Trans Europa Express. By: Paolo Rumiz. Publisher: Feltrinelli, Milan, Italy, 2012.
Rok 1989 i lata następne (1989 and the Following Years). By: Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Publisher: Wydawnictwo Prószyński i S-ka, Warsaw 2012.
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, now 86 years old, is one of the best known and most respected politicians in Poland. Despite his advanced age, Mazowiecki is still very politically active: he advises the current president of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski, participates in many conferences and meetings, both in Poland and abroad, and has recently published his memoir titled Rok 1989 i lata następne (1989 and the Following Years).
In 1989, Poland regained its independence after many years of communist rule and quickly began building a new democratic political system. The Solidarity (Solidarność) movement, led by Lech Wałęsa, facilitated the first free elections and the first non-communist prime minister: Tadeusz Mazowiecki. During his first address to the Polish parliament after the creation of the government 1989, Mazowiecki lost consciousness. But after a short break and some fresh air, he returned to the assembly and jokingly said that the state of his own health reflects the state of the Polish economy. Mazowiecki had been preparing his address for the entire night, and despite having smoked two packets of cigarettes and drunk several cups of coffee, he was quite tired and had the right to faint. But the joke he made was quite relevant to the situation: from his predecessors he inherited an empty coffer, empty shops, massive inflation, a huge debt, and a socialist-style, ineffective economy. Many Poles regret the fact that Mazowiecki and his government only ruled for 16 months, understanding that with respect to such a short period of time and the number of difficult tasks it had to face, Mazowiecki's government deserves the highest recognition. The memoir fully reflects the dramaturgy of politics in such difficult times.
From the very beginning Mazowiecki knew how to choose the right people. It was Mazowiecki who convinced the economist Leszek Balcerowicz to become finance minister, despite the fact that Balcerowicz was planning to move to the United Kingdom to start an academic scholarship and wasn't interested in getting involved in politics. Balcerowicz even rejected the request, arguing that he wasn't the right person for the job. But Mazowiecki’s persistence paid off. Today, it is hard to imagine what the Polish economy would look like had the courageous economic reforms initiated by Balcerowicz not taken place in the early 1990s. To his government, Mazowiecki appointed such people as long-time activist and oppositionist Jacek Kuroń, philosopher, academic lecturer and editor with the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, Krzysztof Kozłowski, and acclaimed lawyer and specialist in international law, Krzysztof Skubiszewski.
Mazowiecki’s book is not only a collection of conversations with the prime minister, his speeches, documents issued, and letters written to important people. It is a kind of journal, and one that was never intentionally been written by Mazowiecki, but whose excerpts, chronologically presented, make a cohesive picture, providing witness to historical events.
It also shines light on the fact that while the destruction of the Berlin Wall did indeed symbolise the demise of Communism in Europe, many people don’t remember that the destruction of the order of Yalta had been initiated much earlier, namely with the creation of the Solidarity movement in Poland. It is estimated that at its peak, this movement, which was aimed at defending workers’ rights, included ten million Poles (compared to the two million members of the Communist party registered in 1989). Solidarity, the workers’ union, which became a massive, democratic movement showed that they had to be taken seriously, even by the most hard-core communists.
One of the most important tasks of the new government was faced with was, as Mazowiecki describes in his memoire, to eliminate the structures of the former secret police, conduct background checks on people employed in different agencies dealing with home affairs, and transform the militia into a police force. Needless to say, none of these reforms were very popular, especially among those who couldn't pass a test and could no longer serve in the army, the police or special forces (for example, because it became clear that they had done harm to Solidarity members or were fighting against the Church). Neither were these reforms popular among the part of the former opposition which was (and whose members are still today) upset that the process of de-communisation took place too late, and wasn't complete and courageous enough. All this, in 2001, allowed the former-communists to temporarily return to power.
Anybody who has ever had an occasion to meet the Solidarity’s legendary leader, Lech Wałęsa knows what an ambitious, proud and stubborn man he is. When two such people enter the political scene at the same time, one can only expect trouble. This was the case with Mazowiecki and Wałęsa. Mazowiecki became prime minister upon Wałęsa’s request, although from the very beginning, he ensured that his government would be immune to the influences inflicted by Solidarity’s activists. Wałęsa kept his word for six months and didn't disturb the government, until his personal ambition pushed him to run for the presidency. At the same time, he became braver and braver in his criticism of Mazowiecki’s government. This criticism was often populist in tone, and very unjust (it was based on the assumption that the reforms could have been organised in a quicker, smarter and more efficient way).
To find time for the reforms and “unveil” the works of the government, Prime Minister Mazowiecki decided to run against Wałęsa in the 1990 presidential elections. His failure in these elections, however, shows that he didn't adequately recognise the power of the symbol Wałęsa had become. Upon Wałęsa’s victory, Mazowiecki resigned.
