By Martin Bright
November 22, 2009
I have been told that Michal Kaminski, the Tories' controversial Polish ally in the European parliament has given an interview to Polish television in which the following exchange about the Jedwabne massacre took place.
Journalist: "Perhaps you would not have been in trouble if you hadn't given some interviews? For example, you said to the Jewish Chronicle that Poland
could apologise for Jedwabne if the Jews apologize for collaboration with the Soviets."
Kaminski: "I never said that, these are not my words. But even if I had said it, it wouldn't have been anti-Semitic."
In order to avoid any confusion in future, I have decided to put the full transcript of this section of the interview online. People can then make up their own minds from the context of the remarks to the Jewish Chronicle, what exactly Mr Kaminski had in mind. I would also be happy to make the recording available. I should also say that Mr Kaminski made no complaint about the interview at the time of publication. Nor did the Conservative Party, the European Conservatives and Reformists group or Conservative Friends of Israel.
The crucial exchanges in my interview began with Mr Kaminski himself raising the issue of the Jedwabne massacre:
MK: Obviously there is the case of Jedwabne. And I know I have to explain it because I would say it very simply. From the very beginning I was saying as a human being as a Pole that Jedwabne was a terrible crime, unfortunately committed by the Polish people. My point was from the very beginning, we are ashamed of these people, we have to condemn them. We have to judge them if they are still alive, but I don’t want to take the whole responsibility for this crime for the whole Polish nation. And I will explain you why.
JC: Yes can you do that? That would be great
MK: I don’t want to put on the same level, poor Polish criminals (not in the terms that I have a sympathy towards them, poor in the real sense of the word). These bloody criminals Jedwabne who killed the Jews with the machine of the Nazi state, which was elected by the Germans, which was officially adopted policy of Holocaust by the German authorities and I just don’t want to put it on the same level, the crimes committed by the single Poles, however there was a group of them and I repeat it once more that I am ashamed of them, we condemn it, the victims should be commemorated according to me from the very beginning. But I think that it’s unfair comparing it with the Nazi crime and putting it with the same level as the Nazi policy. Because what they did – you know during the war we had this underground, Poland was occupied. This underground state with all the laws and a government in exile, actually in London. So what those people did in Jedwabne it was contradictory, it was a crime in the eyes of the Polish law. So they broke our own Polish laws, killing the Jews in this terrible crime in Jedwabne. And I said that you can’t require from the whole Polish nation. I fell guilty as a human being, because those crimes were not committed in the names of Poles. I think those people who committee those crimes don’t deserve the names of Poles. It’s my position.
JC: That’s the issue. You’ve answered the question of… well I didn’t ask the question. But it is claimed that you were central to the organisation of the Committee for the Protection of the Good Name of Jedwabne.
MK: It’s untrue, you know. Those people they even attacked me. I was a member of the parliament from this region, for that that area. The people from this committee, maybe they appeared, for sure they appeared on my meetings. It’s like the British system. You have a lot of meetings. But it’s a difference when the people from the committee or how they call themselves, they are coming for your meeting, it doesn’t mean you are organising the meeting for this committee. I think it’s the same in Britain. If you are having an open meeting with the public as a politician, everyone can come, can ask the questions and so on.
Please, we are talking about the year 2001. I’m talking about a story which is not connected with Jedwabne, but we have translated it into English back in Brussels. It was at the same time. One of the right-wing members of the Polish Sejm organised a letter against a Polish artist with a Jewish origin, Madame Rothenburg, because her controversial exhibitions in the national gallery. Actually I was not happy with this controversial exhibition, frankly speaking. But they collected some signatures and they used the language that she should be expelled, she could live in Israel. It was my election year, I openly. I was facing re-election and it was exactly the same time as the Jedwabne case. I said openly we have records of the performance in the TV that I was condemning such, it was not….. it was just my own initiative saying it should be no place for such language in the Polish parliament, that I’m absolutely condemning my colleagues from the parliament, that I’m ashamed of them. Why am I talking about it? It the perfect proof that at the same time as the Jedwabne case broke up, I was actively fighting against the anti-Semites in Poland.
And I think that as a member of the Polish parliament and as a Pole, I have the right to defend my nation. But again, if you will look at the context of the question it’s even that I’m so ashamed of this crime that I don’t want to connect this crime with Poles. It’s rather a symbol of how much as a Polish patriot I hate anti-Semitism and I hate the killing of Jews. I am so ashamed of it that I don’t want to connect it with the Polish nation. It’s just the opposite when you see the real denials of Holocaust the … people who are claiming it’s not true. The only problem, the only controversial view in my case is that I said we can’t blame the whole Polish nation for the acts committed by some criminals.
