Pinior: What do we call a country that does not obey its own constitution? Banana republic


In February 18th European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (ECtHR) upheld it’s ruling in Abu-Zubaydah and Al-Nashiri v. Poland, a case regarding Poland’s violation of European Convention on Human Rights in respect to freedom from torture, inhumane treatment and right to privacy in course of unlawful detention of aforementioned petitioners in secret facilities (AKA black sites) established in Poland by the CIA with knowledge and cooperation from the Polish government.

The ruling was first pronounced on July the 24th and the following interview with Józef Pinior, a key witness in this case, ex-MEP (European Socialists) and Polish Senate member, is a slightly edited and reviewed transcript of a conversation from that day.


Jakub Dymek: The European Court of Human Rights has decreed that Poland had broken the Convention on Human Rights by not providing the prisoners kept illegally on the territory of Poland a fair trial, freedom from being expelled to the country where they are facing death penalty and, above all, violating the prohibition against torture. “We are dealing with a deeply immoral decision that gives a higher status to the Islamic murderers than to the victims of these murderers,” said Leszek Miller then, which reflects not only the forever unchangeable views of the head of Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), but also the maturity of the debate on the issues associated with national security and the alliance with the US.

[mark]Józef Pinior[/mark]: In Poland this debate should be opened with a reminder: the European Court of Human Rights is not a kind of exotic court, whose opinions matter only to the lawyers. Practically speaking, the Court is within the Polish law one of the highest, along with the Supreme Court, Supreme Administrative Court and the Constitutional Court. What can I say in response to Leszek Miller’s words? “Sorry, that’s how our system works.” The fact that the head of SLD calls for ignoring the compensation order imposed by the European Court is, to be honest, pathetic. And it is even more strinking, as Miller is the head of a socialdemocratic party.

I am really sorry to hear that, because my opinion on Leszek Miller is rather positive. I know it may sound surprising, but I think he is an interesting politician who participated in the process of Poland’s accession to the EU and played a role in building the whole democratic system here. And I say that I am sorry to hear that, because as a man of the left, I stil hope for its rebirth. It will not happen with SLD and Leszek Miller who represents the most reactionary mainstream in politics.

Copying the language of the American neoconservatives?

Worse! The Amercian neocons used to be an original intellecual group. They were not xenophobic, they were not racist, they were not clichéd. And for that reason, even though these days neoconservatism is deeply divided, it had such a considerable impact on political sphere in the US. Today most of them may be flirting with Hillary Clinton, trying to get closer to the centre of power and future presidency, some prefer an ally closer to the Tea Party, but none of these versions can be ignored. What is said in Poland as far as the prisons thing is concerned should be considered as blunt xenophobia of the worst type, reactionism and hatred towards Muslims adjusted to the expectations of the electorate that demands such attitudes.

But the Polish political and media coalition against so called ”war on terror” with its broad agreement to invade Iraq and Afghanistan was a coalition of national unity, beginning with Polish liberalism and its paladins, like Tomasz Lis, through post-Solidarity radical right, up to parliamentary left in the person of the then-ruling Leszek Miller. Is there hope that anything has changed?

What has changed?

There is no left in Poland – neither intelectual nor parliamentary nor electoral one. Leftist organizations do not have much impact on schools, universities, public institutions, mainstream media or functioning of the nation state.

There is no left in Poland – neither intelectual nor parliamentary nor electoral one. Leftist organizations do not have much impact on schools, universities, public institutions, mainstream media or functioning of the nation state.

Palikot’s case is illustrative here – he brought up the issue of the CIA prisons in Poland and it may have inspired hope, but it soon turned out that it was all about sensation and that he would not be able to transform this sensation-focused attitude into politics. Or, in other words, to take this issue seriously and make it appear at least in the European Parliament electoral campaign. It will be difficult to raise in the local government campaign, won’t it? Yet there were many opportunities to ask: what about antiterrorist operations in Poland, how should the authorities work, what is the democratic control over them in times of war on terrorism? And if the left did not disappear on the way, it would be the one to ask these questions. But there is no left, and these issues remain unaddressed.

