Adam Michnik: Release Khodorkovsky

The following is our third and final translation from the Russian press of Polish historian Adam Michnik’s recent visit to Moscow (also the first and second articles). In this interview with Sergey Buntman on Echo Moskvy, which originally aired on Oct. 25, 2008, Michnik identifies the release of Mikhail Khodorkovsky would be seen as “a signal, and clear, clean, comprehensible to all” that Russia is heading in the right direction, toward democratic values and normalization of relations with Poland and other former Soviet states.

Exclusive translation of interview transcript from Echo Moskvy:


S.BUNTMAN: Well, it’s just today that it’s called that. Adam Michnik has come to our town [gorod – the name of the show]. Hello, Adam, good day.

A.MICHNIK: Hello, good day.

S.BUNTMAN: I invite all listeners to ask Adam Michnik questions about everything – about Russia, about Poland, about Georgia, by the way, about democracy. In general, everything, as Blok wrote about love in poetry for the civil service. Questions that interest you, that you love very much to ask of moderators about how, what, how we can figure history out, do we need democracy? Come on. You’ve got an extraordinarily interesting interlocutor as a guest. You came here for the Khodorkovsky readings, in part, yes?

A.MICHNIK: Yes, I’m in Moscow for the first time over the last 3.5 years.

S.BUNTMAN: But yesterday the talk went at the Khodorkovsky readings about various things – about moments not seized, about the building of democracy, about the last five years, that have passed in our country since the year 2003. In what was the main sense and the main directionality of your appearance? So what interested you most of all in this question?

A.MICHNIK: You know, I wanted… First, excuse me, this is my second day in Moscow, today I’m already leaving, and that’s why I’m speaking Russian very badly. I need four days between Russians.

S.BUNTMAN: In order to get in anew, yes? No, no problem. We’ll figure it out, I think, with you. All is in order, as I see it.

A.MICHNIK: Yes. Yesterday I told a little, what’s going on with Poland, in Central and Eastern Europe, what’s going on with our Poland from the point of view of such people in Poland as journalists from the newspaper «Wyborcza», what’s going on in Russia and what’s our reaction – where there are parallel processes, and where a difference.

S.BUNTMAN: In what is the principal difference? Tell us please.

A.MICHNIK: I would say thus. Something that we call, that I call «poputinism», the idea of sovereign democracy. This is a process that exists in the political elite in many countries. But the difference, though, is such – that in Poland there exists a real political pluralism, that nobody in Poland annihilated practical democratic choice, that in our country elections – this, probably, is elections. Nobody knows who will be the victor.

S.BUNTMAN: This is a fight. This is a political fight, a real one, yes?

A.MICHNIK: Apparently, a fight and competition, and simply democracy, whatever kind you want. But for enemies of democracy – this is a fight. For friends of democracy – this is a normal process.

S.BUNTMAN: No, a fight in the normal sense – like a political fight, a battle of ideas, a battle of convictions.

A.MICHNIK: Yes, that’s what it is.

S.BUNTMAN: So this is the most important thing. But nevertheless, there are also such phenomena that one could also juxtapose, to liken. How do you assess the last years in Poland? And relations with Russia have gotten more strained. Both for Russia and for Poland they’ve gotten more strained. For me the key year – 2005, and for you?

A.MICHNIK: I think a little bit differently. I think like this: I understand the evolution in Poland, that advanced the power of our president and his brother to the post of prime-minister, and such an exotic coalition where there were people from post-Solidarity, post-communists of the second tier and post-fascists. And this was such a, a very remarkable coalition in power. And I think that they had such an idea of «poputinism» Polish style. What does this mean? This is centralization of power, annihilation of independent justice, annihilation of independent media, annihilation practically of the opposition and a special role for the special services, so there practically would be no politics, but rather special operations. And also so as to add, also the inflaming of national emotions – that around Poland are enemies and threat.

S.BUNTMAN: Moreover both from the West and from the East. There were very serious anti-German ones, yes.

A.MICHNIK: But very strict ones. And in my opinion, we heard, both Germanophobia and Russophobia. But this is the result of an internal process.

S.BUNTMAN: Adam, what came of this? Here, as you said, such a strangulation of the opposition, the mass information media, justice and so forth. So what came out of this, and what did society not allow to be done?

