President of the Solidarity Fund PL, former Vice Foreign Minister of Poland gave an exclusive interview to charter97.org.
Krzysztof Stanowski told about his oppositional work in the dictatorship, about the time he spent in prisons, and gave his view of why Poland wants to see Belarus in the Eastern Partnership.
- Your father was a well-known oppositional politician in the communist dictatorship in Poland. Did he have any influence on your ideas?
- My father was a strong person. He was devoted to the Christian and democratic values. During the war he was a member of religious youth organizations, of the Polish Armia Krajowa. He even took part in the Warsaw uprising in 1944. After the war, father worked as a secretary of the religious student Sodality of Our Lady, and for that he was thrown to prison for seven years claiming he was making “attempts to change the political order using false arguments”.
- It was in the Stanowskis’ home in Lublin where Solidarność was born.
- Our home was one of those places where leaders of Lublin’s independent organizations met. Firstly, these people were convinced that everyone in the society has equal rights, and secondly, they were convinced that they could and should take responsibility for what was going on around them. In our home, everyone was engaged in some kind of activity. My father was a teacher in the so called “flying university” (Ed.Note: at those times schools were forced to operate underground with no legal premises, and the teaching took place in various hidden locations) and he helped found the Spotkania (“Meetings”) magazine.
My mother was a scout instructor first, and then she worked in an amateur puppet theater. And this also influenced me. I studied history at the humanitarian department of the Catholic University of Lublin. By the way, Karol Wojtyła himself taught ethics, and Władysław Bartoszewski held classes in the modern history. Overall, it was the only private university between Tokyo and West Berlin.
- And what did you do after that?
- I joined the independent scout movement. Our goal was to establish the first independent scout organization in the post-war Poland. At the same time, my friends and I organized a group that worked with deaf-mute young people of Lublin. Soon security service agents started to pay frequent visits to our home (at first, because of my father’s activity, and then – because of me) and ask questions.
- After the state of martial law was proclaimed, the life of the opposition members became even more difficult. What did you do at that time?
- Solidarność had to move to the underground, and I was a member of the chair of its Lublin office. The trade union didn’t stop working, we were protecting the workers’ rights, published the magaziine. As a result, I had to go to prison, just like many others.
- How were the prison conditions?
- I spent more than three months in an isolation cell in Lublin, and then I was transferred to an isolation jail in Warsaw. Such political prisoners as me were kept together with real criminals. The cells were full. In Lublin, in a double cell, there were six prisoners. Of course, I cannot compare my imprisonment with the horrifying conditions of prisons in Stalin times. At least my friends and I could hope that we would survive. Moreover, when we were in jail, we knew that our families were safe, that there were people who would help them no matter what. In early 80s, when Solidarność was still operating legally, its activists worked with human rights and prisoners’ rights. And during those years we succeeded to improve their life– and ours accordingly - in prison. The prisoners knew it and treated us well. I also remember that when I just got to prison, a mature kingpin came to me, laid his hand on my shoulder and said „It’s OK, Pan Stanowski, the first ten years are the hardest.” These words left a trace.
- Were you tortured?
- Not physically. I wasn’t assaulted or tortured. But as I found out later, they added psychoactive susbtances in my food. However, the prison wasn’t something unexpected for me, I realized what I was doing and what could happen. Before my imprisonment, I did my best to graduate fast because I knew that sooner or later I would be arrested.
- Some Polish politicians who also were prisoners in the communist times say that in modern Belarus political prisoners are kept in much worse conditions.
- Any limitation of a person’s freedom is hard to deal with. I know that the Belarusian political prisoners are in a very tough situation. I talked to some of them personally, and I heard about others from different sources. However, we should not compare, these are different times and different countries. For example, the hideous conditions that existed when my late father and dozens of thousands of other Polish victims of Stalinism were prisoners cannot be compared to my imprisonment and to the conditions where the Belarusian political prisoners are kept.
- When you were in prison, were you feeling disappointment in what you had been doing?
- No, I wasn’t. Right after the release I resumed my activity – I started to publish underground press, took part in independent scout organizations and trade unions. Since 1989, I have been the chair of the independent Scout Union of the Polish Republic. I am also one of the directors of the Education for Democracy fund that supported democratic changes not only in Poland, but even in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, countries of the Caucasian region and Central Asia, in Mongolia. At that time I spent more than 200 days each year in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I still remember my business trips to Tajikistan, where the Education for Democracy fund carried out a program called the Tajik Cow where we gathered money to buy cows for women’s organizations in the poorest mountain regions.
