"I expect a gesture of reconciliation from Andrzej Duda"
When you were president, it seemed that Ukraine and Poland had resolved all controversial historical issues. The "forgive and ask for forgiveness" formula was suggested and it worked. Why is this formula no longer effective?
All is not lost yet. We started this process with Leonid Kuchma by signing an agreement on Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation.
What happened next? First, our countries got preoccupied with themselves rather than with our cooperation.
Second, unfortunately, there was very strong opposition from nationalists, who, naturally, were not interested in reconciliation but would like to use the controversial pages of our history for their own benefit, in particular, to attract new voters.
Third, one must understand that reconciliation is a long process. Here you cannot achieve success in a couple of years, this is a process that continues throughout your life.
Last but not least, I'm not that pessimistic. At the political level, there is not enough activity on reconciliation issues, but in practice it is going well.
You know how many Ukrainians work in Poland. They are important not only for our economy, but they are also part of our society. Human relationships create a good background for future reconciliation. Ordinary people do what politicians do not.
In your opinion, are Ukrainian citizens working in Poland a factor in the reconciliation of our peoples or is it still a factor of additional tension?
No, this is an absolute factor of reconciliation.
Of course, people do not come with a mission of reconciliation but to earn money. And we need these people because about two million Poles have left the country since we joined the EU.
But in a broad sense, it helps reconciliation.
I will return to the topic of our historical disputes. In recent years, they have become a key factor in relations between Ukraine and Poland.
It takes right gestures to settle them. And this is the first thing that I would suggest the Polish president, who was recently elected for the second term in office – by the way, so far only I have been able to do this in Poland – should do.
Thanks to his re-election, he is in a strong position to make some important gesture. There are similar expectations for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Therefore, I expect the visit of the Polish president to Kyiv to result in the signing of a joint declaration and, possibly, the creation of a group that will continue the discussion not only about our complex joint history but also about how to write good textbooks for schools.
We have a good example of German reconciliation.
We had a commission that worked on a joint textbook on Polish-German history. The idea was as follows: where we are in agreement, we write one text; where we disagree, we give two different versions, German and Polish ones.
I thought there would be 100-150 pages reflecting different positions, but in reality there were very few of them.
And this work helped us a lot in preparing textbooks for schools.
I would like to highlight the importance of this because there will be no reconciliation if we do not educate young people in a spirit of reconciliation. Therefore, I expect exactly this gesture from the presidents.
And although Andrzej Duda is associated with the right wing of our politics, with a group that is close to nationalist thinking, I expect him to make a gesture exactly like this.
Is he ready for this? And will this not cause a conflict with his own party?
This is his second term.
If you want to be remembered in history, you cannot go with your party only.
There are times when you even need to go against it.
During his second term, when he can no longer run for president, he must think about his legacy after 10 years of presidency.
Perhaps one of the key achievements of Andrzej Duda's presidency will be a step forward in the Polish-Ukrainian historical dialogue and Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation. I deliberately use this conversation with you to suggest this possibility.
You have mentioned the Polish-German dialogue. However, there are problems there too. Now Poland has raised the issue of large-scale restitution...
It's just cynical politics, nothing more.
The authorities started exploiting the issue of restitution to get the far-right votes, of which they are 5-7% in Poland. The government itself does not believe that this is possible but it still uses some anti-German sentiments.
But a cynical policy can play on anti-Ukrainian sentiments much in the same way.
Certainly! The problem is that the reconciliation process with Germany has been underway for many years. And we have achieved a lot.
I think that we, Poles, have not yet done everything we should (for reconciliation with Ukraine). To describe the truth, especially about Volyn, in good detail, to ensure that all the necessary monuments are there. So that we could talk about these events in a calmer manner and certainly not in the spirit of cynical politics.
In Poland they prefer to blame Volyn [events] squarely on Ukraine. Do you think it is possible that the presidents of Ukraine and Poland will jointly unveil monuments to both Polish and Ukrainian victims?
I hope that it will be like that. Without this, we will not talk about the truth.
We will be able to reach understanding when we start a calm discussion without much political influence. This does not mean that we will accept the assessment of the other side, but we will have an understanding of what kind of tragedy it was and how we should act so that this never happens again.
I'll tell you a personal story.
When President Kuchma organized the anniversary of the Volyn tragedy, I invited my father-in-law to attend it. He was born near the city of Rivne and was one of the few who survived this tragedy in his village.
I had a difficult and dramatic conversation with him, but nevertheless he agreed to come, having set one condition that reconciliation should be based on historical truth. And I promised him that.
He accepted the invitation of President Kuchma and it was amazing. One person from his generation made a speech there, they were children at the time these events happened to them.
It was a strong speech, but not an aggressive one, rather reminiscences about the past. Of course, all this happened at a certain distance, primarily between the older generations (Poles and Ukrainians).
And on the plane on the way back he told me: "What you are doing is right."
For me it was important that a participant and even a victim of those events understood that this was the right way.
Is there a chance for such a turning point now that Przemyslaw Czarnek, known for his anti-Ukrainian statements (**** LINK), has been appointed Polish Minister of Education?
This could be a problem.
A politician with extremist views who oversees education is bad. And it's not just me who doesn't like it. This appointment faced strong criticism in Poland and, of course, the opposition will closely monitor his work.
By the way, he made similarly aggressive statements about the LGBT community. I don't understand why they had decided to invite him to the government.
But if the leaders of our countries send a strong signal on the return to the dialogue on reconciliation, even such a minister will not be able to do much bad.
"In 1.5 years the Polish government will face a new political crisis"
A couple of questions about Polish politics. What does Jaroslaw Kaczynski's return to the government mean? Is this the end of the political crisis or is it its new level?