A.MICHNIK: After two years, our coalition of power got the red card from our society, they simply lost the elections. And here I see a difference between Poland and Russia, that the genius, the frightening genius, the elite of power in Russia – this is practically the annihilation of normal party pluralism. I remember the presidential elections, when the annihilation of the candidacies of Nemtsov and Kasyanov, but this was already simply overdoing it. Because candidate into president Putin one way or another would have won the elections in that same situation. Annihilation of countercandidates – this was a signal «sit quietly». We weren’t so lucky. Maybe, because they were in power only two years.

S.BUNTMAN: Well, and a slightly different society, after all.

A.MICHNIK: Yes-yes. But you know, if this victory had taken place in Poland, you would have found a hundred historical arguments that for Poland this is normal. When I hear that an authoritarian regime – this is a natural result of Russian history, I’m absolutely against that.

S.BUNTMAN: Well, yes, in general here too there are people who are against these historical analogies. But where can Poland base itself on an authoritarian regime in history? On Piłsudski only?

A.MICHNIK: Not only. No, not only. Poland’s problem is like this – that through the entire 12th century we didn’t have a state. And if there’s no state – there’s no respect for a state. If there’s no respect for a state, this leads to chaos and anarchy. And if from absolutism there is evolution to, let us say, liberal absolutism, then from a total mess there can come out only a dictatorship.

S.BUNTMAN: Let’s take a look, while listeners pose questions to us +7 985 970-45-45, ask about anything, and in the sharpest form. I’ll ask a question. We have several historical key moments, which it is necessary in some manner to resolve. And it would seem, in the years of the ’90s, that the problem of Katyń, the problem of the shooting execution of Poles – not only officers, as they say, there were very many different problems there – that it was resolved, that Russia opened up documents, that Russia said how this had been. And all of a sudden now literally denials in rehabilitation, once again the closure of documents and crimes are not qualified: the fact is acknowledged, but it is not qualified what this is. And such a suspended situation with Katyń. Right now in these days are coming rejections, declarations, lawsuits, cases.

A.MICHNIK: You know. Probably nobody in Poland understands how it’s possible to say that rehabilitation is impossible because, maybe, between the victims there were some kind of criminals. This is something nobody in Poland understands. On the other hand, I think that this from the side of the power in the Kremlin this is simply an error. Because this is a signal for Polish society, even for friends of Russia in Poland too, that we want to talk with you seriously, that this will be a game, who will be the stronger. And this is simply an error, one shouldn’t act like that. But on the other hand, it must be said that in Polish policy too there were not only errors, but simply stupidities. Because the Katyń affair needs to be judged normally – no need to make out of the Katyń tragedy an instrument in the hands of politicians. But on the third hand, I don’t understand why Andrzej Wajda’s motion picture about Katyń isn’t in Russian cinemas.

S.BUNTMAN: Why isn’t it in distribution? Yes, this surprises me too. Why has this not become a subject of discussion in Russia?

A.MICHNIK: There are two different answers. The first answer – that this is simply a political decision and such a kind of intrigue. But there is a second answer – that in comparison with Russian victims and the Stalinist terror, Katyń – this is a small drop in the ocean simply. But this is a great problem – how to think, that Stalin – was the builder of a superpower, that Stalin – was the defeater of Hitler, that he was a criminal, bandit and hangman? And this is a problem simply. And we, Poles need to understand that in Poland there practically aren’t any people who support Stalin. But I’m saying this. But imagine if your will that between the Labe [Elbe] and Vladivostok everybody speaks Polish, in every city the governor or his deputy – this is a Pole, that Poland – is a superpower and one day or one month all this came crashing down without a single war, without anything. Would you or wouldn’t you be sad? Well, of course, there was something.

S.BUNTMAN: It hurts, that it is, let’s put it that way. No doubt there’s a nostalgia for.

A.MICHNIK: For empire.

S.BUNTMAN: Of course! And after all, Poland was at one time a kind of such a local empire – and the 17th century in Poland, Poland was like that. To this day, no doubt there are people who consider that Poland from sea to sea – this is good.

