The Hon. Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz (Former Prime Minister of Poland)
09.11.2009 - Interview conducted by Izelle Wagner & Max Marioni
Cimoszewicz was a favourable politician due to his relative independence from the coalition parties (he was a member of the SLD but not of Social Democrat Party). His achievements in his short period as Prime Minister include negotiating Poland’s entry into NATO, as well as initiating major reforms in the central government and speeding up legislative procedures and privatization. He is also accredited with achieving the highest economic growth and lowest unemployment levels that Poland had seen since the collapse of communism. From 2001-2005 he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, making important changes to Poland’s foreign policies and playing a big part in the country’s accession to the EU.
At the World Without Walls conference Cimoszewicz was involved in two panel discussions - A Strong Europe is an Integrated Europe and Poland's Path to Change. After these debates he kindly took time out of his schedule to speak to the ICD News team.
During your time as Prime Minister, what place did culture and cultural diplomacy take in policy making?
The time that I was Prime Minister was a very specific period of time for my country, since we faced very urgent economic problems. We were continuing our economic transformation, and that was just three years after the first year we had witnessed economic growth. Poland still had very high unemployment, reaching 18%. The economy was the top priority for my government, while in terms of foreign policy it was the issue of NATO. So, I believe it is understandable that we had to focus on these issues. Our economic and political transformation did have a few negative impacts in the area of culture but the financing of cultural activities and institutions was not one of the top political priorities, and that was well understood. However, I was very fortunate to work together with some great people who were artists and creators, for example a famous theatre director. It was these people who had to create the cultural policy for my government. We were fortunate to have that period of economic growth, which allowed us to raise the budgetary expenditures, including in the area of culture.
You played a significant part in Poland’s accession into NATO. What drove Poland to join NATO?
After the collapse the Eastern bloc and the Soviet Union, which ended the division of Europe, we faced the scenario of an emergence of a grey zone of security in Europe, between Russia and the ex-Soviet Union. There was lot of instability and the potential for a lot of troubles. Poland believed it was a very risky time, as nobody could predict what could happen on the Eastern borders of Poland. We could not ignore the possibility of facing huge migration pressures or reject the possibility of being involved in some conflicts in post Soviet territory. That is why we believed that the best option from our point of view was to join NATO as a guarantor of security of its members.
Poland is also a new EU member state. Was there collaboration with other states to achieve this goal of entry and what is your opinion on the ‘widening’ of the EU?
Yes, even in the days when were still a candidate country Poland presented very strong support for attempts at future membership by other Eastern European countries. Sometimes Poland’s support for other countries was a bit controversial. We believed that membership should be opened for countries like the Ukraine or even Belarus sometime in the future. Today it is less possible to see the Ukraine in European Union than it was some time ago because of the domestic situation in the country. I think that, in the long-term perspective and from the point of view of overall potential of a united Europe there must be a place for countries like the ones that I have mentioned. Poland was one of those countries that traditionally supported Turkey as a candidate for EU membership. We believe that when they fulfil all of the understood criteria they should be granted EU membership, despite many of the problems that this may cause. So we are never selfish from this point of view. Of course membership was very important for us but we believe that a bigger, broader, integrated Europe is in all of our interests.
Finally, you talked about the reform of the UN and Security Council in the lecture, how would you see these reforms taking shape?
In 2003, whilst addressing the General Assembly, I was the only speaker who presented a concept of reshaping and remodelling the United Nations. A year later Kofi Annan proposed measures similar to those that Poland had given, and he asked a group of experts to prepare some concepts of how the UN could be reformed. For Poland, the re-organisation of institutions such as the Security Council is not the priority issue because we believed and continue to believe that this would be a very difficult task. Instead, we should look for a political agreement or pact that would allow us to reshape United Nations activities in practice. For example, the final act of the Helsinki Conference was not a treaty in the legal sense but a political agreement, which played a very significant role in modern European history. It shows that if you come to really accept political compromise you can achieve a lot without changing treaties. It is also says in United Nations Charter that the UN must find real answers to questions, such as how to deal with new partners in big business, NGO’s and civil society for example. The new forms of UN activity must be regulated. It is about re-invigorating the political mandate of the United Nations. We live in a completely different world than the one that existed when the UN was founded. Unfortunately, when we follow UN activities we see that many countries behave as if the world were still the same, even as the days of Cold War. So it should be much more about genuine, real debate, about the role that the United Nations should play as the world changes, rather than about changing the UN institutionally. I think that this is a more realistic approach.
Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us. It was a pleasure.