I think the crisis will continue. Certainly not on the scale there was in recent days.
In the government, Kaczynski will play the role of pater families, the father of the family who looks at everyone and says what can and cannot be done.
This will help extend the life of this coalition. But, in one and a half to two years, it will face a new crisis. In three years there will be a new election, and tension between the members of the coalition will be higher than now when it gets closer.
The second factor that will destabilize the government is the economy. Polish GDP has been growing since 1993, and even during the financial crisis of 2007-2008, we also posted growth in terms of products.
Now, after COVID, there will be a recession.
This recession comes at a time when the government was relying on social programs to win elections. The government promised and gave people a lot of money, but now the budget will not be so big. There will also be economic tension due to the decline in the EU economy, while exports are an important factor for Poland.
What did the opposition lack to win the presidential election? How do you see its prospects?
The opposition lost the election by a very small margin. This is exactly what today's Poland looks like: albeit small, but the majority is with Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his party.
Another reason for this result is that the opposition candidate did not start creating a public civic movement. They want to create such a movement now, but, as for me, they missed a good moment.
Still, the opposition has a chance to win in the future. The only question is how integral it will be. After all, the Polish opposition is diverse as it includes the center-right, the centrists, the left, and the Peasant Party. We need wise leaders who will work on this integration now, three years before the elections. Rafał Trzaskowski could be the leader of such a broad opposition front.
Is the social movement he announced a good idea? For example, Doland Tusk is critical of this initiative.
Because it is dangerous for the Civic Platform party established by Tusk.
Yes, the new movement will divert many people from this party.
But if we remain in the old party system, we will not win the elections.
Moreover, if the Civic Platform evolves, sooner or later it will arrive at the idea of a broad front on its own.
As for Donald Tusk's assessments, I think he does not fully understand what processes have already taken place in Poland over the past seven years. It will not be the way it used to be.
Even if the opposition wins the election in three years – which I wish them, although I doubt they will – we will not return to the Tusk era.
"Our strategy in relations with the United States – Trump, Trump and Trump once again"
One of the greatest achievements of the current Polish government is good relations with the United States and Trump. There are American troops in Poland now to defend it against Russia.
Do you think the US presidential election can affect NATO's western flank?
I don’t think so. Of course, the current government has been very supportive and continues to support Trump.
The relations between Poland and the United States have always been good, but we have never focused our relations on the president only. We have worked with a wider scope: the Administration, the opposition.
And now our strategy in relations with the United States is Trump, Trump and Trump once again.
But for us, America will remain a strategic partner under Biden too, as it has been for the past 30 years.
At the same time, Poland has never been a strategic partner for America, including under Trump. We were an important partner but not a strategic one, like Israel or Great Britain.
Nevertheless, the new US president will not dare to withdraw his soldiers from Eastern Europe and Poland as long as Russia continues its aggressive policy.
Big changes in US policy in the event of Biden's victory may happen due to the fact that Trump did not respect either NATO or the EU. And for us, these two structures are the most important. For Polish security, it is not so much the American contingent in Poland that is important as Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.
The Trump presidency was the most difficult time for the Alliance, whereas Biden will strengthen NATO and this is the most important thing for us.
It's the same with the EU, which means stability and development for us. Trump has not said a single kind word about the EU. He even rejoiced that Brexit had happened, thinking other countries would follow Britain.
Therefore, despite the personal relations of our leaders, above all, between President Duda and Trump, despite the similarities between Trump's and Kaczynski's programs, I think that Biden's victory would be better for Poland.
Would the change of the master of the White House affect the balance of power in opposition to Russia? And could the new president choose a tougher policy on Putin?
I think he will conduct some kind of policy because Trump... it was a big improvisation.
Trump's policies have stemmed from his instincts. He said many times that "I do not need advisors, I have a strong enough instinct. I understand how to do it." And this is the source of all those foreign policy decisions that clearly have not helped the United States.
I think that Biden, as an experienced politician, will act differently. And as for Russia, I am absolutely sure that this will be a firm policy. Besides, Biden understands your country and will strive to create a good, honest and transparent relationship with Ukraine.
And I hope that Biden will correct the mistake of recent years when America withdrew from important international organizations, leaving leadership to China.
"Sanctions mean we don't have a plan"
Another topic that is important for both Poland and Ukraine is the events in Belarus. Do you think the EU policy towards Minsk has been successful? And is there a chance to influence Lukashenko?
That's a very difficult question.
The EU made the right decisions: we need to help Belarusian society, we need to liberalize visa regulations, provide good grants for students and scientists. We need to help Belarusians to be free.
On the other hand, only Lukashenko and Putin can resolve the issue politically.
Therefore, the idea that Lukashenko voiced (and Moscow supported – editorial note) that he is ready to implement constitutional reform and later organize a new election is the idea that needs to be discussed.
It is difficult to say how things will develop further, at least because we do not fully know what and how Lukashenko had promised President Putin, what scenarios of overcoming this crisis they had discussed.
How should the EU act in this situation? I think that it is necessary to both influence President Lukashenko and talk with Moscow in order to find a way out of the crisis.
For the EU, sanctions remain the only way to put pressure on Lukashenko?
Sanctions are already the last step, they mean that we do not have good ideas on how to resolve the issue. It is like a gesture that we cannot do anything else, that we do not have a good political plan.
Sanctions don't solve anything. And to find a way out, you need a dialogue.
Now Poland and other EU countries treat Tikhanovskaya as the de facto president of Belarus. Is this a correct tactic?
This tactic is understandable. But if you are asking whether it helps the dialogue or not, the answer is simple: of course, it does not. On the contrary, it further complicates the situation.
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