A Revolution is in the Air

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An interview with Volodymyr Ariev, a member of Ukraine’s parliament in the political block “Our Ukraine-People’s Self Defence”

 

ZBIGNIEW ROKITA: Let’s start with the EURO 2012 football championships. Do you think that Ukraine succeeded?

VOLODYMYR ARIEV: There are three answers to this question. First of all, a big thank you to our Ukrainian players who played very well. We can’t say the same about our judicial system, however. We can see what is happening to Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuri Lutsenko. And now a different type of “judge” has not accepted what was an obvious goal for our team. There is definitely something wrong with our karma. We clearly have bad luck with judges.

The second issue here is the social dimension of EURO 2012. Normally it’s quite difficult, due to visa restrictions, for Ukrainians to leave their country and visit the EU and meet Europeans living there. So instead, Europe came to visit us and we’ve had an opportunity to meet many interesting and friendly people. It is possible that those among us who cannot make the trip to the West have changed their attitude thanks to EURO 2012 and maybe we will stop fearing the West so much. In this sense, the EURO 2012 championships have been a great success and bore its first fruit. It is enough to read some social media networks to see that Ukrainians are becoming more aware that it is probably better to turn towards Europe than to Russia.

The difference between these two worlds is clearly visible when we look at the fans who came to visit us. Let’s look at Kharkiv: the Russians who came there were often drunk and looking for trouble, when the other fans were celebrating the events. This is a metaphor of a choice that the Ukrainian society is currently facing: an aggressive versus a happy-go-lucky, open attitude. I am hoping that the EU itself will help us make that decision and will start issuing visas not only for our government officials and businessmen but also average Ukrainians. Just so they could see what Europe is really all about.

The last dimension is less optimistic. EURO 2012, in addition to all of its glorious moments, has also brought us moments of shame: mass-scale thefts and even the murdering of animals…

 

There had been reports of killing stray animals to “clean” the streets.

Sadly, yes. I even made a short film about this (you can watch it here with English subtitles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT05XhOX5TQ). When it comes to corruption, however, even the minister responsible for the organisation of EURO 2012 admitted that the government put large sums of money simply into its pockets. He said that over three billion dollars had been spent on roads. Even if we were charging European rates, this amount of money would give us two thousand kilometres of highways. The question is: where are they?

 

For example there is no highway between the Polish border and Lviv.

All in all, not a single highway had been built during preparations for EURO 2012. At most some short sections of highways were built, in other places and some roads were fixed, but that’s it. An attempt to push the government to present the total costs of the EURO 2012 championships to the parliament has failed. The parliamentary majority, controlled by the Party of Regions, has blocked the motion. That’s why I have mixed feelings about this event. It has had its pluses and minuses for Ukraine.

A big problem that we now face is that people are scared to make investments in Ukraine, especially since they’ve realised what the current government is all about. It was quite different when Tymoshenko was in power. Because of the lack of flow of investors’ money, all the developments have to be covered with state funds. But that’s not a bottomless bag either. To give; someone else needs to lose. 

This is what happened to a children’s hospital in Kyiv which, in a large part had lost its funding because the funds that had previously been used for its operations had been allotted to the organisation of EURO 2012.  The result: the hospital ran out of medication and the parents had to chip in to cover the treatment costs of their children.

 

Would you say that the government did not contribute to EURO 2012?

Okay, so the stadiums had been built. But with the amount of money that was spent on one, we could have built three stadiums. Should we be grateful that our government managed to build something and not steal everything?  According to our estimates around 50 per cent of the funds that had been allocated for EURO 2012 had been stolen.

 

Let’s look at this problem from a slightly different perspective. Would Ukraine manage to organise such a large event without offering any kickbacks? Maybe anyone other president would also have to come to terms that this is the way this country operates…

Of course, even the least corrupt countries have the same problem. This is simply written into our human nature. But in this case, we are talking about the scale of the abuse. To steal 50 per cent of funds is something more than giving a minister a bribe. It is a threat to the country’s security.

 

Which of Ukraine’s cities would you say were best prepared to host the foreign fans?

Only Lviv. Those who after seeing a match in Donetsk or Kharkiv and then went to Lviv would agree that Lviv was a completely different world. They felt as if they arrived in a different country.

It seems to me that Poland has gained much more from this event. If you ask yourself the question “why do we organise such events?” The answer is quite simple: to create this whole tourism infrastructure so that people come back and visit our countries at least one more time. And what has Ukraine gained out of this? The tourists will for sure come back to Lviv, maybe somebody will want to see Kyiv again, but Kharkiv or Donetsk? I doubt it.

 

And what about the Ukrainians who live in western Ukraine? Do they venture to their country’s eastern parts or not? And the Ukrainians who live in the country’s east? Do they like to go west?

Some do. But overall, Ukrainians do not travel throughout their country in order to spend vacation. But when indeed somebody from eastern Ukraine arrives in Lviv, all his myths disappear. But it is not the other way around. To prove it, just go to Donetsk and make a short trip outside the city. What will you see there? Poverty and ruins.