Among the most important issues for Mazowiecki at the time was, which the book also illustrates, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Polish territory. The Soviet Army had been stationed in Poland and other Eastern Bloc countries for many years, and it is no secret that the leader of Romania at the time, Nicolae Ceauşescu, sent letters to Moscow and other leaders of the Warsaw Pact demanding Poland’s punishment due to the fact that it had dangerously “left the socialist path”. Thankfully, and primarily because of the work of the then leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, the wind of change was already blowing in Moscow, and the Soviet generals were focused on other things than military intervention in Poland. Mazowiecki’s goal was only reached by subsequent governments. The last contingent of Soviet Army soldiers left the territory of the Polish Republic in 1993.
For many people, both in Poland and abroad, Tadeusz Mazowiecki is a symbol of honesty and integrity. His life choices have always been led by Christian values. In 1958 he set up a Catholic monthly magazine called Więź, remaining its editor-in-chief until 1981, and was a close friend of Pope John II. Unsurprisingly, one of the most moving excerpts of the book are to be found in the chapters describing his service as a special United Nations emissary to Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 to 1995. In a moving letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, in which he announced his resignation in a protest of the international community’s lack of response to the atrocities committed during the Bosnian War, Mazowiecki wrote: “When I was given this mandate for the first time in 1992, I took it, stating clearly that my goal would not only be to write reports but also help people. Setting up a safety zone was, from the beginning, one of the main recommendations of my reports. The decision of the London Conference, which accepted the fall of Srebrenica and wrote off, in advance, the fate of Žepa, are for me unacceptable. They have not created the conditions for defending all the zones … In Poland, we fought against a totalitarian regime, we looked with great hope to the future Europe. How could we believe in the Europe of tomorrow created by the children of those who are today being left behind?”
On another occasion, which is also mentioned in the book, in a manifesto written together with his granddaughter, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, half seriously, half-jokingly, postulated an introduction into public life the following rules: “Careerists should live in zoos. Those who take bribes should not be talked to. People should write summaries of the book they read last year and send them to the tax office. Candidates to parliament should go through an obligatory psycho-reconnaissance exam; hatred is a disease. Sub-national and local government offices should have honesty and kindness detectors installed.”
I have a few younger female friends, mostly in their early or mid-30s, who on frequent occasions have told me that they are in love with Tadeusz Mazowiecki… platonically, of course. Is it possible not to love him, I ask?
Translated by Iwona Reichardt
This book review originally appeared in New Eastern Europ issue 2/2013: Painful Past, Fragile Future. You can learn more about this issue here: http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/713
To read an interview with Tadeusz Mazowiecka visit: http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/node/1000
- Published on Saturday, 11 May 2013 07:15
- Category: Books and Reviews
A Ukrainian magazine published in Prague, but addressed to readers in multiple countries – the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia? But who would read this? Where did the idea for such a specific customer profile come from? The interest in Ukraine is not only prejudged by geographical proximity, but by the strong presence of Ukrainian communities in these countries – both indigenous, minority and migrant. Additionally, the uniqueness of the magazine is decided by the ambition needed to create such a publication, whose perspective goes beyond the boundaries of the given country and local specificities; an attempt to look at Ukraine and being Ukrainian in the wider context of Central Europe.
At the source of the creation of the magazine in 2005 was the encouragement of the exchange of ideas and the integration of Ukrainian speaking intellectual circles in Central Europe. For example by the publication of articles and interviews with the participation of authors from all countries, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and of course Ukraine.
Each issue of the magazine focuses on a leading topic, but since its beginnings there has been a noticeable shift in theme from cultural and socio-historical topics, towards politics. While in the previous numbers you could find topics such as leading architecture and urbanism, religion, historical Ukrainian cinematography and Bukovina, the last few numbers concentrate on current political issues. And so, in the most recent copies you can find a discussion about the last parliamentary elections in Ukraine, as well as an attempt to assess the Yanukovych presidency over its three years, and an analysis of the opportunities for Ukraine get closer to the European Union.
How does this balance of recent years look like according to the authors? On the pages of the Ukrainian Journal you will find key points about the contemporary political debate in Ukraine. Much space is devoted to tearing the country between the East and the West, between Russian and European influences. On the one hand we have the ambiguous policy of Yanukovych, whose manoeuvring between Russia and the European Union at least properly illustrates the last summit in Brussels. Jurij Romanenko, as well as Taras Berezowec’ point out that Yanukovych is really a skilful politician, despite being portrayed in a completely different way in widespread media coverage.
