Poland’s Uncivil Society

Leszek Konarski and Zygmunt Fura were involved with environmental issues and the creation of Poland’s first Green Party. (Photo: John Feffer)

Leszek Konarski and Zygmunt Fura were involved with environmental issues and the creation of Poland’s first Green Party. (Photo: John Feffer)

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

During the 1980s, Poland had perhaps the strongest civil society in the world. The Solidarity trade union movement, created in August 1980, eventually counted 10 million members, a quarter of Poland’s population. And when the government cracked down on Solidarity, declaring Martial Law in December 1981, the opposition was strong enough to survive underground under considerably adverse conditions.

In 1989, as Solidarity became a legal organization, it created citizens’ committees that enlisted Poles from all walks of life to discuss the transformation of the country. These committees, in every part of the country, mirrored the Round Table negotiations between the government and the opposition that took place at the elite level.

In 1990, I interviewed Leszek Konarski and Zygmunt Fura who were involved with environmental issues and the creation of Poland’s first Green Party. Twenty-three years later, I met up with them again in Krakow. They were no longer involved with the Green Party. And they were disappointed with the state of the country’s civil society.

“I was in favor of having citizens’ committees everywhere,” said Konarski, who works now as a journalist. “Those committees were very good. Solidarity liquidated all the citizens’ committees. There are no such committees in Poland at the moment. Those committees were institutions that involved a variety of different people: workers, university professors. They were non-party institutions. Then Solidarity reconstituted itself into Solidarity Electoral Action. This Solidarity Electoral Action was already a political party that gained power. And then began political activity and big politics. To this day it’s politics and there are no citizens’ committees. Society doesn’t engage in any dialogue in Poland.”

Fura was particularly unhappy with the state of party politics. “Parties are groups of organized crime,” he told me. “They organize in order to divide the state spoils among themselves. Everyone — the Right, the Left — everyone does the same thing. Society does not participate in voting because it has no influence. What kind of influence does voting have if the participation rate is 40 percent, not more than 50 percent?”

Konarski raised the issue of recycling to demonstrate the weakness of Polish civil society. “The whole West, all of Europe is already able to deal with the problem of trash separation,” he told me. “We still don’t separate 90 percent of our trash. We can’t deal with it because our society is not organized. We simply don’t have the internal organization necessary to say: bottles go here, paper goes here, plastic goes here. There are parties, but the parties don’t talk about trash. They talk about big politics. We speak of big politics, and we can’t handle ordinary matters.”

I asked what happened to the Green Party. Fura talked about its demise. “Possibly I made a mistake in being fascinated with the Greens in Germany where I lived for a year,” he confessed. “We translated all the statutes and so on from the German Greens. We didn’t take into account the specifics of Poland: the climate, the mentality, Polish Catholicism.”

We talked about Green politics today in Poland, the difficulty of figuring out where parties lie on the political spectrum, and the surprising popularity of the Revolutionary Choir.

The Interview

You were telling me about an interview with a right-wing candidate that your magazine published.

Leszek Konarski: Here in Poland the biggest and most serious left magazine Przeglad (Perspective), which I write for, published an interview with the candidate for president from the Law and Justice Party (PiS) – Piotr Glinski. This was a shock, that a Left periodical would be promoting a right-wing candidate for president. We did this because we came to the conclusion that the paper should promote all for whom the highest value is civil society, not where they stand on Communism or capitalism.

When Poland suddenly transitioned from communism to capitalism, that also was a shock. Everyone was suddenly delighted with capitalism. Solidarity supported capitalism and privatization and so on. But the important thing was not about being a capitalist. It was about building civil society. Therefore our weekly also tried to support all civic initiatives without regard to whether it was a Left voice or a Right voice. Thus, we were concerned with supporting all initiatives that served to build that type of society. And that’s why you see this paradox of a Left magazine supporting a Right candidate.

The Civic Platform (PO) doesn’t strive for civic democracy. There’s no civic democracy in parties where 50 percent of the members don’t vote for their own chief. How can you call it democracy in a party where 50 percent are indifferent to who will be the head of their party? That’s not democracy. We never made the transition to that stage of civil society. For instance, the greatest civic democracy in Europe is in Holland and Norway. I don’t know how it is in all the other countries, but for me Holland and Norway are great examples because 80-90 percent of the people belong to various associations, foundations and so on. For us in Poland, the percentage of people who belong to foundations and associations is, I don’t know, 20 percent. You should check on that. Very few people in general are concerned with civic matters. We have parties that struggle with one another in the Sejm, but those are the party elite. Those are not parties of citizens. Those are not parties that listen to their members. They don’t listen because the members are for the most part dead souls.

That’s why Professor Glinski, in our interview asks, why do we have problems with trash, with separating our trash? The whole West, all of Europe is already able to deal with the problem of trash separation. We still don’t separate 90 percent of our trash. We can’t deal with it because our society is not organized. We simply don’t have the internal organization necessary to say: bottles go here, paper goes here, plastic goes here. There are parties, but the parties don’t talk about trash. They talk about big politics. We speak of big politics, and we can’t handle ordinary matters. When society is organized as in the West, then we’ll be able to manage everything. I can’t at this moment agree with Solidarity because I want Solidarity to be less political and to organize society more to a higher purposes.

