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Opposition in the Coalition

María Szyszkowska: “Polish troops should withdraw from Iraq and put an end to this disgraceful war”

An outstanding intellectual of the Polish anti-clerical left, Senator Maria Szyszkowska, has become a leader of the opposition to the war in Iraq. She has been nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize by the Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister and by many international organizations. She was interviewed by Red Voltaire following her nomination as a candidate for the presidency of the Republic of Poland.

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Polish soldiers in Iraq

Question: You are a philosopher, researcher and senator and, in spite of that, you has just been granted police protection. Why?

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María Szyszkowska

María Szyszkowska: There is a lot of intolerance in our society and, among other things, I proposed a bill about marriage between people of the same sex and another bill about euthanasia that caused a lot of strong and negative emotions. The fact that these initiatives move away from the traditional norms of the catholic doctrine in the legal field provokes the anger of this sector of the Polish society that listens to the clergy. They have threatened me, which does not look like a very Christian behavior.

Question: In spite of that, you have decided to run for the Polish presidency in the next presidential elections.

María Szyszkowska: Precisely, I do it as a sign of rebellion against certain phenomena that cause fears in Poland. I think about the Fascist trends, religious fanaticism, nationalism and, simultaneously, in the economic situation of society in which more than half of the citizens of my country starve. There are other elements of our social life that make me feel afraid, for example, massive privatizations that create large fortunes from which society does not get any profits. Those who rule in Poland completely lack any respect for public and cooperative property.

Question: However, what can the president of the Republic do in a country in which the government and its ministers are the ones responsible?

María Szyszkowska: A president can do a lot more than a senator. During my parliamentary activities I have lacked executive power. For example, according to the constitution, the president is responsible for the foreign policy and the defense of the State and he can - although he has not done it yet - remove our troops from Iraq and put an end to this shameful war. The end of this war would allow solving many social problems as the money earmarked for the war and weapons could be used for other social purposes. In addition, the president could carry out a friendly policy toward our eastern neighbors. Such policy would be very favorable for Poland, at least, due to economic reasons. However, all Polish governments after 1989 have conducted a disastrous policy toward our neighbors to the East. The president also has the right to promote laws in Parliament, for example, about social matters, the struggle against unemployment or the defense of tenants threatened to be expelled by landlords. There are many issues to be taken into account, but the first and most important is the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq.

Question: Are you a pacifist?

María Szyszkowska: Yes, I am a pacifist. It represents a very long road in my life as I was raised in the worship of our national insurrections and in the cult of those who died for the liberty of our country. Finally, it was Kant’s philosophy, which I support, the one that led be to become a pacifist.

Question: Until recently, you were only a scientist - a theoretician - and, however, since some years ago you have committed yourself to the defense of the “excluded” and the victims of discrimination. Why is it necessary in Poland, a country located in the middle of Europe, with rich scientific and cultural traditions, to fight against xenophobia and intolerance early in the 21st century?

María Szyszkowska: It is because, in Poland, social conscience has not evolved since the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. There women’s emancipation; the law of equality between men and women has not been adopted by our parliament; anti-Semitism is as spread as it was 100 years ago like many other distrust feelings in relation with other nationalities. I think that our nation has complexes and, therefore, we feel inferior with respect to Western European nations. We compensate those complexes by feeling, in a very unfair way, superior with respect to the Eastern nations.

Question: You left the Alliance of the Democratic Left (ADL), a party currently in power, in which pragmatism prevails over ideals. What is your impression about the current situation of the Left in Poland?

María Szyszkowska: I am very worried, mainly because we have to face a very strong Right, rich and fanatical, although, as a general rule, society always remains oriented to the Left. However, leftist parties are rather pragmatic and not so much idealistic. They do not try to spread the leftist ideal in Poland. For several years, I was not only a member of the ADL but also the president of the Ethics Commission of that party and, actually, most of the cases with which I had to deal in that commission were linked to the lack of ideals of the ADL members. I have to say that people with ideals are not given to corruption or nepotism. Having an ideal is a useful barrier to obstruct reprehensible actions.

The party that recently came out of the ADL, the Polish Social Democracy, and whose president is the former president of the Diet, Marek Borowski, is led by a man that was a leader of the ADL for a long time. Therefore, it is a party that looks not to be responsible for the policies of the current party in power although, in my opinion, they are lying twice, as it was Borowski, along with former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who carried out a policy marked by economic liberalism and nationalization of Catholicism instead of promoting pluralism of speech and economic reforms favorable to the interests of society. People like them are actually the representatives of the interests of the big capital.

However, the new left parties have also disappointed me. The “Greens 2004”, that until a few months ago seemed to be a party comprised of idealists, honest politicians, young people looking for leftist values, finally aligned themselves with Borowski. Personally, my main hopes are with the Anti-Clerical Party Progress “Reason”.

In general, the situation of the leftist parties is desperate while the Polish society, even when they do not necessarily use that term, hope for changes in the Left.

Question: I understand that during the last years some not very visible parties have emerged to the Left.

