Adam Michnik: The Fear of Russia’s Wrong Direction

Below is an exclusive English translation of an extensive debate transcript featuring the Polish historian Adam Michnik, one of Poland’s foremost intellectuals and hero from the Solidarity movement. We also recently published a translation of another article from his most recent visit to Moscow. michnik111008.jpgPUBLIC LECTURES ( Russia, Poland, Europe A public discussion with Adam Michnik We are publishing the full transcript of a discussion with the famous European intellectual, one of the most famous Polish dissidents and political prisoners, editor-in-chief of “Gazeta Wyborcza” Adam Michnik, which took place on 25 October of the year 2007 in a club — the literary cafe Bilingua within the framework of the project «Public lectures of». The discussion was organized with the aid of the International society «Memorial». Adam Michnik was born in the year 1946. In 1961—1962 he entered into the famous discussion «Club of the crooked wheel», through which passed many representatives of the future political opposition, in 1962 he founded his own informal Club of seekers of contradictions. In 1964 he matriculated at the historical faculty of Warsaw university, he was on many occasions subjected to admonitions, in 1968, in a period of acute political crisis, he was arrested and sentenced to three years of jail confinement, released by amnesty in 1969 (student protest demonstrations against the expulsion of Michnik from Warsaw university gave a start to the March unrests of the year 1968, which were suppressed by the powers, which grew into a campaign of state antisemitism, entailing a mass emigration of Jews from the country). At that same time he began to get published as a journalist (under pseudonyms).

He received a «wolf’s ticket» and could not continue studies, however in 1975 he completed extramurally the historical faculty in the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. He was the personal secretary of the famous Polish poet and public figure Antoni Słonimski. In 1976—1977 he lived in Paris. Returning, he joined the Committee for the defense of workers (KOR) just founded by the opposition, he appeared as one of the organizers of the underground university of humanities and social sciences, he was editor of a series of opposition print publications — «Informational bulletin», «Kritika», one of the heads of underground publication. In 1980—1989 — expert of the Mazowian branch of the Solidarity movement. In 1981—1984 he was arrested, confinement, in 1985 he was arrested anew, sentenced to three years of jail. Since 1988 — a member of an informal coordination committee, which was headed by Lech Wałęsa, a member of the Committee of citizens, in 1989 — a participant in a series of meetings of the government and the opposition (the «Round table») on the holding of free elections, in 1989—1991 — deputy to the newly-elected Sejm. In 1989 he founded and since that time heads the daily«Gazeta Wyborcza» – the leading Polish independent mass information medium. He supported the program of economic reforms of Leszek Balcerowicz. He appears in support of the democratic movement in various countries.Boris Dolgin. One Polish colleague said to me very recently: «You think that we’re waiting for you in Europe? On the contrary. We will resist to the end, if Russia tries to get into the EU or into NATO». He had in mind not his position, but the opinion of the people.Adam Michnik. This was my president? (Laughter)Boris Dolgin. No. By the same token Lech Kaczyński – is not my colleague. How do different circles in Poland see in some kind of ideal world the place of Russia? That same question – to you personally. Is this someplace close? Or the opposite? What do you want to see from Russia?Adam Michnik. First, I want to thank you for being able to meet here with you in a close circle, like in the kitchen. As concerns the question, I would say this: there is no typical Pole. He doesn’t exist. We have different points of view on Russia. There is both Russophobia, and a historical complex. There is misunderstanding and fear. A fear not that Russia will go tomorrow into Poland, which we feared in the year of ’81. But for the last 20 years we believed that Russia is going on a good road. None of us thought that a return to imperial thinking was possible. (We – this is the real anti-Soviet Russophiles). With various back holes, through pitfalls, one step forward, two steps back. Therefore people were doubly shocked. The first time – this is the Khodorkovsky case, the second – this is the Caucasus, Georgia. You may ask: «Why Georgia, and not Chechnya? Why the Khodorkovsky case, and not the murder of Starovoitova?» Because we know perfectly well from modern history that the road from communism to democracy – this isn’t a stroll down Nevsky prospekt. And there will be problems in all countries.From my point of view, from the point of view of a Polish democrat, it is obvious that the place of a democratic Russia – is in the structures of the European democratic world. Why? There is no European culture without Russian culture. Without Gogol, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Turgenev and others. And there is no European culture without Russian music: Glinka, Shostakovich, etc.Second. From the Polish point of view, historically the greatest threat for us were conflicts with our neighbors: with Russia and with Germany. A positive scenario – this is good relations with Russia and with Germany. Third. Psychologically, by his nature, a Pole is very close to a Russian person. One of our diplomats said that Poland is closer to the Germans. I asked him: «Do you read Russian novels or German ones, do you listen to German music or to Vysotsky and Okudzhava? Where is it closer for you? Can you get yourself soused with vodka so well with Germans? No, you can’t». This is obvious.To continue. I would say