A.MICHNIK: No, this is already practically…

S.BUNTMAN: Already not, this has already died, yes?

A.MICHNIK: No, this doesn’t exist in politics. We had after the Second World War a great nostalgia for Vilnius, for Lvov. But what happened? It appeared that you don’t need to move the borders, you need to open the border. And now with Lithuania we’ve got very good relations. If I want to go to Vilnius, I buy a ticket, and at the border – there is no border. And I think, that, perhaps, that that’s how it will be with Ukraine, too, and in the end also with Russia. Why? Because if you look calmly and a little bit cynically: after all, the West and the Americans are against what Russian different journalists write. This is not enemies of Russia. Potential enemies of Russia – this is who? This is fundamentalism, Islamist or China, if China finds itself into a country of totalitarian imperialism. Nobody in America thinks that war with Russia is needed. On the contrary! Everybody’s looking for roads so that it would be as it should be, so that everything would go a peaceful way, so that all possible treaties were possible. The same thing in Germany, the same thing in France, and even in Poland. In Poland – a complex, a complex of history, a complex of fear. But if you go out on the street in Warsaw, you go there into a discotheque or into a restaurant, or into a store, you won’t hear any anti-Russian enmity. We don’t have that kind of thing.

S.BUNTMAN: But here, tell me, right here on the territory of Zakerzonia [Trans-Curzonia] – here, you know this term, yes, naturally?

A.MICHNIK: I know, I know, What don’t I know.

S.BUNTMAN: We’ll explain to the listeners, that this here is the east, Poland, a line, this is that which is found further west than the Curzon line, drawn in the years of the ’20s. «Resides 70 percent of Ukrainians. Internal moods of this region. Can not this region become an analogue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?» – Roman writes to us from Lvov. Right here, a question like this.


S.BUNTMAN: No, this is just that I received a question. Now I’ve got a question in my text messages. What are the moods like there in Eastern Poland, in Trans-Curzonia?

A.MICHNIK: Excuse me, but this, there isn’t in Poland anyone normal, who would say that Trans-Curzonian Ukraine, Lvov, that this is Eastern Poland. What are you saying? This is Ukraine. This is obvious.

S.BUNTMAN: And about this isn’t being spoken at all. Very often they draw analogues here. And here you were just speaking of the Vilnius country, and about the problems, which, speaking honestly, there were people, who were waiting for these problems in the years of the ’90s, in the years of the 2000s – when both Ukraine and Lithuania were becoming independent countries.

A.MICHNIK: There was fear there, that in Poland…

S.BUNTMAN: That here Poland would up and start demanding now.

A.MICHNIK: Yes. No-no-no, nothing like that happened, absolutely not. And I’ll say even more sharply – that in Polish policy seriously, even the hard-line nationalists aren’t saying anything like this. Never.

S.BUNTMAN: This is simply not a topic, yes?

A.MICHNIK: This is not a topic, and also I’ll say even more sharply, that Poland – this is the last country where you need to talk about changing borders, looking at our western border. You’ve got to have respect in order to come, but you’ve got to open the border.

S.BUNTMAN: Here from this point of view and from your point of view, how do you look at what was taking place in August, at the Russo-Georgian war, at the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, at this whole process. Maybe, in its whole complex, not only the events, there, starting the 8th of August and a week still, and until now.

A.MICHNIK: You know, this is a very complex process, but it must be said, first, that nobody in the world trusts that great Georgia attacked little Russia – nobody believes in this.

S.BUNTMAN: But little Georgia can also attack Ossetia, how’s that, fire on Ossetia, while Russia came to the aid of Russia.

A.MICHNIK: Yes-yes-yes. I remember all this, like in ’39 the great Soviet Union came to memory against Finland, to the Ukrainians against Poland, to the Moldavians against Romania and so forth. This, I think, that such a discourse today – this is already a caricature of Stalinist propaganda. But then also, in order to in Czechoslovakia with the Hungarians. Yes, in that sense nobody is supporting this, and I have not found anyone besides Russian propagandists who would support this point of view. But there is another question. The responsibility of president Saakashvili in that he went for this provocation. There is a third question. The Abkhaz have the right to self-determination, but what did the president of Georgia, Zviad Konstantinovich Gamsakhurdia, do? He destroyed all the autonomy. Well and then already there goes another logic. Of course, I don’t think that in the Kremlin there are such humanists who support the sovereignty of Ossetins or Abkhaz in comparison, for example, with Chechnya. But I think that the responsibility of the president of Georgia too – this is a big responsibility.

