Adam Krzeminski1 : You both have had very different life histories and experiences with the European left and I would like to bring these distinctions out as we discuss Germany and the “process of coming to terms with the past,” and the ways Poland and Germany are at very different phases of their development. Perhaps we can begin with the events of 1989. Were you both taken by surprise by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany?
Jürgen Habermas: Of course, I was just as surprised as most Germans. But I had first visited the GDR in 1988, for a conference in Halle. The impression I had of the mood among the GDR participants in the symposium was shattering. They were cynical and in despair. Every glimmer of hope for the future had vanished. With hind-sight, the extent to which the system was undermined is obvious. But needless to say, I had not foreseen its collapse.
Adam Michnik: I can remember a conversation with you in Warsaw in 1979 in which you were unwilling to discuss the problem of German unification. To begin with, I was very humble, because it was impossible not to be humble when talking to Habermas. But after a while I ventured to say that in my view the German left was making the same mistake that Rosa Luxemburg had made in Poland, because it was unwilling to understand the dynamic strength of German national feeling. The paradox is that it seems to me that I was right at the time. But when I read your polemic about the Historians’ Debate,2 I thought that you were right to criticize Stürmer, Hillgruber, and Nolte for denying the uniqueness of Hitler’s crimes by comparing them with Stalin’s, and for promoting a revival of nationalism. I have a slightly schizophrenic consciousness in this respect, since I am in complete agreement with you about the Historians’ Debate, and I think that we Poles could benefit both from such a debate and from the presence of a Habermas. However, on the question of German unification, I was probably also right, since German intellectuals as a class did underestimate the problem.
Krzeminski: In the summer of 1989 the Wall was firm as ever, even if the GDR-Germans in Hungary were already packing their belongings, and Adam Michnik and Bronislaw Geremek3 were calling publicly for German unification. On the one hand, that came as a surprise to many in the West, as well as in Poland. On the other hand, our own history in Poland makes us very aware that the division of Germany could not last forever.
Habermas: I did not actually see this statement by Geremek and Michnik in the summer of 1989, but at that time I would certainly have been opposed to any prospect of unification. But let us dwell for a moment on German national consciousness. It should not be forgotten that—for obvious historical reasons—nationalism had, and will continue to have, a different function in Germany and in Poland. For 150 years it furnished Poles with their identity, despite their lack of independence. In Germany nationalism had a progressive political effect before 1848. After all, Prussia never functioned as a nation. However, the Bismarck Empire exploited nationalism and created a good deal of havoc from the 1890s on. In contrast, after 1945, a more or less sensible democracy was established in Germany for the first time, and this was possible only because nationalism had been discredited.
Michnik: For many years now my ideas have been influenced by an outstanding essay by Professor Habermas on constitutional patriotism. 4 Today I perceive a certain ambiguity in the current German situation. The first phase of German unification brought freedom, but the second witnessed the pogrom in Hoyerswerda.5 In Poland, incidentally, matters are much the same, or could become so.
Habermas: That’s too harsh. In my view the first expression of unity was freedom and the second, three weeks later, the slogan “We are one people.” At first the rallying cry was “We are the people,” and then “We are one people.” As for Hoyerswerda, well, I am a West German and do not have the same intuitive experience as the East Germans. But to a certain extent I can understand how this right-wing terrorism emerged in the former GDR, though of course that is not to excuse it. What I find much harder to understand is why the arson attacks [on foreigners] should have spread so contagiously to West Germany. After all, conditions there had not changed. So what happened was that the floodgates of public opinion must have opened and changed the general climate to the point where stereotypes and opinions that had lurked beneath the surface and affected, let’s say, 15 percent of the public, now suddenly burst forth and acquired a completely different status.
It became possible to express views that were previously taboo. This has also affected the situation in West Germany where it created a climate in which xenophobia and anti-Semitism can make their appearance, and what is worse, young people even feel that they are expressing the opinions of a silent majority. I am firmly convinced that these are not the views of the majority, but the climate has changed all the same. Moreover, I think the problem is greater in West Germany than in the former GDR, since people in the former GDR are caught up, as you know better than I, in a huge process of change. There were fewer foreigners living there and all the negative stereotypes which have now made their appearance had been banned by the regime.