Another subject for discussion is the issue of Russian influence. In the article Russia has forgotten Ukraine Iwan Preobrażeński points out that the last Ukrainian election did not receive much attention in the Russian media. Nor were there any open attempts to influence the outcome of the elections. Among various reasons (such as Yanukovych’s disappointment as well as understanding the organisational influence of Russian media on Ukrainian receivers), Preobrażeński also underlines that Russia finally started seeing Ukraine as being abroad; the same trend being noticed in the relationship with Moldova. Ołeksandr Piddubny has a completely different opinion. He believes that from the Kremlin’s perspective, Ukraine is still a “domestic territory” where Russia is fighting for influence through economic instruments, disinformation and discreditation. In strong words, like an economic or informational war, in his text Piddubny calculates the impact of the measures applied by Russia, as well as the significant role of the neighbour in irritating the Polish-Ukrainian conflict of memory. But focusing on such broad Russian influence, the author does not however want to notice the neglect of the Ukrainian state – not only in relation to the current leadership team.
Comments about the developments in Ukraine have always been an important element of the Ukrainian Journal (mainly because of the readers in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where the subject matter of the Ukrainian media is portrayed in a much more stingy way than in Poland). It is unfortunate that the most recent numbers are lacking in topics that are not political and “cross-cutting” in theme, which distinguished the magazine, not only with a taste of timelessness but also by allowing the reader to see Central Europe through the Ukrainian perspective.
The Ukrainian Journal is a cultural-political magazine addressed to Ukrainian-speaking intellectual circles in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly Poland, the Czech republic, Slovakia and Ukraine. Published in 2005, it points out important issues from the regional, social, political, historical and cultural perspectives. The magazines archives (since 2007) are available at: http://www.ukrzurnal.eu/. The monthly publication is now accessible every two months.
The review was written within the Free Speech Partnership programme supported by the Visegrad Fund.
- Published on Saturday, 11 May 2013 07:13
- Category: Books and Reviews
The Russian Jużnyj Kavkaz (Southern Caucasus) almanac can hardly be counted as an "ideological and cultural magazine". Indeed, it is even questionable whether or not we are actually dealing with a magazine. According to the definition of "almanac" found in the dictionary, it is a publication, usually a periodical, containing the work of various writers. Although the editors have ensured the continuous release of publications, there have only appeared two issues so far: in October 2011 and March 2012. And yet, just by its appearance, the Jużnyj Kawkaz almanac has taken a unique position in the regional periodical press.
To fully appreciate the significance of this project, it is necessary to glance at a map of the region. Next to the three states of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, you can find three semi-separatist republics, which have enjoyed their de facto independence since a series of wars in the early 1990s. Two of them – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – are on the territory of Georgia, and the third – Nagorno-Karabakh – on the territory of Azerbaijan. Because it is inhabited by Armenians, Azerbaijan considers the government of Armenia as its adversary (both countries do not maintain diplomatic relations with each other). The wars were accompanied by ethnic cleansing, which means that current generations of Abkhazians are entering adulthood without having seen a live Georgian, having no idea about what Armenians look like, knowing their Azerbaijani neighbours only from stories and propaganda. Because it is necessary to know that the image of the enemy in the Southern Caucasus nations is concrete, unambiguous (maybe except for the Georgians who blame their loss of province mostly on Russia).
The idea of the almanac was very easy: gather texts from significant writers, poets and essayists from all countries and semi-states of the region into one place (a means for publishing the magazine were awarded to an international NGO based in London, International Alert). But under the conditions of the Southern Caucasus it was not only a huge logistical challenge, but most of all mental. Communication between Abkhazia, South Ossetia as well as Georgia is very difficult, and between Armenia, Karabakh and Azerbaijan it practically doesn’t exist. Publishing a title next to "enemies" requires courage. Unsurprisingly, the idea was born in Brussels, where the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 gathered representatives of regional NGOs. The fact that the people of the "third sector" managed to convince developers to approve of it, proves that such a project could exist, even if it was through unconscious needs.
In accordance to the nature of the almanac, texts appearing in the journal do not connect specifically to any mottos. Poems, essays and short prose pieces speak primarily about the present and everyday life; about the "here and now" of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh, and well-known inhabitants of these places, but constituting terra incognita to their nearest neighbours. The only consciously imposed taboo is conflict. As one of the editors, Guram Odiszaria from Tbilisi points out (recently Georgia's minister of culture; the second editor is Batala Kobachia of Sukhumi): "Literature does not solve all problems, but it helps people understand each other." Because Jużnyj Kawkaz in its entirety is available on the internet, the "enemy image" may begin to erode over time. Of course it is far too early to speak about reconciliation, but the first step is getting to know one another.