JC: That is a perfectly logical position to take, a perfectly principled position to take. Others disagree with you obviously. Others thought that there should be a generalised apology. That’s their position.
MK: I don’t think my position could be seen as anti-Semitic. Because it’s just a discussion about the issue and how you deal with it. There is no difference between me and the decent people condemning the crime or seeing the crime as a crime.
JC: There is another position which you have been reported as having where you said no apology should be forthcoming from the Polish people at all until the Jews apologise for their collaboration with the Soviet authorities.
MK: An apology from the Poles, the whole nation, about this crime would be as logical as we would ask the Jews to apologise because some of them were involved with the Communist crimes. I did not say that the Jews should apologise for Communism, I just said that you can’t compare the situation.
JC: There is a controversy here over a particular interview you gave to an newspaper – forgive my pronunciation – Nacza Polska
MK: It was not my interview they collected because I was not giving them an interview. In Poland you have a lot of press conferences. Every journalist can come to the press conference and they write about it. It’s a paper with such a low circulation that until this year I didn’t know that they published an interview with me.
JC: You are saying they took it from an event where…
MK: I’m not covering [up] anything. Believe me I was not aware of my quotations in the Nacza Polska magazine until this year. It is a magazine with a very low circulation. The only thing I know. I never had it in my hand frankly.
But what is the best proof and true. You have my all other statements from this time in which there is no mention of Jews should apologise for Communism.
JC: This is important to clarify because it has become a big issue in the British press. This has been quoted on websites and quoted in the Guardian and by Labour MPs. You may have issues about what their motivation is and we can talk about that, but can I just read you this:
[I read from the article]
JC: Are these words that you recognise?
MK: I absolutely do not recognise them. It was nine years ago, come on. Where is the politician who remembers exactly what he said? But you have my official statement made to the public openly. You have a BBC report quoting me, the young member of parliament and quoting Jerzy Buzek who is the Prime Minister of the time and now chairman of the parliament that he agrees with me. It’s a small right wing magazine. I will have to check but I’m absolutely sure that during these years they attacked me many times.
They can publish whatever they want actually… because I’m not reading it. And nobody in my political environment is reading this newspaper. What I really said and it’s in many interviews from that time. The line I explained you and even in the report of the BBC, they are quoting me and they are quoting Jerzy Buzek.
JC: So just to clarify, your position on the alleged Jewish murders you are supposed to have talked about, what is your position?
MK: My position is that they were acts of collaboration of the Jewish people with the Soviet army when the Soviet army came to Poland. It’s a fact. It’s a historical fact. My position was and is the same. It’s the same level as the… it’s some level of unfairness. If you are asking the Polish nation to apologise for the crime made in Jedwabne, you would require from the whole Jewish nation to apologise for what some Jewish Communists did in Eastern Poland. It’s exactly my line.
Because you can find the facts of collaboration with Soviet Communism but on the other hand you can find the facts when the Soviets prosecuted Jews in Poland as well…. I think I am quite clear what I am talking about.
JC: Your point is absolutely clear but it seems to be a different point from the one you are making there, so I just wanted you to clarify that.
MK: I am clarifying it now, however I don’t want to make a spin about it. I first recognised my words or words which are trying to be connected with me in Nacza Polska this year when some British journalist called me. And I don’t even read it in Polish until today. I only just have this British translation.
JC: Of course there could be differences in the translation.
MK: My position is very clear. I never accept this one piece in this Nacza Polska which I’m not even sure if it’s correctly translated. You’ll never find any statements in which I would require the Jewish nation apologising for Communism because I know too much about history to make such stupid questions which are actually part of the anti-Semitic view in Eastern Europe trying to connect Communism with Jews. And you have to know about the history of the Soviet Union to see that however there were Jews involved in Communism just like any other nation Poles and Jews as well. The first most murderous member of KGB and predecessor of KGB was Dzerzhinsky who was 100 per cent Pole. But it’s again. It will be stupid to accept from the Polish people to apologise to Russians because Dzerzhinsky was a Pole. It was my position. I remember it was my position and it is today, so I am clarifying it to you. I think it’s understandable.
JC: So you haven’t seen the Polish version of this article or you have now?
MK: No I haven’t.