Michnik: But don’t you have the feeling that we are witnessing a crisis of multicultural societies in all the Western European democracies, and that what is happening in Germany is by no means unique? We see the same process in France, and in a diluted form in Poland as well. On the other hand, what you are saying about the sudden upsurge of nationalist sentiment in East Germany is very interesting. When I was in the former GDR I heard the following anecdote: An Ossi meets a Wessi and says, “Hello, we are one people.” And the Wessi replies coolly, “So are we.”
This suggests that xenophobia is not a form of national consciousness. I have noticed that in Poland. With the possible exception of the GDR, Poland is the only post-Communist country where the presence of ethnic minorities has not caused any problems. And in next to no time it turns out that even without any such problems we can produce a Polish-Lithuanian conflict, a Polish-Belorussian conflict, and a Polish-Ukrainian conflict, to say nothing of a Polish-German quarrel in Oppeln,6 a pogrom against the gypsies in Mlawa, and an anti-Semitic campaign in a country which has virtually no Jews. In other words the problem is not one of genuine ethnic conflicts, but something quite different.
Habermas: I believe that this analysis only applies to the Central European nations which have been plunged into a profound social crisis by the overthrow of state socialism. In this sense xenophobia is undoubtedly anything but a German monopoly. Public opinion polls show that xenophobia is no more widespread in Germany than in France or Britain. But I wonder whether in the Western nations it has genuine ethnic roots. In the case of West Germany there is a growing confrontation with the children and grandchildren of immigrants. People used to think that they would stay and work in Germany for a while and then go away. In fact they have stayed and now have children who were born in Germany.
A further problem has arisen with the perception of a new wave of immigration which has been spread by the media. Here there is a fundamental difference between Germany and Poland. In Poland immigrants make up around 1.5 percent of the population whereas in Germany they are 7 to 8 percent and we have to prepare ourselves for an increase to 10 percent. The position is similar in the old colonial nations, France and Britain. Needless to say, ethnocentrism is being manipulated from above because xenophobic sentiments can be used as a safety-valve for growing discontent. Nevertheless, I believe that for the first time we really have to start taking the phenomenon of a multicultural society seriously. In Europe the composition of the population is changing, and this is taking place in a difficult economic climate, with high unemployment and an impression conveyed by the media that ethnocentrism and the nation are once again matters of central importance.
Michnik: I have been watching Yugoslavia very closely, I have many friends there. My impression is that the Balkans are challenging Europe in a very fundamental way. What they are saying is: “That’s enough of Auschwitz”; the day of the European democracies is over; what we now have to look forward to is the utopia of the ethnically pure state. That is the most terrifying message I have ever heard in all my life. It is more dangerous even than communism. And I would like to put a question to Professor Habermas, who is a great champion of the idea of Enlightenment: Why is the idea of the pure ethnic state so powerful, why is it in the ascendant?
Krzeminski: But what if it is about to collapse? What if we are witnessing the last, bloody paroxysms rather than the harbingers of an actual return to the nation-state?
Habermas: I too feel that it is not in the ascendant. When I was in Zagreb a few weeks ago, I heard from friends in all the former Yugoslav countries. What they said was that the best thing that could happen would be for the Americans to march in and stay for forty years. Then we too would get a democracy that was as stable as the German Federal Republic.
Krzeminski: This idea hasn’t worked out in Somalia.
Habermas: That is true. But I only wanted to say that if democracy succeeded in Germany at the third attempt, this was only because Germany had been tied to the Western camp for so long and had no sovereignty of its own. I only mentioned this cri de coeur of my Croat friends to show that they have not all gone mad and that there is a more optimistic point of view.
Michnik: But where did they say this? On television?
Habermas: Oh no, privately. Of course, they could not have said it in public.
Michnik: I know what I am asking, since I was in Zagreb as well. You can see the same paradox that we have in Poland. In Poland I am the editor of the biggest daily newspaper and at the same time many of my opponents regard me as a traitor.
Krzeminski: Aren’t you overestimating [Polish] nationalism a little? It does exist, of course, but it is considerably feebler than might be feared. That was proved in the last [Polish] elections.
Michnik: Among the lessons I have learned from Professor Habermas is the importance of being wary and vigilant. The idea of the ethnic state leads into an ever deeper pit. That is why I have read about the Historians’ Debate of the 1980s as if it were a Polish debate.