Last winter I participated in a TV project called “Without a ticket”. The purpose of the project was that MPs had to live in a Ukrainian household to get to know the problems of the people whom they represent. I was assigned to a mining village, deep in an eastern province. There I met wonderful people but they understand what is going on and they do not see a light at the end of the tunnel. For them there are no alternatives. What’s more, they don’t even want to seek them. They are focused on making ends meet and have no time to engage in thinking on how to improve their country. They know that there is a hierarchy and they are on the bottom of it. This is the East. A completely different world.

 

Did the people you stay with knew that you were an MP?

Of course. I lived in their house for five days.  

 

Did all MPs take part in this project?

The majority of them did not want to.

 

And what are the problems faced by families in this mining village?

I was involved in a case of a man who was hit by a car when he was driving home on his motorcycle from working in a mine. The accident was serious to the point that the miner could have become handicapped for the rest of his life. And yet the police did nothing to take care of this case. After my intervention, the driver of the car who had caused the accident was sentenced to imprisonment for three years. 

 

Sounds like a great project.

Unfortunately it died a natural death. Quite soon it turned out that there were not enough politicians interested. I personally know this region very well. My grandfather comes from there, but it should be those from the East who should come to the West and abolish the myths and not the other way round.

Is it also a myth and a simplification to divide Ukraine’s political scene into the “eastern” Party of Regions and the “western” Tymoshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Victor Yushchenko?

Yushchenko is now a party only for himself. The support he receives is around maybe one per cent.

 

And he has no political chances?

No.

 

In that case, Our Ukraine does not want to join with the United Opposition?

Yes, they wanted to but they didn’t do it. Maybe this was due to internal problems and plans to say “good bye” to Yushchenko. Maybe this should have been done a long time ago as he clearly betrayed all of his previous partners. And many MPs indeed left Our Ukraine once they understood the games he played; for example during the 2010 elections he supported Yanukovych.

This is unacceptable, even if Yushchenko personally does not like Tymoshenko. She does not like him much either, but at a key moment she was willing to join forces with him. This is not a fight between the neighbours over a shared path. Here concerned the fate of an entire state and Yushchenko betrayed his partners and allies just to get revenge on Tymoshenko. And it was the state that paid him for his sick ambitions. Many later wanted to approach him and ask: “Are you happy now?” He’s got no future as a politician.

 

Not even as a symbol?

No. A social protest against forgery and lies will be the symbol. Many indeed regret that they joined the Orange Revolution in 2004, but not me. The French needed three revolutions to finally get on the path to democracy and we complain after just one? I believe that the disappointment will soon disappear and the world will see another Ukrainian revolution. However, I also doubt that it would be as peaceful and beautiful as the previous one. 

 

What do you mean?

Simply another revolution – an eruption of social discontent. I don’t know if its eruption will be the result of election forgery or due to the economic crisis. Or maybe it will be something else that will force the people to the streets.

 

Are Ukrainians ready for another mass protest?

For quite some time. According to opinion polls in May and June the protest mood was at its highest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We will see what the decisive issue will be. In late autumn we will probably see some serious problems.

 

But it will be difficult to find someone to lead this protest… like Tymoshenko and Yushchenko did in 2004.

True. Yanukovych has done everything he could to create a situation when the opposition has no leader. He imprisoned those who could play the role of the leaders. That’s why I don’t think a new leader will emerge and it may even erupt into an uncontrollable situation which could lead to the collapse of the state.

Yanukovych will of course want to somehow channel this social discontent and turn everyone’s attention to a different issue, for example the Church, since he has already taken care of the language issue. He will be driven only by his own personal interests without any limits. Just like anyone who comes from the world of organised crime.

 

He won’t allow the opposition to win these elections?

No. And when he won’t have a choice. They may be ready to even take such drastic steps as to cancel the election results. I know that the Party of Regions is considering such a scenario. Hence, the opposition is faced with an even greater challenge than in 2004.

 

Are you hoping that Vitali Klitschko or Natalia Korolevska will join the United Opposition?

With Klitschko, we can agree on coordinating some activities. But with Korolevska, absolutely not – she is Yanukovych’s project: an opposition which is controlled like a dog on a leash, nothing more. The most important political forces are already united and Yushchenko will be supporting the Party of Regions. Recently, the media revealed that the same French PR firm is in charge of the campaign of both presidents.

 

And what are the everyday, human, relations between the opposition and the Party of Regions. For example in the hallways of the parliament? Do you talk, shake hands?

Of course I talk with many of them, but there are also people with whom I don’t even shake hands. The atmosphere is very tense. The other issue is that even among the Party of Regions rank and file, many are not aware that the top took advantage of them and that real politicians are starting to leave the party. This summer is the beginning of the end for this party.

 

Is it true that in Ukraine the MPs are paid to change political colours?

Of course. I myself got such an offer. They came to me first after I became an MP in 2007.

 

Who precisely came to you?

The common technique is to use friends. For example, they ask you not to come to a parliamentary meeting. I remember that when the vote over dissolving Yanukovych and designating Tymoshenko as prime minister was on the floor, the MPs were offered 10 million.

 

Hryvnas?