that there is a connection between the domestic policy of the power in Russia and the external policy. It is obvious that all the nationalistic propaganda in Poland, which we have been looking at for two years, was very exotic. This was an exotic uniting of post-solidarity, post-communists, and post-fascists. They were looking for any opportunity to inflame ethnic emotions. We saw this in the plainly Russophobic rhetoric. This was the language of nationalism. The same thing was with Lithuania. The problem here is in the language. And, observing from this point of view, I see that in 20 years after the fall of communism there has arisen a new model of threat to the democratic order. This, primitively speaking, is the choice between «putinism» and «berlusconism». Putinism – this is power where there exists centralization, the annihilation of the opposition and independent media, the annihilation of the market economy in the sense of intervention in normal market property. When our «twins» came to power, I said to two of our Polish oligarchs: «Now you need to run away to London, Kiev, to China or someplace else». Because this power needs its Khodorkovsky. One left – and is alive. The second didn’t leave, and now he is nearly annihilated.Question from the audience. They locked him up?Adam Michnik. No. He left at the last moment, and then there were new elections already. The procurator didn’t find evidence of his guilt.I look very critically now at the policy of the Kremlin. But I am convinced that the natural interests of Russia and the potential enemies of Russia – this is not Europe and not the USA. This is either Islamist fundamentalism, or China, if something goes awry there.Igor Chubais. The enemies of Russia – this is its power.Adam Michnik. This is a complex question. What can I find in newspaper rhetoric? That the enemy of Russia – this is either the Ukrainians, or the Georgians as of today. But enemy number one – this is the USA. From my point of view, this is complete absurdity. I know the American elite a little bit. They don’t understand to the end what Russia is.Boris Dolgin. Could it not be that the reason they see an enemy in the USA is because this incomprehension comes through in certain of their actions, and it can lead to inappropriate actions?Adam Michnik. I think that in the Kremlin they know perfectly well – the USA don’t want war with Russia. But for 70 years there was constant anti-American propaganda. This is already like a code. Like in Poland with Germany. If you want to have a boost in ratings, you’ve got to say that you see revanchism in Germany. Only because some idiot said something. But if you look at what is taking place today in Hungary and in Slovakia, you’ll see similar mechanisms. I’m afraid that in our countries power could end up in the hands of demagogues. We need to make a coalition. For example, a Slovak-Hungarian coalition against idiots from both sides of the border.I’d like to tell one story. This was 5-7 years ago. Ludmilla Alexeeva and I were invited to an awarding of Tomas Venclova, the famous poet. She asked me what I thought of general Jaruzelski. I introduced them. It was very interesting to listen to the conversation of the famous Russian heroine of the democratic movement with the communist general, who had been dictator in Poland. He speaks Russian very well. For me, this talk became yet another proof that you’ve got to talk. Every conversation makes us wiser.Boris Dolgin. Thank you. Much is said in our country about the need to talk. There was a document of «Memorial» about historical memory – «On national images of the past». One of the moments actively used for the creation of tense relations between Russia and Poland, Russia and Ukraine, etc. – this is «historical politics». What is your position in this regard?Adam Michnik. I don’t like state historical policy in general. When I first read in Poland that the state was going to have a new historical policy, I wrote an article where I quoted from the meeting of Stalin with the director of the picture «Ivan the Terrible», Sergei Eisenstein. I said: «Historical state policy has shown its teeth». On the other hand, it’s obvious that there are different ideological and political circles that do have a historical policy. This I support. Without a knowledge of the past we will go forward like a blind child. We need to know why Poland lost at the end of the 18th century, what was Polish anarchism, etc. We need to know the truth. But if the premier or the parliament has the opportunity to decide – this is the first step towards catastrophe. And from this point of view I criticize historical policy.But there is another aspect as well. We say that we need to understand completely what was communism or fascism. This is very important. But what happened in Poland? We have a notion that communists and fascists were either foreigners, or traitors to the Motherland. That is, this was not Poles. This is a very dangerous thought. Because if we, Poles, are genetically incapable of a totalitarian philosophy, then we don’t need to fear either. You can say and do what you want. After all, you’re a democrat by nature!Today I look at the trial of general Jaruzelski, and I am ashamed for my country. This is a scandal, a cynical political game. More cynical than regular politics, which are already cynical as it is. This is a road not to the truth, but to revanche and to a state of suspicions, fear and hatred. If for an assessment of my life it is important what the KGB people – our hangmen – wrote, this is the posthumous victory of the KGB. You will not have my approval for this. This is not historical policy. This is cynical police politics, when with the aid of police archives they annihilate their rivals. Did you see what happened with Kundera? I saw that in Russia is translated and published Kundera’s brilliant novel «The farewell waltz». You read too – and