|Mr Oleksy says SLD will become a "marginal" party if it does not get more than 10 percent support in the next election|
STAWINSKI / REPORTER
Remi Adekoya: Marek Siwiec, a well-known member of the European Parliament, recently left SLD and is now talking about creating a new leftist coalition with Janusz Palikot, the leader of Palikot’s Movement (RP), and former president Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who co-created SLD. Is this a realistic political project?
Józef Oleksy: Right now there is some speculation on this issue but it is bereft of any evidence in political reality. Very importantly, Mr Kwaśniewski, who is supposed to be the leader of this political initiative, has not come out publicly with any announcement.
I guess what these gentlemen are doing now is observing the opinion polls and what results from them. We need to wait till the European Parliament elections, which will take place in 2014. If indeed they intend to make a move, then that is when they will make it.
Why is Aleksander Kwaśniewski not favorably disposed towards SLD today, even though he helped found the party?
He is favorably disposed towards SLD because that is where his roots are. But he believes SLD has limited potential, that there is a 10 percent glass ceiling which our party cannot break through right now.
Ten percent is too little to be able to seize power from the right. You have to provide a formidable alternative.
That is the background to all this talk about a new party. In the end it is all about wanting to win power by building a political base that can get you at least 25 percent of the vote. That’s the support level you need to be a major player in the forming of a government.
So maybe it would be a good idea for Poland’s various parties on the left to unite then?
One should be open to all discussions, but there is no possibility for us to unite with Palikot’s Movement organizationally. All this talk of the left uniting stems from an unfortunate statement by Mr Kwaśniewski, who on election day last year said that the left in Poland should merge under the auspices of Mr Palikot’s party.
Because Mr Kwaśniewski is fascinated with Mr Palikot he suggested that a party like SLD, which has ruled Poland twice before, should just pack up and accept the fact that it is useless. Luckily, SLD members found in themselves the will to stay independent.
What does SLD have to do to break that 10 percent glass ceiling and what will happen if it doesn’t break through it during the next parliamentary elections in 2015?
If SLD doesn’t win more than 10 percent of the vote in the next parliamentary elections, then it will be a marginal party. The next elections will create a new political configuration and if SLD is not a big player in that configuration then it will be of no importance.
What does your party need to do to achieve that?
We have to skillfully exploit the public mood, which will grow continually worse as optimism weakens. Unemployment must be addressed as it is the biggest concern right now. SLD formulates propositions but they are not heard in the loud war going on between PO and PiS. But we must continue addressing the matter, as this young generation will not tolerate a high level of unemployment. There is also the question of rising income inequality, which the right pretends not to see.
PiS, though a conservative party, talks about poverty a lot ...
Well, that is true. PiS has taken on significant aspects of the redistribution approach and speaks more radically about it than SLD. We are a more responsible party that believes public finances must be in order. PiS meanwhile has no barriers in its rhetoric.
What makes SLD different from other parties?
We will continue our pro-Europe approach. We support further integration. Others are either silent on this matter or they exploit fears of us losing our sovereignty and identity. But we should be pushing liberal social issues more. Right now Mr Palikot is doing that more radically than we are.
So you want to be even more radical?
No, we shouldn’t be more radical. We should be decided and distinct. There is no sense in starting a war with the church. What for? We just support the separation of church and state. We are neutral.
But for a leftist party, SLD has precious few symbols of progressive politics. Mr Palikot’s party has Poland’s first openly gay MP as well as the first transsexual MP in Europe. How do you convince voters that SLD is a modern leftist party when you don’t have such faces?
The Mayor of Częstochowa [Krzysztof Matyjaszczyk] is a good example of a true leftist politician. He is running one of the most conservative and religious cities in Poland and he was the first mayor in the country to introduce state support for the in vitro procedure where the city would bear part of the cost. Nobody else did that before. There must be more such examples. Being leftist must mean something.
So on your right flank you have PiS, which has appropriated your redistribution rhetoric, while on the left flank you have PO, which has appropriated your pro-Europe rhetoric. After all, Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski has gone further than SLD by calling for a federal Europe ...
Mr Sikorski’s remarks on federalism have been largely propaganda stunts. But the government is doing some good things in its foreign policy towards Europe. I grant that. We agree with their stance on the budget discussions. And it is true that they also are taking that pro-Europe profile away from us.
