Interview with Ryszard Terlecki, Deputy Marshal of the Polish Sejm: “The opposition is trying to come back to power by non-democratic means”.
Poland – In this last opus of our series of interviews with personalities of the Polish political life, Olivier Bault is questioning the Deputy Marshal of the Sejm (Vice-President of the Lower Chamber) and Parliamentary Caucus Head of the PiS, the governing party since 2015. Mr. Terlecki explains the relations of Poland with her independence and then with the projects of European federalism, and raises the importance of Christianity as a basis of the European civilization, and also explains the risk that the opposition’s strategy for getting back to power is representing for the Polish independence and democracy.
This series of interviews – Jacek Saryusz-Wolski MEP and one of the makers of the Polish EU-integration; Jarosław Gowin, Vice-Prime Minister, Minister of Science and Higher Education and former Minister of Justice in the cabinet of Donald Tusk – was made at the occasion of our trip to Poland for the centenary of the recovered independence, and facilitated thanks to our partners of the conservative weekly magazine Do Rzeczy.
Olivier Bault: Mr. Vice Marshal, thank you for welcoming us again. One year ago we spoke about Polish patriotism and about this March on the Independence Day that is organised by nationalists and is famous in whole Europe and even all over the world.
This year, we would like to speak with you, at the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the independence, about the History of Poland.
Poland is celebrating 100 years of independence but actually – apart from the interwar period – these are only 28 years that Poland is really independent, isn’t it?
Ryszard Terlecki: First of all we should speak about the 100th anniversary of the recovered independence, as the Polish State has already a 1000 years old History. We lost this independence at the end of the 18th century. Though the Poles had tried several times to recover it again with uprisings, this was the First World War that brought the necessary conditions for it. One should then definitely precise that it is about the recovered independence. But it is true that this independence did not long very much. There has been then the Second World War with the German-Soviet, then German and again Soviet occupation. The latter longed for almost half a century.
And it is only after 1989 that Poland became a free and sovereign State again.
Olivier Bault: Can we say in this case that the First World War is a positive event in the collective awareness of the Poles?
Ryszard Terlecki: War is never a positive event but the international situation enabled Poland to recover her independence. The three powers that had partitioned Poland – I mean Germany, Austria and Russia – had lost the war. Or more exactly, Germany and Austria had lost the war and for a moment, Russia had ceased to exist.
She sank into the Revolution and therefore, a time slot opened for realising the dream of generations of Poles which attempts had been in vain until then.
Poland reappeared as a sovereign State on the map of Europe. This was as well the case for other countries in our region.
Olivier Bault: Can this independence be preserved? I think here about the EU, about its pressure, about its proceedings against Poland…
Ryszard Terlecki: This is a completely different situation as under the Soviet domination.
At that time we were not a sovereign State. During the years of the postwar period under Stalin, we were actually an occupied country. Subsequently, we were a country with some sovereign competences but for some issues we were completely subordinated to the Soviets, like for instance the foreign affairs, the army, the defense and the heavy industry, that is the most important sector of the economy. Otherwise, what is also substantial, that was the communist party that ruled in Poland and decisions were made in Moscow about the lead of he party and therefore also of the country.
Olivier Bault: So we can say that if nowadays the independence of Poland is restricted sometimes, that it is with the will of the Polish nation?
Ryszard Terlecki: We indeed do not have the feeling to be somehow a colony like during the Soviet time.
The Poles have decided per referendum to be a part of the EU, and this is still the same today.
The vast majority of the Poles – around 80% according to the polls – do support the EU membership.
Olivier Bault: Also if some people sometimes allege the contrary, does the PiS consider the EU membership and even the existence of the EU as something essential for Poland, doesn’t it?
Ryszard Terlecki: Yes, that’s it. This is what we think, and our policy is a consequence of this consideration.
Olivier Bault: Is this the consequence of the long years of struggle for the independence of a Poland that is trapped between Germany and Russia? Is then the EU perceived as a guaranty for peace and therefore for security?
Ryszard Terlecki: For us, that is first of all the NATO that represents security. But we remember the European Communities that were founded in the 1950’s when Poland was under Soviet domination. The Poles did observe it with envy for decades. They wished to join the EC and then the EU.
For us, it was a way towards sovereignty, so far it was also a free decision of the Polish nation.
Olivier Bault: In Europe as well as in Poland, there are two big political camps. Schematically, we can speak of a Liberal-Libertarian, rather Federalist – some would say anti-national – camp, and in the other hand of a Sovereignist camp. The latter is called populist by the mainstream media and the current Polish government is also classified in this category.