you’ll see how you can kill a person with the aid of unreliable archives. Or this is a policy of hysteria, with the aim of inflaming hysteria and finding an enemy! And then all will be well! As a historian, I’ve read a bit about the history of bolshevism. And I know that there’s no end to this. If you’ve started out this way, you’ve got to constantly seek and unmask opponents. The criminalization of the opponent is implemented as well. He’s already not my opponent – he’s been criminalized, he’s a bandit! This is typical of Stalin and of our extreme rightists in Poland.Ludmilla Alexeeva. How much does this hounding of the general enjoy support in Poland?Igor Chubais. And to this same question. Had martial law not been introduced in the year of ’81, did Poland have a chance then to hang on and break the totalitarian regime?Adam Michnik. I consider that such an opportunity did not exist. I’d like to add something. Now these procurators are carrying on complete absurdity. They’re saying that there was no threat of Soviet intervention. That is, Poland was a completely sovereign state. That means, Brezhnev was right, saying that Russia never had attempts to carry out an intervention. I recently read the transcript of a meeting in October of the year ’56. Then, Khrushchev, Molotov, and, I think, Mikoyan came to Warsaw and exerted pressure so that they wouldn’t elect Gomułka to 1st secretary. A plenary session was going on right then in the CC. They came and wanted to go into the hall, in order to tell the members of the CC who should be elected. Ours said: «No. This is our sovereign decision». And Khrushchev bellowed: «Polish newspapers are writing that we’re exerting pressure». But Gomułka replied: «Yes. Because you are exerting it!»To answer Ludmilla. I’ll say it like this. There isn’t great enthusiasm. But the situation is changing. For now there is a split in Polish society on the topic of whether or not to try the general. He is holding himself in court with great dignity. He is higher than all his procurators as a person.Ludmilla Alexeeva. He considers that his conscience is clear.Adam Michnik. This is even more complex. He said this: «I know that martial law – this was an evil. But this is a lesser evil than civil war or Soviet intervention». Of course, your generals are saying that they would never have gone into Poland. But when I came to Moscow in the year of ’89, everybody was telling me: «We didn’t go in only thanks to the general. This is our and your good fortune». And then I had the opportunity to ask three members of the Politburo about this: Yakovlev, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze. They all said: «If it had continued like that for another 2-3 months, we would have gone in».Boris Dolgin. Those who read Soviet newspapers in the years 1980 – 1981 will be able to confirm that the rhetoric was getting nastier incrementally. I was reading newspapers already then and can say that the formation of harsh criticism was very strong.Viktor Kogan-Yasyn. In the year of ’81 I was at three-month military musters after university. During the time of the taking of the military oath our commander was forced to pronounce the following words: «Our army now is fulfilling its international duty in Afghanistan and, if needed, we will be fulfilling it in Poland as well».Adam Michnik. Thank you. I don’t understand how there are people living in Poland right now who don’t understand this. I remember perfectly well how we were afraid. Further. There is one person. He was among my favorite dissidents. One of his books was my bible. This isBukovsky. And in October or September of the year of ’81 he said that he was absolutely convinced: there would be an intervention. But now he’s written that there was no opportunity whatsoever for an intervention. He despises the general so much that he’s prepared to admit that Brezhnev would have been better for Poland.Stanislav. I would like to return to your thought about the creation of a coalition against idiots. In its time, as it seems to me, all the negotiations of the year of ’89 and beyond were precisely such a coalition against idiots in Poland. Now it can be seen that it’s simply easier for idiots to declare any compromise to be treason, to declare that behind it stood some kind of understandings etc. This is simple – and people, as can be seen, believe in this. What mechanism do you see in order that such a coalition could hang on for a long time?Adam Michnik. We will not find a guarantee of victory in any book. But we need to hold to a smart and correct road. In Poland everything is going in different ways. But Poland differs from Russia in that our «putinists» have not destroyed a real alternative in politics. And here I see the main problem for Russia. In fact, there is no alternative in Russia now. You can come back at me and say that in the Ukraine there is an alternative and it’s still a total mess. This is true. But then nobody has ever learned how to swim without getting into the sea. These problems will exist. There will be many of them. But the road to democracy, in my opinion, – this is the only road for Russia. About the coalition. I am asked why I love to come to Moscow. This is because a coalition between the smart people of Russia and Poland is needed both by Russia and by Poland. That’s my answer. And when will the victory be? Sergey Adamovich and I were at one conference together. And Sergey Adamovich very firmly said to us there what he thought. I answered him thus: «Sergey! If 30 years ago someone had said to us that we could talk with one another as free people in an independent Lithuania, we would have said that this person – is insane». In order to understand history you need to understand that there are surprises, unexpected things. Who would have thought that there would be a September 11 in New York? That there would be a catastrophe on the bourse now? Nobody.Pavel