- And still, let’s get back to the martial law in Poland. Many people compare this event with the violent suppression of the peaceful demonstration in Minsk on December 19, 2010.
- We can compare, but only on a person’s level. The lives of those who were imprisoned and who suffered have changed and were split in “before” and “after”. But the difference is that in Poland the martial law changed the life of the entire country: more than 10 thousand prisoners, tanks in the streets, military posts, curfew. In Belarus, however, the dictatorship is still ruling, but now it rules much more wickedly and openly. I believe that the scale of these two evens is different.
- How did a public activist manage to become a Vice Foreign Minister?
- I have never been connected to a political party or movement. All my life I’ve been working and leading public organizations. And when Donald Tusk became the Prime Minister his government decided that the people with my experience can be useful. At first I was appointed the Vice Minister of Education, and then – Vice Foreign Minister.
- The Belarusian powers are obviously not interested in cooperation with Europe. Why then has the European Union invited the Belarusian regime to participate in the Eastern Partnership program?
- The European Union invited the Republic of Belarus, not Lukashenka’s regime. And even if the Belarusian regime is not interested in establishing proper relationships with its neighbors, Poland and the European Union want that. Belarus is our neighbor, and nothing can change that. The EU invited Belarus to join the Eastern Partnership, but at the same time its attitude to Lukashenka’s regime is negative, and the EU keeps reminding that the key terms of the dialogue with Belarus is the release of all political prisoners and organization of democratic elections. Polish and European politicians have repeatedly expressed this demand to the Belarusian regime.
- During the time of Lukashenka’s rule the European Union has adopted a range of declaration and memoranda regarding Belarus. When will the EU be ready for more specific actions? What can be a most efficient way to press the regime?
- The European Union has already done a lot. In 2011 I organized a meeting Solidarity with Belarus where members of governments of 37 countries, including all the EU countries, took part. The purpose of the meeting was to take a decision on how we can help the Belarusian civil society. The meeting resulted in certain economic and visa sanctions, the financial aid for public organizations and independent media was increased. And what means do you suggest? War? Bombs? Completely closed borders?
- Today you are the chair of the Solidarity Fund PL. How long has the fund existed? What purpose does it have? What projects that involve Belarus have you driven?
- Our Fund was established in 2001 on the initiative of the Polish President.
Its purpose is to help countries on their way to the market economy and entrepreneurship, and to support their economic, public and political development. During this time the Fund has driven a range of projects that involve, first of all, public institutions of Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan and Georgia. In 2005 we had to pause the Fund’s activity, which was resumed in 2011. We support democracy and democratic changes in the countries whose political systems hinders the civil society from taking crucial social and economic decisions, including the countries where only some elements of a democratic systems function, and where system changes are taking place. Solidarity Fund PL funds joint projects of Polish institutions with Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Tajikistan, and Tunisia, and the purpose of such projects is to support democracy. The majority of the projects involve Belarus and Ukraine. Our plan is to allocate about 8 million zloty to support public institutions in 2013. We get the funds from the Polish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
- In your life you have tested lots of various occupations: a teacher, an oppositionist, an underground publisher, a politician. What is your passion?
- Teaching is my vocation. No matter what I do, what functions I perform, I still remain a teacher. When I talk to my colleagues from Belarus, Tajikistan or Tunisia, I share my experience with them and try to teach them what I know myself. I tried to be pedagogic when I raised my children – we have four children – and when I worked with deaf-mute young people, and during my numerous business trips.
- What do you normally do in your free time?
- I don’t have much free time, but when I do, I love to travel with my family by bike, kayak, yacht, or to go camping. We have a tradition: we make decorations for the Christmas tree ourselves. In our souls we are true scouts.
Ed.Note by charter97.org:
Krzysztof Stanowski was an oppositionist during the communist dictatorship in Poland, an activist of the independent scouts. In 1989 he headed the independent Union of Scouts of the Polish Republic, the first independent scout organization in many years. For a long time he was the president of the Education for Democracy fund. Between 2007 and 2010 Krzysztof Stanowski was the Vice Minister of Education. In 2010 he was appointed the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, the post he left in January 2012. Today Krzysztof Stanowski is the president of the Solidarity Fund PL. He is a recipient of the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.