On Tuesday, October 20, 2009, American Vice President
Joe Biden came to Warsaw to assure that the United States would embrace Poland
by its new system of missile defense (BMD). On the same day, a popular Russian
daily Izvestia printed an interview of General Wojciech Jaruzelski. The
interview granted to Izvestia’s foreign correspondent Oleg Shevtsov was made in
Paris, on September 18, 2009. The title was taken from the response of the
General to a final question: “How do you assess the American withdrawal from
deployment of a BMD system in Poland?” A coincidence? Rather not. From the very
beginning, the Russians strongly opposed a planned building of a U.S. missile
receptor base in Poland and of a U.S. forward radar system in the Czech Republic
and they ditched it with the help of the Obama Administration. The interview of
the last communist leader of Poland presents his biography and his views on
Polish–Russian relations. It is very interesting and that’s why I decided to
translate it from Russian to English and to publish it.
– David Dastych
Former President of Poland, Wojciech Jaruzelski, is one of the most controversial figures in the current history of his country. For some people he is almost a criminal, an organizer of a military coup d’etat, a strangler of democracy in full and of the activists of the “Solidarity” trade union in particular. For other, he is a patriot who had saved his country from an armed intervention of the Warsaw Pact, and a man, who helped to dismember the world communist system. And how he, himself, appraises his part in the history? About this and a number of other questions discusses with General Jaruzelski an Izvestia’s correspondent in Paris, Oleg Shevtsov.
”Polish ‘troglodytes’ incited Brezhnev to intervene”
You have entered history as “the last dictator of Poland”, the one who imposed the martial law on the 13th of December 1981. Now there is going on a criminal trial, where responsibility is put on you for all that has happened in these years. Do you feel culpable?
I confess for twelve years now. And then, in 1981, I knew: the decision to introduce the martial law will hang on me to the end of my days. I talked about it during the trial. The martial law was a nightmare for me. But at that time, in my opinion, there was no other variant which could be better for Poland. I knew the realities of that epoch. I knew what could menace to us in case we resigned of the introduction of the “law of war” [martial law]. I can remind to you the known words of Brezhnev: “If the Polish communists would submit themselves to counter-revolutionary public feeling, then the fate of Poland, the fate of peace in Europe would be solved by force.” If I, or you, were a Soviet general and could see the developments in Poland, I would have decided to intervene.
Was there any other decision? What your comrades of the Party leadership suggested to you?
The martial law – it was an evil, but a smaller evil in comparison to that catastrophe we stood at the threshold of. There were particular political reasons for this catastrophe [to happen]. In the Polish Communist Party there were dogmatists – “troglodytes”, as I named them – who did not want any reforms and were ready to get rid of them at any price. They maintained secret contacts with the leaders of the USSR, incited them to military intervention. In the inner circle of Brezhnev there also were old dogmatists – Romanov, Grishin. Well, I should be careful [pointing to] old sclerotics: Brezhnev died at 75, and I am already 86 years old.
There were also economic reasons. At that time USSR, Czechoslovakia and GDR [East Germany] offered main help to Poland – we needed all: products, energy, raw materials. Beginning from the 1st of January 1982, all supplies of natural gas were to be cut off. Already in December 1981, we suffered big downfall of the supply of energy-portents. And, finally, the third threat – the military one. Being the Commander-in-Chief I knew: Soviet armies were concentrated at our frontiers. I understood too well what that meant.
I couldn’t forget about still one more factor. Following Yalta, after the year 1945, the [Western] frontier of Poland changed favorably for us. At that time, the only guarantor of our Western frontier territories was Stalin, who pushed frontiers Westward to enlarge the zone of Soviet influence. Western Germany [FRG] opposed this. In 1967, General de Gaulle was the only one among the Western European politicians, who came to Poland from the West, entering ten kilometers deep into former [German] Silesia. By this [move] he confirmed that it was the territory of Poland nowadays. From Moscow we always received reminders about who guaranteed our [Western] frontier. And [Russians] let us think: as long as you remain a socialist state, your [national] territory will not be curbed. And if not, then…
As you are coming from a family of landed gentry, don’t you feel nostalgic about the old, before-the-war Poland?
In fact, I have been born to a Catholic family of small land-owning gentry. I graduated from a private Catholic college. Well, and then followed – Siberia, the war, I was wounded twice at the front, when I fought against Germans. The ancestry of our house dates back to the thirteenth century. Many people in the West don’t realize to what extent our country was mediaeval [backward] – still in 1945. When my father visited the places where our estate was located, [peasants] kissed his hand. Even when I occurred to be there after the war, the villagers addressed me [by a title] of “my lord” and took off their caps. But there is no nostalgia in me about that before-the-war past.
One may criticize socialism at free will, but no one can deny that: after the war Poland made a great social leap forward.
After WWII we inherited a country of 24 million inhabitants –- six million perished during the war. But by 1970 there were counted [in Poland] 38 million people – it was a real demographical dash. As to the reproductiveness, we outdistanced GDR [East Germany], and also Czechoslovakia. But social provisions for such a big population growth began to crumble in the 1970s. As people used to tell then, in [Polish] shops one could find only vinegar. But [sarcastically] that vinegar was a strong aphrodisiac, as it brought about the birth of 14 millions of new Poles.
