Professor, when Polish bishops wrote a letter to German bishops (“we forgive and ask for forgiveness”), what kind of forgiveness did they expect?
Prof. Wiesław Wysocki: The kind that arose – justified after all – between both nations. In fact, at that time the German nation was still divided and politics had a shadow on coexistence and neighborhood, such a reaction was needed to make some sort of reckoning, at least in the moral sense, on the ethical plane. In accordance with the spirit of the Gospel. So as not to count sins and obligations. Although in the letters that appeared, especially in the German response, it was like enumerating the merits of the German nation – this spirit was visible – towards the Slavs, who are a lower category in the German concept. So it was a bit paternalistic, but nevertheless we accepted it in the spirit of reconciliation. Just remember that this is just a challenge.
I was surprised myself when I realized that none other than Koreans translated all Polish and German texts on this issue of reconciliation. It seemed quite absurd to me to transfer this heritage to the Asian continent. The Koreans have the same problem with the Japanese and this was supposed to be an example for them on how to settle accounts. The communist authorities then, headed by Gomułka, reacted very allergically, because in their opinion, political issues – and interstate relations were among the fundamental issues – should be in the hands of the state, not the Church. Here the Church took the initiative, although I emphasize that it was a moral and religious dimension and this is where reconciliation took place. However, this should also be done towards Poland’s second enemy, aggressor and occupier, i.e. Soviet Russia. But who could you turn to? There was no Catholic church hierarchy there, the Orthodox hierarchy was under surveillance by the secret services. It was absurd to send something to the Kremlin. There was simply no recipient on the Russian side. Hence we were left somewhat dissatisfied.
Soon the millennium of Ukraine appeared. We then started this dialogue, only then Cardinal Slipyj in Rome responded very clearly, but unambiguously. In response he said: We forgive. And here he made a full stop. On the Polish side, there was great dissatisfaction that the Ukrainians were unable to show such generosity. The effects of this are still felt today – in various subsequent speeches. The problem is that we have to settle accounts with these neighbors.
I will come back to the Russian thread. There was once an idea to achieve reconciliation in the Sejm between the Polish nation and the elite of Russian society, called the conscience of Russia, today a banned institution – I am thinking about the Memorial. However, Memorial could communicate with the Katyn Family, but not with the state, and we torpedoed this parliamentary initiative, because it was unwise, through a conference in the Senate, which was also attended by Russian dissidents, including Bukowski. It contributed a lot, but they were people, not institutions.
This dialogue and this exchange between the Polish episcopate and the German episcopate were important because it was an institutional dialogue. On the level of faith, especially in the situation of our Millennium, it was a show of generosity and, on the other hand, an understanding of the faults and responsibility for these faults on the part of the German episcopate.
In fact, it can probably be compared to what Robert Schuman did in the area of politics and economy, that is, he extended his hand in a gesture of forgiveness despite all the hurts. The question is whether the effect was really the same, because we now see Germany as a country where these imperial ideas are being reborn precisely because there was no compensation, that is, the basic condition for this forgiveness to exist in its full form?
We can say that this reconciliation in the religious and moral dimension was not followed by political consequences. The authorities seemed to have slowed down. Moreover, for a long time the authorities of the Third Polish Republic did not see the need to raise the issue of reparations. However, you used a very appropriate comparison and distinction. Western Europe actually felt wounded towards Germany, but we had great, deep wounds and it can be said that there was a largely blind spot here. In Polish-German relations we can talk about a kind of Golgotha of the West. And indeed, today we have a rebirth of what we can call revanchism, because the latest maps, which seem to have been consented to by the dominant authorities in Germany, clearly indicate the seizure of Pomerania, Silesia or their former East Prussia, territories that would return to Germany again as a country, that lost some territories as a result of the consequences of World War II, but at the same time Poland was also moved on the map of Europe by the decision of the Western powers. But here there is an undermining of the consequences, the effects of World War II. We observe these disturbing elements in German politics because it is not only revanchism, border revisionism, but also an attempt to politically dominate the political circles in Poland to turn them into their own servility.
