Ewa Boniecka: You recently got involved in the issue of ritual slaughter in Poland, acting as the representative of the European Jewish Association. How do you see the fact that religious slaughter remains banned in Poland and how do you think the matter could be resolved?
Roman Giertych: I see the issue as the product of a leftist ideology, one which is cynical and hypocritical in its core as it attempts to obscure anti-Semitic attitudes with pretenses of fighting against animal suffering.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Roman Giertych
Courtesy of Roman Giertych law Office
I think that even if not directly anti-Semitic, the positions of Jarosław Kaczyński and Janusz Palikot [both of whom supported the ban on ritual slaughter] during the vote in the Sejm, has damaged the image of the Polish parliament.
But at the meeting of members of the European Jewish Association with Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, we heard the government promise to resolve the matter and allow Jewish and Muslim communities in Poland carry out ritual slaughter for religious purposes. Now the matter will go to the Constitutional Tribunal for review and guidance as to what the next move should be.
Let’s talk about Europe. You actively campaigned against EU accession as a politician. How do you look at that decision now?
I have always been open towards the European Union. I voted against Poland’s accession mainly because I was against the conditions of Poland’s accession, including the mandatory adoption of the euro as our national currency. I saw it as harmful to Poland and I haven’t changed my position. The fact that Poland has not adopted the euro is a good thing.
It is a clever tactic when Polish politicians say that we have to adopt the euro, but without pointing to a specific date. In my view, the fact that Poland kept its national currency protected us against the financial and economic crisis which hit the EU. It has also been beneficial to our economy and particularly to our exports.
If we had adopted the euro, we would be in the same tight spot that Spain found itself in.
Do you believe that the entire idea of a common European currency was a mistake and that EU members should return to their national currencies?
Yes, because the introduction of the common currency without implementing a common fiscal policy leads to a situation where one country with a loose fiscal policy lives at the expense of the others.
But the reforms recently introduced in the European Union – the fiscal compact and financial control mechanisms – should help EU members coordinate their financial policies better and thus lead towards closer political integration of the EU. Doesn’t that address your reservations?
It is not an answer because I do not believe in closer integration of the EU. The idea of building a federal Europe, which my friend Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski has suggested, is a beautiful idea, but completely unrealistic in today’s Europe. It will likely remain unrealistic for the next hundred years.
But since introducing the euro leads to the harmonization of national budgets, public spending and tax systems, in practice it means relinquishing control of all national spending and individual nations’ fiscal policies to the European Union, regardless of the differences in their economic development, national priorities for setting taxes or financing various domains of national activity.
In my view, such control from the EU is unacceptable. The European Union is not a federal state, but a community of independent nations. And this is the kind of European Union that I support.
You criticize Law and Justice (PiS) and its leader Jarosław Kaczyński. You warn the public about the possible scenario of PiS coming back to power, which you portray as the worst possible scenario for Poland. But at the same time you are very critical of the ruling Civic Platform (PO) and Prime Minister Donald Tusk. How exactly would you describe your stand?
I am outside those parties and I can say things that no member of PO or PiS would say publicly. At least until, as in the case of [former Justice Minister] Jarosław Gowin, they decide to start an open battle for the leadership of the party. But my criticism of PO and PiS has different foundations. My criticism of Jarosław Kaczyński is much stronger than that of Donald Tusk. I remember well what political methods Jarosław Kaczyński uses and what PiS’s real political agenda is, hidden beneath its nationalist and conservative slogans.
Roman Giertych speaks in the Sejm in 2007
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
It is an agenda for the persecution of certain groups of society, mostly well-educated people, medical doctors, lawyers. It is a system of using illegal mechanisms to control people and cause enmity between various groups of society.
And it is all underpinned with leftist and revolutionary social slogans about caring for the poor, dividing public money equally and the like. So in my view PiS is full of contradictions: it likes to be seen as the party which brought about an end to communism but at the same time it is using the same hypocritical methods of deceiving people.
In my criticism of PO and the government I point to specific mistakes in certain domains such as education and health care. But I see Donald Tusk in a generally positive light and I think that his government’s economic and foreign policy is rational and effective.
That does not mean that I’m not looking for alternative proposals for Poles, but so far I do not see any. I would want to see a new political formation emerge on our political scene, one which would favor a free-market economy and conservative social values. So it would combine some elements of PO’s program, but also strong Christian philosophy and a different approach towards ethical matters: civil unions or in vitro would be out of the question.
According to opinion polls, PO and the government are losing support while PiS is gaining in popularity. What do you think will be the outcome of the upcoming 2014 elections to the European Parliament and of Poland’s parliamentary election the next year?
