- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

The following are highlights of an interview with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski conducted at the president's palace in Warsaw on July 9:
Question: Mr. President, you are only the second leader invited by President Bush on a state visit to Washington, after President Vicente Fox of Mexico last year. What are the main issues you plan on discussing with Mr. Bush during your visit [which begins tomorrow]?
Answer: This type of visit is extremely ceremonial, with full protocol. It indicates that U.S.-Polish relations are in a very good shape and that the United States wants to stress its very open, friendly and involved attitude toward Poland.
We will talk about the anti-terrorism coalition and the actions Poland is participating in. Secondly, we will talk about NATO and its enlargement, which we support, as well as the alliance's role in the changing world. We believe that NATO has not exhausted all the opportunities it has, and it should play a role not only in stabilizing Europe, but, in a larger context, stabilizing the global situation.
Thirdly, we will talk about our initiative to build a new form of cooperation between NATO members and candidates, which would integrate the collaboration between the Visegrad group and the Vilnius group. This forum will be open to countries beyond the NATO and EU structures, such as the former Yugoslav republics. I presented the idea at the summit of the NATO applicants in Riga a few days ago, and it was very well received. I hope the Americans will support the idea, because it can be a significant factor in Europe and the international system.
As for the bilateral U.S.-Polish relationship, it needs to be reinforced in the economic sphere. The United States is one of the leading investors in our country, but the American investment interest has weakened. We also hope to communicate the plans for modernization of the Polish defense industry and armed forces. During my visit, I will be accompanied by the ministers of foreign affairs, defense and finance.
Q: Your personal relationship with Mr. Bush had a good start during his visit to Warsaw more than a year ago, but ideologically you are supposed to be very different, since you are a Social Democrat and he is a Republican. How do you reconcile these differences?
In a sense, the good atmosphere was created by the excellent relations I have with Mr. Bush's father. He was the guest of honor on Poland's Independence Day, Nov. 11. It was an extremely cold day, and he had lost his coat on the plane from Berlin. With the assistance of the Bristol Hotel we managed to arrange something, but it wasn't easy because he is a tall guy. So I have very good contacts with the family, and it created a good foundation for my relationship with the current president and his wife, Laura.
I don't think ideology plays such an important role, because Mr. Bush and I are members of the generation of politicians that first of all try to act in a pragmatic manner and not burden politics with excessive ideology. President Clinton had good relations with some conservatives in Europe and not so good with some Social Democrats. Mr. Bush has good relations with some leftists, like [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair, and not very good with some rightists. I can name them, but it would be very undiplomatic.
Q: Do you share the concerns of many Europeans that the Bush administration's foreign policy is increasingly unilateral?
There were concerns in Europe about Mr. Bush's policies, but I think they were unfounded. Even before September 11, his speech here in June last year showed that the Americans consider Europe a very important and serious partner on equal footing. That speech sent a clear signal of the next stage of NATO enlargement. And after Warsaw, he went to Slovenia to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time, which was an icebreaker.
September 11 was an acceleration of all this. There was a necessity to redefine the policy, and in my conviction the establishment of the anti-terrorist front is a Bush success. It was a very wise policy, without nervousness to take immediate action, but with building political support for the coalition. And it resulted in the inclusion not only of Russia, but also countries from Central Asia, which are very important today.
In the aftermath of September 11, Mr. Bush showed that he understood very well that he had partners both in Europe and in the rest of the world and that they were to be treated with seriousness.
Before the attack in Afghanistan, all of America's partners were informed about it. Vice President Dick Cheney called me to say that the action was imminent. We didn't learn it from CNN or other press agencies, which meant that the Americans treated us very seriously.
All that is happening between NATO and Russia, as well as NATO enlargement and the cooperation in the Group of Eight, testifies that the Americans have a sense of their strength, because they have unquestionable power, but they don't neglect their policy of cooperating with their partners, and I think it will continue to be so. We should not expect a return to isolationist policies.
Q: Exactly how long before the operation in Afghanistan started did you learn about it? Days before?
Hours before.
Q: So you think that U.S. foreign policy is very much multilateral?
Yes, it is multilateral, and I do believe that this is a permanent feature of this policy it was not a tactical move related to the building of the anti-terrorist coalition but a conviction of both Bush and his very competent inner circle. Mr. Cheney, [National Security Advisor] Condoleezza Rice, [Secretary of State Colin L.] Powell and [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld have enormous experience and huge knowledge about the world, and that leads to a multilateral policy.
Q: How is Poland helping the war on terrorism?
First of all, we are involved in the military action in Afghanistan. We have troops there. Two of them were injured while demining the area around Kabul. A logistics support ship is about to go there. There is also very close intelligence cooperation at a very high level.
Politically, a conference I hosted here last fall, "Stop Terrorism," provided significant support it was not a propaganda conference. We also had a conference on border traffic and want to have similar events on money-laundering, weapons proliferation and organized crime. Next year, I want to have a conference of heads of state, where we could evaluate to what extent the measures we talked about in Warsaw has been implemented. As countries located in this transit route between the West and the East, we have to deal with terrorism.
Q: In spite of the impressive economic achievements Poland has made since the end of the Cold War, the economy has been performing rather poorly in the last couple of years. The resignation of the finance minister [last month] received a largely negative reaction from both the markets and the investment community. How much does that trouble you?