Habermas: But it was us, the Germans, who built the concentration camps in Poland. When I flew to Warsaw yesterday, I was reminded how careful we were to conceal all that from our own population. We did everything in Poland. It was all in Poland, so that no one would notice anything.
Michnik: Of course, but it is one thing for a German to say that, and another for a Pole. I shall now say something which I do not know whether I shall have the courage to allow into print. Before Hitler invaded Poland we set up our own concentration camp, in Bereza Kartuska, and it is a pathetic excuse to say that no more than a few people were killed in it and that the Nazi camps were much worse.7
On the other hand, we, the Poles, can say that Hitler was really not much worse than Stalin, because we were the victims of both. But that assertion has quite a different meaning when it comes from a German historian like Ernst Nolte. It diminishes the scale of German “achievements” in this area. But if we say that the Poles are basically innocent, this really just means that we are giving ourselves carte blanche for new guilt. What is the meaning of the guilt, the collective guilt of a nation?
Habermas: There is no collective guilt. Anyone who is guilty has to answer for it as an individual. At the same time there is something like a collective responsibility for the intellectual and cultural situation in which mass crimes became possible. And we are equally the heirs of the past. This is why we must realize that all traditions are ambivalent and that it is therefore necessary to be critical about all of them so as to be able to decide which tradition to maintain and which not. In a country like Germany—though Germany is not alone in this—which has witnessed such extremes, the responsibility for the past should consist in a distrust of tradition and cultural institutions as much as of elites and grandparents. At the same time, in a country like Germany, politics, or at the very least political discourse, should be extended to include things that remain in the background in other countries. We must constantly question the traditions of our political culture and our attitudes, whereas societies with a more powerful democratic tradition have no need of this, since such matters can be taken for granted.
Michnik: I have been to Serbia. The Serbs who support Milosevic are convinced of their own innocence, historically speaking. I am referring here to a specific historical consciousness. The Serbs believe that they are the victims of a great injustice: they believe that they have been betrayed by the whole world. With that in mind, I find myself unable to share your triumphalist sense of a unique guilt, even though I can respect your belief in the uniqueness of the German experience.
Habermas: A negative triumphalism.
Michnik: Particularly since the triumphalist sense of innocence is widespread in Poland. None of us has ever done anything wicked. And anyone who claims that any pacifications ever took place in Ukrainian villages, or that there were separate benches for the Jews in the lecture rooms in our universities, is quite simply an enemy of Poland, in the pay of the international Mafia. Whereas I am of the opinion that there is such a thing as a collective memory and a collective responsibility. If I have the right to be proud of Polish achievements, of the writings of Mickiewicz8 or Kolakowski, then it must also be my duty to be ashamed of the action of Polish fascists. And I have no right to console myself by arguing that the German fascists were more efficient.
Habermas: This reminds me of a certain kind of division of labor. Adam Michnik argues that many things acquire their meaning from their context. The Historians’ Debate was a dispute for Germans, not for Poles. It would be a negative form of nationalism if we were to claim that the positions arrived at in the course of the Historians’ Debate should form part of the political culture of every nation. It seems to me that Adam Michnik has drawn the correct conclusions from this debate for the Poles. But it is not up to me to point them out. We simply have to distinguish between what we say at home and what we regard as valid in any setting.
But to return to the question, it is not the case that I do not feel the same uneasiness as Adam Michnik when I view the situation in Yugoslavia, in Germany, Georgia, Poland, or elsewhere. At the same time I wonder why he asserts that “ethnic cleansing” is a message for Europe as a whole. Why does he not call it a regression, a horrifying, monstrous regression which claims many human victims? Western Europe only recently overcame this tendency, in 1945, just forty-eight years ago. Until then it succumbed to exactly the same nationalist idiocies, idiocies which even gripped the masses. And despite this it was something that could be overcome. It is true that the economic climate was particularly favorable, but even so, why should not the countries of Eastern and Central Europe have the opportunity to escape from this extremely stressful situation.
You are obviously aware of the extent to which the Polish people are suffering from the social and economic effects of the uprooting of an entire system. And we know that at such moments people seek reassurance from concrete facts: the color of someone’s hair, racial, national, or other external characteristics. What else should they cling to when everything is going so badly, when day-to-day life arouses so many anxieties? I would prefer to think about all of this in the categories of social psychology. What I am saying is trivial and none of us knows what the future holds, but my question to you is this: Why should the Poles, the Hungarians, the Czechs, and the Slovaks be unable to achieve what the Federal Republic succeeded in doing during the last four decades? After all, your countries already possessed certain democratic features and you already have certain successes to your credit.
