGTH OF THOSE
IDEOLOGIES.

(music plays)

Konstanty says THERE ARE TWO SEPARATE ELEMENTS
IN BUILDING A DEMOCRATIC
SOCIETY.
ONE IS DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS.
AND THE SECOND IS A CIVIL
SOCIETY CAPABLE OF USING THEM.
IF YOU HAVE ONLY ONE, IT'S NOT
GOING TO WORK.
WHAT WE HAVE SEEN IN POLAND AND
ELSEWHERE IN CENTRAL EUROPE, IS
THE IMMENSELY SUCCESSFUL
SETTING UP OF DEMOCRATIC
INSTITUTIONS, WHICH PASS THE
TEST.
POWER GETS TRANSFERRED BETWEEN
IDEOLOGICAL ENEMIES, DEPENDING
ON THE ELECTORAL RESULTS.
THERE IS NO CENSORSHIP OF THE
MEDIA.
NO POLITICAL CENSORSHIP OF THE
MEDIA, ALTHOUGH OBVIOUSLY THE
MEDIA HAVE THE PROBLEMS OF
ECONOMIC OWNERSHIP THAT THEY
HAVE ANYWHERE IN DEMOCRATIC
WORLD.
THE JUDICIARY IS FREE, EVEN IF
THE JUDGES ARE OFTEN
INCOMPETENT, AND SOMETIMES
CORRUPT.
THE INSTITUTIONS ARE THERE.
THE QUESTION IS, IS THE CIVIL
SOCIETY THERE AS WELL?
IN POLAND, WE GENUINELY
BELIEVED THAT WE HAD A CIVIL
SOCIETY, AND FRANKLY, THE
UNDERGROUND IS INCREDIBLY
IMPRESSIVE... 100,000 PEOPLE
ORGANISATIONS MUSHROOMING UNDER
EXTREMELY ADVERSE CONDITIONS.
AND THEN IT EMERGED, AFTER '89,
WITH THIS HUGE VOTER APATHY...
I MEAN IN THE FIRST DEMOCRATIC
ELECTIONS, 1 THIRD OF THE
ELECTORATE DIDN'T BOTHER TO GO
TO VOTE.
THIS IS WHAT THEY HAD WAITED
FOR 45 YEARS, AND THEY COULD
NOT BE BOTHERED TO WALK DOWN
THE BLOCK.
IT SHOWS THE LIMITATIONS OF
WHAT WE BELIEVED WAS OUR CIVIL
SOCIETY.
AND THERE'S A NUMBER OF REASONS
FOR THAT.
ONE IS, WHAT WE HAVE IN POLAND
IS NOT A CIVIL SOCIETY.
IT'S AN ETHNIC SOCIETY THAT
MASQUERADES AS CIVIL SOCIETY,
AND GETS AWAY WITH IT BECAUSE
THE COUNTRY IS SO ETHNICALLY
HOMOGENEOUS.
NOW BECAUSE IT'S SO ETHNICALLY
HOMOGENEOUS... THE MINORITIES
CONSTITUTE 1.2 PERCENT, I THINK, OF
THE TOTAL POPULATION.
IT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER IN
PRACTICAL TERMS.
THERE IS NO-- WITH THE
EXCEPTION OF THE VERY ACUTE
DISCRIMINATION OF THE SINTI AND
THE ROMA, THERE IS NO RACISM IN
POLAND TO SPEAK OF.
[Clears Throat]
THERE IS ANTI-SEMITISM, THAT'S
A DIFFERENT STORY.
UM... SO THE PROBLEM WITH OUR
PUTATIVE CIVIL SOCIETY BEING AN
ETHNIC SOCIETY, IS NOT SO MUCH
IN DISCRIMINATION OF THE NON-
POLES, WE ARE STILL SUFFERING
FROM OUR VICTORY.
A VICTORY IN WHICH POLES OF ALL
WALKS OF LIFE, ALL POLITICAL
OPINIONS, ALL RELIGIOUS
AFFILIATIONS, JOINED TOGETHER
IN THE SERVICE OF ONE
OVERRIDING SOCIAL GOAL, DUMP
THE REDS.
AND WE
WERE VICTORIOUS, AND WE WOULD
NOT HAVE BEEN VICTORIOUS
WITHOUT THIS UNITY.
BUT THIS GENERATES A FALSE
MODEL WHICH ASSUMES THAT THE
POINT OF POLITICS IS
IDENTIFYING THE ONE OVERRIDING
SOCIAL GOAL AND THEN ACHIEVING
IT.
IN A DEMOCRACY THERE IS NO SUCH
A THING AS ONE OVERRIDING
SOCIAL GOALS.
THERE ARE DIFFERENT,
CONFLICTING, LEGITIMATE SOCIAL
GOALS OF DIFFERENT SOCIAL
GROUPS, AND DEMOCRACY IS HORSE
TRADING, OKAY?
STRIKING ROTTEN COMPROMISES, I
GET SOME, YOU GET SOME, AND THE
WHOLE THING MOVES SLIGHTLY
FORWARD.
THIS IS NOT THE STYLE OF POLISH
POLITICS.
IT IS STILL WINNER TAKES ALL.
YOU'VE GOT A DIFFERENT AGENDA,
IT'S NOT THAT YOU ARE
DIFFERENT, YOU ARE AN ENEMY,
YOU ARE A THREAT, YOU ARE TO BE
DESTROYED.
BUT THERE IS A LONGING FOR THIS
KIND OF SAFE, UNEXCITING,
UNEVENTFUL LIFE.
AND THERE ARE PARTIES IN
EASTERN EUROPE, INCLUDING IN
POLAND, THAT CAPITALISE ON THAT
LONGING.
IF YOU LOOK AT THE ELECTORAL
VICTORY OF LAST FALL'S
ELECTIONS OF LAW AND JUSTICE,
THE PARTY THAT NOW IS THE
BIGGEST PARTY IN PARLIAMENT,
AND IT ALSO HAS THE PRESIDENT.