No, dollars. The fight was for two votes. The Party of Regions needed to get two opposition politicians not to come to the vote. The second time they came to me was after the presidential elections in 2010 and then they asked me to join the Party of Regions. They offered me 1.5 million dollars: 500 thousand, cash, right away, and the remaining amount in instalments spread out into two years…

 

Many get tempted…

Many do, but fortunately there are still a few of us left…

 

Volodymyr Ariev is a deputy of the Supreme Council of Ukraine (Verkhovna Rada – Ukraine’s parliament) and a member of the political bloc Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defence. Until 2007, he was a TV journalist.

Translated by Iwona Reichardt

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I Don’t Want to Go Back

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Interview with Gleb Pavlovsky, Russian political consultant, academic, and journalist. 

 

 

KAMIL CAŁUS & MARTA BARTKOWIAK: How do you select the leader in Russia?

A rather peculiar cycle of leadership is operating in Russia. The leader is not selected from a group of candidates competing for power. There is no alternative for the leader assuming power. I remember around 1986 the slogan “There is no alternative for Gorbachev!” appeared in our country. As early as 1990 it was said that there would be no alternative for Yeltsin! And then the same thing was said about Putin.

This is how the cycle of leadership functions. First there is a demand for a man who will solve all problems. Then this man is given huge prerogatives and it is expected that no one will hinder him in his actions and he deals with everything on his own. But usually the social confidence in the leader does not last long. It usually is only a couple of years but it is enough for government institutions to become significantly damaged. Such systemic deformations last longer than the leader’s term. None of the leaders I remember managed to preserve this “eternal” social trust. Putin definitely maintained it for the longest time, which may be explained by the influence of the mass media and the whole infrastructure of propaganda, which “filters out” alternative opinions.

Who in contemporary Russia knows how to achieve power? Is there a specific leader besides Putin who possesses such knowledge?

We may now speak about possible circles where potential new leaders may emerge. This is witnessed by the interest of the public in political figures which were previously ignored. This strengthens the position of certain people. It was so with, for example, Mikhail Prokhorov, whose electoral campaign I managed. At first his ratings were around one percent and the common view was that this millionaire and scandal-monger stood no chance whatsoever of achieving a good result. But unexpectedly he was supported by millions of people, placing him third in the country and second in Moscow in the race for the Kremlin.

This shows that there is a demand for a new type of leadership. In various communities people are emerging towards whom there are certain expectations. Among the opposition this would be Alexei Navalny, while the nationalists are gravitating towards deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin. These are examples of groups which may generate a leader but he may also arrive unexpectedly from a completely different direction.

You abandoned the work for Putin and his team. Would you come back if a new leader appeared?

No, I don’t want to go back. This was all kind of an experiment for me. I wanted to test in practice the philosophy of my teacher Mikhail Gefter, who died more than fifteen years ago, a historian and philosopher and in fact a political philosopher. I thought that his ideas were right and that they also can find a practical application in the world of politics. This is why I entered this world and spent fifteen years in it.

Gefter’s ideas included a theory which stated that instead of becoming genuine social leaders, Russian politicians are forced to assume the role of rulers. They do it out of fear that in the future, society would no longer need them. This fear results in distrust towards society and generates a shift from leading society to “managing” it.  Did these theories prove correct?

Yes. But I don’t like to be always solving problems of other people. A consultant’s job implies the duty of actually thinking for other people. At first it is exciting but then it stops to be pleasant for you and you no longer think about yourself.

You said recently that Vladimir Putin has found himself in a situation Boris Yeltsin was in in 1996, that is he was forced to make an enormous effort to gain the majority of votes in the elections. So do you think that Putin will manage to win future elections? Will he be able to invent something novel enough to stay in power?

Well, in Russia almost no one is even thinking about the new campaign. The few who do reflect on it believe that there will be early elections. Therefore our perspective does not reach any future elections but only the next year. In my opinion Putin will be forced to make enormous efforts to create some completely novel concept of politics in order to keep his post for the entire six-year term. It is not so simple. Putin was chosen for the president but he is no longer seen as a leader. He is rather treated as a president lacking full legitimacy for exercising power and this is a very dangerous situation for him.

In your lectures you mention informal restrictions that every Russian leader is subjected to. What are these restrictions?

When I said this, of course I meant the post-Soviet period and the post-Soviet leaders. When the previous epoch ended, we reached a certain consensus regarding the form of practicing leadership. This consensus does not include, for example, the possibility of ideological and political mobilisation of the voters in contrast to the Stalinist model, entirely built on regular mobilisation of the citizens. But Putin’s voters are very difficult to mobilise. Frankly speaking, Putin made a quite risky move during the last campaign, asking his voters to go and vote for him. Today we really don’t know whether Putin will be able to mobilise his electorate one more time when he will again need its support.

How did the voters change since the Soviet times?

I think that the voters now reject the possibility of the government directly controlling their actions and behaviour. This element of the Soviet system has already been removed. People don’t want to see the state in their homes. Imposing one official ideology is also impossible. You can’t forbid people to move around and to travel abroad. All these issues are regulated by the informal consensus. But there is also another side to this contract. People don’t see anything particularly wrong in the fact that the regime does not respect the constitution and doesn’t make a point of respecting the law. People are often indifferent to such behaviour of the authorities.