In the US there is also no left in that sense, but the acts of breaking the law by intelligence agencies became subject to the Senate Committee investigation. Yet some other official independent sources, with Barack Obama among them, confirmed that there were secret prisons in Poland. And we keep arguing if they have ever existed, even after the sentence punishing Poland for their existence. It’s absurd.

We are facing a paradox – the US, despite the controversial attitudes towards its politics, remains the state under the rule of law. Another big difference is the existence of powerful civil society in the US and the fact that state institutions are monitored by the institutions of democracy and society. Though we are obviously facing the crisis of democracy in the US and the rise of awareness of the fact that something is wrong with the whole political system in America. I’ve mentioned multiple times in interviews for “Dziennik Opinii” the diagnosis made in the essay Anatomy of the Deep State by Mike Lofgren, a longtime employee and specialist in the mechanics of the American Congress. It’s a great analysis. Lofgren refers to the process of taking the power over by the deep – (the word understood not in terms of underground plots, but in terms of being rooted and remaining out of control of democratic institutions such as government or parliament) system of authorities, army, business and influential people (something that in more traditional and overt take was called also a military-industrial complex), that disposes of the greatest power and the cutting-edge technologies. State institutions are weakened and pushed out by this powerful deep state. Lofgren describes it in the American context, but to some extent we watch the seizure of power by the deep state everywhere, also in Poland.

If so, we should analyse this in the context of the weak and periheral position of Poland on the international scene instead of repeating the deep state diagnosis.

Sure, because in Poland there is the additional problem of the weakness of democracy, or maybe, as opposed to the US, the lack of time for its formation. If we count the time between the March Constitution of Poland and the Pilsudski’s coup, our democratic experience is not much longer than 10 years. That is the difference between the Polish democracy and the democracy of the legit state structures and powerful institutions – the ones that know that if in the Constitution there is torture prohibition, then there’s simply no place for torture! This is the fundamental difference between the central and the peripheral countries.

What is more, we have no self-aware bourgeoisie that would care to prevent deep state from taking the power over. Even Lofgren is attached to the conservatives and belongs to the upper middle class, yet he knows that regardless of the attitude towards the war and national security implicit actions and decisions cannot rule a modern, democratic state. There is nothing like this here: instead of strong middle class we have a few oligarchs who take advantage of the weakness of the state, peripheral capitalism, economic dependency. Where can we see it? It is reflected, among others, by the fact that it is still the West that provides us with a model of the institutions and the rule of law – it’s not the European Tribunal that should deal with the issue of secret prisons, it’s the Polish judiciary that should.

Let’s focus on democracy for a while. What do we call the country that does not obey its own constitution?

Banana republic. It is a classic definiton: a facade democracy where the constitution exists, but when the CIA come and say what to do, the constitution is no longer valid. This mechanism has already been described so accurately that even the latest issue of “Foreign Affairs” recaps in detail the upturn arranged by the CIA in 1953 in Iran that resulted in the installation of shah.

So why does it happen that when the constitution in Russia or Egypt is violated, the world immediately knows how to react – “Scandal! Regime! Dictatorship!”- yet when American official documents that are available for readers online codify the types of “permissible” tortures and list as ones waterboarding, choking and closing people in narrow boxes resembling coffins with worms or insects inside, there are not many people likely to find the dehumanizing dimension of these actions contradictory to the existence of democracy?

The CIA case reveals two levels of the problem: the first is the Polish, local one, associated with thoughtless fascination with America. The latter is global. It is about destroying democracy: democratic institutions lose control over the system.

What do we call the country that does not obey its own constitution? Banana republic. It is a classic definiton: a facade democracy where the constitution exists, but when the CIA come and say what to do, the constitution is no longer valid.