Did the introduction of the martial law accelerate the fall of communism, or delay it?
On the one hand, the martial law delayed the fall of the Berlin Wall by eight years. But there’s also an opposite view. The entering of the Warsaw Pact armies to Poland [in the 1980s] certainly could have solidified the position of the partisans of a brutal policy line in the leadership of the USSR. In such case, Gorbachev wouldn’t have assumed power and he couldn’t begin his reforms. I don’t justify that forced decision [of the martial law] but it was the least of all evils. There is no subjunctive mood in history. But we know how ended the coup d’etat of Jozef Pilsudski in 1926, and how ended an unprepared Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
Don’t you think of yourself as of a usurper?
No, my decision was truly legitimate. The Polish Parliament (The Sejm) voted for the introduction of the martial law [in 1981]. It was not a coup d’etat at all.
Are normal relations between Poland and Russia possible, considering our complicated common history?
Let me begin from [the fact] that presently there are many divergences between Poland and Russia – especially on the higher level, in the academic circles and so on. All that makes me bitter. I will never stop repeating: I have high respect for Russia, I love Russians, Russian nation, Russian culture. The Russian nation is close to us, a Slav nation. Russia – it’s a huge, multi-national country, the whole continent.
In spite of [the fact that] there was a forced exile to Siberia in my life, that there was taiga – where my Father remained for ages, I am very grateful to Vladimir Putin for making possible to me to travel to Altayskiy Kray to pay a visit at the grave of my Father. But regardless of my difficult life history, I still love Russia, and I think that our mutual relations may be and can be good. It’s a pity that it isn’t so now. I don’t want to judge which party is more culpable for that. Now I am far away from politics and I don’t dispose of full information to be able to formulate a judgment. But, to begin with, in my opinion, we have to get rid of emotions, of which, unfortunately, there is a lot in Poland. One can’t build normal relations on emotions. Different countries can’t understand history in the same way. But this should not prevent them from living in harmony, moreover when they are neighbors.
Now, twelve years after the crush of the Berlin Wall, are there still any dividing lines in Europe?
There will be no wall between Russia and the rest of Europe. All [countries] have their own traditions and ways to democracy and all need different timing to walk that long way [to the end]. After the fall of the USSR, there was necessary to bring together [again] what had been dispersed. A time will come, and we will be close [with Russia] again. Gorbachev didn’t want any new barriers to rise in Europe, and he didn’t want to disrupt the Soviet Union either. After all, there are other geopolitical realities – China, the Islamic world. Perhaps in twenty, thirty years to come we will be together again.
And in 1939, who invaded Poland?
Poland was subjected to aggression from both sides [Germany and the Soviet Union]. And then there was Katyn Massacre, which is very painful for the Polish national identity. Assessments of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had been made from our and from the Russian side. Putin himself admitted that the agreement with Hitler was immoral.
But this Pact should be examined in the political context of that epoch. At that time, I was 16 years old and I remember the bitter, unfortunate things that have been committed, also by us. But the history, the wounds inflicted by it are not to be quickly healed.
Was is possible to act in a different way, not to disrupt to the end – of the Warsaw Pact, the socialist system, the USSR?
Truly, all that could be made in a different way, perhaps something could be done differently, but it was impossible to solve that differently then. There are laws of the development of social order, but we stayed behind schedule. To move to a new [higher] level of civilization, we needed a qualitative leap forward. Of course, it had to be controlled not to allow such high social costs, but quite painless it could not have happen. And communism – in its ideal version, which was badly damaged by the historical practice – had to be considered as a social experience.
The government of Tadeusz Mazowiecki, which acted when I was he head of the state, began deep reforms. And, theoretically, they could have been successful. We took a path of a mixed economy. To introduce the principles of capitalism would end in massive unemployment, which was not to be allowed for. To conserve the [dominant] role of the state would lead to stagnation. So we were searching a third way. We hit upon the possibility of introducing a third economic factor – cooperatives. All documents of that time were not only signed by Mazowiecki, but also by myself. [That’s why] Gorbachev called Poland a “laboratory of reforms.”
Since that time our country has changed very much. I would be lying if I said: everything that is happening now, I like it. Now no one takes into account the social costs. Therefore many problems have accumulated.
How do you appraise the refusal of Americans to deploy the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system in Poland?
As a professional soldier, from the very beginning I doubted about the efficacy of that plan. The most of questions evoked its [alleged] targeting against Iran. Of course, this was [only] a pretext for strengthening the [U.S.] strategic position against Russia, what gave rise to such nervousness in the relations between Moscow and Washington.
An [eventual] deployment of [elements] of the American BMD in Poland by no means would enhance Poland’s security. One way or the other, we are members of NATO. And, according to the agreement, each country – member of the alliance – has the right to collective defense. Therefore a U.S. bilateral agreement with Poland on missile defense – could be an unnecessary duplication of the existing security system. So the [acceptance of the American] missile defense system could be truly a manifestation of [Poland’s] distrust of NATO. And in the conditions of the present [economic] crisis, it became still prohibitively expensive.