Interview with Maria Holzer in Warsaw July 17, 1991
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Holzer is the Warsaw administrator of a youth foundation sponsored by the Kelloggs. She is the wife of Ryzhard Holzer, political affairs editor of one of Warsaw’s three major papers. I don’t recall the name of the paper. We were having dinner and she had told me that her husband had spent time (I think a year) in the u.S. and had come back an active feminist. She is a strong feminist too, and worked recently on the abortion rights issue.
She had been telling me about Polish history, contrasting the Romantic period, when there had been many uprisings that were glorified as heroic, and the Positivist period, which came later and involved the notion of hard work, practicality, etc.
S: Did people think in those terms in the early eighties?
HOLZER: It can be a matter of generations. One generation promotes fighting, and the next generation considers their parents generations as having caused nothing except deaths.
S: Did you hear people debating these questions?
HOLZER: No. There was an article a year ago in a magazine published by young people between 20 and 30 in which they conclude that the uprisings had wasted lives.
S: Could I get that article?
HOLZER: I don’t think I have it. It was published in a magazine called Elita, but that magazine has vanished. It was published on the anniversary of some heroic uprising,, and in this article, young people presented the idea that for the first time, that uprising in 1944 was nothing, only we lost our young intelligentsia.
S: I will write that down. When I was here about four years ago I went to . . . (about pacifism discussion).
HOLZER: I think young people are bored about these national heroes because they caused so many deaths. It can be connected with different generations. Also it is about the kind of tactics that can be used in peaceful struggle. There is no research about public expectations.
S.: Can you identify the age at which these young people began to have such an idea? In the early 80s you say?
HOLZER: I think that when there was no uprising at the time of martial law, that was the first sign of it. December, 1981. We were surprised that the Solidarity movement, well-organized, that there was no general strike, no strong resistance. But maybe it was the first way that we can create society, not around national heroes. Young people wrote publications in the underground. They participated in the demonstrations, just to demonstrate,but they don’t think of fighting.
S: I think it was 86 or 87 when I was here but in Krakow I went to a church and spent a whole day with a priest. . . .He said that the young people had been impressed with Mrs. Aquino’s success in the Philippines. He wanted me to tell them about Gandhi. He said he didn’t know whether it will be violent or nonviolent next time, but since the Philippine experience, it is more likely to be nonviolent. Did you hear such things?
H. I don’t think so. I never heard much about the Filipino experience. There was some discussion of the role of the U.S. which was absolutely different from the usual role of the u.S. But I never heard anyone say that what happened in the Philippines was comparable to here. Marcos was supported by the U.S. but he had established his own dictatorship in the Philippines. The communist regime was established here by the Soviet Union. It was never considered Polish.
S: How did it come about, and when did people begin to realize that there was really a change and that the Soviets would not intervene militarily?
HOLZER: Some people still don’t believe it.
S: Martial law was in 1981. Did people really believe that this was created locally, independently, or did people fear that the Russians would come otherwise?
HOLZER: There were two different ways of thinking. One way was the Jaruzelski wanted to establish martial law because he was afraid of Solidarity and he wanted to protect his position. The second way of thinking was that Jaruzelski ____ Moscow and Moscow told him to do something. His first statement as the President of Poland in 1990, I remember a discussion that probably he was trying to protect Poland against the invasion by the Soviet Union and he would try to make some kind of contract with the Solidarity leaders, but because some coal miners were soon killed by the soldiers, after that it was impossible to discuss with Solidarity.December 16 the soldiers killed coal miners strikers. After that, no compromise was possible. I remember the discussion after Jaruzelski’s speech. If it hadn’t been for the coal mine problem, maybe some compromise had been possible.
S: Did he really know or was he just guessing that if he didn’t do something, the Soviets would intervene?
HOLZER: There was a memoir by a general, Kukulinski. (Also you mention Pavel _______’s article in Elita. I asked the spelling.) He said that martial law was prepared before and it was initiated from the Soviet side.
S: That is what we would have assumed, but then that was still the Brezhnev period. But they didn’t intervene.
HOLZER: Maybe it was because Brezhnev was so sick.
S; The events of 1989 were so much later, these demands took place only because it was now accepted that people could get away with it, that the Russians would not intervene. But it seemed to me that this had been clear for several years that Gorbachev would not intervene. I wonder why it took so long for everyone to recognize that.
HOLZER: Mazowiecki, the first Prime Minister, is the Godfather of my daughter. During her baptism, Nov. 1982, when he just left prison, and at the ceremony we asked him how long he thought it would take to change the situation. He said that 7, 8, maybe 9 years we would have a new generation with enough hope to change something. Martial law had destroyed morale and people didn’t believe that they could change anything with their strike. They don’t analyze the national situation, whether it is possible or not, whether the Soviets would invade or not. They consider their situation only. They want people who just came to the shipyard to work and who have no chance.
S: It didn’t have anything to do with confidence in Gorbachev?