An interesting faulty theme is the theme of the city. This could be seen in the first issue containing a cycle of short prose written by Warden Fereszetian devoted to Erywian. The author tries to find a steady middle ground between continuation and change: “Without tradition man’s life dries up, and when tradition prevails, life is petrified.” In the second issue there are two essays by Rachman Badałow about Baku and by Nairy Gelaszwili about Tbilisi. While analysing the role of the capital of Azerbaijan in the construction of national identity, Badałow comes to the conclusion that, contrary to the "democratic rhetoric", the rapid development of Baku secures the "tribal-clan organization of social life". Gelaszwili criticizes contemporary (created under President Mikheil Saakashvili) buildings in the capital of Georgia: "Walk through Chavchavadze’s alley; soon you will not see the mountains anywhere." The city theme will be continued in subsequent editions of the almanac.
Both current editions of the Jużnyj Kawkaz are available (in Russian) at: http://www.international-alert.org/ourwork/regional/caucasuscentralasia/caucasus (under: “Publications”). The first number includes works by 22 authors, with the second number including 21 authors (as well as photographs by 6 photographers). This includes well known authors previously seen in magazines such as: Selim Babullaogły, Rafik Tagif from Azerbaijan, Gurgen Chandżjan and Lewon Checzojan from Armenia, Dato Turaszwili and Naira Gelaszwili from Georgia, Aleksiej Gogua and Giennadij Alamia from Abchazji, Meliton Kazity from South Ossetia and Robert Esajan of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The review was written within the Free Speech Partnership programme supported by the Visegrad Fund.
- Published on Thursday, 18 April 2013 08:54
- Category: Books and Reviews
- Written by Veranika Mazurkevich
As the journal’s title clearly indicates, it is a source in which Europe is always topic for discussion. Novaja Europa (New Europe) publishes informational and analytical articles about trends in EU politics and culture, alongside coverage of regional EU strategies, the Eastern Partnership, and, of course, EU-Belarus relations.
With respect to the latter topic, namely, attempts to involve Belarusian authorities in closer cooperation or to make them respect European (read democratic) values are described as failures rather than as successes. In these conditions, EU cooperation with the Belarusian society is declared to be a priority. However, this strategy likewise seems inefficient. A number of Novaja Europa’s authors, at least in their recent online discussions, have stated that European values somehow appear to be valueless for the majority of Belarusians.
In her article about Belarusians' attitude to Europe, Adarja Huštyn states that people welcome closer integration with the EU, in principle, and are open to accept all the necessary changes in order to be closer to “prosperity and security”. They just do not know about it. The access to EU-related information is limited in Belarus, with state-controlled media only spreading negative images of the EU. Adarja Huštyn is sure that systematic promotion of EU-related information is crucial for the growth of the EU power of attraction.
Paveł Usaŭ disagrees. Under the title The Rule of the Ignorant, his article describes the situation as a bit more difficult to cope with. The author thinks that the authoritarian regime in Belarus gradually deprived the population not only of the right to be practically involved in politics, but also of any interest in the process itself. The population are not citizens, as they lack basic political culture. The society that consists of non-citizens is quite unlikely to appreciate democratic values. Therefore, Paveł Usaŭ’s conclusion is that all we need is more political and civil education, especially for younger generation.
This is still not enough for Siarhiej Nikaluk. He tries to reveal Why Belarusians Deny European Values. The reply is essentially as follows: there is a desire to refuse responsibility for any personal choice. According to the author, this feature is common for Eastern Slavic societies because it has deep roots in Orthodox traditions. In this case, we deal with a complex cultural paradigm, which is quite difficult to modify.
All three texts describe Belarusian society as quite reluctant to easily acquire European democratic values, but the responsibility for this state of affairs is ascribed to fundamentally different factors. If the first reason mentioned, the lack of information, is the feature of one concrete authoritarian regime, the other two relate to a much wider historical and cultural context (such as the Soviet past or Orthodox religion).
This context can be found, at least some aspects, in any Eastern Partnership country. Recent developments in Ukraine or Georgia only supply more food for thought. There definitely is something that makes the majority of people in this part of the world distinguish “our values”, from “European” norms. Hardly anyone would deny that Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Moldavians consider their countries European only in a very wide geographical context. However, even the most passionate supporters of historical-cultural type theory and Orthodox civilisation exclusiveness have to accept that political process does not necessarily reflect cultural or even axiological paradigms of the respective societies in question, especially those at the edge of a “cultural type.” It is agency that matters. Wider positive images of a united Europe in the media, education, along with closer business and person-to-person contacts are all factors in making democratic values popular among EU eastern neighbours as long as there is a possibility to make practical use of them.
Novaja Europa is an internet-journal, specialising in EU-related topics. It was created in 2006 by Belarusian analysts, experts, and journalists in order to "spread information and stimulate debate about the EU, promote European education among a new generation of intellectuals who share European values and sees Belarus as a part of Europe”. The review was written within the Free Speech Partnership programme supported by the Visegrad Fund.