You said that your work in President Putin’s administration involved constant inventing and recreating things…

Yes. For example, when I was managing Prokhorov’s campaign, the most effective but very simple idea was adopting the slogan, “I am not Putin”. It would seem that the reaction could have been, “So what?” But it turned out that thanks to this slogan the people who remained loyal to the system but didn’t want to keep voting for Putin cast their vote for Prokhorov. I also invented various scenarios and stories about how our hero-candidate had been born.

In contrast, it was much more difficult to make a hero out of Boris Yeltsin during the 1996 elections. He was old and diseased, awaiting a heart operation. So we adopted a scenario where Yeltsin was a heroic defender of the country against the communists, who were approaching with the intention of robbing the citizens of their homes, food and other things.

And what were your experiences with the media during your work for the administration?

My role was rather peculiar. I was working both as a consultant of the President’s administration and the “voice of the regime”. For a long time I was one of the few voices of the regime or perhaps the only one. When Putin became president, he immediately introduced a new television show called “Real Politics”. It was a channel for transmitting crude but credible propaganda. Today I am appalled when I recall it. Therefore as soon as Dmitry Medvedev came to power, I asked him to let me quit from the television job as a reward for my help in the victory. And Medvedev agreed. What I liked most about this job was political planning.

You never wanted to become a politician?

No, no, never. What was always most interesting for me was conceptual power, the power of concepts and ideas. I treated it as a wonderful challenge when I heard that Yeltsin was unelectable, that he couldn’t win. I was very eager to prove that he could, although the situation seemed hopeless.

It was exactly the same with Putin.

 

Gleb Pavlovsky is a Russian political consultant, academic and journalist. Until April 2011 he was a consultant in the administration of the President of the Russian Federation. He was one of the authors and main ideologist of the electoral campaigns of Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. He is a Professor of the Economic University and Director of the Effective Policy Foundation.

Translated by Tomasz Bieroń

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Serbia Faces the Future

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A Conversation with Branislav Radeljić, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, University of East London.

 

This is a follow-up interview to a previous one with Branislav Radelić. To see the first interview visit: Has the Wolf Changed his Coat?

 

NEW EASTERN EUROPE: Whose responsibility was it for Boris Tadić’s loss: the weakness of his team or did the election results reflect the current populist attitudes in Serbia?

BRANISLAV RADELJIĆ: Tadić and his people have failed to convince the public that they deserved to stay where they were. Let’s not forget that during the electoral campaign Tadić openly said that he was sorry for not having done more (for example, with regard to the fight against corruption and business tycoons), possibly believing that self-criticism was going to secure him another chance. The delayed but still existing cooperation with the Hague tribunal and consequent Serbia’s EU candidacy, although both of great importance for Serbia’s international reputation, are minor aspects when compared to the worsening living standard in Serbia, growing unemployment, daily corruption and crime. This means that Tadić was more successful outside and for the outward appearance of Serbia, than addressing huge problems at home and this is the main reason why he lost in the elections. Many people who voted for Tomislav Nikolić did not do so because of his program, but they actually wanted to vote against Tadić. With this in mind, we are talking about a very serious defeat: the people of Serbia (who often ignore the difference in responsibilities between the President and the Prime Minister) voted for a former Radical (Nikolić left Vojislav Šešelj’s Serbian Radical Party in 2008) hoping that he is the one who is capable of developing and implementing policies that will improve their everyday life, regardless of the president’s political background.  

 

What does Nikolić’s victory (though Tadić supposedly will maintain more power as prime minister) and his his anti-austerity position mean for the future of Serbia?

The president-prime minister power relation is an interesting one in Serbia. For example, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjić was more present (and relevant) than then-President Vojislav Koštunica. When Tadić became the president in 2004 and Koštunica the new prime minister - again the prime minister seemed more powerful. However, when Tadić was re-elected in 2008 and Mirko Cvetković became the new prime minister, the things changed to the extent that the figure of the prime minister seemed non-existent in Serbian politics. Thus, it is difficult to predict who is likely to be the dominant figure, Nikolić or the new prime minister (possibly Tadić, who initially clearly stated that he would not play this role, but soon after completely changed his opinion).

With regard to Nikolić’s approach to economic issues, at his inauguration, he used polite words to assess the extremely worrying situation in Serbia, which, if put differently, indicate that Tadić’s team did nothing to improve Serbia’s economic performance. Although Nikolić himself would like to expand social protections, this will not be possible. In order to regulate the country’s deficit and obtain aid from the International Monetary Fund, the new government will have to implement fiscal reform, freeze pensions and salaries in the public sector, reduce subsidies for state-run agencies and companies, etc.

Now, the question of whether and how this will be possible is an open one, given that the new government has not been formed yet and, most importantly, which parties will form it. Often, this process implies accommodation as well as preservation of numerous contrasting interests. However, Nikolić has had some very good experts around him and this is why the Serbian Progressive Party should be one of the parties forming the government.  

 

Do you agree with Slavenka Drakul when she stated that Serbia’s biggest problem under Nikolić would be the Kosovo issue (The Guardian, 6 June 2012)?