It is not only a matter of CIA torture instructions that you mentioned, but also of the scale of wiretap and surveillance revaled by Edward Snowden and conducted by the best-equipped and technologically advanced agencies in the world. And also the FBI that was considered the most responsible and professional among American authorities practised provocations among Muslim teenagers, especially the intellectually disabled ones, to “make” them terrorists. Sharing the view on the professionalism of the FBI, until not so long ago I didn’t believe this, what is more, the Congress and Senate Committees didn’t believe this, as they made the FBI take over some of the investigations concerning national security affairs, because it seems to be more trustworthy. Yet it turned out that one third of the sentences in those cases was passed as a consequence of provocation. That’s how losing control looks like – the impact of the institutions set up in elections on politics is limited.

You often refer to the situation in Poland and other peripheries of the West as “inertia” and this term seems adequate. I am also wondering about another mechanism that does not result from inertia, but is deliberate and consequently conducted by the biggest democratic Western countries – namely, undermining constitutional order by very detailed, arcane legislation. In effect, although the Constitution prohibits something, the new laws permit it. That is the case of wiretapping and new powers to the authorities in Canada, Great Britain and the US.

“State” means nothing today. State is a moloch with various institutions inside. Today we are watching the components of a modern state detach – the army, the intelligence, all kinds of authorities – form its corpus, we see them evade democratic control.

And it’s nothing new. Already Eisenhower warned that the US is ruled by two corporations: army and industry. Charles Wright Mills in his now forgotten book The Power Elite published in 1956 brilliantly analyses this mechanism. It’s about capitalism and about democracy within it.

This question came back to us in Bush’s era and at the time of the neocons’ tryumph in the 2000s: Bush and his administration ruled practically beyond the state or at least not through its instruments! Public institutions were then partly replaced by private ones – or, to be precise, it was a kind of fusion of public institutions and private companies – with regard to almost everything, but especially to national security, military and advanced technology affairs. State’s leftovers have been subordinated to business.

That’s how the neocons managed to lead the world out of the 20th century.

What made the 20th century different from the current situation was the existence of independent, anti-systemic left threatening the stability of the excessively aggressive and overwhelming capitalism. There’ s no revolutionary left, such as for instance Zimmerwald left which was created at the times of World War I to oppose the parliamentary democracies and social democratic parties among voting for war credits. Why are we then surprised that democratic politics today means mostly managing the public debt? That’s all we do. We manage the debt in the EU, we manage it in the peripheral countries, we manage it in the US.

Obama, whom I consider an outstanding leader, at the beginning of his tenure made a certain calulation (similar to the one made by the socialists in Europe a hundred years ago) and concluded that by fighting on each of the fronts – with the authorities, business and Republican’s resistance – he will achieve nothing. Then he decided to focus on one matter, most important for him as a senator from Chicago, Illnois, namely – opening healthcare to all Americans. He succeeded, he can now say “that’s my legacy.” Yet if he had started an open war with this whole aparatus and the deep state, he would have never succeeded in introducing the reform and his presidency would have been threatened.

And maybe the diagnosis about the destabilizing influence of America ruled this way on the world is proving right? Its version has been recently raised by Oleksij Radynski, according to whom if there had been no invasion on Iraq and Afghanistan there would have been no invasion on Crimea and Donbass, because that’s how the mechanism of a bipolar world with two empires extending the areas of their sovereignty works.


After 1989 we failed to build an international system stabilizing peace and democracy. It led to the consensus that America can act on its own. Iraq was an illustration of that.

The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was taken without the UN’s participation, without mediation of an international system created, among others, to prevent such situations as unilateral declaration of war. We didn’t set boundaries for the superpowers’ actions and the results are what they are: Putin’s overly aggressive reactions result in starting new wars in Europe.

The US – the whole intelligence-military complex that we disscused before – is, in a way, thrilled by this type of war. It was anticipated by Evgeny Messner, an officer in Kornilov’s army who fled Russia when the civil war was won by the Bolsheviks. When speculating, during his lectures, in the 40s and 50s what war will be like in the future, he actually presented Putin’s tactics. This new type of war is based on the existing differences – language and cultural ones, for instance – among local people, that are subsequently fought;it simultaneously goes on in the internet and in the real world through individual attacks performed by special units without opening a conventional front, but using new technologies as well as mercenaries, and it destabilizes the situation to knock out the enemy in the conflict that becomes permanent.