My intention here is not to praise the Federal Republic; things can go wrong again here too. As I watched developments in the Federal Republic after the war, I was full of anxieties. Nevertheless, for all my criticisms I have to say that our political institutions have gone from strength to strength, and German democracy has developed in a positive way. Of course, this does not mean that I have not felt apprehensive because now the dangers are on the increase and we seem to be at the start of a new cycle, much as were in the 1950s. However, now at least we shall be in a position to repeat the phase of building democracy on a more mature level, and in a way that includes the nations of Central Europe. After all, what happened in 1989 has not been simply squandered.
Krzeminski: That is very interesting. You continue to stand up for progress and behave like a “believing optimist,” while Adam Michnik whose life was in danger for supporting the “progress of liberty” acts like a total pessimist. What remains of socialism?
Habermas: Radical democracy.
Michnik: I agree entirely.
Habermas: I would add the rider that one thing we can still learn from the Marxist tradition today is the critique of capitalism. Indeed, this may be even more important today since capitalism has experienced a huge increase in self-confidence, thanks to the collapse of state socialism. Hardly anyone nowadays would venture to criticize capitalism. At the same time, we have seventeen million unemployed in the European Union alone, and no one—and that includes me—has any idea how we are going to break out of the cycles of jobless growth. In other words, we need new ideas with which to criticize this system. But the ultimate criterion must be the creation of a radical democracy, and this of course includes using welfare state measures to tame capitalism to some point where it becomes unrecognizable as such.
Michnik: The way I would put it is that we are what we were thirty years ago, except that we have lost our illusions and gained in humility. D’accord?
Krzeminski: Should we fear the Germans?
Habermas: Well, I won’t deny that I have asked myself the same question.
Michnik: I am not asking this question because I have a bee in my bonnet about the Germans. I don’t have an anti-German complex. I think highly of German culture and feel at home in Germany.
Habermas: For my part, almost up to 1982, when Kohl came to power, I had fears similar to those Adam Michnik has now, that is to say, fears that the Germans would relapse into old patterns of authoritarian attitudes. Nineteen seventy-seven was a very bad year. Of course, the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Hans-Martin Schleyer9 by left-wing terrorists was horrific. But the reaction to this was terrifying, pogroms were in the air in Germany. However, when Kohl came to power and I realized that he could not put into practice the policies that he had wanted, I came to the conclusion that a new generation was emerging that was changing the political climate. So in the years that followed, up until 1989, I began to feel, for the first time, that a relapse in the Federal Republic was no longer possible.
Since 1989, on the other hand, I am no longer quite so sure about this. Nevertheless, we have to look at both sides of the situation. On the one hand, we see the resurgence of anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic stereotypes. I remember the time when Reagan and Kohl made their visit to the cemetery in Bitburg. I was traveling in the restaurant car of a train together with some young people in their forties, who looked like managers. They expressed anti-Semitic views that were so extreme that I found myself wondering where on earth they could have picked them up and how all this could be resurfacing. It was not so much these young people who were frightening as the intellectual climate which encouraged them to air such opinions. On the other hand, I believe that the majority of Germans under the age of fifty are instinctively liberal. They did not have to be inoculated with liberal views, they come to them quite naturally.
Michnik: That is what I am counting on in Poland. When I talk to people from the SLD, the post-Communists,10 I suddenly realize that they have long since ceased to be Communists. They have tasted the atmosphere of freedom and of European money. It is true that many of them do not like what has happened in Poland since 1989. They speak of the four wasted years. But to imagine the return of censorship in Poland, or that the frontiers might be closed again—that is out of the question.
Habermas: …That is a really hopeful sign. And now to Hoyerswerda and the future of Germany. The process of European integration must go on, otherwise it will be difficult to guarantee anything. This is also a crucial matter for Poland, for what I am about to say goes against short-range Polish interests. If you look at the German elites it is possible to discern a powerful desire to turn Germany into an independent great power in the center of Europe, with its gaze fixed on the East. The only antidote to this trend is European political unity.