Very much, indeed, and this mainly because of the pressing need to put a full stop on the Kosovo issue. As a politician, Nikolić has had enough time to understand that it will be extremely difficult or even impossible for Serbia to join the EU and keep the province of Kosovo. Still, as the new president, he deserves credit when saying that he will insist on clear-cut answers from Brussels with regard to Serbia’s EU membership and whether the overall progress will be conditioned by Serbia’s readiness to recognise Kosovo as an independent state.

 

How much will Kosovo be an issue in the near future?

Kosovo will be an issue for generations, given that it is a Serbian, regional and European problem. As a Serbian problem, although the Belgrade authorities have tended to support the Kosovo Serbs to remain in Kosovo, many of whom are fully dependent on Serbia, they have failed to encourage them to work towards greater inclusion and representation in the post-2008, independent, Kosovo. Long-term speaking, this can only generate new problems and, hopefully, Nikolić will offer a clearer position with regard to this aspect.

When seeing Kosovo as a regional problem, there are various aspects to consider starting with Kosovo’s frustration due to primarily Serbia’s and some EU member states’ rejection to recognize it as independent. At the moment, with more than ninety formal recognitions, the province is still neither here nor there. Kosovo’s frustration finds approval and support among Albanians inhabiting former Yugoslav republics of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, as well as neighbouring Albania, that could use their position to destabilize the whole region.

When thinking about Kosovo as a European problem and, more importantly, its European future, Kosovo will face numerous obstacles. Even when negotiating the Kosovo status, Brussels insisted on the policy of “standards before status”, but once it had become obvious that standards were not going to be fulfilled any time soon, the policy was abandoned. In addition, Kosovo is formally recognized by 22 out of 27 Member States of the European Union. The remaining five states (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain) do not intend to recognize Kosovo’s independence, as their decision to do so could generate various problems at home. Finally, some members of the Kosovo Albanian elite have been involved in illicit trafficking in human organs from 1999 onwards, as proved by Dick Marty’s 2011 report. Thus, how is the EU supposed to treat this and is it ever going to be in a position to grant membership to such a state?

 

Nikol made it clear that he was not as EU-focused as he represented himself in his campaign when he chose to visit Moscow over Berlin.

This is a bit of an overstatement. Nikolić and the people around him, like any other political party, understand the relevance of both the EU and Russia for Serbia. For example, the EU is Serbia’s biggest trade partner, accounting for 56 per cent of domestic exports. Young people and professionals seek to go to the EU to gain additional education and training, rather than to Russia. However, what is more likely to be behind Nikolić’s decision to choose Moscow (an informal visit) over Berlin is his ambition to try to secure assistance from both the East and the West. Still, Nikolić’s first official visit will be to Brussels.

 

Nikol and Putin have been in talks about potential future partnerships such as the unlocking of the South Stream project which is supposed to happen later this year. Additionally, Putin gave Serbia a credit of 200 million dollars in 2010 to be followed up by another 800 million. How will this benefit Russia economically? And secondly, is this partnership more political than economical?

Nikolić’s informal talks with Putin in Moscow should not be interpreted as his ambition to give Russia priority over the EU. Given the worrying economic situation at home, Nikolić has to explore opportunities that will eventually improve the living standard of the citizens of Serbia. In fact, this should be the key objective of his presidency. The South Stream project is seen as a great opportunity: by having the pipeline passing through its territory, Serbia will get cheaper gas and Russia will secure access to a bigger European market and confirm its relevance in European (Union) politics as the 21st century is very much the century of energy politics. Thus, the Serbian-Russian economic partnership could also mean the beginning of a strong political partnership, an upgrade that is surely facilitated by Nikolić’s clear announcement in Moscow that Serbia will not be joining the NATO.

 

Branislav Radeljić is a Senior Lecturer in International Politics at the University of East London. His main research interests focus on the study of European Union politics and Eastern Europe.

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It Is Possible to Work Together

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A Conversation with Zsolt Simon, Vice-Chair of the party Most-Híd

The political party Most-Híd in Slovakia was created in 2009. Its main goal is to create a Slovakia that is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. The name of the party is made up of the word “bridge” in both Slovakian and Hungarian.

KAZIMIERZ POPŁAWSKI: In the last elections, the party Most-Híd obtained similar results to the previous elections in 2010. The party, however, is now in the opposition. Was the last election a success or a failure for the party?

ZSOLT SIMON: I can say that our results were a success. It’s important to note that the campaign, which was short, intensive and very aggressive (mostly thanks to the “Gorilla” affair – author’s note). Negative actions were directed against the right-wing as a whole, and this includes our party. Though, the measure of our success can be compared with the other right-wing parties, which had lost up to ten percentage points of support.

Also, I would not read the loss in the government as something negative. In my opinion, the society wanted stabilisation of power, that is why they voted for the most powerful party on the political scene (Social Democratic Party – SMER – author’s note), to create the next government. We must respect this choice. The results of course can ensure a stable government, but also places a great responsibility on the ruling party.

Are the election results that Most-Híd achieved a result of the social fatigue with the fighting and conflicts relating to minorities in Slovakia as well as using them for political gain.

