Józef Oleksy

Józef Oleksy (1946-2015) was a symbolic figure.

Looking at him, his life path, his choices, we see ourselves. We see our dreams, our dilemmas, our night conversations held at universities, in student clubs, dormitories, among friends.

It was our generation, born after the horrors of World War II, who were realists. We considered that international order, under those conditions, inviolable. That Yalta established spheres of influence. This is what the whole world believed, and the years 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Czechoslovakia were another confirmation of this.

So we were realists, but we believed that you have to build and try to change what is bad. We assumed that although the external costume into which Poland was pushed into is unmovable, the country could and should be reformed from the inside. These were not empty words, it was not a careerist excuse. We wanted to change Poland, improve what is possible, expand the area of freedom and move the boundaries of what is allowed. Opening Poland to the world. To the West, because we felt part of the West.

Such was the student movement in which Józef Oleksy began his public activity. Open, critical and de facto - pluralistic. A great portrait of St. Józef, which hung in the dormitory above his bed. The Young Scientists' Movement within the ZSP, which formed Oleksy, was a place where not only Poland, present and future, was discussed, but also reform projects were worked on.

It is worth talking about, because there would be no success of the Third Republic of Poland if it were not for those activities, those thoughts and projects, as well as those people who contributed so well to the Polish transformation.

That's when I met him. The breakthrough of 1989 and the time of the Round Table brought us closer. Oleksy, like many of us, saw in perestroika as a great opportunity to change the position of Poland. So we were very involved in the Round Table process, we wanted success, we wanted to go as far as possible. The Round Table was an epochal event in the history of not only Poland, but also Europe, almost everything was said about it, every document, every minute of talks was examined. But in all these works, one element is still underestimated - with what intentions individual groups went to the Round Table.

We, talking about Józef, about ourselves, about all those who later built the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, saw these deliberations as an opportunity to jump over to the other side. We did not want the old Poland, we wanted a change, but we also knew that this change must take place evolutionarily, gradually, step by step. That it is - as Tadeusz Mazowiecki later put it - treading on thin ice. Oleksy was an important figure of the Round Table, and was among those who made this change. He was also in the group that founded the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, which closed the activities of the Polish United Workers' Party. I remember him hesitating then, saying that it might be time to finish politics, he was after his doctorate, he was considering a career in science. He had good offers. But he stayed. Because he knew, we knew that the new Poland, to the creation of which we are putting our hand, requires a new left wing. And together we started to create the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, which was to fulfill our dreams of a free, open to the world, economic and rational Poland. But also one that will not forget about its past. Which will be able to appreciate those who worked hard in People's Poland, which will be able to look at Polish history without ideological prejudices, at the choices made by millions of Poles.

Several thousand people joined the new party out of a million. We started out as a small group that was given no chance. It was suggested that we join the others, argued that our electorate was dying out. And he grew! Also thanks to Józef, his moderation, polemical abilities and knowledge. His talent flourished in the Sejm of the Third Republic. The negotiator's talent, the talent of a person who can break down barriers and, above all, is devoted to his homeland. In those moments when we were insulted, forced into the ghetto, denied the right to full participation in public life, he was an important signpost for many. He was not offended, and consistently built the foundations for our future successes.

We were not quarrelsome, we were competent, predictable, we were able to support the wise actions of the government. We were pro-democratic, pro-European, we tried to be a modern Western European social democracy. Our election victory in 1993 was also largely due to his contribution. But the time after this victory was a period of the highest test for him and for our formation.

He was the Speaker of the Sejm, and he performed this function excellently. It was he who built the authority of the Speaker of the Sejm and the Sejm in society. Anyway, he repeated it often - I had a high idea of the prestige due to the Polish Sejm, and I tried to proudly represent it at home and abroad. The more respect he deserves is that in March 1995 he decided to take over the position of the Prime Minister of the Polish government as a result of the government crisis. Journalists counted - in his speech the word "economy" was mentioned 23 times, "work" - 16 times, "Europe" - 9.

Recalling those times, he said recently: “The misfortune was that we gained power too early without our own economic doctrine. Having a hump of the past, whether someone wanted it or not. Willing to be the left wing and, at the same time, to build capitalism, for which we stood up, supporting the Balcerowicz Plan. Those were the challenges! To run a government that is to build capitalism while preserving the left-wing image.

