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Stanisław Ciosek - Times of great breakthroughs have passed
Posted by Miłosz Rafał Horodyski



You've been observing great breakthroughs in Poland in Russia closely. Don't you have an impression that we're on the verge of another breaking point in the history?

When the Soviet Empire was falling apart I was an ambassador and, in fact, I was inside of this process, and similarly when I was organizing the Polish Round Table Talks I was a witness and, at the same time, a participant of the transition of Poland. However, I have the impression that the fundamental issue underlying both of these turning points in history was a value crisis and a return to the idea which in Poland was defined as solidarity and which was born of the need for democracy. In that sense, times of great breakthroughs have passed also because nowadays there are no such strong divisions as in those days. What we see today is, for me, a value crisis as well, but I can't see any good prospects if, unlike when we were approaching democracy, we assume that we're determined by such factors as, say, the free market reign. It's incomprehensible to me. People are thrown out on the street and it should be so because the free market reigns? It's terrifying that greed has started to rule the world so strongly. What's also alarming is the fact that actually it is unknown who rules the world. Financial market? Investment funds? Once I saw an interesting documentary about how high-risk funds work. This documentary showed a group of young people who traded properties, petroleum, gold… Their work was to sell these products or prevent them from being sold. Then I thought that it was quite terrifying that such people in fact ruled the world nowadays. After all, nobody chooses them; nobody even knows them and they have huge power. But recently I've got to know that computers are more and more often replacing these brokers. We're reaching absurd levels if some computers and applications decide about our economy that is about our life.

So I guess you are not enthusiastic about the recent visit of Kirill I in Poland.

This visit was very important, especially because the last official contact of Poland with Russian patriarch took place 400 years ago and ended tragically for the patriarch, since he was starved to death by our predecessors. This fact is strongly remembered in Russia, and I got to know about this from Russian media, too. Maybe it was not a breaking point, comparing to what I consider to be such, but it is important that the two Churches have closed ranks and want to fight together for the faithful. During Kirill I's visit an alliance for fighting the secularization of life was announced. That can be a response to the crisis I was talking about.

Do you consider this crisis more significant from the political or religious perspective?

It's difficult for me to talk about religious issues, although I come from a religious family. Admittedly, my parents were not churchgoers, but during big religious celebrations they manifested their devotion to the Church. After some time, I can now admit that I was being prepared to be a priest by my mom, but, as you can see, my life has been taken over by politics and it is easier to judge the reality from the perspective of a politician. However, I think that no matter what sphere of life we're functioning in, the values should be clear. My crisis of faith was a result of, say, confrontation of the idea about perfection with mundane reality. As a young man, I saw my priest in a condition that didn't let me see a role model in him, because he was under the influence of alcohol, which destroyed my faith. I took another way but with faith that is it possible to act when there's an idea lying behind, when the values are clear and when you respect and follow them in your life. I'm stating this clearly not making a distinction between religious and non-religious values, since as a specialist in the humanities I am of the opinion that there are values that are common for religious and secular ethics. Even though I chose a life of a politician, I did not hesitate to take, at some point, an active part in destroying a system which as a politician I was guarding, because I believed there came a time for those fighting on opposite sides to show that it is possible to strive for the common values to reach a compromise. In Poland in 1989 for the first time we managed to bring revolutionary changes bloodlessly, because we deeply believed it could be done without any victims.

Coming back to the visit of Kirill I, I understand that the breakthrough the visit may bring will take place only if both sides believe in an agreement.

I wouldn't go so far as to announcing unification of the Churches after this visit. Anyway, it was not so widely commented on in Russia as it was in Poland, and, even though it had, in fact, a religious significance, it should be perceived from a diplomatic perspective. When it comes to religion, as I've said, the fact that the two Churches, separated for 1000 years, have come closer to fight progressive secularization together is significant. However, when it comes to politics, Kirill I's visit should be considered as, probably, a step towards the normalization of not so much relations as of looking at each other without the burden of history.

How important is a declaration of both Churches?

It is directed to all people of goodwill, so contrary to the critical opinions, it does not exclude anybody. Of course, both Churches define risks and see a chance for reconciliation, but do not deny what divides them. Skeptics claim that the Churches' attitude towards, say, in vitro casts a shadow over an aspiration for an agreement beyond boundaries, that it excluded some people from the agreement, but we have to take over account that over all there are human rights and the principle of equality before the law.

Is that alliance of Catholic and Orthodox clergy a herald of coming back to common values?