Kudyukin. As a person of leftist-democratic, socialist convictions I’m very concerned that in Russia the public moods and the political sector are sharply skewed to the right. That which by misconception is called «leftists» here, – this is very strange people, singing the praises of feudalism. Is it the same in Poland?Adam Michnik. Absolutely the same. It’s like that in all the countries of the post-Soviet space.Pavel Kudyukin. I had the experience of interacting with Polish leftists. They create the impression of European leftists. This is not a mass phenomenon? And the rest – post-feudals?Adam Michnik. I also look – and not only at Poland, but at Czechia, at Hungary, at Ukraine. This is a wave of rightist ideas. I don’t have an unambiguous answer as to why this is so.Maybe because that’s the way the winds are blowing in the world today. After the Portuguese revolution, the rightist conservative party took the name of the social-democratic party. Maybe this is a response to the language of the Soviet epoch. People are looking for something new from the point of view of a system of values. That is they’re pushing socialism aside. And the thesa is that socialism – this is relativism, while we need to hold on to hard values: Catholicism, Islam, etc. That we do have. But, in my opinion, this is a good language for a pre-election campaign. We have a strong Catholic church. But in practice this is just idle talk. That’s the first answer. The second is like this. From my own personal point of view, the repartitioning into leftists and rightists began with the English revolution, and ended with the Bolshevik one. Then there was a conflict between those who defended totalitarianism and those who criticized it. I think that there’s a bit of a masquerade here. Some say: we are liberals, others: we are democrats etc. But this means nothing practically. We now have to go over to a new challenge. What will be with the EU, with Russia, what will the relations between the EU and the USA be like? What does the trend of the EU’s xenophobia against immigrants mean? And, finally, where does the market economy end and state intervention begin? This doesn’t have anything in common with the classical division int rightists and leftists. And one more thing. I think that now the truth is in the conflict between open and closed societies.Tatiana Vorozheykina. Who in Poland, from the sociological point of view, votes for Kaczyński? And why did they come to power precisely in the year 2004?Adam Michnik. First, this is villages and small towns. This is people of the older generation, who fear confrontation with the new. Further. There is «Radio Maryja». This is extreme right Catholic nationalistic radio. But this is a specific nationalism. They never criticize Kremlin policy.Boris Dolgin. They even, to the best of my recollection, have their own branch in Saint Petersburg. And they don’t contact badly with Orthodox radicals.Adam Michnik. This is interesting. This is the only Polish radio that has received permission to have its transmitters in the Urals. And there’s no need to explain to you who can adopt such a decision. They think that liberals should be «killed». Liberals – this is rootless cosmopolitans, traitors to the Motherland – and they need to be annihilated. Who else? There is a very interesting problem of generations. A new generation has come. And they think, why do these old people, ones like Wajde [Wajda] or Michnik, look so important in the cinema, on the radio etc. They say that they’ve got such a slogan: TBM – Now, fucking, us.This is very important. This new generation has a dual complex. On the one hand, they’re against liberals, because they’re seeking hard values. On the other hand, they’re very cynical, ideal-less. But they do want money, power, etc. And all together this gives power to Kaczyński. After all, in politics nobody tells the whole truth. But in general they plainly lie. And this is a signal that you don’t need to study, don’t need to understand, who is Hegel, Plato or Dostoyevsky. What’s important? That Hegel was a German, that Dostoyevsky was a Russian, while Plato was a homosexual. And that’s sufficient. You don’t have to think. Why read?!This is very dangerous, but it exists. Last story. Unlikely conflict. From the PiS party they kicked out the «third brother-twin», Ludwik Dorn. Why did they kick him out? Because he divorced his wife. This is dangerous for a Catholic. One of the leaders said that here there is a moral problem, inasmuch as he was paying his first wife child-support for a child, say 3000 zloty. The second wife also has a child. And he submitted a letter to the court with a request to pay less for the first child. How is this possible?! For the first child?! There’s no place for him in our party! This person was the chief of the parliamentary faction. And now already his wife is saying that he’s paying even less.This is simply the folklore of Polish politics. But until now this was impossible. Such intervention in personal life. This exists. And this is the victory of Kaczyński. And one more thing. The Kaczyńskis – this is people of my generation. We’re acquainted since back in «Solidarity», since the underground. We have one model of political culture – this is the time of the communist power. When I hear his speeches – this is as if though I’m listening to Gomułka. The same political rhetoric. Those same insinuations. «We know these people! We know this opposition from the salon!» What exactly is a salon – nobody knows. Kaczyński, probably, knows. But he won’t tell. This is the banalization, tabloidization and primitivization of public debates. But this very much attracts all people of low intellectual level.Retort from the hall. That commander could have said a lot of things. This doesn’t mean that the Politburo decided to introduce troops.Boris Dolgin. The commander wouldn’t have said it without a special installation [instruction?]