Adam Michnik Gallo Images/Getty Images

Insider Interview

Europe’s New Eastern Question


The European Union has been shaken by Brexit, Donald Trump’s election in the United States, and now political uncertainty in Germany. But the future of the EU is also being written in Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, and Russia, with profound implications for democratic institutions and regional security.

With right-wing populists ascendant in Poland and Hungary, and gaining ground elsewhere in the European Union, politics in the West looks increasingly like politics in Russia. For Sławomir Sierakowski, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw, and Adam Michnik, a leading architect of Poland’s Solidarity movement and of the country’s postcommunist transition, Europe’s illiberal turn reflects cultural insecurity and political failure as much as economic distress.

SS: As a leader of Solidarity and architect of Poland’s democratic transition after 1989, do you feel a sense of defeat at the populist Poland that has emerged under the Law and Justice (PiS) government and its de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński?

AM: I do not feel a sense of defeat, because the movement I participated in from 1965 dreamed of a free and independent Poland. What we as a society have done with that freedom is a different matter. 

SS: Do you think you committed any errors? As dissidents you were beloved, but today you are rejected. Why is that?

AM: I do not feel rejected. I am the editor of what remains the largest daily newspaper not only in Poland, but in the entire region. I travel around the country, I have meetings in cities large and small. The rooms are packed.

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