María Szyszkowska: I feel a lot of respect for the New Left, the party of Piotr Ikonowicz. It is a party with only a few members but, since the beginning, it solves concrete problems for people seriously affected by the activities and laws implemented by our “leftist” government. So, I respect the New Left for their spirit of continuity.

Question: In one of your interviews you said that the lack of ideals is worse than fanaticism.

María Szyszkowska: If someone is a fanatic, you can figure that he will act accordingly. His actions are foreseeable. On the contrary, the lack of convictions is dangerous as the actions of people or organizations that lack ideals, who act only in a pragmatic way, are unpredictable. Today they establish an alliance and tomorrow they can break it when another organization looks more favorable...

Question: Do you expect anything concrete, as many Polish politicians do, from Poland’s integration to the European Union? In your last book, La Gauche du XXIème siècle, you wrote: “It would be detrimental to join in due to the interests of the big economic tycoons that only hope to increase their benefits.”

María Szyszkowska: I hope that the European Union gives more justice and freedom to Poland. Sadly, I am aware of the fact that, in these fields, the ruling legislations are those of State-Nations. However, the project of European Constitution provides that every human being is a different individual who belongs to humanity. It is something very important from the Polish mentality point of view. In Poland, we believe that each person is a member of his family, a being that is not completely autonomous. An unhealthy cult to the family has developed inn Poland that only deepens moral hypocrisy. At the same time, the media continuously tells us about family violence, lack of understanding, marriages consummated only because the woman is pregnant and acts of incest. In this context, some paragraphs of the European constitutional project, even when they were not considered legally, should be spread to help change the conscience of the Polish.

Nevertheless, I think it is frightening that the text of this Constitution considers economic liberalism as the only possible system in the member states.

Question: In your book that we just mentioned, you wrote that the term “European” is a concept with several meanings; you say, among other things, that “a European can be an Arab cultivating Islamic traditions.” Then, don’t you think that the “closing of borders” of the Union, that is, obstructing immigration from other regions of the world, will cause new xenophobia, and even Euro-racism?

María Szyszkowska: Of course. The European Union is not strong yet. It has not have time to be its own ruler and it is already starting to create a new form of threatening ideology. False concepts are invented according to which what is European is superior, better than what comes from other continents. We have to be careful not to be subjugated by this Euro-centrism that is extremely threatening.

Question: There are a lot of recent comments about the role of the nations in a united Europe.

María Szyszkowska: Taking into account the mentality of the citizens of the different European countries, their traditions, history and common historic wounds, I think that it will take a long time before the important differences that exist disappear. Nevertheless, I believe that it is very important that the European Union becomes a union of states. It is very soon to create a Europe of regions.

Question: The movement that fights for another world is a reaction against the capitalist globalization process. What is your opinion as to their opportunities and possibilities?

María Szyszkowska: I hope this movement continues to develop and become stronger as they appreciate the idea of globalization but reject the false way in which this idea is understood and carried out. The noble and beautiful ideas of globalization are one thing, that is, the idea that humanity must be united, and the realization of the power of the big monopolies is another. The telecommunications, pharmaceutical and weapon industries, although they are not the only ones, tend to subjugate Europe and the world under their power, However, for the different societies, there is no space for this kind of globalization. This false globalization is similarly expressed in the cultural field in the way of mass culture whose model is the United States. It is a kind of culture that amazingly reduces the level of thinking and spirituality of the Europeans. Those who fight for another world are right to think that the discontent created by the implementation of this kind of globalization will strengthen their movement.

Question: How could these movements work without money, without access to the media that belong to the rich, especially to the big companies? Will social resistance be enough? Could this resistance be the foundation for a new direction in the fight in favor of humanity’s progress?

María Szyszkowska: It is a big problem. Although we can imagine that action is possible almost without money, the unification of human efforts to advance in the right direction is only possible if they organize protest movements, and for that, it is necessary to have access to the media. That is why I am convinced that an initiative is necessary from those who do not make a lot of money, from the poor, so that we can crate the media outlets of a social nature that could spread, for example, the ideals of those who fight for another world. Such media could educate society in the spirit of humanitarianism and social values. For now, we only have media outlets that work in the benefit of the rich owners.

Question: And, what are the opportunities of the Left in Europe?

María Szyszkowska: I think that the future belongs to the leftist movements although they are not well organized right now. The leaders of the Left, and particularly the social-democrats, are people who, like in Poland, support economic liberalism - something that, in principle, is contradictory to the Left. We lack leftist leaders like those in France or Spain. I am talking about separating what belongs to the religious field to that of the state, like in France, or the extraordinarily fast changes introduced in Spain. I see what happens in the world and I believe that there is a space for the leftist ideals. We simply lack organizations so that these ideals become a strong force in the different countries. The time has come to put an end to the situation in which the world is in, subjugated by groups of people who only try to increase their benefits to the detriment of humanity and the environment.

Interview made for Voltaire Network by Alicja and Boleslaw Jaszczuk.

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