More like a movement.

Leszek Konarski: Yes. For instance, I was in favor of having citizens’ committees everywhere. Those committees were very good. Solidarity liquidated all the citizens’ committees. There are no such committees in Poland at the moment. Who liquidated the committees?

Walesa.

Leszek Konarski: Yes. Walesa.

Zygmunt Fura: It happened at the time of the parties.

Leszek Konarski: Yes, and it was a very big mistake because those committees were institutions that involved a variety of different people: workers, university professors. They were non-party institutions. Then Solidarity reconstituted itself into Solidarity Electoral Action. This Solidarity Electoral Action was already a political party that gained power. And then began political activity and big politics. To this day it’s politics and there are no citizens’ committees. Society doesn’t engage in any dialogue in Poland. So, when there are elections to the Sejm, to the Senate, to the European parliament, the frequency of participation is, maximum, 50 percent. The greatest participation rate was for the presidential election, and it might have gotten up to 54 or 55 percent in a given year.

The participation rate in the European parliament has been only about 25 percent.

Leszek Konarski: Yes. The frequency is scandalous. Society in general doesn’t pay attention to elections. For the smallest district council elections, the frequency can be as low as 5 percent. I know a locale here in Krakow, for the district council election no one came, or maybe it was only two voters! It’s a disaster of democracy. It’s a disaster of civil society. We have capitalism, but we don’t have full democracy. We jumped from Communism to capitalism, but we didn’t create for ourselves the necessary civic mechanisms. We’re not able to activate life in our own place, in the countryside – we can’t. That’s why it’s dirty, that’s why there’s all this garbage. That’s why we can’t solve ordinary problems. Because society isn’t organized.

The point of view of Glinski is the point of view also of the party, of PIS?

Leszek Konarski: Yes. Unfortunately, PiS is a party of the elite. And PiS fights with PO. And PO fights with PiS. But they don’t fight with contemporary social organizations. For us on the Left, the views of Glinsky are more interesting than the views of Aleksander Kwasniewski [former head of the Union of the Democratic Left]. Glinski is more Left than Kwasniewski. Glinski is a sociologist. I don’t know how he would be as president, but he has a feeling for what the problems are. How have we organized things? Are we organizing things? Are we going to be a democratic state? I think that we’re not a democratic state. There’s no democracy. Democracy is when society decides its own fate, right? Democracy is when each person is heard. Here it’s necessary to register with one party or the other in order to be heard. There’s an opposition, but….

Zygmunt Fura: The party system is everywhere. In the United States. Everywhere.

Leszek Konarski: Yes, also in America.

Zygmunt Fura: There are no countries without parties, no democracies, except maybe ancient democracies.

Leszek Konarski: I know such a party but it ended badly.

Zygmunt Fura: North Korea? Cuba?

Leszek Konarski: No. I spent a week in Libya and did some reporting from there. There were no parties in Libya. I don’t know if there are any parties today in Libya but then there was a direct democracy. Everyone decided everything. It was a kind of full democracy but without parties. That’s the only country I know where I didn’t encounter any parties.

At that time, but eventually parties began…

Zygmunt Fura: Parties are groups of organized crime. They organize in order to divide the state spoils among themselves. Everyone — the Right, the Left — everyone does the same thing. Society does not participate in voting because it has no influence. What kind of influence does voting have if the participation rate is 40 percent, not more than 50 percent? The election for the president is the one time for national reflection. The other issue is the total misunderstanding of the political spectrum. It’s a mishmash. The normal separation is rightists, leftists, and the center. And what here is the right? Which is the party of the rightists?

PiS.

Zygmunt Fura: They’re Right? They have a program that’s typically leftist. They’re absorbed with Left problems, only without the label. The Church, anti-Communist ideology: 70 percent of the people support that. And what is the PO? Just a name or what?

The center. The center-Right.

Zygmunt Fura: That’s analyzing their politics, but what about their name? It’s a misunderstanding. Is not the Union of Democratic Left (SLD) also a civic platform? That’s also for the citizens, right? And doesn’t the SLD advocate for law and justice? And doesn’t the PO advocate for law and justice? Everyone does. Here it’s necessary to establish clear divisions — as in the democratic West, yes? Like in Germany: there’s a right, a left, the SPD, the CDU and the CSU, the Greens and a center party as well. That’s clear. The names of the parties should immediately identify the values. Here it’s just camouflage and fraud.

Every party builds its own Polish state according to its own vision. PiS has its own vision of the state. PO too. But we need to build a single Poland, not one or another. A Poland for everyone.

Leszek Konarski: And hence we decided to support the letter of Professor Glinsky.

Zygmunt Fura: The Left made a mistake.

What mistake?

Zygmunt Fura: An essential one. Instead of tackling authentic problems that are connected with the Left — like poverty, homelessness, work issues – it dealt with substitute topics, things that the intelligentsia was concerned with. The program of a Left party should arise out of real values, not marketing. The rivalry with Palikot and this so-called new Left leads nowhere. It’s the same everywhere in Europe. In Holland it gets 3-5 percent maximum. The essential values have died off. Who cares about them? The right? PiS uses Smolensk, Katyn — that’s their main ideology. But those should be the issues for historical institutes, for archivists, not a political party. Those themes can attract only so many people.

Young people don’t care about that. Young people are dormant. They’re interested only in clubs, discotheques, making money in order to consume at clubs and music festivals. It’s like they’re under quarantine. According to this official report of the premier, from the chancellery where Michal Boni directs the experts — it’s official but not widely distributed, though I have access — 50 percent of university graduates are unemployed. That’s a group that could lead a revolt. Just like 1968, right? Just like all the social changes began from SDS and other student movements, in Berlin, Amsterdam and so on. That’s a group whose power can propel all kinds of changes, but it requires young people to organize. They’re not workers, not intellectuals. But they can join together just like the others did, at the barricades, at the University of Paris.

Here too.

Zygmunt Fura: Here too. The only problem is that many people have now emigrated. They all finish their studies only in order to get through. They spend a couple years enjoying themselves and then they escape. They go for a year to Ireland for example. Canada is now open, right? It’s a free market. They work for a year, two. They have their contacts, their own circle, and then they don’t come back to Poland. And what will happen later to Poland? That’s a question now for the country. Who will be in Poland? What happens when more young people are born outside the country? That’s a failure of Poland, of Polishness. Everyone is emigrating. It’s a problem of national identity. What does it mean now to be patriotic? This idea has been hijacked by the football fans. Look at the Polish parties today. It’s like a damn Polish football match.

There’s the NGO called Krytyka Polityczna right now in Poland, which involves a lot of young people.

Zygmunt Fura: Leftists. They’re history repeating. It’s another group of leftists emerging: ultra-leftists, a discussion group, the Che Guevara club at university, fighters working somehow with workers, and so on. In 1969, when I lived in Germany for a year, I saw the same thing: narrow circles of ultra-leftists including pro-Marxist groups, the German Communist Party, pro-Vietnam groups. They were all small groups. And now they’re emerging again. Because people are looking for something near at hand. They’re organizing at that level, the family level, small-scale. Meanwhile there’s no possibility for a wider movement. Wider organizing requires an audience. Clubs, fans. It’s dangerous.

Leszek Konarski: As I mentioned, Przeglad is a Left magazine, and we are on the Left. We’re a group of Left intellectuals trying to achieve a high intellectual level. The articles are all analyses. But we are not connected with the SLD. We are a magazine on the Left based in all the values of the Left, even if they show up in PiS or PO or Solidarity (and we did interviews with people in Solidarity). We’re looking for all Left values wherever they are because the Polish Left is completely confused. The SLD is simply moving in a direction I just don’t understand. Krytyka Polityczna, on the other hand, is a very good center of thinking.

Zygmunt Fura: Krytyka Polityczna? They’re well-educated people. Sociologists. Philosophers. Artists.

Here in Krakow too?

Zygmunt Fura: Yes. Sometimes they have art shows in the Bunker [the contemporary art gallery].

Leszek Konarski: For example, two months ago, I wrote a long report about choirs. In Krakow a Revolutionary Choir started up.

Zygmunt Fura: That was a good article.

Leszek Konarski: You read it?

Zygmunt Fura: I read only your articles, Leszek!

Leszek Konarski: So, the Revolutionary Choir started up. Young leftists began to sing the revolutionary songs of Germany, Italy, Cuba. They give performances. They were singing here in the Old Market, and several thousand people were listening to this Revolutionary Choir, which sings Italian songs against Mussolini, songs of rebellion, songs of Che Guevara and other people, even the Internationale. They sang all these songs from the Communist times – worker songs, but not propaganda. All these people were thinking that as this choir was performing in the Market people would whistle and hoot. But there was an ovation. What does this indicate? Above all there’s a sentiment here in Poland for the workers’ tradition, the Left tradition in support of the poor and the simple. It’s a phenomenon.

Zygmunt Fura: You know the song Chmury (Clouds) by Kaczmarski?

That’s a Polish song.

Leszek Konarski: They didn’t sing that.

Zygmunt Fura: It was a Spanish revolutionary song.

Leszek Konarski: Perhaps. Jacek Kaczmarski was a singer from the Solidarity period. But the Choir didn’t sing Kacmarki songs.

Zygmunt Fura: Give me their telephone contact.

Leszek Konarski: Yes, I’ll give you their contact. Send me an email. So, these people in the choir, they didn’t perform for money. But they didn’t perform just anywhere. They’re idealists. They perform where they believe they need to perform. Not for money.

I have a question about the past. What happened with the Green Party here?

Zygmunt Fura: We were in the first group that established a Green Party in the general wave of social and ecological protests. The foundation was a social movement connected to Solidarity activism demanding ecological change. The party emerged in 1988, the first party on an ecological basis in Eastern Europe. The second was Lithuanian, the third Hungarian. We had contact with these groups, for instance with Janos Vargha in Hungary. Our party was like other Green parties.

We committed a few mistakes. We wanted to be identified with the Green movement in Europe. And some divisions emerged within the party because not everything could be precise. For instance, the structure of the party had three leaders. Also possibly I made a mistake in being fascinated with the Greens in Germany where I lived for a year. We translated all the statutes and so on from the German Greens. We didn’t take into account the specifics of Poland: the climate, the mentality, Polish Catholicism. Hence there were a lot of mistakes. That’s one thing.

The other mistake is that we tried to be a wide movement. Like the Swedes and Germans and other Greens, the movement should have been created and controlled from the top. Intellectuals don’t try to control things. Various groups arose and various people became involved. But I don’t want to explain all the mechanisms about how that came about. Leszek and I were active in the Green Party until 1994. In the elections in which we participated, the party didn’t get less than 3 percent. That was a lot.

Leszek Konarski: In the polls.

Zygmunt Fura: Yes, in the polls and in the elections as well. And now, what remains after all the arguments, splits, and the suspicions that the Green party was influenced by the KGB and the Special Forces? It’s nonsense. And what’s really unpleasant and painful is that the attacks on us were by the people who, after us, created a new party Greens 2012. These were people from Freedom and Peace (WiP).

Leszek Konarski: Not 2012. Greens 2004.

Zygmunt Fura: Yes. Greens 2004. That was Radoslaw Gawlik and people who had been in the Freedom and Peace movement, not only them, but in various similar formations. And now what kind of support do they get? 0.3 percent. It’s nothing. They can’t even get above one percent. In more difficult times, we were able to get more support. The mistake is that they also want to be international Greens along the pattern of the Greens in Holland or Germany, but on Polish grounds. They’re concerned with feminism, minority issues. That’s temporarily necessary, as a strategic purpose, for those divisions. But it would be better to focus on ecology, on the poor.

And what’s happening now? Ecology is a luxury good. If you have the cash you can buy healthy food. Health should be for everyone, and ecology should have the same program that treats everyone the same way. Just as schools do.

Meanwhile, the Green Party establishes partnerships with minorities. And as a result, it distances itself from people. It should be a party supported by all people, from the well-educated to the farmers. But there are no farmers in the Green Party. In the German Greens there’s a strong farmers’ contingent around ecological agriculture, and they take a position in the European Parliament as well. Each of us somehow lives ecologically for own purposes. Ecology at the moment has become like commerce: for the purpose of creating your own personality through campaigns, grants, and spectacular actions.

Meanwhile what’s troubling is that there’s no real public ecological education — in schools, in clubs. We conduct discussions about how beer is healthy and how to push cosmetics. Now there’s a big threat in the realm of the free market, which is just pushing garbage. All of these products are cheaper, displacing healthy Polish ecological food. If I buy these large potatoes from Cyprus or these large onions from Spain – I have my suspicions. Because I’m accustomed to small onions and I know that they have…

Leszek Konarski: You’re right, Zygmunt. We were too fascinated with the German Greens. We had had contacts with them; they came here. We adopted their statutes. Zygmunt translated them and we created the party on the German model. But they were a step ahead.

Zygmunt Fura: They were a generation ahead. They advanced slowly, slowly, and now they are quite pragmatic.

Leszek Konarski: Yes, we copied them so that in our party there couldn’t be one leader, there had to be three, as there was in Germany. That was our terrible error. Among the German Greens, there are three leaders but they try to cooperate with each other.

Zygmunt Fura: Here it’s a rivalry.

Leszek Konarski: It turned out in Poland with three leaders, each one created their own bloc because, simply, this is Poland. And we didn’t realize at the time that it wouldn’t work. Germany is a country with a higher level of political culture, perhaps. I can’t imagine what it’s like in America, but it’s possible there as well. But not in Poland. In Germany it’s possible, although with the German Greens, as I see, they don’t have so much success.

Zygmunt Fura: But the Greens there always get between 7 and 10 percent of the vote.

Leszek Konarski: They told us that we must have 50 percent women and 50 percent men in the leadership of the party. We did that, and I think it was a mistake because our women were still not yet ready for politics. We searched and we often found only stupid grandmothers, stupid women. This led to conflicts because we didn’t have enough smart people. But in Germany this was the way it was and we simply copied it. Also each country has its own specific politics and doesn’t freely take steps against its traditions. It can’t jump ahead 20 years. The Germans were 20 years ahead of us.

Zygmunt Fura: All parties eventually create a political class, a political elite. And parties should have an elite cadre. For instance, there are 400 people in the Norwegian Green party, out of a population of four million, but they manage to possess all the necessary wisdom and clarity. In a party like that, the leader must be an intellectual visionary able to organize the masses for the elections. All the time, the leader must be in social contact, otherwise the party breaks up and dies. PO is in the middle of such flux, so it doesn’t have a chance. It’s scattered. There’s the Right bloc, the Left bloc, the ecological bloc, this bloc and that bloc. It’s falling into pieces. But that’s good. In five years, we’ll have clear divisions. The political organization of society should be this way: Left, Right, and Center. The Center and Left are in the process of creation. Meanwhile, a new Right is emerging, not on the PiS base, because it must be completely different. PiS is leftist. It’s concerned with things that are too idealistic, whether we’re talking about Smolensk, Katyn and historical issues like that: settling with the past and Catholicism. I believe that a Catholic party should be set up in Poland – for the people who are sectarian in that way.

Leszek Konarski: But the Church has never wanted a Catholic party.

Zygmunt Fura: Why? The Church wants to have influence everywhere, even among leftists. The Communist party was the most servile toward the Church in this period.

Leszek Konarski: The Church has Jaroslaw Gowin. I’ve written about Gowin. He was a minister of justice. Now he wants to be chairman of PO. I wrote a long article about him. I wanted to look at what he represents and what he’s doing. I did a lot of research on which cardinal supports him. It’s clear that he’s the Church’s man. But it’s not Cardinal Dziwisz or Father Rydyzk from Torun. I checked. No one. It’s very strange who supports him. I suggested that perhaps he’s controlled by Opus Dei. He had a meeting with Opus Dei here in Krakow. I have witnesses who wrote to me about his connections to Opus Dei. Probably he’s controlled by Opus Dei, but I don’t know. He’s a very strange man, Gowin. He wants to take the place of Tusk. But he will get very few votes in the election, and it’s not clear what he will do. I suppose he’ll leave PO. Maybe he’ll try to create a new Catholic party. He wants to move in the direction of a republican party.

Zygmunt Fura: People are tired of partisanship, and the parties are going in the direction of elitism.

Leszek Konarski: Which party will win in the next Polish elections? Probably PO will lose, however. I don’t know, maybe PiS will win. Anyway…

Zygmunt Fura: PO will probably come in second, SLD third.

When we talked 23 years ago, we talked about the quality of Green parties. There were various parties. For instance, we talked about cucumbers (green all the way through) on the one hand and watermelons (green on the outside, red on the inside) on the other.

Zygmunt Fura: They exist, but only to a residual degree.

Leszek Konarski: Basically there’s no ecological movement in Poland. It ended.

Zygmunt Fura: Yes. At one point in the past we had the Polish Ecological Club, and it was dynamic. Now it’s limited only to very inside activity. Nothing public. No education. No strong statements. They even don’t have offices. It’s a real shame because the ecological club that I was in operated along the lines of a Roman club. It was a club of visionary intellectuals. An elite. They also committed mistakes like moving to a mass structure, and so on. Also, the generation of fighters has died. Or they’ve retired.

So, the parties don’t exist at the moment. But the problems still exist. Like trash.

Leszek Konarski: That’s the biggest problem at the moment.

Zygmunt Fura: We are not prepared in terms of infrastucture to separate trash. The government is not prepared for this kind of problem and society is not prepared mentally.

Why? Even Bulgaria has this kind of policy.

Zygmunt Fura: It’s the politics around waste separation.

But why doesn’t it exist here?

Leszek Konarski: On July 1 a law on waste went into effect. Now all of us must pay a tax on waste. Each of us can arrange with a firm to come and take the waste away. Before, a lot of people were not arranging for the removal of waste. Whoever wants, pays; whoever doesn’t want, doesn’t pay. I pay every month 16 zloty, my wife pays 16 zloty, and each person in my house must pay. We pay the city, and the city now has a responsibility to take away all the trash without regard to where it is. That’s a good thing. A very good thing. But it’s been two months and it’s not working. I think that it will work, but at the most it’s a terrible mess. People are not separating their trash. They don’t know where to throw things or they’re throwing it wherever. They’re throwing away gold, but the gold is glass and paper when the trash is unsorted. We lack an ecological culture. It’s a question of…

It’s a psychological question?

Leszek Konarski: Yes, and it’s lacking. We’re in a difficult period. Everything is good, well-organized, but at the moment it doesn’t work. It will probably be another several months before it will start working. We have to work on education, but we lack now civic education. We have to teach citizens that plastic bottles go here and glass bottles go in this bucket and paper goes over here. None of these people has been taught. They don’t know. I showed my wife, and she now puts things in different places. In the West everyone knows what to do, but here no.

So, that’s the biggest ecological problem. What’s the next biggest?

Leszek Konarski: CO2. We have many problems with…

Zygmunt Fura: Energy.

Leszek Konarski: With carbon dioxide. We have many problems because the EU obliged us to limit emissions, and we were not able to limit our emissions. All of our electricity-generating plants run on coal. All of them. We don’t have even one atomic energy plant. All of them are coal, and all of them release pollution. We will pay a large fine, a lot of money, because we’re not able to meet the requirements of the EU since we don’t have clean energy. We have too little hydroelectric and wind generation. In countries like Szitzerland or France, they have 15-20 percent of their energy coming from hydro, from wind and various unconventional sources, and we continue to fail to meet our requirements. We are a primitive country, unable to generate clean energy. That’s our problem.

Now, there’s a specific problem with atomic energy. Of course our Green Party was against the building of atomic power plants in Poland. But now I wonder whether we made a mistake. Because we simply lack electricity. They say that in two years we won’t have any.

Zygmunt Fura: We consume too much electricity, and we don’t have enough energy conservation programs.

Leszek Konarski: When the state was planning to build an atomic power plant at that time, we protested against it — in the north, at Zarnowiec, on the sea.

And you were successful.

Leszek Konarski: We successfully protested there. But now I regret it a bit because if we had built the plant then we wouldn’t be having energy problems now. It was somewhat old technology — the Russians had offered us the technology. But we blocked the building of the atomic plant, and we don’t have atomic energy at the moment. We have a crisis. We’ve fallen into an energy crisis.

Zygmunt Fura: By 2010 we should probably have had 15 or 20 percent alternative energy.

Leszek Konarski: Alternative, yes, 15 percent. We should have. If we’d built windmills, hydroelectric.

Zygmunt Fura: Leszek wrote about hydroelectric. Remember? I read that.

Leszek Konarski: Yes, but it was too little. We created hydroelectric, but not enough.

Zygmunt Fura: For that you need money. Photovoltaic cells, all the energy of the sun. The EU gives. And the EU takes.

Leszek Konarski: Now the biggest problem in Poland is shale gas. Here everyone says that we have shale gas. If I were active in the ecological movement at the moment, I would protest against that because it’s a degradation of the environment. But everywhere they’ve begun looking for this gas. Firms are devoting lots of money, and they haven’t found any. Up to now, there isn’t any, only a small amount and they haven’t extracted it. There must be alternative energy for Poland. There must be large deposits of gas. They thought that they could be independent from Russian gas and Gasprom. We buy about 12 billion cubic meters from Gasprom. We’re living all the time on Russian gas. And we want to be independent. Also American firms began to look for shale gas, but they found only a small amount. Energy is a big problem right now in Poland.

Yes. So, what do you think about the future? Particularly, the situation of the Green party? Do you think that there will be another chance for the Green Party or something like it? Or do you think the time of such parties has ended?

Leszek Konarski: I don’t know. I can’t predict the future. But there is a small ecological movement, a movement of small local groups.

Yes, but they’re not very large.

Leszek Konarski: Not very. I don’t see whether someone can pull together these movements into a political party. I don’t see whether a Green Party will again emerge in Poland. We can’t be the ones to do it because we have lost contact with all these people. Now there are a lot of small initiatives and it’s very good that they exist. But I don’t see a future for the ecological movement. I don’t see the people who could do this, that have the charisma to take control of such a movement. We don’t have the kind of characters who can make a new Green Party. As soon as everything starts up, it very quickly ends.

We talked about the political changes for you both when you were in Solidarity and then –

Leszek Konarski: Yes, and then I moved to the Left side.

Do you think that kind of evolution is usual for Poland?

Leszek Konarski: I think it applies to a more than just myself, people who consider that capitalism did not fulfill expectations. We thought that this capitalism would provide us with the possibility to participate in life, to achieve democracy and freedom. There is certainly an overall success. We have the possibility to start enterprises. Everything’s in order. Only we lack one thing – the possibility to participate in deciding our own fate. Poles don’t believe that they have freedom. We have a certain freedom, but we lack the instruments of freedom. The parties, such that they are, are not generally interested in the poor, in people who are without work, in everyday problems. In specific towns the parties should be more interested in local perspectives.

That’s why I’m disappointed. The fact that I moved to the Left is a result of this disappointment, and that’s why I struggled with Solidarity, which did not fulfill its promise. We wanted Solidarity to decide everything in the country. We wanted to be civic in that sense. We are absolutely not a civil society, and Professor Glinski is absolutely right that we are a social elite.

Above all we are a party society. No one outside the parties can govern in Poland. Only the parties.

Zygmunt Fura: Aside from Rydzyk.

Leszek Konarski: Yes, the Church.

Zygmunt Fura: This is a country governed through the Church and by the Church. That’s the official culture.

Of course: 90 percent of Poles are Catholic.

Zygmunt Fura: But that doesn’t mean that people every day have to refer to the teachings of John Paul II, the Bible, and the principles of the Church. There’s a complete dichotomy. The Church and religion should be inside me and not simply when I am in church. It should guide my principles: kindness, charity. These are principles for everyday: universal values. The same can be said about Islam. But we are guided here by Catholicism, and we should be a very well structured society.

Those who are initiates go to church. They believe that abortion is killing children. For me too this is a shock, it’s unthinkable. It’s mendacity. For all societies whether they’re 70 percent Islam, 80 percent Catholic, or 90 percent, this must be mendacity. Right?

I asked Leszek how is politics had evolved. In my opinion it’s very interesting when a person who was a member of Solidarity and then maybe a member of the Citizens’ Committee and then –

Leszek Konarski: Moves to the Left.

Yes. Did you have the same evolution?

Zygmunt Fura: I identify with where I’ve come from – where I grew up, my studies, my life path, my past, my coming from a small town, the problems I’ve had with my family, my father, my environment. I was brought up in a Left environment. I don’t hide that. I remain a leftist. That doesn’t mean that my Left politics haven’t evolved. So, for instance, I sympathize with PiS where I have colleagues like Prof. Ryszard Terlecki. I have friends in PO with whom I share certain thinking. I haven’t broken with any of my contacts though there are things that I don’t agree with, and some people don’t answer me who have gone in a certain Left direction. I look for smart people and I will talk with all smart people. That’s necessary in Poland.

As Norwid said: difference is beautiful. And we struggle for beauty with various techniques, even gangsterish techniques, in the name of difference. Let Poland be Poland, as they sing. There won’t be a Poland if there isn’t beautiful difference. Because Poland is a symbol, right? Here there are different people, different groups and interests. There’s always someone to connect to. As they say, the Catholic religion should connect to social values with Christian ethics, should connect us with what is good. Religion tells us what is right to do. It should connect people, but the opposite often happens. The unhappiness of such a nation just continues. Because we are a society of difference. These differences are made possible through a kind of elite that doesn’t talk with groups that are at odds with the people. It’s very easy to cause various conflicts, to set up one after another.

Leszek Konarski: In my opinion, it’s necessary at this moment to build civil society, to promote those kinds of organizations.

Zygmunt Fura: That’s what Jacek Kuron said – don’t burn down the committees, only create them, in every locale around every problem. For instance to develop sports create a sports club for that.

Leszek Konarski: So that in every little town there were 100 different foundations, organizations, committees doing this positive work.

Zygmunt Fura: But the question is what is the next stage in this society. And the country is in a crisis stage when 60 percent of people are struggling non-stop for existence. We should be creating self-defense committees here.

Leszek Konarski: Yes, something like that.

Zygmunt Fura: Or committees of mutual assistance, as there were at one time – friendly assistance, collegial, neighborly.

Leszek Konarski: Before Preglad there was the magazine Przeglad Tygodniowy. It had a different format. It was inspired by the ideas of the movement of positivists in the 19th century, people like Aleksander Swietochowski. The 19thcentury was called the era of positivism. Particularly in the second half of the 19th century, these positivists believed – and there some important representatives here in Poland – in the necessity to build. The most important thing was to build, to organize, not to destroy. They created various organizations of social self-help. In every little town there were cooperative banks. They promoted these things. I was very interested in this period of positivism. I think that now also something like that is necessary in Poland, to organize society in the direction of positive change, and not party struggle. Therefore I believe that there should be movements, foundations, and local associations in every little town.

Zygmunt Fura: Like Schumacher’s concept: small is beautiful.

Leszek Konarski: I can’t really imagine a non-party system in Poland.

Zygmunt Fura: For environmental activities.

Leszek Konarski: But if new parties emerge, then they should be parties that build…

Zygmunt Fura: From beginning to end: clear and coherent

Leszek Konarski: They should be civic, but not Civic Platform. That party has only the name Civic.

Zygmunt Fura: It’s elite. For the rich.

Leszek Konarski: But it has very nice name: Civic Platform.

Zygmunt Fura: In Poland, only the names of the parties are nice. Civic Platform….

Leszek Konarski: Law and Justice.

Zygmunt Fura: Who can question that?

Leszek Konarski: A nice name.

Zygmunt Fura: Only the Left Union has a clear name, but that’s because it’s a collection that’s identified with past times. With the Communists. But socialism? Today there’s no talk of socialization, of social society.

Last question. It’s quantitative. When you look back at the last 23 years and compare it to the situation today in Poland, how would you evaluate that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very dissatisfied and 10 very satisfied?

Zygmunt Fura: For people in general, there’s no one answer. For people who were prepared, for the eternal capitalists, the system was excellent. But in general, I’d say that 60-70 percent of people are totally dissatisfied. The level of dissatisfaction is reflected in the frequency of participation in elections, and it’s intensified by protests, emigration, frustration, what you see on the streets, also in offices, also at the post offices. We’re friendly and all. But the frustration is inside: inside the 70-80 percent of dissatisfied people. The 30 percent of people who have successfully adapted to this system — the entrepreneurs, those who have prospered — they can leave. They have their homes, their work. And there’s the 5 percent, the elite who have their yachts and jets. I believe that among this group at least some of the people succeeded through dishonest means. This would include some gangsters. That’s the way it is everywhere.

Meanwhile, the 60-70 percent of people also takes into account young people who are dissatisfied, who have emigrated, who can’t articulate the existential problems they face. They go to school, make some money distributing pamphlets in order to drink beer and satisfy their needs. We have a hell of a lot of these students. They go to private universities – we have 300 of these private universities. They go to state universities. They have the closed, dead-end perspective of the dissatisfied. It’s a bomb waiting to go off.

And for you personally?

Zygmunt Fura: Maximum 3.

Leszek Konarski: I’d say a little higher, maybe 5 or 6. Because for instance our farmers were afraid of the system, afraid of capitalism. And now see how good the situation is for farmers. They thought that all in all it was a bad end. But farmers in Poland have a lot. Before, there was a lot of land, a lot of fields that no one was cultivating. Now there’s no land on which something is not being cultivated. Everywhere something is growing because each farmer gets grants from the EU, and everything must be cultivated. Indeed, in the countryside you can see the building of new houses and farmers are improving themselves.

Zygmunt Fura: Let me give you my business card. I’m doing now a modern business. Fashion. Fashion show. Fashion TV.

Leszek Konarski: For example, it’s a problem with people who during socialist times were not taught how to take care of themselves, which means they were taught about changing work. The state took care of everyone in terms of housing, work. Everyone was prepared for a good life. I also was doing well back then. Medical care was free, the hospitals worked wonderfully during socialist times. The canteens were great.

Zygmunt Fura: Plenty of electricity.

Leszek Konarski: Here there was a canteen, a restaurant for journalists. We paid such a small amount of money. Every day we ate lunch here. Now there’s nothing because now there’s capitalism.

Zygmunt Fura: No, there’s something here!

Leszek Konarski: There’s no lunch like that. It’s a restaurant where you pay a lot of money. And I can’t come here everyday because I don’t have enough money. For me, life back then was inexpensive. You could go on vacation. Everything was organized.

Translated by John Feffer

Krakow, August 22, 2013

Interview (1990)

The two leaders of the Green party in Krakow are an odd couple. Zygmunt Fura is a bundle of spontaneity and nonsequitors. Leszek Konarski is a journalist for Przeglad Tygodniowy and specializes in the typically European field of reportage: a mixture of reporting and storytelling. He is also running as a candidate for the Green Party in the local elections.

First we talked about the elections in general. Last year, the Green party stayed out of the elections and instead supported the Citizens’ Committee in the national elections: the party’s charter forbids it to participate in less-than-free elections and there was little change that it could have won any seats. This year, however, the Greens are taking the local elections very seriously and have joined in coalition with several parties, different ones in different cities. In Wroclaw, for instance, they are working with KPN; in Krakow, with PAX; in Jelena Gora, with the Democratic Party (SD); in Lodz, with one of the two Citizens’ Committees. Meanwhile, in an election for a temporary mayor for Krakow, the Green party candidate overwhelmingly beat out the Citizens’ Committee candidate, 125 votes in the city council to 16 (more on this electoral surprise in the next section).

One complicating factor in Green politics is the existence of three separate Green Parties, all with the same name. Konarski says that his party represents 90 percent of all Green activists, that the other parties are Green in name alone. One of them is totalitarian in its statutes. The other is interested in ecological business ventures. It heard that the West is interested in ecology and wants to pour money into the field. It is therefore considering the purchase of Perspectiwy, the political weekly, and turning it into an environmental magazine (at a cost of 2 billion zlotys).

The Green party of Fura and Konarski, meanwhile, concentrates on local issues and allows the greatest degree of autonomy for local affiliates. There are 11 spokespeople for the group and this is almost as if there were 11 parties. When they held their Congress in the fall, Green-Fura invited the other two Green parties to participate but they refused. When one of these other groups held its conference recently, it was sponsored by Nowa Huta (i.e.: by business). The Green party of Fura and Konarski is the only one connected with the Brussels international, the only one to participate in the Budapest conference and so on. It also cooperates with groups in the GDR, Ukraine (very strong, says Konarski, who recently returned from a trip to Kiev), Lithuania and Estonia. Groups in Rumania and Hungary have not really come together yet.

We then discussed the principles of the group. The party considers ecology a social issue. Konarski himself knows very little about the nuts and bolts of ecology–the filters, the protective mechanisms–but cares very much about the social dangers of ignoring ecological threats. Second, the group is committed to key individual freedoms, such as the freedom of speech and equates these rights with the right to be free of the threat of ecological catastrophe. Third, the members of the group are pacifists. Practically, this means that they are against both NATO and the Warsaw Pact, third world intervention, imperial tendencies, border conflicts. They are for a common Europe and the preservation of cultural diversity and ethnic rights.

They have some connection with “deep ecology” through the work of Polish architect Janusz Korbel who, with his associates, designs ecologically sound housing. I asked about the various European Green parties. He said they were closer to the English Greens than the German Greens. The first are known, in Poland, as “cucumbers:” green on the outside and green on the inside. The Germans, on the other hand, are known as “watermelons:” green on the outside but red on the inside.

We talked a little about specific suggestions for Poland and, I’m afraid, Konarski was a little vague. First he spoke of the need to eliminate the bureaucracy that so often slows down the penalization process for polluters. He then switched topics and talked about the role of the Church. Only the Franciscans have taken on the issue of the environment. Then back to the local elections in May. The Citizens’ Committees, Konarski predicted, would not win as decisively as it did last year. He also mentioned how apolitical people have become. Few people show up for demonstrations and Citizens’ Committee meetings attract even fewer. The Green party, meanwhile, is quite weak in key areas of Poland, oddly in certain cities where the environmental problem is particularly severe: Rzeszow, Gdansk, Lublin.