. You don’t know the Soviet army.Retort from the hall. I know the Soviet army, inasmuch as I’ve been engaged in the Union [studying the USSR?] for a long time. It seems to me that a decision of the Politburo and public opinion – this is completely different things. The Politburo, after all – this is a serious organization. If they had decided something, the commander wouldn’t have found out about it.Adam Michnik. Do you know the history of the incursion into Czechoslovakia and into Afghanistan? The decision was adopted on the last night. But the commanders knew. And nobody said that there had been a decision.Retort from the hall. I just want to say that «the commander said» – this is not a historical argument. But the question is like this. I always get doubts when Poles talk about their relations with the USSR. After the Second World War Poland – this is as if though everybody’s victim. But after all, in the year 1932, the USSR and Poland entered into a pact on friendship, in ’35 – Poland abandoned this pact and started to be friends with Germany. In ’38 – when they entered into the pact in Munich, Poland refused to permit the USSR to introduce troops, in order to help Czechoslovakia in the event of war. Furthermore, when the Germans went in there, the Poles went in after them. About all this they are silent. Everything starts with the history of the war. What is your attitude towards this?Adam Michnik. First, I have a bad attitude towards what you have said. This is untrue. We in Poland printed a lot about Munich and about the disgraceful intervention in Czechoslovakia. As concerns denying the USSR in the request to introduce troops – then this is an astonishing question. After all, they knew that when the Soviet troops would come in, they would already not leave. That’s how it was in the Baltic states, in Bessarabia.Retort from the hall. They left from Bulgaria, Austria, Norway, Czechoslovakia.Adam Michnik. Czechoslovakia they did leave, but then they went in. And there they built a totalitarian regime, which they controlled to the end. I have already said that we’ve got a trend in historical policy, as if though we had not been guilty of anything. Of course, this is a historical lie. But this is not yet doctrine. Possibly, thanks to the fact that many are not in agreement with this. We have an idea for a law about criminal liability for the opinion that the Polish people bears guilt for the Holocaust or for Stalinist crimes. Thanks to the protest of the intelligentsia, this law was annihilated. I don’t want to work as the lawyer of our rightists, for whom I’m «enemy No. 1». But it must be said that this isn’t only Polish insanity. The French parliament voted for [a law saying that] all who dispute the Holocaust or the Armenian tragedy, – are criminals. This too is absurdity. I think that you’ve got something like this in any country. Of course, in Poland there are xenophobes and nationalists, who say all sorts of stupid things. But, you know, if we’re talking about the ‘30s, then we shouldn’t compare the semi-dictatorship of the Polish colonels with the Stalinist regime.Retort from the hall. I’m not comparing.Adam Michnik. You’re talking about Polish violations. Take a look at what was going on in the USSR.Boris Dolgin. A question to define things more precisely. In the «Memorial» document that has been mentioned, there was an idea about how a historical forum is necessary, where representatives of different cultures and countries would be able to clarify such acute questions amongst one another. In what kinds of forums could this be? Are you prepared to support this?Adam Michnik. Absolutely. We do this every year. We as a newspaper organize a conference and invite people from Russia. Whom didn’t we have! We had both Gleb Pavlovsky, and Sergey Kovalev and others. The last time we invited Sergey Karaganov, some people from Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine. It was very interesting. For us this, maybe, isn’t very pleasant, because from a very cultured, educated person we heard phrases that we knew perfectly well from Kaczyński. The cast of mind of Kaczyński and of Karaganov is similar. But about this everybody has to speak as much as possible. And part of the enmity is going to go away.Alexander Guryanov. What is your attitude towards the utterance of Jaruzelski, which I read recently? When they in connection with the start of the trial asked him, had he indeed introduced martial law in order to stop a Soviet incursion, he replied: «Don’t ascribe an odious utterance to me. The main goal was to prevent economic catastrophe».Adam Michnik. Here’s what I think. He has a very specific psychology. He wants to tell the truth. But his truth was like this: the only place for Poland in Europe – this is alliance with the USSR. There is no other place. But what’s the most important thing? He was a Polish pro-communist pro-Soviet politician. But precisely pro-Soviet, and not Soviet. He was not an agent. Second. Of course, the communists had an interesting schizophrenia. They were all afraid of the Union, but nobody talked about this openly: neither Tito, nor Dubček. Nobody spoke openly. Of course, he was afraid of economic catastrophe. And he doesn’t want for people to think now that he was anti-Soviet. He wasn’t like that. Besides this, he was afraid that the result of economic catastrophe would be an uprising or a revolution in Poland. And the result of an uprising will become Soviet intervention. It’s very strange to me that now I’m working as his lawyer, after all, all my life I was his enemy. Thanks to him I twice sat in jail.But I think like this. We had blamed the communist regime, because right doesn’t exist there. Looking now at this trial, I think that it is purely political. And I would like that in a democratic, independent Poland everything would be different. I remember perfectly well