Recently Mr. Stoiber11 said in an interview: Let’s call a halt to European unification, there should be no single currency; if there is to be a united Europe, then it should exist only as a federation of sovereign nations; the Federal Republic should go its own way and have its own foreign policy, particularly with regard to Eastern Europe. This trend is gaining in strength and it can be summed up as the view that Germany must become a Central European great power again. Moreover, this trend is not without a chance of success. Its advocates can use all sorts of concrete issues to camouflage their true aims. They may claim, for instance, that a single currency will only become possible when Europe has a single economic and social policy. They may also say that the Germans ought to be giving aid to the Poles, the Czechs, and the Hungarians. But that is all empty rhetoric; its true goals are quite different.
Krzeminski: Are you warning us against economic assistance, which is pretty meager anyway?
Habermas: No, I only want to say that for Germany to become a separate state is not in the best interests of Poland. And that the only way to prevent this from happening is to implement the Maastricht Treaty and accelerate political union.
Krzeminski: But Masstricht excludes us. Not even Germany has ratified Poland’s association with the EU, and as for NATO membership, we can all see where that stands. The German press, too, is showing itself to be less and less enthusiastic about the integration of our two countries. I must confess that every week when I open my Spiegel, I fear that the sentiment I will find expressed will be a strategic sympathy for Russia, while the Poles are ridiculed for their incompetence. And this at a time when we, and not the Russians, have achieved relative stability.
Michnik: Augstein12 speaks for the nationalist views of a particular wing of the traditional bourgeois left.
Habermas: Except that Augstein was never on the left himself.
Michnik: With respect to Adenauer’s Germany he really was on the left.
Habermas: Perhaps, but you have to remember that Adenauer’s opponents often had strong nationalist motives. This applied even to the SPD, to Schumacher,13 for instance. The Adenauer period blurred traditional political divisions. For example, because of its anticommunism the right-wing conservatives suddenly became pro-Western, while a part of the left turned against the West. And those older divisions are being restored today.
Krzeminski: Mr. Habermas, you have said that Maastricht is necessary to restrain Germany, but also that Maastricht conflicts with Polish interests. How are we to resolve this contradiction? For us it is a matter of life and death—whether we shall be welcomed into Europe or whether we shall consciously be consigned to the Russian sphere of influence because the West wishes to restore Russia as a great power.
Habermas: Maastricht is only in conflict with Polish interests in the short term.
Krzeminski: But if the West turns its back on us, we will lack the tools with which to carry out our own “Adenauerian turn” toward the West. How can this basic contradiction in German policy be resolved in such a way that it won’t be pro-Western and pro-Russian at our expense?
Habermas: That cannot be resolved overnight. From Poland’s standpoint, a Germany that is not integrated into the West might be useful economically, but politically it would be a catastrophe.
Michnik: I agree with that completely.
Habermas: Let me put a question to you. How is Poland coming to terms with the past? Somehow one does not hear of the same sort of sentiments as in Germany.
Michnik: In Poland everyone solves this problem in his own way. In 1989, after we had won the elections, I began right away to speak normally with all those who had imprisoned me. I see that as part of the dialectics of enlightenment.
Habermas: I think it is rather a sign of a generous character.
Michnik: No, it is more than that. I believe that the greatest misfortune for my country and my nation is the tendency to impose a single identity on the whole of Poland, first a Communist identity, then an anti-Communist one, now Catholic, now anti-Catholic. In reality there is a common Polish identity which is pluralistic and heterogeneous; that is our strength, we have it in our genes. Either Poland will be like that, or it won’t exist at all, because we would constantly be at each other’s throats. And it is my view, even if I am very much the exception in this respect, that the recent elections, even though I am very dissatisfied with their outcome, will have one positive consequence; the anti-Communist arrogance of Solidarity will have suffered a defeat.
There was a time when I, who had been a prisoner of the Communists for six years, and in opposition for twenty-five years, was forced to read in the papers every day that I was a crypto-Communist. And this simply because I though that it would be wrong to hang Jaruzelski, the former president, or to introduce anti-Communist legislation. Many active Solidarity supporters yielded to the temptation to move from communism with a bolshevist face to an anticommunism with a bolshevist face. It was a form of intellectual blackmail.
Habermas: And how are we to assess the influence of the Catholic Church? Will Poland become a secular state?
Michnik: In Poland we witnessed a phenomenon that nobody had predicted. Within two years, the political authority of the Church utterly collapsed.
Habermas: Because of the abortion laws?