The European right wing parties also place great hopes on the fact that the PiS is ruling in Poland.
Just as Poland did stop the Bolshevik expansion in 1920, can we hope that she will also stop or contribute to stop the soft and hidden totalitarianism of the leftists in Europe?
Ryszard Terlecki: That is true that we support the existence of the EU and want to keep our membership, but we see the EU as an association of sovereign States.
We will accept no European centralised State that would govern our country from outside.
Furthermore we want to preserve the values and ideals that were at the origin of the foundation of the European Community, this great project of European Christian Democrats who wanted to develop the cooperation and the community of peoples on the basis of values that have made the European civilisation.
The current idea of building a centralised State, with the addition of migrants from other continents, and by throwing overboard all the fundamentals of European culture and civilisation, is not acceptable for us.
We want the EU as an organisation that stimulates the cooperation, first of all in the domain of economy but also of defence and culture, etc. – but in which we can keep our identity.
As we were dispossessed of our independence for such a long time, and as we suffered under the pressure of the Soviets, we are substantially more attached to our independence and sovereignty than Western Europe and definitely more than Germany that dreams about dissolving History and identity into a bigger project and ridding herself of the responsibility for the sufferings that occurred during the Second World War.
Olivier Bault: On a spiritual level, Poland was, is and will always be a stronghold of the Catholic Christianity in Europe?
Ryszard Terlecki: We consider this to be the condition for Europe to survive.
It is for us essential to preserve our values, our religion, our faith as well as our cultural and historical identity, as we want to develop ourselves and subsist as a civilisation. Of course we will oppose every tendency that would be in conflict with this requirement.
Olivier Bault: Like in any democracy, you are the representative of a camp among others, even if it gathers a lot of people in Poland. There are also more Leftist, more Libertarian convictions that are less attached to independence.
However, Poland distinguishes herself through this opposition that calls on Brussels intervene in Polish internal matters. This is this kind of attitude that lead at the end of the 18th century to the loss of the independence of Poland. Don’t we risk this Polish particularity to cause the same today?
Ryszard Terlecki: We have won the elections at different levels: the presidential election, the parliamentary elections and the regional elections.
The opposition seems not to accept this fact. They seem to think that an accident of History brought us provisorily to power in Poland. And they indeed try to change this situation, which is actually a normal thing in a democratic country.
The problem is that instead of trying to win the elections against us and of developing a program in order to convince the voters, the opposition is trying to get back to power by the use of non-democratic means. They try to cause troubles on the street. We also experienced the occupation of the Sejm [Parliament] and political destabilisation attempts. And they also try to call on European forces that are not happy that Poland is now leading her own policy after years of Liberal and Leftist governments to help them.
Olivier Bault: We also see today that the ones who call on Brussels for help and pretend that the PiS government would restrain the right to demonstrate are actually themselves questioning this right. That is the case of this famous March on the Independence Day that appeals tens of thousands of Poles from different parts of the country, and that the Mayor of Warsaw wanted to forbid.
Ryszard Terlecki: In this regard, there is a controversy at the level of the language. You spoke yourself of a march of nationalists.
But it is not about a march of nationalists, even if nationalist groups do participate.
It is a big march of the Poles who express this way their attachment for their fatherland and celebrate the anniversary of the recovered independence. That is why this always takes place on the November 11.
The opposition as well as the Leftists and the Libertarian forces in Western Europe are trying by all means to describe it as an far-right march. Western newspapers even spoke of a fascistic march.
Olivier Bault: And even a neo-nazi march…
Ryszard Terlecki: Indeed and we can really say that this was written by idiotic people but this is not the problem.
They know pretty well that the participants are not fascists, populists or nationalists. But they describe the things like this publicly in order to discredit our government and to support the Liberal-Libertarian opposition.
That does not lead to the aimed goal as the opposition did not succeed in removing us by making troubles on the street. The involvement of foreign politicians had no exceptional effect, even if we currently have some problems like for instance with the Court of Justice of the European Union that is trying to restrain our right to reform the judicial system in Poland.
Olivier Bault: Do you think – 100 years after the recovered independence – that those divisions can be surmounted?
Ryszard Terlecki: We think that this is possible, that, as time goes by, we might convince the majority of those who are against us today.
Naturally, we will not convince all of them.
This is evident that the extreme-Leftists and the people who struggle against the Church and the faith, or the ones who want to settle an European State with its capital in Brussels or Berlin, will never ever accept us.
However, we hope that the rules of democracy and the results of elections will continue to be respected by everyone in Europe.
Translated from Polish by the Visegrad Post.