Adam Michnik in Der Spiegel: ‘We Are Bastards of Communism’


The online international edition of Der Spiegel has just published probably the most interesting interviews on post-communist Eastern Europe I have read in years. This is no surprise when the interviewee is Adam Michnik,  former Polish dissident, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, the most read Polish daily newspaper, and one of the most lucid minds in the former communist world.

Here are excerpts from this interview that, I suggest, should be read in its entirety.

* * *

SPIEGEL: Mr. Michnik, for more than six weeks now, thousands of people have taken to the streets in Bulgaria to demonstrate against their country’s rotten political system. More than 20 years after Eastern Europe’s democratic awakening, political conflicts are still characterized by turf wars and hatred. Why?

Michnik: We lack a political culture, a culture of compromise. We in Poland, as well as the Hungarians, have never learned this sort of thing. Although there is a strong desire for freedom in the countries of Eastern Europe, there is no democratic tradition, so that the risk of anarchy and chaos continues to exist. Demagoguery and populism are rampant. We are the illegitimate children, the bastards of communism. It shaped our mentality.

Michnik: We still have politicians who strive for a different type of country: Kaczynski as well as Orbán in Hungary. They want a gradual coup. If Orbán stayed in power in Hungary or if Kaczynski were to win an election in our country, it would be dangerous. Both men have an authoritarian idea of government; democracy is merely a façade.

[My comment: It is for the first time I realise that the soft coup d’etat attempted last summer by Ponta and Antonescu was using a recipe that was already used elsewhere in eastern Europe; Ponta did just another instance of copy-paste; that’s all he knows to do well.]

SPIEGEL: Do people suddenly no longer care that someone is removing judges or editors-in-chief who are not toeing the party line? Have they forgotten what it was like under the communists?

Michnik: A part of society in our countries would still prefer an authoritarian regime today. These are people with the mentality of Homo sovieticus. But they also exist in France — just think of Le Pen — and even in Finland and Sweden.

SPIEGEL: Orbán is trying to direct his country into a “system of national cooperation without compromises.” What does he mean by that?

Michnik: British historian Norman Davies called this form of democracy a “government of cannibals.” Democratic elections are held, but then the victorious party devours the losers. The gradual coup consists in getting rid of or taking over democratic institutions. These people believe that they are the only ones in possession of the truth. At some point, parties no longer mean anything, and the system is based, once again, on a monologue of power.

SPIEGEL: Orbán, Kaczynski and others talk about wanting to finally finish the revolution of 1989 and settle scores with the communists. Do former communist officials still pose a threat today?

Michnik: I think it was a good thing that Poland chose the path of reconciliation and not the path of revenge. Nevertheless, I’m still treated with hostility. I was a supporter of (former German Chancellor Konrad) Adenauer. He too had several options after the war: to send the people around him who had supported Hitler to prison or to turn them into democrats. He chose the second path. We also wanted our new Poland to be a Poland for everyone. The other path would have meant the opposition assuming power immediately in 1989 and not sharing it with the old regime. We would have had to hang the communists from the streetlights, and a small, elite group would have been in charge. That would have been anti-communism with a Bolshevik face.

[My comment: This is something that my friends on the right in Romania will not like at all. Yet, I have to say, I fully agree with Michnik on this point, which, in fact, is consistent with a Christic view on these matters.]

SPIEGEL: In Bulgaria, the secret police archives were opened only half-heartedly. And, in Romania, former members of the notorious Securitate are still active everywhere. What’s it like to live in a society in which the culprits of the past are better off then their former victims?

Michnik: You’re saying the same thing I used to say about Germany –“old Nazis all over the place.” But they were ex-Nazis. Of course, Romania was an Orwellian state, and the Securitate was everywhere. All countries that emerge from a dictatorship have these problems, as did Spain and Portugal. But it shouldn’t justify introducing an anti-communist apartheid.

[My comment: Michnik is not naive; he is able, however, to operate with the sort of nuances that the highly ideologised right wing politicians in Romania are not able to handle.]

Michnik: Back in 1990, I wrote that nationalism is the last stage of communism: a system of thought that gives simple but wrong answers to complex questions. Nationalism is practically the natural ideology of authoritarian regimes.

SPIEGEL: And anti-Semitism is on the rise along with it. According to a US study, 70 percent of people in Hungary say that the Jews have too much influence on business activity and the financial world.

Michnik: Poland is the only country in Eastern Europe that was able to control itself in this respect. Anti-Semitism is no longer socially or politically acceptable in Poland.

SPIEGEL: Why do those in the East feel like second-class citizens within the EU?

Michnik: Look at Poland. There are those there who are convinced that we belong in the first class. It has to do with our messianism, with the feeling of being Christian Europe’s advance guard on the frontier of the barbaric East.

SPIEGEL: Poland is doing well economically, and it’s getting a lot of money from the European Union.

Michnik: That’s true, but people don’t realize it. Seen from the perspective of Paris, Prague or Berlin, Poland is a great country. But turn on the Catholic station Radio Maryja, and you’ll hear that Poland is the land of disaster and is allegedly being run by people who want to biologically wipe out the Polish nation.

SPIEGEL: As a dissident, you paid a high price for your political convictions. Why do former members of the Polish opposition no longer play a role in politics today?

Michnik: It probably had to happen. Politics in a democracy requires other psychological conditions. The fight against communism was a little like a war: We put on the uniform and went to the front, and after the victory many of us withdrew. We dissidents had very high moral standards. No one believed that communism would actually collapse in front of our eyes. But then it happened, and suddenly people like me, with a completely different background than most of their fellow Poles, were in power. But we hadn’t learned to make policy according to the rule of a democracy. Besides, our noble aspirations were probably too much for the majority of the people.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Michnik, thank you for this interview.

* * *

You may red HERE the entire interview. You will not regret.


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

4 thoughts on “Adam Michnik in Der Spiegel: ‘We Are Bastards of Communism’”

  1. Wow. What clarity. Many parallels and warnings for the Capitalist West (or should one say the “post-Democratic West). Winning parties devour losers, for example.


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