the trials where I was on the defendants’ bench. This was simply a theatrical play. It was understandable right from the beginning how it all would end. But today, after 30 years, after martial law, you can’t judge the person who opened the door to peaceful transformation from communism to democracy. And we, the Poles, were the first. Of course, without perestroika none of this would have happened. What are our rightists saying today? That this is a tragedy! That we betrayed the Motherland. Without the general this would have been impossible.Boris Dolgin. And without him it’s unlikely that free elections would have taken place. I remember one of your phrases in the year of ’89. You said: «We at the given moment have come to power. Now the question, what to do next?» Precisely this was not obvious.Adam Michnik. Yes, of course. I am prepared to defend him from the moral point of view, and from the political, and from the legal. They are accusing him of having prepared a group, which worked against the state order. In our country this [is an] article of criminal law against the mafia. One of my Muscovite friends, whom I respect greatly, could not understand why I’m against. But he’s guilty! I asked him: «What would you say if today Medvedev and Putin were judging Gorbachev? For Tbilisi, for Vilnius? For Kovalev, who was still sitting [in jail] for a certain time?» And he didn’t say anything. You need to understand the very complex history of our countries. Stalin said about the French and Italian communists that this is «parliamentary cretinism». Now I’m against legal cretinism. We need to understand that there is the law, but that there is also history.Question from the hall. And what is Wałęsa’s attitude towards all this?Adam Michnik. They’re already accusing Wałęsa himself, that he had been a KGB agent. I once was the first to write an article, why I won’t vote for him. He insulted, berated me. Now we’re the best of friends, because I wrote an article about how he had not been an agent. He was a bad president, he had megalomania, he asserted that he alone had defeated communism (I asked: «Well, maybe, not alone after all? Maybe, someone else helped a bit?»), but he was not an agent.And it has to be said that this again is the folklore of Polish politics. We’ve got success, after all. The peaceful dismantling of a totalitarian system. We didn’t have what was in the Polish republic between the wars, where they killed the president, where they locked up the leaders of the opposition in jail. We didn’t have anything resembling that. This is unbelievable success.And what do Poles say? That general Jaruzelski – this is a Soviet agent, Wałęsa – an agent of the Polish special services, while the round table – this is a compromise between the KGB and the UB of Poland?! But this is simply horsefeathers. This is unbelievable absurdity. In Poland anything’s possible.Igor Chubais. First, I simply want to make a bow before you. For many in Russia, and for me among them, you have been an example. We’re trying here to hear what you’re saying. It is very important to us what is going on in Poland and in the Ukraine. These are very close countries, and information from there is the most censorable. The quantity of questions that arise at Polish-Russian meetings is inexhaustible. Therefore, maybe, we shouldn’t let you go to Venediktov? But I’ll be brief. Two brief questions. You spoke about the absurdity of a possible trial of Gorbachev. But when Yeltsin told him: «Dissolve the party – and you’ll remain president», he signed an ukase before everybody’s eyes and dissolved the party. When they aimed rifles at Nicholas the Second, he didn’t say that he repents and is joining the RCPB. He accepted death.Retorts from the hall. But nobody offered him an alternative. Furthermore, he had already abdicated by that moment.Igor Chubais. He had abdicated. I’ll say that he abdicated because most of all he feared civil war in Russia. And he abdicated from power, in order to avoid war. But Vladimir Ilyich for the sake of power unleashed it. It is still not appreciated here to this day who Lenin was, and who – Nicholas was. But nevertheless questions. You said, on the examples of the Khodorkovsky case and Georgia, that Putin is starting to get imperial thinking.Adam Michnik. Imperial and authoritarian.Igor Chubais. If we consider that imperial thinking – this is horrible, for us, in Russia, there wouldn’t be a history. And in so doing you said that without Russian culture there is no Europe. So to blame pre-October Russia for everything, to my view, is incorrect. I consider that what is returning is not imperial, but Stalinist thinking. And this is Stalinism. We have yet to appreciate that Russia was nu many ways successful as a state. While the USSR was a catastrophe. And it seems to me that what is returning is precisely Stalinist thinking.And second. Today it is countries like Georgia, Estonia and Poland that are appearing most actively against the Kremlin. I recall the Soviet times, when all the neighbors of the USSR were starting to build socialism. The only country that wasn’t building, – this is Finland, it also never made anti-Soviet declarations. It attained the biggest successes in the economy. And today, when Georgia, Estonia and Poland are starting to make noise, – this can end sadly. I don’t understand why America, France, Germany are silent. They see the absence of law, democracy, corruption etc. Why are they silent? It would be more advantageous for all if Estonia did its thing and didn’t stick its nose into politics. But huge countries have to speak. I’m grateful to the USA because under the Union they helped dissidents. But Estonia isn’t going to do anything here.Adam Michnik. This is both an interesting question and interesting evidence. The history of Russia – this is truly the history of an empire. But the history of Russian thinking – this is the history