You strongly criticized Mr Sikorski’s request to EU diplomats for help in securing the return of the wreckage of the plane which crashed in Russia in 2010 killing President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others. Why?
We need a reset in Polish-Russian relations and Mr Sikorski’s comments about the wreckage are typical of an ancient Polish attitude full of bitterness towards Russia. That is a bad way to build relations. Also, requesting help from EU diplomats is a sign of helplessness.
It is possible that the Russians are purposely withholding the wreckage in order to cause conflict here in Poland. I know Russians, they can be very mean, but what are we going to do, go to war with them? Reporting to a higher authority works in high school but not in diplomacy. By the way, what do we need that wreckage for anyway? We don’t need it for anything.
It’s symbolically important, isn’t it? The wreckage of the plane in which the president of Poland and many other politicians died is still in Russia two years after the crash ...
OK, but that is not the same thing as if the Russians were occupying a piece of Polish territory, is it? And some are acting as if that were the case.
When it comes to Poland in the EU, do you think the government is boxing above Poland’s weight, below its weight, or in the appropriate category?
I don’t know about all the details of the government’s EU policy, so it is a bit difficult to say. But from what I see, the government is doing quite well in the budget negotiations. But they are not doing enough in the area of offering suggestions for future EU strategy, they are weak on that front.
We need federalism in Europe. I wouldn’t go as far as SLD leader Leszek Miller, who talked of a United States of Europe. That is too much of a simplification. You cannot compare Europe and the US. The US is a country of immigrants, while Europe has strong nation states with strong national identities. But we do need to go in the direction of federalism.
Many on the right believe that problems facing Poland today, such as corruption, stem from the fact that influential former communists were not purged from the new system but remained in positions of power and continued to shape Poland’s future. As a former communist party member yourself, what do you say to that?
That kind of hysterical and hate-filled tone is one that unfortunately occurs often in Poland. Every historical period has its own logic and systems are often defiled. Socialism was defiled, that’s for sure. But the lack of perspective causes obsessive behavior in Poland’s public life.
There is a big tendency to divide people in Poland, people dig into their positions and try to prove that only they are right. Compromise is difficult in Poland. Nobody is talking about what will be the foundation for our country’s economic growth in the future.
There is much talk of innovation ...
It takes at least a decade to create an innovative society. Those who think that the state spending a few hundred million euros more on R&D than it does today will magically create an innovative society are exhibiting the height of incompetence.
Unfortunately, foreign capital did not bring to Poland state-of-the-art technology as we had expected. Rather it brought car assembly plants and the like. And now there is no strategy for future growth. We need an agreement between political parties that will say “OK, these are the five key points in our country’s strategy, we can fight each other and try to tear power out of each other’s hands, but we will all keep to these five points no matter which of us rules.”
But there is no compromise of that sort in Poland. Instead politicians like PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński live in a world they have imagined and focus on creating negative emotions in Poles.
Speaking of political conflicts in Poland like the so-called “civil war” between PO and PiS – are they for real or are they just theater for the masses? Do politicians who act like mortal enemies on camera actually go for lunch together when the cameras stop rolling?
Politics is always theater. Sometimes it is good theater, sometimes it’s bad. I remember in the first semi-democratic parliament in Poland, we in the communist party would have heated arguments in parliament with the democratic opposition politicians, we pulled no punches. But after that we would go out and drink vodka with those of them who knew how to drink [laughs].
That is natural, politics has always been a game that offers drama to the masses. However, I have to say there is real animosity between PO and PiS politicians today. On an individual level some of them do fraternize of course, but in the case of their parties as a whole, the hatred is for real.
Józef Oleksy was born in 1946 in Nowy Sącz. From 1964 to 1990 he was a member of the communist party, eventually rising to the post of first secretary. In the 1990s, he co-founded the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), an offshoot of the defunct communist party. He was leader of SLD from 2004 to 2005.
He served as prime minister of Poland from 1995 to 1996 but was forced to resign following accusations that he had been a Russian spy. In a long political career, he has also held the post of deputy prime minister, internal affairs minister and Speaker of the Sejm. He is currently deputy leader of SLD.
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