Anti-totalitarianism as a Vocation

Anti-totalitarianism as a Vocation

An interview with Adam Michnik

Adam Michnik, a leading force in the Solidarity trade union movement, and the founder and editor of the largest Polish daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, was an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq. In this interview, which occurred in Warsaw on January 15, 2004, Michnik clarifies his position on the war and discusses the responses of other European intellectuals.

Thomas Cushman: I’d like to focus on the response of Polish intellectuals and former anticommunists and activists to the war in Iraq, Polish relations with America more generally, and how the latter have affected relations between Poland and other European countries, especially those that were against the war. I am an American liberal who supported the war in Iraq on humanitarian grounds. It’s somewhat difficult to find such people in the United States, so I’ve had to come all the way to Poland to find liberals who support the war. In your essay “A View from the Left: We the Traitors” (Gazeta Wyborcza, May 29, 2003, and in English in World Press Review, June 2003), you took a very strong position of support for the war in Iraq and noted that you share that position with other former dissidents. Could you explain this in more detail?

Adam Michnik: I look at the war in Iraq from three points of view. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a totalitarian state. It was a country where people were murdered and tortured. So I’m looking at this through the eyes of the political prisoner in Baghdad, and from this point of view I’m very grateful to those who opened the gates of the prison and who stopped the killing and the torture. Second, Iraq was a country that supported terrorist attacks in the Middle East and all over the world. I consider that 9/11 was the day when war was started against my own work and against myself. Even though we are not sure of the links, Iraq was one of the countries that did not lower its flags in mourning on 9/11. There are those who think this war could have been avoided by democratic and peaceful means. But I think that no negotiations with Saddam Hussein made sense, just as I believe that negotiations with Hitler did not make sense. And there is a third reason. Poland is an ally of the United States of America. It was our duty to show that we are a reliable, loyal, and predictable ally. America needed our help, and we had to give it. This was not only my position. It was also the position of Havel, Konrad, and others.

TC: Yes, you specifically mention that this is a view you share with Vaclav Havel and Gyorgy Konrad.
AM: We take this position because we know what dictatorship is. And in the conflict between totalitarian regimes and democracy you must not hesitate to declare which side you are on. Even if a dictatorship is not an ideal typical one, and even if the democratic countries are ruled by people whom you do not like. I think you can be an...