of freedom. There were the Decembrists, Herzen, Chaadayev. I recently read a book by the Polish historian Andrzej Walicki, a wonderful specialist on the history of Russian philosophy of the ‘30s-‘40s of the 19th century. He’s the son of a professor, who had been in the underground Armija Krajowa. He writes: «My path to free thought – this is the letters of Russian writers and philosophers».Why do I speak Russian? Thanks to Russian dissidents. When I wanted to read Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn and others, that’s when I learned the Russian language. You say that Estonia, Poland and Georgia are interfering in politics. You believe that Great Georgia attacked little Russia? Or Finland in the year of ’39? But this is simply the language of propaganda. I read during the time of the Georgian conflict articles in Russian newspapers. This was a language I remember well after the intervention into Czechoslovakia. The same arguments.Igor Chubais. That means, this is Stalinist policy?Adam Michnik. Hold on. Why isn’t it Stalinist? Because if there were no rights, we wouldn’t be sitting here. Under Stalin there was a totalitarian regime. There were no places for free talk. Take a look at these books around us! I just bought around 40 kg of books, issued under Putin. Under Stalin this was impossible. Do you remember the history of «The Master and Margarita»? Now you can read whatever you want.This is true, that in Estonia, as in Poland there are many insane and stupid acts. But after all, Estonia isn’t threatening Russia! This is absurdity.Concerning the difference between Poland and Finland. We in Poland dreamed about having the kind of status that Finland had. It wasn’t we who decided that in Poland socialism was going to be built, but a Stalinist regime. These were simply two different Stalinist policies. One – for Finland and Austria, the other – for the rest. The only exception was Yugoslavia. After Budapest and Czechoslovakia, we in Poland understood perfectly well where the boundaries of our possibilities were. If we look cynically, then what was the most successful moment in Russian history? This was Joseph Stalin. But you need to go on and ask what was the cost of this for Russia.Ludmilla Alexeeva. It turned out that in relation to the war of Georgia and Russia you agreed with your president. In that this was not good on the part of Russia. But what is the attitude of the populace to this?Adam Michnik. This is true. For the first and, probably, the last time in my life I supported the president. I asked myself the question, what would I have done in his place? I would also have gone as well with a quartet of presidents to Tbilisi and would have said: «You can’t do that». This is dangerous for everybody. And, first and foremost, for Russian democracy. I remember perfectly well what happened with Herzen after the Polish uprising. He was marginalized, while Mikhail Katkov took power over minds into his hands.What is the attitude towards the war in Poland? There was an internal conflict between the president and the government. In the government there is such a philosophy: «We don’t need to support the thought about how Poland – this is a center of Russophobia». And I agree with this. But what happened in Georgia, – this was outside of principles. Bombs on Poti and Gori – this is a new signal for all of us.I have never supported Saakashvili. I worked in Tbilisi a year ago as moderator between the government and the opposition, when Saakashvili shut down the telecompany «Imedi». I had an interesting talk with him. There is a story about how they asked Karl Radek about his relations with Stalin? He replied that it’s very complex to speak with him: you give him – a citation, and he gives you – a reference. That’s what my talks with Saakashvili were like. He lied so unbelievably! This was one great lie. That he would like, but he can’t, that, don’t you know, an independent court had decided thus (in Georgia – an independent court!). (Laughter)At the end I finally said: «Mister president, I see that what is taking place is a misunderstanding. You, maybe, think that I have come from Norway or from Australia? I’ve come from Poland and know all your bolshevik gimmicks perfectly well. Say plainly, what will be! Or say that you don’t want to talk about this! I’ll return to Warsaw and will write in the «New York Times» about what I saw and what I think about this». He said: «Oh come now! We’ll open it!» And they opened the station. For two weeks.Grigory Shvedov: That is he did lie after all?Adam Michnik: Lied again.I saw Georgia and spoke there with different people. And, of course, I have no sympathy for Saakashvili. I’ll say even more – that during the time of this conflict he behaved himself like a mad adventurist. But he was a victim of the situation and of a provocation.Boris Dolgin: But the decision was his after all?Adam Michnik: Probably. Not the Americans’! (Laughter)In Washington they were in a hysteria: what’s he doing, what’s he doing?! But this is simply Russian propaganda drivel! What honor to have victory over Georgia? But over Washington, over the West – such a success for the Kremlin! But this is absurdity. I am a hundred percent sure.What do the Poles think? First, nobody harbored any sympathies for Saakashvili. And until the moment of the incursion of the Russian troops into Georgia itself already, into Gori – not into Ossetia – they reasoned thus: he got what he wanted. But after the incursion everybody understood: this is already another question. And when we heard the Russian propaganda – about genocide in Tskhinvali and so on – this is such an obvious lie after all. This, I agree, was already Stalinist propaganda. Although practice – no. If it had been Stalinist practice, then what would have happened with the Georgians was what once was with the Ingushes, the Chechens, the Volga Germans.Boris Dolgin. The