He also succeeded in this. The time of its premiere is the time of economic growth reaching 7 percent. And the slogans "production is rising, inflation is falling". We tried to make the painful reforms closer to people, more tolerable to them. Negotiations related to Poland's accession to NATO also accelerated. We also set off firmly towards the European Union. Oleksy was very involved in it. He said in the Sejm: "Membership in NATO, the European Union, developing good relations with neighbors, participation in regional cooperation - these are the goals that, as the left wing, we have always supported, advocating an open Poland, drawing on the achievements of other nations and bringing to life international own thoughts and assessments.

Membership in NATO and the European Union appears for Poles not only as the best way to ensure security and economic growth, but also as historical justice and the final overcoming of the political and economic division of the continent after World War II, a division that we had no influence on, a division which lasted until 1989, when a new international reality emerged with the "fall of peoples" and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The sense of Polish raison d'état was the determinant of our views and behavior. Our student dreams of Poland in Europe materialized before our eyes and with our participation. Those were good days. And then came the presidential elections, which were successful for the left. And immediately after them the terrible accusation that Józef Oleksy fell victim to. I remember the drama of those days. And I remember how bravely he endured slanderous accusations, the most terrible that can befall a Pole, a Polish patriot. It was a direct blow to him, but also to our entire formation. In a moment we were to sit next to Himself in the dock. He endured it in a way that was highly respectable. It is bitter satisfaction that, after many, many years, those who prepared this operation, belatedly, said "I'm sorry."

Józef came out of this battle in pain, but still not defeated. He kept a lot of strength. As the chairman of the SdRP, in 1996 he led her to be admitted to the Socialist International. It was he who completed the journey we started in January 1990. The way to the West, where we became partners of Tony Blair, Felipe Gonzalez, Goran Persson, and the German Social Democrats.

And then I remember him from the work of the European Convention, which under the chairmanship of Valery Giscard d'Estaing was preparing the draft European constitution. There were over 100 politicians from 25 countries, deliberations were held in accordance with the principle of consensus. They required deliberations, negotiations, and Oleksy played an important role in them, he was in the group of reformers who wanted this constitution, which unfortunately was not adopted, and today we can see that it would be useful to us, increasing the effectiveness of the Union's decision-making process and making the Union more democratic. It was a difficult period for Europe - which then expanded to 25 countries and was looking for a formula to avoid the fear of Western societies about this great change. Before the adoption of these often unknown countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

At the same time, opponents of our accession to the EU appeared in Polish politics. They threatened us with "abandoning God", "German domination", "buying out Poland". Oleksy was among the most intelligent, determined polemists who argued that the European Union is our great opportunity and that we will The Polish left in this trial period passed the test before history, largely thanks to Józef Oleksy. After his death, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz, sent his family a touching and personal letter. He wrote: “Józef Oleksy had two significant determinants in his life - social justice and Poland. He served both ends with unwavering perseverance, while at the same time playing a significant role in the formation of the left in Poland after 1989. He has always strived to find arguments that unite people, not divide them, regardless of which side of the political spectrum they came from. I was lucky to meet Józef Oleksy many times, he was invariably convinced that a strong Poland of the 21st century could only exist within a strong European Union. He contributed significantly to the co-creation of the history of post-communist Poland, which we all know well as a great success. "

When Józef passed away after a serious illness, we bid farewell to our friend, an outstanding politician, the Speaker of the Sejm, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland, the Chairman of the Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland, a Member of the European Convention ...He performed many functions ...

But regardless of each of them, he was first and foremost Józef Oleksy ... A warm, wise, charming storyteller who said about himself: "I have a colorful language, sometimes too colorful, and sometimes I stuff myself." We miss his wise advice and this colorful language. We miss Józef Oleksy.

Aleksander Kwaśniewski
Part of the introduction, "JÓZEF OLEKSY - Unpublished memories, interviews, biography materials", Czuchnowski W., Perzyna Ł. (Ed.), Wyd. Honorary Committee Józef Oleksy Awards, Warsaw 2016