It is rather an effect of the political arguing as well as the Gorilla scandal, which the other right-winged parties were involved in. In the last two years, relations between the Slovakian majority and other ethnic minorities have not been so bad. Our goal is to strengthen cooperation between the ethnic majority and minorities as well as advancing a positive dialogue not only between Slovakians and Hungarians but also between all ethnicities in our country.

So how will this be done while you are in the opposition? What activities are planned for the next four years, both in terms of realizing the party’s mission as well as improving the party’s record for the next election?

Our activities can be divided into two categories. We are a young party and in a short period of time we have managed to make it to parliament. Unfortunately our structure, mostly regionally, is not fully developed – that is why bringing them up to speed will be the first part of the plan to strengthen our group. We have a very strong electorate, but it’s important to have also a fully developed structure.

The second field to implementing our mission relates to the parliament. We have to be a constructive opposition, and so we must mind and support the development of minority rights, which will guarantee cooperation among the minorities. We will also be critical of the government, whose policies may threaten the economy. In order for Slovakia to develop we need two things. First, strong economic fundamentals and second, a minority that is satisfied with its situation. We cannot allow for someone to start playing around with, for example, a nationality ID card (as it relates to citizenship for members of the Hungarian minorities – author’s note), because such activities can distract from the real issues at hand, such as economic development.

The government in Budapest clarified its support for the Party of the Hungarian Coalition stating that it is the only group which represents the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. What’s more, Most-Híd was considered a threat for Hungarian identity and national culture in Slovakia. What does this mean for your party?

In Hungary, other than the issue of the Roma, they don’t have a problem with ethnic minorities. This means that the government in Budapest does not understand the situation in Slovakia. Moreover, the Hungarian government commenting and engaging in Hungarian minority issues in Slovakia, Romania or Croatia tries to divert attention away from the real internal problems in Hungary.

So how does Budapest’s support of the Hungarian nationalist party influence relations between Bratislava and Budapest?

If the nature of this support will be similar to the actions undertaken by Budapest in the years 2007-2010, it may have very negative undertones in relations with Slovakia. Returning once more to the issue of citizenship for the Hungarian minority; Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, gave the opportunity to achieve Hungarian citizenship for Hungarians living in Slovakia and Romania. This type of action aims to only get new votes for Fidesz (the political party of Viktor Orbán – editor’s note), but it also brings more bad than good for those Hungarians living in these countries.

It is not true that the party Most-Híd is a threat to Hungarian national culture in Slovakia. History shows that it is possible to work together among the nationalities, and this collaboration is very real. In the years 1945-46 around 100,000 Hungarians and all Germans were deported from Slovakia. This lead to great tension between Slovakia and Hungary, but the later cooperation between activists from both groups lead to the stabilising of the position of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. Hungarian schools, culture and churches developed and everything functioned for many decades. This example shows that the claims made by Budapest are just lies. Our party only aims to find a compromise in the relations between the national groups in Slovakia, so that everyone can cultivate their own cultures and traditions.

Not only national identity, but also the financial situation of all groups is a real issue. In our opinion, attaining similar economic positions and possibilities for all national groups allow them to care for their identity, culture and education.

Does Budapest have a negative influence on the interests of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia?

Yes, I will give you an example. In the beginning of May 2010, right before the last parliamentary elections in Slovakia and right before the elections in Hungary, Orbán announced the possibility for Hungarians in Slovakia to get their Hungarian citizenship. This brought on negative emotions which in turn resulted in policies and a new law by the Fico government that undermined minority interests. If Hungary would have undertaken the issue of citizenship a month later, a Slovakian law on citizenship would never had been introduced. For a long time, our party argued the necessity of changing that law and when parliament had to vote on its amendments, Orbán proclaimed that the Hungarian diaspora would receive Hungarian voting rights with their citizenship. We then lost four votes from our long-built coalition and the amendments we were pushing in Slovakia never made it. These are the best examples of how decisions made in Budapest can have a negative effect for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.

Both nationalist parties – the Slovakian National Party and the Party of the Hungarian Coalition – did not make it to parliament in the last election. Do you think they have a chance to return in the next four years?

The last election showed that the Party of the Hungarian Coalition is not in a position to win any more votes than they got. The party has reached the maximum of its possibilities. The Slovakian National Party, however, lost its position and discouraged the electorate through its mistakes when it was in power during 2006-2010. Both parties lack fresh blood, and consequently steadily decreased in importance. In my opinion neither party will get back to parliament ever.

How do you see Robert Fico’s (the new prime minister of Slovakia and leader of the social democratic party – SMER) policies toward Budapest in the next four years? Relations with Hungary during his last government (2006-2010) were not the best. Relations, however, improved and were more pragmatic during the government of Iveta Radičová (2010-2012).

Why Fico should resist his own authority? Besides, his actions are similar to Orbán– although even before he came to power he began talking about the need to change the election system. But it has no meaning for the people and does not create one new job. The first effects of financial reforms won’t be felt until 2017!

But what about relations between Slovakia and Hungary…?

