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Hoping for a game without fouls

Gerhard Gnauck speaks with Gdansk author Pawel Huelle on Polish politics and Polish-German relations.

In fact, Polish author and Gdansk resident Pawel Huelle (48) should be happy. Like him, the new government leaders in Poland have their origins in the Solidarnosc movement. In December 2005 the post-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski had to clear out of the Radziwill Palace in Warsaw after ten years in office. The new president is Lech Kaczynski, whose "Law and Justice" party has ruled in parliament since mid-November.

Pawel Huelle. Photo: Daniel Malak

Die Welt: Poland's new leaders want to turn the country inside out. They've announced a major anti-corruption campaign, and what's more a "moral revolution".

Pawel Huelle: A moral revolution can only take place in the hearts of individuals, when they say, "From now on I will no longer take part in evil things." However if it's decreed by a politician, the most you can hope for is that it will end in new prohibitions, but not in a better quality of public life. Poland needs investments and less unemployment, not a moral revolution. The cabaretists will certainly have a field day with this whole thing.

Politicians like Lech Kaczynski, who's sympathetic to the death penalty and has banned demonstrations by homosexuals, have more in common with the religious Right in the USA than with the political climate in Europe.

I think in the next elections these politicians will be thrown out of office. Even now we're seeing the beginnings of a civil resistance movement. In many Polish cities, even in Gdansk, there were demonstrations of solidarity with the homosexuals, whose march in Poznan was ultimately banned. Here the hope lies with the young.

Poland's new leaders see the reasons for the country's economic stagnation in the continuation of post-communist corruption. Is that not a terrible simplification? Are we witnessing the beginning of a witch hunt?

We must be clear about one thing: millions of Poles have been waiting since 1980 for some form of settling of accounts with communism. This system had blood on its hands and fatal economic consequences. But there has never been even a symbolic act of this kind. That's why the election was won by politicians who promised to tackle the issue. I'm not expecting a witch hunt. That would only end in parliamentary bickering and a media battle. General Jaruzelski will never be put on trial, nor will those responsible for the hundred or so victims of martial law.

But Jaruzelski and others are continually being brought before the courts.

Yes, but they're also continually being acquitted. Or the trials go on forever. The legacy of communism can be retouched and rehabilitated. It's pathetic that old men like Jaruzelski now weep into the cameras because they have to answer a few difficult questions. It's not a matter of humiliating certain individuals. It's a matter of assuring that people are never again killed or arrested in the name of some "greater cause". If you've killed people, you should be called to account. You shouldn't be treated like a Hegelian tool of fate, but like a lawbreaker. I was hoping for a resolution openly declaring that this system was inhuman, and capable of genocide.

The Polish radical Right is now brown-nosing the Conservatives. Is it becoming socially acceptable? Some of its younger parliamentary representatives have been photographed giving the Nazi salute.

Stefan Bratkowski, the doyen of political journalism, has renamed the "League of Polish Families" (LPF), as the League of the Friends of Russia. These young people evidently take enormous pleasure in the marches of the red nationalist fascists in Russia. This is scandal, a disgrace. The worst destroyers of the Polish nation were the German Nazis.

You roundly attacked the Gdansk priest Henryk Jankowski for his anti-Semitic comments, and were convicted for it. You have now appealed. How would you describe Polish anti-Semitism?

There is no Polish anti-Semitism. There's anti-Semitism in Poland. Unfortunately it's still given tacit support, even from a number of bishops. I don't think this phenomenon is quantitatively or qualitatively any different than it is in France for example. But I live in Poland, and that's why I criticise the anti-Semites here. If I end up losing the trial, it would show it's illegal to criticise a member of the clergy here. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Is it true what some people say, that there's a "competition among victims" between Jews and Poles?

Victims are victims, no matter who the hangman is. The sources of anti-Semitism, even of that in Poland, were best described by Hannah Arendt. The anti-Semite always finds his arguments, whether it's Luther, Wagner, Stalin or Father Jankowski.

Until just a few years ago, the German-Polish reconciliation was praised as a model for other nations. What went wrong?

It has to do with the activities of Erika Steinbach (president of the Association of Expellees, which represents the interests of Germans expellees from countries formerly included in the German Reich – ed) and "Prussian Claims Inc.". When Polish people in Szczecin (formerly Stettin) or Wroclaw (formerly Breslau) received claims demanding they give back the "property stolen from the Germans", there's no place any more for rational arguments. The evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Poles began in the first days of war, in 1939. And Bismarck expelled 26,000 Poles in the 19th century. Together, these events account for one of the most profound Polish fears: a heavy-handed German comes along and says "Get out!" I don't know how I'd react if someone wanted to have back the house I purchased legally, and which once belonged to a German family. Should I send a letter to the Ukrainian city of Lviv, where my relatives lived? Why didn't Frau Steinbach send her demands to Putin, or the participants of the Potsdam Conference?

Are the Germans not allowed to mourn their victims? Are they trying to rewrite history?

The Germans have the right, and even the duty, to talk about their victims, and also to come up with fresh interpretations of their history. But care must be taken not to separate causes and effects. I don't want to hear one day that the magnificent German civilisation was destroyed by the Allied bomber fleets and the Red Army, and that the Polacks and Czechs were beneficiaries.

Your late colleague Andrzej Szczpiorski wrote ten years ago that Poland's way to Europe leads through Germany. What do you believe today?

My credo is: "Believe that our shared house will be beautiful." I'm now reading the German-Polish language textbook "Viertzig Dialogi" (40 dialogues) by Nicolaus von Volckmar. The book was written in 1612 in Gdansk, and went through 38 editions in the 17th century. At the time a lot of Poles learned German, and even more Germans learned Polish. In dialogue XXXVI (about building a house) there's the sentence: "Oh, you'll never believe how beautiful our house will be."

In 2006 a German Pope will go to Poland, and the Polish soccer team will go to the World Championships in Germany. What will the new year bring our relationship as neighbours?

Pope Benedict's Polish gets better with every audience, and this is infecting my countrymen with genuine euphoria. If this euphoria also infects our athletes, the Germans are going to need a wonder-weapon to win. I'm hoping for a great game without fouls or red cards. I'm rooting for Poland, but if the Germans win 2:1 I wouldn't be entirely surprised.


The article originally appeared in German in Die Welt on December 22, 2005.

Gerhard Gnauck is a journalist living in Warsaw.

Translation: jab.

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