Poland left behind
Like many of his generation, Konieczny revised his views on Russia eight years ago. “I was so entrenched in the language of the Western left that I found the warnings against Russia too sensitive and Russophobic. In 2014, it turned out that they were justified,” says Konieczny, who believes that NATO “is at this stage Poland’s security guarantee.”
It refers to Ukraine’s 2014 Euromaidan revolution – a self-organized uprising that was quickly followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its fomenting of separatism in eastern Ukraine. But for older generations of Polish leftists, the moment of awakening came a decade earlier. During Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution – a series of protests against the rigged presidential election – Aleksander Kwasniewski, then President of Poland and a former member of the Communist Party, traveled to Kyiv and imposed himself as the mediator the more influential between the pro-Russian government and the opposition.
“In the 1990s, I already knew from readings and visits that Ukrainian ambitions, traditions and identity are stronger than you think,” Kwasniewski says in an exclusive interview with BIRN. “I got to know almost everyone in Ukraine and when the President [Leonid] Kuchma called me at 3 am to ask for help, I had no doubts to go.
“It is to my credit that there was no confrontation between the miners of Donbass and the inhabitants of Maidan,” he said.
It was then that Poland imposed itself as the linchpin of Western engagement in the post-Soviet East, a role played regardless of political color. Kwasniewski’s right-wing successors, Presidents Lech Kaczynski and Andrzej Duda, made similar historic visits to war-torn Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2022 respectively, while center-right Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has took part in negotiations between the Ukrainian opposition and pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych during Euromaidan 2014.
Kwasniewski, 67, is one of Poland’s top communists turned social democrats, who after the collapse of the Soviet Union shifted his center of gravity westward, away from Russia and pushing to the rapid integration of the country into the EU and NATO, and thus provoking the opposition of ideological leftists like Wisniowski.
“The important factor was that we didn’t have social democratic partners in Russia, which first cultivated a strong Communist Party position, while under Putin became increasingly nationalist and authoritarian,” Kwasniewski says. “While we had partners in Ukraine.”
The current position of the global left is “an intellectual game”, he finds.
“Of course, we can discuss what is more dangerous, whether it is American or Russian imperialism, whether it is globalization,” he comments ironically. “But since the war started, we have been faced with a simplified situation: there is an aggressor and a victim who must have the tools to defend themselves.