In my opinion they will improve. It seems to me that Fico’s rhetoric on Hungarian issues will be much milder than his previous government. I also hope that the law on citizenship will be improved, which should translate into better relations between the two countries. Fico’s bigger problem is cutting the budget deficit to 3 per cent in the next year. Hungary has a similar problem.

Returning back to the situation of the minorities. What still needs to be done?

The Hungarian minority rights are not fully observed. And it seems to me that Fico will not be very involved in minority issues. I think that the issue of minorities comes to life only in the case when the economic situation of the country is very bad. Thankfully, both nationalist parties are not in parliament. Representing minority rights in parliament is only Most-Híd, our party, which advocates for cooperation as well as the development of all social groups.

In terms of minorities, the Roma minority is equal to the Hungarian, but they have no political power. How do you see the political rights and activities of this minority as well as their social and economic situation?

The situation of the Roma minority is the best example of how it is important that minority rights go hand-in-hand with the economic situation. In the case of the Hungarian minority, both of these elements are on the same level, more or less. In the case of the Roma, the difference is detrimental – they have minority rights assured, but are in a very bad economic situation. One solution to this situation is finding a way to improve their economic situation. In other words, they need work, even if it is through a state work program. The Roma don’t have a work ethic instilled in them and that can’t be changed in a short period of time.

The Roma Party of Slovakia managed to get only a mere 2,000 votes in the last election. So who did the Roma vote for?

In the case of the Roma, the elections are a question of material benefits. Who at a certain time can bribe the minority gets their votes. Until the year 2010, private buses which transported Roma to various voting stations were a clear sign of buying their votes. The government of Radičova penalized such actions. In the last elections, the Roma votes did not have much meaning – the Roma stayed at home.

So the political engagement of the Roma will grow only with their improved material situation?

Yes, it is often said that “work refines a man”. If a Roma will go to work and be represented in some way, he or she will “shine” before our eyes.

But if they have 2000 unemployed people in one settlement, then there is no motivation and initiative to change.

 

***

Zsolt Simon – Vice-Chairman of the Party Most-Híd. In the years 2002-2006 he was Minister of Agriculture in the government of Mikuláš Dzurinda; and in the years 2010-2012 he was the Minster ofAgriculture, Environmental Protection and Regional Development in the government of Iveta Radičová.

 

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An Unfinished Project

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A conversation with Dr Michał Rusinek, literary scholar, personal secretary to the late Wisława Szymborska.

 

This interview originally appeared on the Polish Radio program TOK FM and was published online. We are grateful for TOK FM’s permission to translate and reprint the interview.

 

ŁUKASZ WOJTUSIK:  When you talk about Wisława Szymborska's recent collection of poems Wystarczy (“Enough” – editor’s note) you always say “the newest” and never “the last” collection.

MICHAŁ RUSINEK:  I still have a grammar problem here, both with the past simple tense and  defined expressions such as “the last collection of poems”. There is no doubt that Wystarczy was the last collection of poems prepared by Szymborska herself. But this won't be the last publication of her work. We may still publish some of Szymborska's poetic and non-poetic work. Szymborska will, for sure, keep coming back to us, time and again, speaking with an unknown, maybe even new, voice.

Wystarczy includes 13 complete poems. Did its publication involve some preparation? Or was the collection ready?

Szymborska did not write books, but poetry. When she had around 12 poems, she looked for a common thread which could connect them all together. She would arrange them in a very precise manner and then come up with a title for the entire collection; usually at the end. In the case of this collection, we can’t say that it is an unfinished book, but rather it is simply 13 poems. Szymborska insisted on referring to them collectively as Wystarczy. She had talked about this earlier, first in a joking manner, but later more and more seriously. In October 2011 I even asked her if the title should remain like this as our Italian and Spanish translators were telling us that basta would not sound good in these languages. But she insisted on the title. There was no arguing about it.

Our work on this collection was not much different from how we had always worked on her publications. Ms Szymborska would hand me a poem typed on a typewriter. The corrections were put in manually. And I would retype this on the computer and bring it back to her. At times, she would also make additional changes to this version. And that was it. Most of the poems from this new collection have already been published elsewhere, including in Odra, Kwartalnik Artystyczny, Tygodnik Powszechny and Gazeta Wyborcza in Poland. One of them was published in an Italian art magazine which had requested one of Szymborska’s unpublished poems. For the first time, we can also see in this collection how she worked with the texts.

Will readers get to see the inner workings of a poet in this collection?

I still have mixed feelings about this. The story of this part of the collection is extraordinary. Szymborska never talked about her poems. But when she was on holiday last year, I visited her in Zakopane with Ryszard Krynicki (Polish poet, translator, publisher – editor’s note) and his wife, and for the first time in a long time, she started talking about the poems which she was planning to write. This was extremely rare, which is perhaps why I remember it so well. And these are the poems that have been published in this collection. When it became certain that the collection would be published by Wydawnictwo A5 (a Polish publisher and one of the main publishers of Szymborska’s poetry – editor’s note), we knew that the book wouldn't be finished. There were only 13 poems. But near the armchair at which she used to sit and work, I found notes to the texts that she had told us about earlier. Ryszard Krynicki and I decided to try to decipher them. First, we tried to do it separately, each in our own way, but later we would meet and read them out loud to check which one of us had better understood the message Szymborska was putting across. The collection includes scanned copies of these notes. They are scattered throughout the book and one can see different versions of individual verses or strophes. At the beginning there is a reproduction of her typed version of the text. This was the version that I received.

