“We tried to find a compromise with Hitler” – last Polish Communist leader
Jaruzelski was also the leader of the Communist Polish United Workers Party from 1981 to 1989, Prime Minister from 1981 to 1985 and the country's head of state from 1985 to 1990.
RT: It has been exactly two decades since the fateful fall of the Berlin Wall, which changed the landscape of modern geopolitics. To talk about it, and many other issues, we are joined in the Polish capital by the man who witnessed it all, being the leader of one of the European Socialist states. He is the last living leader of the Warsaw Pact countries, former Polish President Mr. Wojciech Jaruzelski.
Mr. President, many thanks for finding time to give us this interview. And my first question to you. As we know, 20 years ago the Berlin wall fell, thus paving the way for the collapse of the Socialist bloc in Eastern Europe and future disintegration of the Soviet Union. Do you think that this was inevitable, or was there any chance that Socialist Europe could have saved itself?
Wojciech Jaruzelski: Of course, the fall of the Berlin Wall was an important event. It was symbolic. However, it would be wrong to consider this event outside of its context. Actually, this process started earlier. This was a complicated process, and the course of history made these events imminent. We were lagging behind; we were engaged in a meaningless arms race that drained our economic resources.
As long as the Cold War continued, it was impossible to have radical change in any Eastern bloc country. It was simply impossible to change the regime. I remember how, at the Warsaw Pact summit in Berlin in May 1987, we adopted a crucial declaration that was a step toward the Western countries. We proposed a radical arms reduction. After that, the arms race began to subside.
After that, the political and even psychological situation in our countries changed. I am proud of the fact that Poland took the lead in this process. Following these events, we had a Prime Minister from Solidarity, Tadeusz Mazowiecki. That was an altogether new situation. We were the only country in the Eastern bloc where the government was, you may say, from a different world, politically. This set an example for other countries and motivated them.
RT: Your historic role is being perceived from different perspectives in Poland. Some believe that you were a dictator, a tyrant, a strangler of democracy, other call you a savior who prevented Soviet tanks from entering Polish territories. What do you think of your historic role and how do you evaluate your actions in the beginning of 1980s?
WJ: Martial law was inevitable. In fact, I think it was very unfortunate. The last few weeks, days, hours prior to that, I lived in a nightmare. There were a number of factors that forced us to make this decision. There were some very complicated and, you may say, heated political processes going on in Poland at the time – anarchy, strikes.
For forty years after the Second World War, we had balance. This balance allowed us to live in peace. Peace was preserved because of this balance. There was one time when this balance was seriously broken, and this almost led to a Third World War. I am referring to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. When the USSR deployed its missiles in Cuba the balance was broken.
When these processes started in Poland, Russian generals viewed this, again, as a threat to stability. And I fully understand them. If I were them, I would have thought the same way. They had to send their troops to restore balance. And they were not eager to do so. In fact, it is a paradox.
Some people claim that Russia was more than happy to send troops to Poland. No, this was the worst-case scenario for them as well. But it would have been inevitable.
RT: Some historians assume that if Soviet tanks had entered the Polish territory back then, it would have been a massive catastrophe not only for Warsaw, but also for Moscow. Why do they say so?
WJ: First of all, in order to discredit. This bloc, this union of friendly countries cannot deal with problems. Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland. Such a union is not worth a dime. Apparently these countries were united by the common ideology of internationalism, Marxism and Leninism. So that was the first thing – to discredit.
Secondly, in the situation of the clash between two systems, it is the weakening. Additional forces needed to be used. Poles could have defended themselves, and it would have led to a bad situation for everyone, everyone. During my very long life – I have just turned 86 – I have made a lot of mistakes. But I have not made the key mistake. And I think that announcing martial law, and then doing the round table talks were very important decisions, right and necessary decisions. I did not expect that there would be such a strong desire for vengeance so many years later.
The more dark colors you use to describe me and the past system in general, the more you promote those who apparently won. This also has a practical goal for them. As a result, I ended up on the court bench.
RT: Mr. President, the fall of the Berlin wall also signaled the end of the Cold War. But recently we have been hearing these words from different politicians, analysts, and the media. Do you think that there is still some kind of fault line between the East and the West?
WJ: The line exists, and it will continue to exist. Russia is a huge country with its own traditions, aspirations. And every country, to a certain extent, has its differences and aspirations. And they do not always have to be the same as the aspirations of neighboring or other countries. The goal is for these differences not to be conflicting. You know, Americans are smart people. They know that weakening Russia is not going to benefit them in the end. There is also China, Muslim countries – is it better to relate to them with or without Russia?
RT: What is your opinion on Washington's plans on missile defense shield in Europe and, in particular, on the recent rollback on its initial plan of the Bush administration?
WJ: I personally think that there is no need for this shield. I state it officially – it is not needed. Apparently now there is a new version of this shield, and Russia is supposed to be part of it. We will see. But the previous proposal – the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic – does not make any sense. To say that it will protect us from Iran, maybe also from Korea… you know we are not children.
RT: But as we learned from the recent visit of the US Vice President Joseph Biden to Warsaw, Washington is thinking about a new scheme to build this missile defense shield, and that could involve Poland as well. We had some rumors of SM-3 interceptor missiles placed in Poland. Do you think this new form would actually change the essence?
WJ: Our politicians complain that these were actually very general words and goals, with nothing specific stated. When will it be done, in what form? When this is determined then the plan could be considered. I have also heard that Russia would be involved in it as well. This completely changes everything. As far as it all being vague at this point, I think it signals that Americans are not in a hurry to get it done. Apparently there was some disappointment that they had cancelled the previous plans. So they comfort their partners by saying they would come up with a better plan. But when it will happen, what this plan will look like, what will the international situation be at that time?
RT: Recently the Polish Parliament sharply criticized the actions of the Soviet Union in 1939, believing that Moscow initiated an aggression against Polish territories back then. At the same time, Russia says that those were the attempts to protect Ukrainians and Belarusians from possible aggression from Nazi Germany. At the same time Moscow also denounced the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. What is your take on this clash of opinions?
WJ: The Russian side looks at it with criticism, but there are circumstances in which Poland, the West, found themselves at the time. I understand that. I remember many things that should not have happened. The Soviet Union was not blameless in this respect either. We, Poles, have to say that we have also done bad things.
We tried to find a compromise with Hitler – Munich, all kinds of gestures of friendship. I have already mentioned Göring's visit, the split of Czechoslovakia. All of these in essence were steps against the Soviet Union. So, our countries need to be honest with themselves, looking at the historical situation and saying that it was inevitable at the time. We need to find common ground. Later, we fought together against the same enemy. The Soviet Union's victory was crucial in that war.
RT: Mr. President, thank you very much for the interview.