You must remember that Stalin suspended the Orthodox Church for 70 years. Russian authorities did not allow for a development of this religion, for debating and for developing intellectual movements. Catholicism is much more open. The Orthodox Church's aspirations to go out of the cocoon it's been stuck in means a lot. I hope it will work and both Churches will build on what unites, not on what divides them. John Paul II deserves a credit for that. Actually, I think that if people assimilated his teachings, the world nowadays would look much better. In a way he predicted the crisis, since he frequently talked about what getting rid of values and striving for profit at all costs could lead to.

Would you agree with the statement that it might be a step towards making John Paul's II great wish come true, which means a visit of the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Moscow?

Polish Pope hosted Russian leaders - Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and, as everybody knows, was all the time preparing for a visit to Moscow. Then, however, the sign was came only from the Vatican, and now the sing of readiness for such a meeting is coming from Moscow, as well. I used to know Kirill's I predecessor, Alexey, and I can see that unlike him, Kirill is open to the world, probably also because he used to be responsible for relations with other Churches and thanks to that he gained wider horizons. Alexey was the first patriarch after almost 70-year suspension of the Orthodox Church. It was the time of closing ranks and regaining the Orthodox Church, which had been destroyed for many years. Thus, Kirill's gesture is a gesture not towards Poland but towards the whole Catholic Church.

I guess that we appreciated the significance of this gesture by hosting the Patriarch truly royally.

If we hadn't hosted Kirill as the head of state, maybe it would be pointed in Russia as a diplomatic slip-up and now it has been recognized as natural. In any case, he is an emissary of a national political thought. It does not mean that Kirill asked Putin what the visit was supposed to look like, but it's the fact that the Orthodox Church has always been close to the throne and up till now this model is similar to the Anglican Church where the Patriarch is close to the civil authority. Of course, in some matters, the Orthodox Church clearly dissociates itself from the authority, like e.g. in the issue of demonstrators in Moscow.

Was it also such in the case of Pussy Riot?

I look at this issue from a conservative perspective, believing that such political demonstrations mustn't be held on graveyards or churches, so there should be a punishment, but not two years in a labor-camp. It is like with a bear that wants to kill a fly but destroys a table at the same time. I reckon that in this case Russians shot themselves in the foot. What was it for? They just made a fuss to the whole world.

So I will go further: what are such show trials and suppressions of the opponents for?

This is a serious issue. The reason lays in the fact that the authorities cannot see that the changes affect social processes. As a result of democratization there emerged middle class, which has reached some limit of their abilities. They cannot develop any more because they come across oligarchic arrangements. Corruption is decisive, there is no transparency and thus this class has started rebellion.

Can this rebellion help Russia to change and become more similar to Western countries? Doesn't the young generation crave for democracy more than the one brought-up in soviet Russia?

Ciosek: Statistically, this is a small segment of society but it is visible in big cities, in the capital, on the Internet. What I think surprised Russian authorities was the fact that somebody could laugh at them on the Internet! This fact means that it's a young people's revolution, an Internet revolution. And this is a discovery of young people in Russia: that with one song, one picture, one movie, they can wreak political havoc. Nevertheless, I don't think it can undermine the stability of the ruling. Putin will stay in power till the end of this term, perhaps till the end of the next one. The predictions about the end of the current system are mostly opinions appearing on the Internet, so they are representative for a small group of intellectuals.

You've mentioned the Internet and its impact on the perception of reality. I would expand this observation over all the media. When we look at Kirill's visit in Poland, we can also see the imbalance in covering this event. Almost all Polish media cover it, Russian ones - so to speak - remain silent.

Ciosek: One can say that we look at each other through two sides of the same binoculars. We see a big bear, whilst they look at us through the decreasing glass. We are talking about reconciliation with Russia, and Russians are surprised, wondering what is going on, because they do not look at us through the balance of harms, as we look at them. They do not know as well as we do what Katyn is, the name of Smolensk is not recalled so often there as here.

Russia keeps teetering between East and West. Where do you think they will ultimately end up?

I watched the changes, which were being introduced by Gorbachev and then Yeltsin. They wanted to introduce many elements from the western world to Russia. But, unfortunately, it resulted in disaster. Oligarchy was established; many people didn't get their earnings, social stratification deepened dramatically. People remember those days very well, and are very afraid that the reforms introduced in the Western style would mean a similar problem again. But of course, some changes need be introduced in Russia. But it's the Russians who have to understand that it is worthwhile to adopt a democratic solution. And they are still afraid of adopting what's 'Western'. But can human rights, and freedom of speech, be considered as 'Western inventions'? Probably not, after all, these are universal values. But Russia has other problems. 70 percent of the Russian economy consists of big conglomerates, whose operations are based on oil and gas deposits. Russia lacks small and medium enterprises, which in prosperous societies build wealth. John Paul II wrote that Europe has two lungs - one in the West, another in the other Wast. So far, however, they cannot be connected. I've always been of the opinion that Western Europe has to live with Russia - maybe not in the same apartment, but certainly in the same house. We must also remember that without good relations with Russia we will not build positive relations with Ukraine and Belarus. Simply there is no chance for that.