In my opinion PiS will win the elections to the European Parliament because people want to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with PO. But there are still two years before the parliamentary elections. Once the economy starts improving and if Donald Tusk takes PO more to the right instead of veering towards the left as he has been recently, conservative voters could return to PO.
I believe that Donald Tusk made a political mistake by supporting civil unions, in vitro and other leftist ethical views. He wanted to gain the support of leftist voters. He seemed to think that PO’s main competitor is Palikot’s Movement or Europe Plus, which are bound to fail, anyway.
Mr Tusk ignored the fact that in a democracy when the governing party is losing support, it is usually its opposition that is benefiting. And PO’s main opposition is PiS. Polish society is not as polarized, politically speaking, as Western European societies. Poland’s political establishment is different. Due to the fact that conservative views prevail in our society, the ruling party and the main opposition party both represent right-wing views and compete for a conservative electorate, regardless of the differences in their official programs.
So I think that if PO does not make a serious move towards the conservative electorate, it could lose the 2015 parliamentary election and PiS will win a majority in parliament. I presented this opinion to PO politicians in December of 2012, when nothing yet pointed to the present political crisis.
Now the question that remains to be answered is whether PiS will win an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections, allowing it to form a government on its own. If it doesn’t win outright, it will have to look for a coalition partner and that will be very difficult, if not impossible. But there is no doubt in my mind that PO is in big trouble, unless it manages to mount a serious offensive and recover politically.
Do you think that the issue of the Smolensk catastrophe will play an important role in the election campaigns?
Jarosław Kaczyński will raise that issue because it is his bone of contention with Donald Tusk, who PiS blames for the disaster. But the issue will not be the main theme of the campaign. PiS has already realized that it will not win votes with that issue, so it will explore other options, mainly social matters.
Yet people’s fear of a return to power by PiS, which made people vote for PO in the first place, is now losing importance. Young people don’t remember the time when PiS was the governing party and they don’t remember the kind of state it was trying to create. Nevertheless, the main political confrontation during the upcoming election campaign, just as it was in the previous ones, will be between the two party leaders, Donald Tusk and Jarosław Kaczyński.
Do you think that PiS without Jarosław Kaczyński’s leadership would be a different party?
It would certainly be a different situation, but PiS will always remain a radical nationalist party and would probably be led by Antoni Macierewicz.
And can you imagine PO without Donald Tusk as its leader?
I do not think that he will resign from being PO’s leader, or that his party will want him to quit, but I can imagine that Donald Tusk might at some point resign from the position of prime minister.
Do you really think that Donald Tusk could resign from being head of government?
Well, I think it is possible because PO will sooner or later have to face the increasing threat of a PiS victory. It might look for radical ways of preventing that from happening. Donald Tusk stepping down from the post of prime minister certainly qualifies as such a dramatic step.
You seem to completely ignore the possible role of leftist parties: SLD, Palikot’s Movement and Europe Plus in the upcoming elections. These groups aim to provide an alternative to conservative parties, primarily towards PiS. In some European countries, including France, leftist parties are winning support. Can the left also make a comeback in Poland?
I am not claiming that leftist parties cannot form an alternative to right-wing ones in Europe. But Poland has a specific political history. In Poland the left is marginalized, because it was totally discredited during communist rule. The present left lacks leaders of great stature to build its credibility.
Leftist parties in Poland, with most of their leaders having communist roots, are not seen by the majority of Poles as a credible alternative to conservative parties. In my view, the right will continue to govern Poland for many years to come. And if Donald Tusk fails to realize that – he will no longer be in power.
According to surveys, nearly three-fourths of the people who have abandoned PO consider themselves conservatives and only one-fourth claim to have leftist views. And those conservative supporters of PO do not like its present policy of distancing itself from Christian and pro-family values. The ideological war in Poland has already been won by the right and that has its consequences in shaping the political scene.
You have done a lot to promote right-wing ideology in Poland. In 1989, you reactivated the radical right-wing organization called the All-Polish Youth, which had been active before World War II. You were its leader until 1994. Now that organization, along with other radical nationalist groups, is demonstrating on the streets and at universities promoting anti-Semitic views and anti-democratic ideas. How do you feel about that?
When I reactivated the All-Polish Youth, it was a patriotic Catholic organization, supported by many politicians and figures such as Wiesław Chrzanowski, imprisoned during the communist regime as a member of the opposition, and the first Speaker of the Sejm after the transformation in Poland.
I have always been against nationalism. In my book published in 1993 titled “Counterrevolution of the Youth” I wrote that nationalism is a travesty of patriotism. I was attacked by various radical organizations for that statement. When the All-Polish Youth, along with such organizations as the National Radical Camp, turned towards nationalism and anti-Semitism, I spoke out against their activities and their leaders.
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