HOLZER: No, it is only when there is a new generation who think they can do something more than the underground. This new generation sent a message to the Communists, to do something. People started to make businesses, and they were confident that it was much nicer to do business than to get power. They decided that they would not be privileged as before because there was no financial resource and they couldn’t live on the same high level as communists lived before because of the terrible economic condition of the country and this change to capitalism. They started being involved in economic activities; they wanted to keep their privileges, and to be in power. During the round table talks we didn’t expect that we would have a communist government. It took a generation, after the shock of the martial law — not a whole generation, but young people who didn’t remember the shock of martial law because they were too young.
S: At what point do you think people were convinced that there will be no intervention by the Russians.
HOLZER: Many people believe that something could happen — that we should be very quick in making our changes, our democratization. We changed this country so quickly! In 2 years.People are still not sure, they still wonder what is going to happen in Russia. So we try to do everything possible as quick as possible to bring economic independence.
S: Are people regretting any of this rapid shock therapy? Privatization.
HOLZER: For the reform government? People complain all the time. People wonder why the West doesn’t want to help this beautiful democratization. But there is no strong resistance against the government. This reform plan is very hard for poor people.
S: Is it still as painful, or is there any improvement.
HOLZER: There is no general statistic or general research. People with higher education, their life has improved 100 to 200% because they have opportunities that they never had before. My friends are becoming directors of banks at 32, or 35. My husband gets this opportunity to become director of the political information department. He never dreamt of it.
S: Can you see any difference in the quality of work? When I was here before, it was obvious that people weren’t working very efficiently or hard.
HOLZER: In the private sector, certainly it is better. But I think the relationship between people has improved a lot. Before, people were angry, fighting with each other for goods. People everywhere smile now. In the state-owned factories, they still have terrible conditions of work. They are tired. But the relationships have improved. Still, people complain. They forget very quickly how everyday life looked during the communist period. Now we have adequate shops.People have started talking with each other in busses and in shops.They are more comfortable. . . . .
S: You say you didn’t have communist friends, why not?
HOLZER: I knew two guys during my studies, who joined the party in order to make a big career. None of my friends wanted to talk with them. They were terrible. Drunkards.
S: I was struck by Jaruzelski’s speech when he stepped down. He almost apologized. He hoped that he didn’t go down in history as the bad guy. I wondered whether he was speaking only for himself, or whether all the other communists now are sorry.
HOLZER: Whether they are sorry? No! Absolutely not. They accuse the current government of all kinds of things.They don’t remember who created these economic problems.
S: Am I mistaken in what I heard Jaruzelski said.
HOLZER: It is possible he said such things. Maybe it is the same thing that I told you — a discussion about martial law and the events with the coal miners, that he tried not to kill anybody.
S: Why would anybody stay a communist? This is not the career line now. Do these people stay with the CP because they think they might get back in?
HOLZER: I think so. It was supposed that Stan Tyminski was a guy who was going to help the communists return to power. He was helped a lot by communists.
S:Really! Why? He is an extreme right-winger.
HOLZER: Well, communists, they are not ideologists.
S: In Canada they are!
HOLZER: Not here. He was a guy from nowhere. He was supported by people with low education. In each society, such people can get 25%. But his campaign was very well prepared. His contacts and presentations and some names connected with the communist party were proved.
S: We didn’t hear that in the West. I didn’t hear it anyway.He had been involved with some strange little, extreme right-wing party, Libertarian Party or something. Not in any way a communist party. Could it have been that they wanted him to get into power and then fail so they could get into power again themselves?
HOLZER: Mazowiecki, very well known all his life, was defeated by this very well-organized campaign. It may be possibly true. There is no proof that he was put forward by communists.
[There is a discussion following concerning abortion, then the amount of contact people have with Russians. She had none, none of her friends had much. But Czaputowicz had quite a bit.]
S: How did the Russians come to the decision not to invade Poland.
HOLZER: He must have realized that he couldn’t do so. The Soviet Union must have been at the end of empire. He could send troops earlier but not in 89. He needed economic support from the U.S. and he can send troops all over the Soviet Union but not Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Maybe because Reagan was stronger than Carter.
S: You mean it was Reagan’s force that kept him out of Poland?!!
HOLZER: First, it was economic and the need for economic support from western countries. He recognized the economic situation better than Brezhnev. You can imagine the quarrels within the Kremlin after the deaths of Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko.
S: I can’t explain Gorbachev’s views in those terms. I heard several statements by Soviet officials about human rights that indicated to me that there was a group of liberal people in the Soviet officialdom.
HOLZER: Are you talking about statements?
S: Not even official statements. Private statements, but sympathetic statements.
. . . missing portion.
HOLZER: This book was called Gaiety and Punishment. It described the position in the fifties. It described how communists believed in social justice until the fifties. But after 1956 it appears that the CP was totalitarian.
S: What did they think before?
HOLZER: They didn’t think the party could make any mistakes.
S: Up to ’56, people in the Polish communist party could believe that it was a progressive thing.
HOLZER: Yes. A lot of people in the Solidarity movement had been involved in the Communist party in the fifties. They were very young and joined the party after the war, to create something beautiful for everybody. In 1956 we had our own revolution in 1956.
S: I only think about Hungary.
HOLZER: No, we had the same thing in Poland but without intervention. After this, people were forced to think about it. People stopped believing. People with comfortable life joined the party and this changed the party.
S: So the morale or conviction of the party changed.
HOLZER: Oh, no!
end of interview.