Nowadays we can see that the main determinant of changes is the economy. Russians have never hidden the fact that they use energy resources as a political tool. Since they control business so much, the economy will not contribute to systemic changes.

Russians have withdrawn to a large extent from this way of acting and thinking. It is also not the case that every company in Russia is subordinate to Putin and the Kremlin. They also want to make money. Therefore, Polish export to our neighbor is growing by 20-30% every year. What does it result from? Western goods have always been considered to be prestigious there; our products were treated as a second category. Meanwhile, we learned a lesson, we brought very good equipment, raised the quality of our products and they are now competitive, because they do not deviate from the quality of the products from the West, and they are cheaper. The other way is no longer working. We are afraid of the Russian capital; anti-Russian phobias and historical legacy are again in force.

And you can see it while looking at the invertor list: out of several hundreds, only a few represent Russian capital.

Ciosek: According to the Polish National Bank's estimates for the year 2011, Russian investment value was less than 30 million. This is a small factory, in fact. On the other hand, Russia's energy policy seems to be aggressive at times, as seen on the example of Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania. Therefore, I am not a supporter of giving Polish energy in the hands of the Russians. Especially after Russian declarations that, for example, they will purchase a Polish refinery to close it and sell their own products. Of course, there are ways to prevent it, you can sell some plants. A guarantee of fair relations with Russia is the fact that the country has acceded the World Trade Organization. It should be remembered that this accession was preceded by 18 years of negotiations. The result is that Russia is committed to compliance with the rules of the game of the open market, established by the WTO. But I think that there is only one-way of normalization of trade relations with Russia: not to look at resentment, but at business profits. If it pays off to be associated with the Russian capital, it should be done. Russians have successfully invested in Germany or in England, although the latter acknowledged that there are sectors in which Russian capital is not welcomed, because it's the national business. Money, however, does not get angry, does not take offence. If we let them earn and we ourselves earn from that, too, I do not see any obstacles in doing business with the Russians.

We should, therefore, stop looking at political elite, because in the end, it's people who drive the economy, not politicians.

Recently I have visited a carpenter in Mokotów, Warsaw. His factory is located in an old garage, but when I walked in, I was speechless - there was a lot of modern equipment. The owner of the plant turned out to be an elderly man. He said that his business was developing well; he employed several people and intended to expand the business and hire more people. As he recognized me, he asked what I thought about the current crisis, and if we could overcome it. I said - 'yes, we will overcome this crisis, and do you know, thanks to whom? Thanks to people like you'. If there are smaller and medium-sized, ambitious entrepreneurs who want to develop, then we have a chance to overcome all the difficulties.

And what if a crisis crosses borders?

There have been numerous bloody conflicts throughout history. We can't forget about it. The fact that for many years we haven't had a major armed conflict in our part of the continent doesn't mean that such a threat does not exist.

May these mass protests that we witness around the world give rise to a more powerful conflict? We have mentioned youngsters who are coming to the fore. They are going into the streets and demanding democracy and freedom.

Do you think that conflicts in Arab countries and in Russia have anything in common?

To my mind, protests in the Middle East and those in Russia are of a different kind. Russian protesters are mostly middle class representatives who live on a decent level, but simply want more. I've recently read in a Russian newspaper about one of those who are protesting in Moscow. He works in a corporation, earns much enough to afford mortgage repayment and an ordinary life. However, he would like to get a promotion and thinks that he has the right qualifications. But he can't, as his boss is an oligarch's cousin and hinders his further career. That's what people in Russia are protesting against. Russia's development is blocked by such relations, which are particularly strong on a local level, in the provinces. I think that these protests will result in a new social or political movement. Will authorities allow for that? I think they have no other choice, because the country's middle class has great power, which can't be suppressed. Sooner or later Russia will have modern political parties, because those existing now are simply disgraced.

What future do you predict for Europe?

Currently, there are a lot of quarrels and conflicts in the European Union. First of all, there is no vision that would unite Europe. I feel that those in power may be experts in their narrow fields, but they lack wider perspective, vision that is. If we want Europe to keep pace with the fast developing world, we need a little less technocratic governments and closer attachment to values.

January 1, 2012


Stanisław Ciosek was a Polish Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Russian Federation in the years 1989-1996. He was also a Presidential Adviser for Foreign Affairs in Kwaśniewski's administration and recently he has become a frequent commentator for eastern and international policy.


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