Michnik: Not only. Basically, the Church failed to understand what had taken place in Poland. In 1989 the Poles voted for freedom. And the Church imagined that they had voted for the Church. Accordingly, they attempted to replace Marxism-Leninism with Catholic ideology. The Poles rejected this. This was followed by something no one had foreseen. The Communists had tried for forty years to undermine the authority of the Church and had failed. But our aggressive Catholic politicians and politicizing bishops succeeded in only two years of freedom.
Habermas: What are the prospects of the new government? Will it survive or will the pendulum swing back to the right in the next election?
Michnik: The Communists have taken over the most important economic posts. They will carry out policies that are more like those of Balcerowicz than Balcerowicz himself.14 That is something I support, of course, and not just in the hope that the pendulum will swing back to the right in the next election, but because it is the right policy. Apart from that, the election signals the end of the phase of ferreting around in the past. I have long since been of the opinion that in Poland it is important to judge people not by what has happened in the past, but by what we can expect in the future. Helmut Schmidt served in Hitler’s army, Willy Brandt was in Norway, and Herbert Wehner15 was a Communist. All three came together in the name of what should be done in the the future. That is something which we too have to learn.
The future of Poland depends on our ability to go beyond the horizon of de-communization. It is not possible to de-communize a country in which the Communists sat at the Round Table and gave up their power. If we had been liberated by the Americans that would be another story. But it was Jaruzelski and Kiszczak, the [Communist] minister of the interior, who handed over power. That is the paradox: the same people who proclaimed martial law in 1981 allowed the Poles to put communism behind them, without bloodshed, without barricades, and without the gallows.
Habermas: Does the present coalition government have such a view of the future?
Michnik: I don’t think so. It will prove to be a transitional government. It is not inconceivable that the SLD will split, since it is a mirror image of Solidarity in 1989. At that time Solidarity’s only basis was its anticommunism; the only basis of the SLD is its post-communism. It is unified only by its origins and by its fear of anti-communism and discrimination. As soon as the SLD enters the government, all that will come to an end. And they are all members of the SLD: from the nostalgic bolshevists and the apparatchik careerists, right down to the radical democrats.
Habermas: When I listen to you—and I know that you have now become friends with General Jaruzelski—I cannot help comparing your attitude with the reaction of many writers who left the GDR in the 1970s and 1980s or, like Wolf Biermann, were expelled. These writers are far less conciliatory.
Michnik: Because they emigrated and I stayed put.
Habermas: But six years in jail are no joke.
Michnik: Professor, do you recollect what Heinrich Böll wrote in The Clown? He said that those people who came back from abroad had absolutely no understanding of what had really happened in Germany. Siegfried Lenz has written along the same lines. You see, in my view nothing destroys a human being so much as hatred and the need for vengeance. And what I object to in my friends from the GDR is that ultimately they lack Christian feeling. While I was in jail I read three German writers: Thomas Mann, Jürgen Habermas, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I knew what it means always to have fascism at the back of your mind. So I thought up the formula that one has to be for amnesty and against amnesia.
Habermas: That is a wonderful formula.
Michnik: You cannot live any other way. You have to remember, but you have to be able to transcend the frontier of your own suffering, you must not insist on remaining in the world of your own suffering. That is impossible. I had great problems with my newspaper. It is a paper that is produced by the entire anti-Communist opposition. What I said was, let’s have no more vengeance. There will be no vengeance in the Gazeta.
Habermas: That reminds me of Spain.
Michnik: Spain is a positive model for Poland. The Spaniards say: In our country there was no dictadura, only a dictablanda, a mild dictatorship.
Krzeminski: Perhaps we could return once more to the “Polish dilemma” and the German question: East or West?
Michnik: I once read a Polish article about Jürgen Habermas which appeared first in an underground periodical and was able to escape the attentions of the police. Today, the article can legally appear, but has had difficulty making an impression in a market economy. The author maintained that Habermas had a distanced and slightly derogatory view of Poland and Solidarity. What was the true situation?