However, the collection is missing one element - a manuscript. And even if it did exist, somewhere between these notes and the typed version that she gave me, she probably destroyed it. In general, we do not have many manuscripts in our archives. The only ones that have survived are the ones that Szymborska’s ex-husband, Adam Włodek, saved by sneaking out to the rubbish bin and taking them out.

But aren’t you of the impression that Szymborska’s notes and these extracts of her poetry are a feast for literary scholars, although an incomprehensible addition for the ordinary reader?

Such information is extremely important for literary scholars, and in terms of the “ordinary reader” (if such a reader even exists as I believe that every reader is extraordinary) the foreword prepared by Ryszard Krynicki should be of great interest, which is in fact how I would have started reading this collection. The foreword includes the key to reading this book. We must remember that despite everything, this is an unfinished project. It has to remain a mystery. But poetry, by nature, is mysterious and its reading is always like wandering through different meanings. Wystarczy defends itself as a book, but it is an unfinished project. In literature we have many examples of such work, but which, in the end, are complete. In this case, necessity was the reason for this situation (Szymborska’s passing – editor’s note). 


Is it possible to avoid thinking that we are reading the last poetic strophes of Wislawa Szymborska while reading the poems from this collection?

Generally, I am of the impression that when we talk about poets and writers we speak in the present tense. The truth is that we are left with what they have written. As long as their poems are with us and we keep reading them, they are alive. Hence, Wystarczy is not a farewell. Death is not its leitmotif. There isn’t more of it here than there had been in earlier collections. The collection does not really have a credo. We are meeting Szymborska here as we know her, as well as the subjects that have for a long time been part of her work. I have recently been reading some of Szymborska’s poems from before her literary debut in 1949. Interestingly, they include some elements of the topics discussed in Wystarczy. It seems that, even back then, over 50 years ago, Szymborska already knew what she wanted to talk about. 

At what stage is Szymborska's foundation in right now?

We are waiting for the decision of the court. This should be a matter of days; we just need a few final signatures. The plans for the foundation remain unchanged. The first point of our articles of association and also Szymborska's will is a literary award, which we are hoping to give out next year.

What will this award be for?

We have not made a final decision yet. We would like it to be an international award in the area of poetry. We will be looking at other similar awards in the world, in order not to repeat what already exists. We don't have the financial possibilities of the Nobel Prize but we would like it to be an important award. Both in terms of prestige and financial value. We will see how things evolve.

Wisława Szymborska awarded her collections of poetry to two Krakow-based publishers: Znak and A5. What will happen next? Is the foundation planning to publish her works?

Probably not. The articles of association allow us to do this, but we probably won’t. We will probably stay with the same publishers that have already published Szymborska’s poetry. And, importantly, we have made a decision, albeit an informal one at this point, that should we come across a note saying “do not publish” in Szymborska’s belongings, we will respect her wishes. Szymborska left all kinds of notes, taped in different places. And sometimes I wonder who were they written for. I have the impression that perhaps they were for me. Once in a while, while going through her things, I come across a file with a note “nice or not nice”. There is a choice. And what's inside this file? Mysterious things…

But back to the question: I would really like to publish a collection of Szymborska’s translations. She translated a lot of texts from the languages she knew, including French and German, as well as other languages in which case she used something what we call philological translations. She would turn them into literary works and this is something I would like to publish. I would also like to publish a collection of her essays called Lektury nadobowiązkowe (roughly translated as “Unmandatory Readings” – editor’s note). We can also expect to have a thorough bibliography of Wisława Szymborska published by Znak quite soon. This will be an expanded and modified version of an earlier book by Anna Bikont and Joanna Szczęsna called Pamiątkowe rupiecie, przyjaciele i sny Wisławy Szymborskiej (roughly translated as “Memorable knick-knacks, friends and dreams of Wisława Szymborska). This book will be of value not only to Szymborska's readers but also to the foundation itself. And through it, we will be able to find out what Szymborska left behind her, as well as what is of value, and what may not necessarily be.

Are you afraid that we will build something which we could call a monumental Szymborska here in Poland? A poet whose works, even before we read them are marked as “these are the words of a great poet”?

I would not be scared of that. Thankfully, Szymborska has many faithful readers. Both in Poland and abroad. Her poetry continues to be quite successful in Italy, and if we turn Szymborska into one of these grand poets and clutter Poland up with monuments to her, we will do a lot of harm to her poetry. The foundation has been set up to regulate these kinds of things. I hope we will be able to retain the status quo.                                                                                      

So that while reading this new collection we could continue thinking that we are reading – and here excuse me for my colloquial language – “a good-ole Szymborska”?
 

Yes, absolutely.

 

Editorial assistance with the original interview: Anna Siatka

Translated by Iwona Reichardt

This interview originally appeared on the Polish Radio program TOK FM and was published online. We are grateful for TOK FM’s permission to translate and reprint the interview.

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