Then maybe there is something symbolic about the fact that this year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the World War I before which the world was going through its belle epoque, the end of the history, the time of unshaken faith in progress and modernity?

You’re highlighting something really striking – the incredible similarity of the times separated by a hundred years. At the beginning of the 20th century, British press was wondering how people would live in the next century without wars. It was written that the war in Europe was impossible. Now parliaments are comparably self-satisfied and the electorates are comparably full of disdain towards parliamentary politics.

That’s why I feel that today we live, especially in Poland, in a sort of limbo of thoughtlessness. The media are fed by the drip of anti-Russia hysteria. The cliché image of scary Russia is being reproduced again and again, but nobody is willing to understand that the bad things happening in the Eastern Europe are closely related to the events taking place in Syria, in the Middle East and in the whole world. Nobody is trying to add the facts together, like the fact that the Egyptian dictatorship of General Sisi, who managed to destroy the achievements of a mostly pluralistic system that used to apply in Egypt, and the fact that it reflects the model of dictatorship implemented by Putin in Russia.

Then we feel most comfortable imagining the US as a country where there’s no winter and beauty and happiness prevail.

We should finally open our eyes and realize that now is the moment when we have to take the decisions with essential meaning for Poland – for instance: in what relation to the core of the EU do we want to be?

Do we really want to belong to it and are we going to introduce euro? If not, then let’s be honest: we’ll be one of the US’ client states in Europe, under its umbrella, and we’ll be able to establish alliances within Eastern Europe at most. Today it sounds like a fantasy, yet we’ll soon realize that we are already on the way leading to further marginalization of Poland in the European Union. Sooner or later, it will happen. We’ll go hand in hand with Ukraine, deprived of Crimea, if some relevant changes don’t take place.

Yet this EU’s core that you mentioned is getting rotten – shall we then stick to the anti-community and deeply anti-European decisions taken by governments like Cameron’s cabinet or Sarkozy’s France?

You’re right, because you’re pointing at the European inertia. We’ve lost European Constitution and in effect the politics has been renationalized. Obviously, I do not refer only to the nationalism of nationalist parties, but the shift of decision-making back to the capital cities. Thankfully, it didn’t exhaust the possibilities of action of this system, as we still have such court as the European Court of Human Rights that we discussed at the beginning of this interview. The core of the EU is deeply aware of the crisis, which results in the solutions that won’t do the peripheries any good – for instance, the debate on constituting a parliament for the eurozone. It’s the actual politics in France and Germany. I suppose that such an organ within the EU – consisting of the delegates of the eurozone countries’ parliaments – may be created in the next 5-7 years.

Where is then the European politics?

It’s somewhere else, to some extent outside the European Parliament. Let me remind the manifesto of the European intellectuals initiated by Thomas Piketty which was published in “Dziennik Opinii” – it’s a move towards the real politics, finally! Someone suggests what and how to do, how to win over the current inertia of the parliamentary democracy. But this knowledge comes from beyond the political system, the solutions are also from beyond it. And these solutions are badly needed today, as we have two options: we, the Union either become a Switzerland on the peripheries of Asia, or we dare to have a new French Revolution here. There’s no other way.

Józef Pinior

is a Polish politician and a current member of the Senate. He was a member of the European Parliament, Party of European Socialists and the LIBE Committee. He became famous for saving treat union’s 80 millions złotys from confiscation by the Security Service a few days before the imposing of the Martial Law in Poland. Wanted after 13 December 1981, he lived in hiding. Many times arrested detained and imprisoned for his activity in the independent trade union in the years 1983-1988. He was called a prisoner of conscience by the Amnesty International between 29 May 1984 and 21 August 1984. MORE

Translated by Dominika Dyminska.

Featured photo: www.jozefpinior.pl

The interview was published previously on Dziennik Opinii.



Jakub Dymek
Journalist, editor and translator.

1 Comment

  1. I would certainly enjoy to hear the interpretation out of their mouths
    and yet all the developed is the USSR and Germany.