S.BUNTMAN: Adam Michnik, and we’ll continue our program after the news. Ask questions +7 985 970-45-45.


S.BUNTMAN: Adam Michnik is our guest answering your questions. +7 985 970-45-45. We broke off discussing also about the Russo-Georgian war, which took place in August, about its consequences, about the responsibility of various sides, and we stopped at the responsibility of president Saakashvili then. In what is his responsibility?

A.MICHNIK: First, I want to repeat, that the first ones responsible for what happened, – this is the leaders from the Kremlin, because the response at incursion into Ossetia after the shelling of South Ossetia from Georgia was absolutely inappropriate. But you know, Sergey, his responsibility is such. If you don’t have a real knife, don’t go up against a bear. And from that side, I think, that the policy of the conflict with Russia from the point of view of the interest of Georgian society – this is a false policy. And the fact that he allowed to a confrontation of force, this is his responsibility. He says that this is like in Czechoslovakia. But there’s a difference. The difference is such: that Brezhnev in the year of ’68 had complete hundred-percent determination to annihilate the reforms in Czechoslovakia. But for that same Brezhnev in the year of ’81 in mutual relations with Poland this was «either-or». And there was no incursion, like in the year of ’56 there was the intervention in Hungary, in Poland – no. And from that point of view I think that the leaders of Georgia need not heroically struggle with Russia – no chances for victory, but they need to conduct a smart policy, so that peaceful mutual relations would be possible, despite the fact that in the Kremlin there are people who have got, how should I sat this, an imperial psychology.

S.BUNTMAN: Tell us, by the way, here you have touched upon the events of the year of ’81. What is your attitude towards the trial of Wojciech Jaruzelski and what is your attitude, I even conducted a survey among listeners about the martial law, that you know perfectly well, and even on yourself. What here was more? Truly a desire to quash a people’s movement or was the secret meaning still to prevent a Soviet incursion?

A.MICHNIK: You know, I feel really bad as the lawyer of general Jaruzelski, I was his enemy, adversary. I was through him locked up for four years, I was in the opposition, in the underground to the end. But the war is over already. After the war we came out from communism in a peaceful way, thanks to Jaruzelski.

S.BUNTMAN: Thanks?

A.MICHNIK: Thanks.

S.BUNTMAN: You have in mind everything together or only the round table, only the ending?

A.MICHNIK: The round table, yes.


A.MICHNIK: The round table. But probably, this would not have been possible without perestroika, without Gorbachev and so on. But in Poland this was a choice. On that same day, when in Poland there were elections, in China on Tiananmen square was a Massacre, yes? You remember, what happened in Romania, yes? So, in that sense there were different paths for Poland. And Jaruzelski took the peaceful, reforming path. That’s the first thing. Second, as concerns December of the year of ’81. The way I think now, this is my interpretation. How was he thinking? He was thinking like this – for Poland there’s no other place on the map of Europe than a place within the framework of the Warsaw pact. If so, then in Poland there may be, first, will be an economic catastrophe, then will be social uprisings. And if there will be social uprisings and paralysis of the state, our Solovetsky friends [This could be a play on words at several levels: First, it sounds exactly like sovietsky (the adjective “Soviet” in Russian) with an added syllable. Second, it hints at the Solovetsky Islands, where the very first prison camps of what would become the GULag were established. Third, it is the adjective form of the word solovey, which means “nightingale”, so it could just be a way of giving an ironically pretty twist to what would clearly be a very ugly event.–Trans.] will come in, who said openly that «we will not leave fraternal Poland in difficult times». This same thing Brezhnev and others said in the year of ’68, when they went into Czechoslovakia.

S.BUNTMAN: So there you are, is it worth trying Jaruzelski now?

A.MICHNIK: No. I’ll simply tell you this openly, I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed for that trial and I’m ashamed for my country, that such a thing is taking place in Poland. I’m simply ashamed. Because this is a purely political trial. If in a democratic country take place political – this is a step in a bad direction.