A picture of Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski appears.

Konstanty says IT COMBINES A RIGHT WING
AUTHORITARIAN POLITICAL PROGRAM
WITH A STATIST, SOCIALIST
ECONOMIC PROGRAM.
THEY'RE BLOCKING
PRIVATISATIONS, THEY WHIPPED UP
A HYSTERICAL FRENZY ABOUT THE
EVILS OF BANKS.
THIS COULD BE THE U.S. IN THE
19th CENTURY.
NOW THE WORRY IS, OF COURSE,
THAT EUROPE HAS ALREADY KNOWN
POLITICAL PARTIES THAT WOULD
COMBINE RIGHT WING NATIONALISM
WITH LEFT WING SOCIALISM, THEY
EVEN CALL THEMSELVES NATIONAL
SOCIALISTS.
WHAT I'M NOT SAYING IS THAT THE
CURRENT RULING PARTY IN POLAND
IS PROTO-FASCIST OR WHATEVER,
NO.
BUT IT STEMS FROM THE SAME
DESIRE OF A SUBSTANTIAL CHUNK
OF ANY SOCIETY, WHICH IS
WILLING TO TRADE IN THE
FREEDOMS IT DOESN'T USE FOR THE
SECURITY IT CRAVES, AND A SMART
POLITICIAN CAN GO A LONG WAY BY
APPEALING TO THIS CRAVING.
THIS IS DANGEROUS FOR
DEMOCRACY.
BUT DEMOCRACY SHOULD BE ABLE TO
PROVE EMPIRICALLY THAT THIS IS
A HURDLE IT CAN PASS, AND IT
COMES UP WITH BETTER SOLUTIONS.
I'M NOT TERRIBLY CONCERNED
ABOUT THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY
IN POLAND.
WE'VE PASSED THE TESTS.
WHAT I'M CONCERNED WITH IS THIS
KIND OF DESTRUCTIVE NOSTALGIA,
WHICH ULTIMATELY MAKES US LOSE
TIME.
WE'VE WASTED HALF A CENTURY.
WE CANNOT AFFORD TO WASTE ONE
MORE WEEK.
AND IT LOOKS LIKE WE'RE SET TO
WASTE A COUPLE OF YEARS.