I will come back to Schuman for a moment, because I see a very strong parallel here, even though these are two different issues – one in the political area, the other in the religious area. They have a common ground, which is the community of spirit. Both Schuman and the Polish episcopate wanted to build this community of spirit in Europe, so that it would rise above borders. What is the chance for such a community to exist at this stage, because considering what is happening both politically and religiously in Germany, this goal seems to be getting further and further away?
However, Schuman had partners who saw these spiritual values. De Gasperi and Adenauer appreciated them. At least individually, they were characters who actually deserved respect for their previous attitude. Today, to tell the truth, in Western Europe we are observing a departure from this legacy of Schuman, de Gasperi and Adenauer. There is a return to direct confrontation. Moreover, for Schuman’s idea to be understood today, great thinkers are needed on both sides. After all, this is our call for the beatification of Schuman as a man of great spirit who brought new value to interstate relations. However, it seems that this is happening with great indifference, not to mention complete separation, of today’s Western world. Among Western politicians, I don’t see people like the big three at the moment, who at that time represented something really significant and brought new quality. Today we have rather small political elites – it would seem that after Merkel there couldn’t be a worse chancellor, there is. In France, Macron is also an extremely weak and unstable personality, and he has no support in his society. These are random people and it is impossible to make great politics with such random people, but we are touching on extremely important, extremely significant and timeless issues.
Isn’t Polonia an area where there is still a chance to preserve the values we are talking about? Isn’t it the leaven from which there is a chance that Europe will return to its Christian roots? Isn’t this the mission of the Polish diaspora in the world?
A certain mission of the Polish diaspora has ended – the mission of independence. It was very clear after and during World War I. We were talking then about the fourth district – the one that brought something new to the life of Poland. Also the emigration of World War II – the war and post-war – cared about Polish interests, but it has already ended biologically. Of course, there is this message and it is largely in many places of so-called old emigration that misses Polishness, longs for the old country and lives with this sentiment. However, this Polish diaspora is unfortunately divided, especially the working Polish community, which has brought a lot of chaos and self-interest into the traditional life of the Polish diaspora. This is difficult to accept today. In many cases it is scandalous how such a revaluation can be made. This is more a matter of pastoral care, because it is probably closest to the Polish community. In my opinion, the Polish state still does not notice it – of course, slogans have been proclaimed from time to time and at least once a year there is a great bow towards the Polish community, but this is not enough and without major consequences. I believe that the Polish diaspora should, at least for historical merits, but also for its potential, be represented in the Polish parliament, it should have a much stronger voice, and this is an obligation, a task that the Polish state still has ahead of it. Here there is a need for close cooperation with the pastoral care of the Polish diaspora and the pastoral care among Poles, those Poles from whom Poland left, who remained in the east, where the situation is particularly difficult today, but we cannot lose sight of them. We face challenges. The state really has great obligations and has not done much so far to ensure that the Polish diaspora becomes part of the interest of the Polish state and becomes part of the Polish raison d’état. And to a large extent, this Polish community still expects that it can fulfill its task. The last contribution of Polonia to Polish affairs is the action related to joining NATO. Here, the response was indeed very strong, especially on the North American continent, but there were no further consequences and we do not perceive the Polish community as a multi-million strong force that is ready to constantly provide services to the Polish state.
The Polish diaspora’s candidate for the Sejm, Adam Gajkowski, proposed the creation of something like the Ministry of Polish Diaspora. In your opinion, is such an institution needed and would it work at all as an institution supervising and maintaining contacts between the Homeland and the Polish diaspora and Poles abroad?
Recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs got rid of the representative for the Polish diaspora. He is next to the Prime Minister, but I believe that due to his rank there should be such a ministry. I was counting on it to be the Polish Community, but the Polish Community is extremely weak. It seemed that this could be a body that could take on the role of a quasi-ministry, but unfortunately today it is not what we expected, so I do not hide the fact that something institutional like this is needed. There have been many ideas, we have discussed various issues, but it comes down to a general lack of understanding and the role of the Polish diaspora in the country, in the old country, where many believe that our issues are so important that they can push these Polish diaspora issues into the background.
Interview by Anna Wiejak