Aleksander Kwasniewski: For Bulgaria, Poland Refugee Problem Is Artificial
Novinite has interviewed Aleksander Kwasniewski, who served as President of Poland between 1995 and 2005.
Having been Poland's only reelected head of state, he played an active part in the country's accession into the European Union and NATO, which both happened during his terms in office.
Kwasniewski was in Bulgaria for a conference titled "Countering Violent Extremism: New Security Agenda for Education and Culture”, co-organized by UNESCO and the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria". We therefore discuss issues such as the role of international bodies in fighting extremism, Russia-West relations in terms of security, and the race to pick the next UN Secretary General which earlier this week was officially inaugurated.
Mr Kwasniewski, with the migrant crisis still worrying the region, what approach do you think Eastern Europe, and Poland should have to it now? Should they capsulate or offer something else?
First of all, it's necessary to say this crisis is serious. It's not a question of propaganda. The war has continued, you have terrorism, if you want to discuss a solution, we have three elements. The first element is a moral one. In this case we cannot say no to refugees. I don't know how it looks in Bulgaria, but Poland is a big country of diaspora. Our people emigrated in last century many times. For us from a moral point of view it would be a mistake to say "no" to refugees.
At a political level, of course, we should support the European Union and NATO and the national institutions to do something to solve the problems in Syria, in North Africa, etc., because without a solution we'll still have the refugees. It's necessary to stop the war, to stop the violence, to support economic development in the region.
And the third element, which is important from logistical point of view, is how we want to help our neighbors, our culture, which are, first of all, faced by the problem of refugees. How we want to support Greece, Italy, Spain and Germany. Frankly speaking, the problem of refugees for Bulgaria or for Poland is a little bit artificial. Even if refugees will come to Bulgaria or to Poland, next month they move to Germany, to Austria, to Sweden, Norway, etc.
I think a sense of European solidarity is to accept some common policies on refugees. Even if you have, let's say, only transit refugees, it's necessary to do it and I think it's necessary to explain it to public opinion.
You think that the problem is artificial in our countries, but in parts of Eastern Europe there is a resurgence of religious sentiment. Could this incite extremism instead of combating it?
No, we don't speak about terrorism. If we have information because of cooperation with intelligence or some other services, we know that someone who is a terrorist necessary to keep him in prison, not as a free person. But this is a different story. Maybe in Bulgaria the problem is more complicated, because here in Bulgaria you have a strong presence of Islam. But in Poland you have 95% of Catholics. What kind of religious problem? If, for example, 10 000 Muslims come to Poland? Do you think that in next years Poland starts to be a Muslim country? It is totally impossible.
No, but in countries like Slovakia for instance...
Slovakia is a special case because it has a really long-time problem with Roma. The sensitivity of Slovaks about refugees I can to some extent understand.
What role do you think the UN or UNESCO or other international bodies should have in fighting extremism?
I think they are always quite crucial because to fight against extremists it is necessary to fight the regions of extremists. And then it is necessary to have some political unity, to have some military measures, cooperation of intelligence - all of these are extremely important. But if you want to eliminate the violence, radicalism, it is necessary to have good education, common discussions, events, some kind of reconciliation. If you have two countries which were enemies in the last many many centuries, it is necessary to start the process of reconciliation, to explain why all the things happen and how we can change the situation.
I'm mentioning the UN with the upcoming elections of a next UN Secretary General in sight. The Bulgarian candidate, Ms Irina Bokova, does she stand a chance?
Yes, totally! I am sure she has good chances to win. Of course she needs to have support form Eastern Europe and from Bulgaria first of all. I think in Bulgaria you should understand this is a very unique chance to have one of the most important positions in the world. I tell you why she has a chance. In the structure of the United Nations it's time to have a first female Secretary General in history. Secondly Eastern Europe never had this position, and the position of Eastern Europe is much stronger than it was, let's say, 20 years ago. Thirdly she is absolutely well-prepared for the job. After then years at UNESCO, speaking so many languages, with the contacts with all leaders of the world, and this special kind of sensitivity - in the contemporary world not only military measures matter, but also soft power. Education and culture will play an increasingly important role. So I think she has a chance to be elected.
But does this change with the new procedure introduced to elect the next UN secretary General? According to recent changes, says that all 193 countries will take part, differently to what was done until now.