(music plays)

Konstanty says DEMOCRACY IS GOOD FOR
EVERYBODY, JEWS INCLUDED.
OKAY, PROBLEM IS, IT'S ALSO
GOOD FOR ANTI-SEMITES.
JEWS TEND TO BELIEVE THAT THERE
IS MUCH MORE ANTI-SEMITISM IN
POLAND THAN THERE REALLY IS,
AND POLES TEND TO BELIEVE THERE
IS MUCH LESS.
I HAVE NO PROBLEMS RUNNING
AROUND WARSAW IN A YARMULKE.
I OCCASIONALLY GET REACTIONS TO
IT, AND MORE OFTEN THAN NOT,
THEY'RE POSITIVE.
IN PARIS, IN A WEEK, I WAS
HARASSED THRICE ON THE STREET
FOR WEARING A YARMULKE, WHICH
COULD HAPPEN OVER A YEAR IN
WARSAW, AND HARASSED IN THE
TOTAL INDIFFERENCE OF PASSERS
BY, WHICH WOULD NOT HAVE
HAPPENED IN WARSAW, I KNOW FROM
EXPERIENCE.
NOW WARSAW IS NOT ALL OF
POLAND.
IN A SMALL VILLAGE, IN A SMALL
TOWN, IT WOULD PROBABLY BE MUCH
MORE NASTY.
AND WARSAW IN 2006 IS NOT
WARSAW OF 1946.
UP TO 3,000 JEWS WERE MURDERED
IN POLAND AFTER THE WAR.
UH... THE FACT REMAINS THAT
POLAND TODAY IS A DIFFERENT
COUNTRY.
DEMOCRACY GUARANTEES FREEDOM OF
SPEECH TO ALL.
BUT THE ANTI-SEMITISM THAT HAS
EMERGED ON THE SURFACE OF
POLISH SOCIETY WASN'T CREATED
BY DEMOCRACY.
DEMOCRACY SIMPLY ALLOWED IT TO
EXPRESS ITSELF.
IT WAS ALWAYS THERE.
BUT WHAT DEMOCRACY ALSO DOES,
IT ALLOWS THE ENEMIES OF ANTI-
SEMITISM TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES
AS WELL.
AND LIVING IN POLAND, I DO NOT
HAVE THE FEELING THAT THE
DIVISION RUNS BETWEEN POLES AND
JEWS.
IT RUNS DIAGONALLY ACROSS
POLISH SOCIETY, AND IT IS ABOUT
THE KIND OF POLAND WE WANT TO
HAVE.
AND YES, THERE IS A POLAND THAT
DOESN'T WANT ME THERE.
I AGREE, I DON'T WANT IT THERE
AS WELL, OKAY?
I DON'T WANT NATIONALISM,
XENOPHOBIA, RACISM IN MY
COUNTRY.
AND I'M CERTAINLY NOT ALONE IN
THAT.
A MAJORITY OF THE POLES DOESN'T
WANT THAT.
SO UM, LOOK, THE MAIN PROBLEM
IS NOT ANTI-SEMITISM, THE MAIN
PROBLEM IS THAT WE ARE A TINY
COMMUNITY OF 8,000 IN A NATION
OF ALMOST 40 MILLION, AND THIS
MEANS THAT HAVING A FULL JEWISH
LIFE IN POLAND IS NOT POSSIBLE,
BECAUSE OF DEMOGRAPHY, FULL
STOP.
SO IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A FULL
JEWISH LIFE, YOU WOULD HAVE TO
MOVE TO ISRAEL, OR HERE TO
TORONTO.
BUT I WILL NOT GIVE UP THE FULL
POLISH LIFE THAT I AM LIVING IN
ORDER TO HAVE A FULLER JEWISH
LIFE.
THAT COUNTRY IS HOME.
I HAVE A COMMITMENT, A STAKE,
AN INVOLVEMENT, AND SO DID MY
FAMILY FOR GENERATIONS.
WE'RE NOT GUESTS THERE, THIS IS
HOME.
I GOT MY BASIC VALUES FROM
THEM, SOCIAL JUSTICE, EQUALITY,
WHEN POLICE ARE BEATING PEOPLE,
BE ON THE SIDE OF THE BEATEN,
NOT ON THE SIDE OF POLICE.
SO I TOOK THOSE VALUES TO THEIR
LOGICAL CONSEQUENCE, AND SPENT,
YOU KNOW, TEN YEARS OF MY LIFE
DISMANTLING THE SYSTEM MY
PARENTS HELPED TO BUILD IN THE
NAME OF THE VALUES MY PARENTS
TAUGHT ME.
AND I'M IMMENSELY GRATEFUL TO
MY PARENTS FOR PASSING ON THOSE
VALUES.

Konstanty’s image blurs away as electronic music plays.

Watch: Konstanty Gebert on Poland, politics, and his life there