S.BUNTMAN: But in principle, for years and years they tried public figures not only openly nazist criminals, they tried people who were accessories to the crimes of nazism. Probably, one needs to grasp one’s own past, and legally too give a definition to crimes and try for crimes that were committed? There’s sense in this too, after all?

S.BUNTMAN: Nobody is arguing with this, but if someone did a crime, he has to be tried. But to say that martial law – this is a criminal offense, but this is total absurdity, total absurdity! Because this was a political decision. In a very specific situation. This was not a conspiracy against the legal power, this was a conspiracy of the legal power against a civic movement. And I am convinced that there was a threat of Soviet intervention, I am absolutely convinced of this. I am convinced that thanks to the martial law in Poland there was neither a civil war, nor a tragedy, but I am convinced even of this. I don’t want to talk about Jaruzelski lyrically, because I’m not objective, I know him well personally, I’m not a good witness. But as concerns his (UNINTELLIGIBLE), then this they did not out of patriotism, but simply in order to defend their power.

S.BUNTMAN: Their power. They?

A.MICHNIK: Also, because they knew that during a time of intervention this could be their future like in Budapest too, this is execution by shooting or to Moscow, as prisoners.

S.BUNTMAN: Also such a question. A very big role both in the liberation of Poland, and in the fall of communism in Poland, we all know perfectly, was played by the Catholic church. What is its position, influence today? It is very ambiguous, after all.

A.MICHNIK: Ambiguous, yes. This is true. Very ambiguous. I think like this. That the Catholic church today – it is like Polish society. You’ll find there everything that is best, the very best, and that which is the very worst in Polish society. That’s first. Second, I think that the type of thinking of our bishops was the result of struggle and life in a communist center. And this is their type of thinking about society, about what is possible and thus further. And they don’t understand to the end that in a democratic country this is already an anachronism. There are also different people there – there are those who understand perfectly. But there is also such a classical anachronistic conservatism, influence. But we, Poles like Orthodox in Russia, we’re Poles – Catholics. In that sense, Catholicism – this is part of our national identity. But this is not good that the Catholic church wants to exist as a political lobby. I think that that’s how it was in the first years after the fall of communism. Now this is a bit better, it’s improved a bit, but not to the end, because there exists a connection of the Catholic church with circles, let us say, of authoritarian nationalism. But still one thing, the most important – that during the time of communism nobody from the Catholic church condemned general Jaruzelski as a traitor to the Motherland, on the contrary, everybody said that [he is] a Polish patriot. But there are such adventurists, like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Michnik, who criticize the general. Now it’s the opposite. One of the bishops, I read, he said that this is a criminal. But you should have been saying that when he was in power, and not today, when he’s relinquished power in a peaceful way. I don’t like this. But the Catholic church was and will be in Poland a very important factor in our life. Everything depends on or our bishops understand that in the conditions of democracy you need to behave a bit differently, first, and second, that the strength of Christianity – this is reconciliation, this is not revanche, this is not the language of enmity and hate, like, for example, on the Catholic radio.

S.BUNTMAN: Well, this, I must say that this is totally a byword, this radio. Everybody I know – colleagues journalists, if you’ve got to bring an example of something like that, sufficiently heavy, then this radio is brought as an example.

A.MICHNIK: The problem is not in that such a radio exists. This is normal. The problem is that the bishops can’t do anything in order to tell them plainly: «Friends, this is not the language of our church, this is not the language of our religion».

S.BUNTMAN: Tell me please, how has it changed, let’s put it this way, not so much the position of the church, but the idea in the church. Here when John Paul the Second was alive and when he died. What was John Paul the Second both for the Polish church, and for Poles?

A.MICHNIK: This is very hard to say. But when you ask, Sergey, what has changed, I would say like this. Poles very much loved and respected their Roman Pope. But I think today that if today we would have the opportunity to elect the Roman Pope, we would not vote for Wojtyła. No. No-no-no. Because Wojtyła – he was better than all of us. He was a European. Today they talked about such people on radio «Maryja» too – rootless cosmopolitans. He was a hard-line Catholic, but a humanly tolerant person. It was interesting to him what people from any countries of the world conflict, people from any religions, think. He was a person of dialogue. Firm, true to his religion, but open for people of other world-understandings.