Habermas: I regarded Solidarity as a movement on par with the opposition in Yugoslavia before 1968 or the Prague Spring. Where I had a certain emotional difficulty was with the priest who always stood behind Walesa. But if you want to know about my attitude toward Poland, I would put it this way. Up to 1979 my idea of Poland was really formed by literary history. I knew that relations between Warsaw and Paris were very close and that the Polish intellectuals were the most pro-Western of all the People’s Democracies, with the possible exception of Hungary. When I visited Poland in 1979 I obviously had contact only with a small segment of the intellectual reality. Despite this I gained the impression that these Poles had produced a strongly positivist and secular intelligentsia, of the kind that can only exist in a Catholic country. I was delighted about that. I have learned that positivism is one of the most stable elements of the Enlightenment tradition.
Krzeminski: What should be done to ensure that the present indifference of the West will not in future force the Poles back into their role of “permanent revolutionaries and emigrants”?
Michnik: The only advice that can be given to both Poland and Germany is to come as close to each other as possible. That is a stabilizing factor in Europe. It is an opportunity for Germany as well as Poland because it would provide Germany with a democratic ally in the East. I say this openly to my Russian friends too.
Habermas: We must embark on the same mutual process that we went through with the French. France was our archenemy, and in the eyes of the German mandarins it had been our constant opponent ever since the French Revolution. However, hostility to Poland has also had deep roots in German nationalism. That has to be overcome. I think that it has ceased to be a great problem for the citizens of the old Federal Republic, since we had no common frontier and the GDR had something of the function of a common enemy. Psychologically and intellectually the barrier between us and the Poles was lower than between the Federal Republic and the GDR. But of course, this cannot be described as a political strategy. Apparently in the coming elections the SPD intends to make the war on unemployment and the necessity for a new Eastern policy the central planks of its program.
Krzeminski: No doubt they will once again opt for Russia.
Habermas: We can only hope that they do not opt exclusively for Russia. But all that is unclear at present.
(This interview, which first appeared in the Polish weekly Polityka, was published in Die Zeit on December 12, 1993, and has been translated from the German by Rodney Livingstone.)
March 24, 1994
Adam Krzeminski is the editor of the Polish weekly Polityka. (The footnotes are supplied by the editors of Die Zeit and The New York Review, and by the translator.) ↩
The Historians’ Debate began in 1986 and 1987 when Habermas published an attack on some leading academic historians. At issue was whether the Nazi period and above all the Holocaust should be regarded as a unique event which made German history different from that of all other nations, or whether it was just one genocide among others. The historian Ernst Nolte favored the latter view and argued therefore that German history should be “normalized.” The historians Michael Stürmer and Andreas Hillgruber expressed views that were seen by some critics as associated with Nolte’s. See the article on the subject by Gordon A. Craig, “The war of the German Historians,” The New York Review, January 15, 1987. ↩
The historian who was chairman of the Solidarity group in the Polish Parliament. ↩
This expressed the idea that modern Germans should feel patriotic toward the Federal Republic because its democratic institutions had been seen to work. ↩
In the summer of 1991 a hostel for Vietnamese foreign workers in Hoyerswerda was attacked by right-wing skin-heads. In August 1992 there were similar, even more alarming incidents in Rostock. In between and since such attacks have spread from the former GDR to the Federal Republic and there have been a number of fatalities. ↩
Oppeln is a town in the former German province of Silesia where a considerable number of ethnic Germans still live. ↩
The internment camp in Bereza Kartuska was established in 1934 for 250 to 300 political prisoners; it is estimated that seventeen inmates lost their lives. ↩
The poet Adam Mickiewicz, who was born in 1798, is regarded as the founder of Polish Romanticism. ↩
Hans-Martin Schleyer was the head of the German Employers’ Federation and had been in the SS during the war. He was kidnapped by terrorists belonging to the Red Army Faction in September 1977 and murdered after the successful freeing of a hijacked airliner in Mogadishu by a special squad of the German police. ↩
I.e., the Democratic Left Alliance, largely composed of former Communists. ↩
Edmund Stoiber is minister of the interior in Bavaria and a leading member of the conservative CSU. ↩
Rudolf Augstein is the long-serving editor of Der Spiegel. ↩
Kurt Schumacher (1895–1952) spent the Nazi years in a concentration camp. He rebuilt the German Social-Democratic Party after 1945. ↩
Leszek Balcerowicz became finance minister in 1989 and pursued free-market policies. ↩
Brandt, Schmidt, and Wehner were all postwar leaders of the SPD. Wehner was responsible for the modernization of the party at the Godesberg Party Conference of 1959. Brandt was federal chancellor from 1969 to 1974. He was succeeded by Schmidt who served until 1982. ↩