practice is such that now beyond the confines of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia there are no more Russian troops.Adam Michnik. There aren’t troops. But there is an independent Ossetia, where the entire government – this is KGB people from Moscow. Thanks for such sovereignty!Retort from the hall. Before the war there was the same thing there.Sergey Kovalev. I’m not going to ask the question that’s constantly twirling around on my tongue. We’ll talk about this in Poland. I will only designate it. I wanted to ask about KOS-KOR and about «Solidarity».And now I’ll take advantage of the opportunity for two brief retorts. The first on account of general Jaruzelski. I agree with everything. But I want to bring attention to the following.There is a court and there is a court sentence, and then there is the juridical qualification of an action. This is different things. And the juridical qualification is sometimes very useful. Let us say I promised my investigator that in his trial I will be a public defender. But this does not mean that I wouldn’t like there to be a trial with respect to our trials. God be with them, with the judicial sanctions. What’s important is the court decision. And second. On account of the «Finlandization» of the small countries of Europe. Let’s consider that all the countries of the world community have equal rights. In ’68 and ’69 was a time of a unipolar world, and the greatest power then was Czechoslovakia. The example of Finland – is a horrible example. I think that great powers actually could learn from not-big countries how to behave themselves. But they don’t get this example.Adam Michnik. As concerns «Solidarity», then this is indeed a long talk. But one thing I will say. The most dangerous moment for democrats-idealists – this is the moment after victory. Because freedom [is] for all, even for former Bolshviks. What did the Bolsheviks do? They started to destroy the people of the old regime. I’m from a communist family. And therefore I knew that we don’t need to take this road. Because this is the road to hell. Maybe, we might even lose the elections. But we’ll win democracy. And I remember how someone from Yeltsin’s team said to me: «We will not allow the communists to power». I was afraid to say something to this. I agreed with you during the time of the shooting of the parliament in the year 1993. But today we see the process of movement towards an authoritarian regime. I don’t have an answer, what to do. If I did have it, I would have received the Nobel prize a long time ago.Boris Dolgin. You think that what’s taking place now, – this is one of the results of the unreadiness to give away power in the 1990s? The desire to hold on to it by any means?Adam Michnik. I would not start to reply so firmly. But…Retort from the hall. This isn’t a road to authoritarianism. This is already within authoritarianism.Alexander Auzan. Tonight I crawled into the Internet to read what they’re writing about you in Wikipedia. Very much that is correct is written there, but there is also such a phrase: «This is a person who from an underground publication created a media-empire with a value of 400 mln. euros» How did you manage that?Adam Michnik. All of our bosses can tell you that. They simply hate us because of this. Because we’re independent. If this is interesting to you practically, come to Warsaw. You need to talk about this with our specialists on business. But one thing I knew. That Poles – this is a very complex nation. The editor-in-chief of the monthly «Kultura» Jerzy Giedroyc once said to me: «Don’t be afraid. Go against the majority. Go against stereotypes, against taboos. In the first minute you’ll get all the crap in the country. But then they, maybe, will see that you’re serious, and will start to respect you». And that’s what we did. We entered into conflict with all the great ideas and forces in Poland: with the government, with the church, with «Solidarity».Boris Dolgin. With the post-communists.Adam Michnik. Well, that’s by nature. We all were people from the underground. But we even defended them. We said that the philosophy of our transformation is in everybody having their place. Any person who wants to build a democratic state. And we made mistakes.Everything happened. But today we read every day about ourselves, that we’re oligarchs. And that one needs to struggle with us like with oligarchs. And during the time of Kaczyński we received a summons to go to court, because some criminal had said that we’d done something or other with the finances. I don’t have anything at all to do with the finances. I went there. Madame procurator wanted to talk with me. I told her: «Write the questions, and I’ll answer. We’re not going to have a talk, we’re not friends». And just imagine, this investigation ended on the next day after the elections. The elections were on Sunday. And on Monday they telephoned us from the procuracy ad said that there’s no crime.I love my country, but I love it without illusions. I understand perfectly well what can be. But of one thing I am convinced. You need to build the kind of institutions that will be independent even in dark times. Because anything is possible.Boris Dolgin. The crisis. What do you await for Poland, Russia and the world?Adam Michnik. I await that there won’t be a catastrophe. If it will be, then nobody knows what results it will bring. In the USA there were positive ones – Roosevelt, in Germany – Hitler. I’m afraid to answer this question, but in Poland there has already settled a fear, although not like the one in Moscow. Because nobody knows why all this happened. The stars of world economics are saying different things. Only everybody agrees that bankers are sly. As if though they were any different before.I would like to thank you again. It’s a great honor for me that I can say in Moscow what I think, and hear my friends. Thank you.30 October 2008