S.BUNTMAN: Yes, other world-views.

A.MICHNIK: World-views, yes.

S.BUNTMAN: That is such a person, more likely here, by disposition would be such a hierarch, such a pralade [sic], such a one would be not needed more likely, you consider now?

A.MICHNIK: I think that in Poland there are such bishops and such pralades [sic]. There are such people. But I do not think that they are in the majority today. They’re in the minority.

S.BUNTMAN: I remind that we’ve got Adam Michnik as a guest. How do you look on the prospect of the development of Russia? Like there were questions here even «How would you look, does Russia have a European prospect? A prospect of the EU? A prospect of being such, a full-righted, full-weighted and well-defined part of Europe and the western world?»

A.MICHNIK: I think that for today or for tomorrow after Georgia there is no such prospect. Because the authority of Russia, the credibility of the Kremlin has gone down. But now Russia is before a choice: either they’ll go towards some kind of Eurasian ideas, which from my point of view don’t have a real future, practically this signifies isolationism, or the Russian elites will understand that the right place of Russia – this is Europe and Euro-Atlantic…


A.MICHNIK: No, Community.

S.BUNTMAN: Ah, community! A Euro-Atlantic community. That is, you consider that this is the sole place of Russia?

A.MICHNIK: That’s what I think, well, because in normal Russian, in the sense of culture, it’s closer to him to Poland, to America, than to Islamic countries or to China.

S.BUNTMAN: Can Russia exist isolated? Not joining anybody and being such a separate civilization?

A.MICHNIK: I know that there are such ideas in Russia. But I think that this is possible in the sense of a prospect. This, probably, democracy in Russia will be different than in Great Britain, just like Poland is different than in France.

S.BUNTMAN: And different than in Germany, different than in Czechia.


S.BUNTMAN: This is comprehensible, nobody’s repealed distinctiveness even with all of globalization. But you can’t live isolated, absolutely.

A.MICHNIK: I think that not only you can’t, that this is practically impossible. Modern-day Russia after perestroika, despite the different authoritarian quirks of different Russian politicians, this is already a Russia after the anti-Stalinist, anti-totalitarian turning point. And there will still be different problems, and different trends of return to authoritarianism. But I think that for the long haul this is already impossible.

S.BUNTMAN: Tell us please, and what for you would be a sign of two things? That Russia is firmly going towards Europe, towards democratic values and that Russia truly does want to fix up normal human relations with Poland, for example, that same one? What for you would be a sign, simply for you?

A.MICHNIK: As concerns the world, this, first, is something that can be done in one day – the release of Khodorkovsky. This would be a signal, and clear, clean, comprehensible to all. As concerns Poland, this will be very simple. Here I don’t see any problems. The problems will be other ones. With Poland there aren’t any problems. This is simply such an important problem. The problems are going to be in the Caucasus. Here Russia can not think that Georgia – this is practically a province of Russia. No, Georgia – this is not Russia, this is Georgia. And what will be with Abkhazia? Ossetia, sovereign Ossetia. What does this mean? Colonels from the Muscovite KGB have built a government in independent Ossetia. But this is macabre. Excuse me that I speak so openly, but I’ve said many times already and want to say yet again that I’m a real anti-Soviet Russophile, and that’s why I have the honor with my Russian friends to speak openly. Not as a diplomat, but as a friend.

S.BUNTMAN: Absolutely true. Adam Michnik here. And the last thing that I’d like to convey here in our internet, I’ll convey this to Adam Michnik: «Greetings from Olga Starovoitova, Galina Vasilievna[‘s] sister. And here she simply wrote a letter through us here, which I will convey»

A.MICHNIK: Thank you very much, Olya.

S.BUNTMAN: We all loved Galina Vasilievna very much, and I think that this is from that big-big detachment of both democrats, and people wedded to real values.

A.MICHNIK: This is true.

S.BUNTMAN: Yes. Thank you very much. Adam Michnik was our guest on our program.

A.MICHNIK: Thank you, Sergey.

S.BUNTMAN: Thank you.