This is democracy - finally, because you know the UN has a special structure. Apart from 193 members there is the Security Council, 5 countries having veto rights. We will see of course. I think we have a new era with a bigger importance of social media. Bokova is prepared to take part in all kinds of procedures. She speaks many languages, she can explain her position, I'm not afraid that this new position can be a problem for her. But it will take more time and effort, no doubt.
Returning to terrorism, you have also been critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian foreign policy. Does this mutual defiance between the West and Russia contribute to combating terrorism? The West and Russia have a common enemy. Do you think cooperation should return to the agenda?
The world is much more complicated than the relations between the West and Russia. Of course with Russia we have one problem and one chance - and the chance is fighting terrorism. And I think Syria's case is a good place to show Russia is a responsible partner ready to fight together with the West against terrorists. But the problem of Ukraine still exists. We cannot accept what Russia is doing with Ukraine, especially with Crimea - this totally illegal annexation of this part of Ukraine. I think the Role of Russia supporting extremists and separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk is also unacceptable. We have a problem with Russia because you know for the West - because I understand Poland is a part of the West - Russia was very expected good partner. We never thought about Russia like a a traditional enemy. For us Russia closer to the EU, Russia closer to NATO is an absolutely expected partner. Unfortunately the politics of Putin is different. And with Putin we have a problem, because nobody expected in the world, and I think in Bulgaria also, that during this complicated period of time in Ukraine he will decide about annexation of Crimea.
In February you said there was a risk of Russia waging a hybrid war in Eastern Europe. Months on, do you think this is happening or the risk is still here?
No, I hope not. It was, of course, when we discussed about the risk, it was an absolutely legitimate option. Today, because of the situation in Syria, because of the low oil prices, because of many elements, Russia changed the policies a little bit, they stopped the most aggressive part of its policy on Ukraine, and this creates some chance of dialogue for something. It would be great if Russia, one day we easy they accept fully the sovereignty of Ukraine and the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the position of Ukraine as part of the European Union in the future. But when we speak about the future we mean the next 20 years.
You think Ukraine should become a member of the EU after all?
If they want. If they are prepared.
And of NATO?
Frankly speaking, not. But this is a big problem. In my opinion, in the strategy we cannot offer Ukraine a membership in NATO, because it would be very controversial and create a lot of tensions. The problem is extremely complicated for the West. If we don't accept Ukraine's ambitions to be in NATO, what can we offer instead? What kind of guarantees? In 1994 we signed the so-called Budapest Memorandum, when Ukraine decided to eliminate nuclear weapons. This document was signed by the members of the Security Council. What has happened with this document during the Crimean crisis? It was a piece of paper, nothing more. So for Ukrainians it is very important nowadays to tell them how the democratic West wants to support sovereignty and territorial integrity without membership into NATO.
You have recently been critical about developments taking place in Poland since the current government took office. Do you see a scenario that Poland might follow the lockstep of Hungary?
Democracy in Poland works, there is nothing special about it. I didn't vote for this government, but I respect [the result of elections] and I understand that we have a new majority. I'm very much afraid, and said it openly in Polish media, that this government, and using this majority, wants to change the law in a very unconstitutional way, and that is a real threat. The question today is whether the government will stop such behavior, will step back a little bit. We'll see. My wish is that Poland's new majority should work according to the Constitution, because that is extremely important for Polish democracy. Stability of the Constitution, respect for the Constitution.
But the government is seeking to have a grip on the Constitutional court...
The main element is a fight over the Constitional court. In our system, the Constitutional court is the only one which can control the decisions of Parliament and verdicts of the court are final. That is today under discussion. My understanding, because I was one of the co-authors of the Constitution, is that I am on the side of the constitutional tribunal. I was President for ten years, sometimes the verdicts of the Constitutional tribunal weren't very pleasant for me, but still, I respect the role and the independent position of the constitutional tribunal. And I hope the new majority will respect the tribunal's role in the same way.
You say traditional democracy is in crisis. What is the way out?
Traditional democracy didn't create new methods of communication in times of Facebook, Twitter, etc. The role of traditional parties is decreasing. We have no chance, even no time, for very wide debates. The problem what to do to protect the democracy, to use new methods of communication. I think it is time for new leaders to describe how this new style of democracy should work, because I tell you. When I was elected President first time, for me as a candidate the most important was to travel around Poland. I tried to shake hands, to have speeches everywhere. Today, frankly speaking, there is a completely different style of the campaign! This still exists, but it's not so important. It is very important to understand democracy needs our efforts, it is still the best system we can imagine as Churchill said, but we need to change the methods and instruments we have.
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