All of Europe is experiencing economic slowdown, as is the United States, as a matter of fact. Our plan is achieving growth of just over 1 percent of GDP this year, 3 percent next year and 5 percent in 2004. So, in a mild but consistent manner we will return to the path of quick economic development. The new finance minister says it can be done faster, but I'm more careful. But our plan is to enter the European Union in 2004.
As for the macroeconomic indicators, except for the slow growth, they are very good. Inflation is below 2 percent, the average level in Europe. The public debt is under 60 percent. The budget deficit is relatively high but is still under control and doesn't exceed a dangerous threshold. That allows us to argue that soon after becoming an EU member, Poland can be ready to become a member of the monetary union or the euro zone.
But I'm concerned about social problems, because the slow growth has resulted in a significant wave of unemployment. Polish unemployment is quite complex, because since World War II Poland has been developing demographically in waves, and now we have a boom, with many young people between the ages of 18 and 20.
The resignation of the finance minister is part of democracy there is nothing concerning about it. One economics professor replaced another, and I wouldn't draw too many conclusions.
Q: Do you support fully Prime Minister Leszek Miller's government?
Fully support is too strong. I support what is good and criticize what is bad. The role of the president is to cooperate with the government. When you go to two doctors, you want them to cooperate with each other, not quarreling while the patient is lying on the table. Sometimes my cooperation with the governments has been better, at other time more difficult, but it has always been honest and fair.
Q: The latest polls show that part of your electorate is slowly defecting to parties further left than the Social Democrats? What are you doing to make sure your party doesn't get disappointed at the next election?
I think that for the Social Democratic left created in the 1990s there is no threat. It will remain the biggest power on the left side of the political arena. We don't know whether it will have enough votes to rule. There is a risk of populist groups getting more power, but I wouldn't define them as leftist and rightist. Their success to a large extent has resulted from the side effects of the reforms, such as unemployment and other social frustrations.
Polish democracy is a great achievement, but it also means less safety in the streets and more crime. Open borders allow us to travel freely, but they also mean that criminal groups can take advantage of them. So it's possible to create a populist atmosphere. Such groups have the support of 15 to 20 percent of the electorate, which is not little but not enough to rule. We have to be careful in analyzing the situation, and we must not make a mistake. We must not, by social frustration, push more votes into the hands of these groups.
There is another current appearing in the context of the EU the national fronts. In Poland, it is connected with the very conservative wing of the Catholic Church. There is fear that the EU accession is a threat to traditional Polish Catholic values. The propaganda says that we will have to legalize homosexual marriage, gays bringing up or adopting children, pass anti-abortion laws. These groups have only between 5 and 7 percent of support, but they do exist.
Q: You said you support NATO expansion, but there has been criticism in the West that the three newest members
Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have not done enough to prove that they deserved to be accepted. Are those critics wrong?
This is not true, or it's just one piece of the truth. Everybody expected that the new members will meet all the standards immediately, especially as far as the quality of the equipment was concerned. It was not realistic from the very beginning, because there was huge money involved, none of our countries had it, and we didn't receive any help to buy new aircraft, tanks or other equipment.
But with the rest I don't agree. Our presence in the alliance as a political partner had to go through an extremely difficult test from the very beginning. Twelve days after the new countries' accession to NATO, they were confronted with the bombing of Serbia over Kosovo. We didn't have time to celebrate, although we wanted to. Poland and the Polish public opinion passed this test with flying colors, expressing full support for the action against ethnic cleansing, which resulted from our own experience of the Holocaust tragedy. We also got involved in the action. Polish soldiers are in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I have visited them several times. They are considered as very professional.
All countries that join NATO immediately guarantee stabilizing the situation on their territory, so this is a great incentive for further enlargement. In recent years, the Baltic region has been exporting stability and good cooperation. No tension has been created there. And the more the zone of stability is enlarged, the better. The Balkans, after the tragedy of the 1990s, have been involved in NATO cooperation, and now they have a chance to become a stable region and to export stability.
So we have to look at NATO expansion not only from the perspective of how much the new countries can be involved in international undertakings, because they can do it only to the extent of their capabilities. I don't think anyone expects Slovenia or Estonia to take over a huge burden of the military operations today. But the airspace over Slovenia and other states is very important.
The role of Bulgaria and Romania in the Kosovo crisis, for example, was very important.
Q: What advice will you offer Mr. Bush about his dealings with your fellow European leaders?
We will have many opportunities to talk. I'll fly with him on Air Force One to Troy, Mich. I'll explain how American policy is seen and what needs to be done to avoid the artificial and detrimental question we are often presented with: Who do you like more, the Europeans or the Americans? It's like asking a child: Who do you like more, mommy or daddy?
The situation is that in our Euro-Atlantic space we appreciate the role of both pillars and there is no doubt for me that the American pillar is absolutely essential and the presence of the United States in Europe is a factor of stability.
On the other hand, the Americans have to understand that 50 years after the war, Europe is different not divided, defeated and destroyed. It has the need not only to consume peace and stability but also to participate. So if the right balance is found, we'll be ready for such difficult tasks as the fight against terrorism.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide