Sunday, February 13, 2005

Zbigniew Religa

It looks as though presidential elections will take place in Poland in late summer or early fall, and among the most promising candidates is Professor Zbigniew Religa. Marius has translated a few excerpts from a long interview with Religa which recently appeared in the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita (my minor editing).


[passage omitted]

Q: Do you have any positive models in politics?

A fine figure in Poland's history is Ignacy Paderewski [the pianist, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in the newly independent Poland of 1919]

Q: What connects you both are those skillful hands...

(Laughter) I think a pianist needs nimble fingers even more than a surgeon. I won't mention Pilsudski, because he's an obvious model. Adenauer - for sure. I'm a huge advocate of Poland’s being in the [European] Union, so Robert Schuman. A person I'm very impressed by is de Gaulle. What he did for France is an example of the activity of a noble-minded and steadfast man. Among the American politicians, because of his attitude in respect to Poland - Reagan, and because of my sentimental considerations.

Q: And for his tough way of conducting politics?

Yes, also for that. And because he was explicit. For his skill in defending what he thought was important. For his bravery in going against... Also Wilson.

Q: Present-day Polish politicians?

I've always said that history doesn't put just anyone on monuments. I think Walesa has a right to his monuments. I would put one up for him, even now.

Q: Because of what kind of Solidarity leader he was, or because of what kind of president he was?

Because of what he did for Poland’s freedom.

Q: There’s not much to argue with there, but what is your view of his presidency?

I won't say a bad word about Walesa. I have no grounds for doing so. He also did a lot of good when he was president. It was he who got the Russian army out of Poland. On the other hand, those re-shuffles of his cabinet, the political infighting that was played out during his time, gave a bad picture of what was going on in the
country then.

Q: Was he a political trouble-maker?

That's a strong statement. That kind of description will never be heard from my lips.

[passage omitted]

Q: Which style of conducting the presidency is closer to you, Walesa's or Kwasniewski's?

For me, Walesa is an unequaled example of a fighter for Poland's freedom. However, President Kwasniewski’s style of conducting politics is closer to me.

[passage omitted]

Q: How do you evaluate our present policy towards Russia?

The Russian side bears more guilt for the less than optimal relations that have existed between Russia and Poland. We haven’t made any moves that are anti-Russian. Though there could had been a lesser or greater wish to maintain contacts, depending on who was in power.

Q: A problem in our relations with Russia is our struggle not to be dependent. And even that could be interpreted as action "against".

We couldn't have acted any differently. European values must not be sacrificed for plain economic benefits. Sometimes I have an impression, that Schroeder and Chirac act like that. Their position on Chechnya has been very bad. There are no reasons why our relations with Russia should be poor. The more so, as I know many splendid people from Russia.

Q: From where do you know them?

From my professional contacts. These are superb people, but they're crazy on the issue of power status: Russia has to be a super-power.

Q: And this pursuit of it is probably getting stronger and stronger?

Yes, they've been trying to rebuild what was lost after the collapse [of the Soviet Union], and that is dangerous. It needs to be opposed, while at the same time we try to have good relations with Russia.

Q: Where would you go on your first foreign visit?

There's only one country in which I could live, besides Poland. It’s
are the United States.

[passage omitted]

Q: Have you ever belonged to the PZPR (Polish United Worker's Party, communist party in Poland M.L.)?
No, I haven't.

Q: The past of the PRL (PRL - Polish People's Republic M.L) is not important today, when judging people?

The question of whether one was or wasn't a secretary of PZPR doesn't matter today at all, all that matters is what the person was doing then. Whether one likes it or not, the matter is not so simple.

Q: What moments in Poland’s recent history were important for you? What did August '80 ( the first workers' strikes M.L.) and December '81 mean for you? ( martial law introduced on Dec. 13th M.L.)

In 1980 I established Solidarity in our health services, in the Wolski Hospital. I was very involved in it. This was euphoria, happiness, something fantastic.

Q: And the 13th of December?

A tragedy. I remember this day vividly.

Q: Are Jaruzelski and Kiszczak (Minister of Interior M.L.) criminals or men of honour?

Jaruzelski is a tragic figure.

Q: And not a cynical one?

No. I think the possibility of Russian intervention was huge in 1981.

Q: Documents tell today something different.

I'm telling you about my feeling then. If the historians prove that there was no such threat, than I'll withdraw my opinion of Jaruzelski - as a tragic figure of Polish history.

Prof. Zbigniew Religa, 66, completed his studies at the Medical Academy in Warsaw. Worked in Warsaw’s Wolski Hospital, obtaining specialization in surgery, internship in 1973 in New York and in 1975 in Detroit in heart-surgery. Professor of the Silesian Medical Academy in 1990, in 1997-1999 its dean. In 2001 director of the Institute of Cardiology in Warsaw. Co-founder of the Centrum Party.

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