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Polish revolutionary veteran counsels Egypt

Bogdan Borusewicz, speaker of the Upper House of Polish Parliament and a leader of Polish uprising against dictatorship, sees the Arab Spring as the third wave of world revolutions and counsels Egypt to reconcile with the past

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 14 Jul 2011
Bogdan Borusewicz
Bogdan Borusewicz
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Bogdan Borusewicz is a lifetime friend of Lech Walesa, the prominent name of the democratic revolution in the previously communist Poland.

A man who dedicated his life to organising labourers and politicians to topple a Soviet-imposed dictatorship in Poland, Borusewicz is today the speaker of the Upper House of Polish Parliament.

He was in Egypt for a three-day visit ending Thursday, during which he met with representatives of the January 25 Revolution who joined him from Tahrir Square where demonstrations are still ongoing. In the past days Borusewicz also met with government officials and religious figures Pope Shenouda and Grand Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb. His meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Yehia Al-Gamal on Tuesday was the last official meeting for Al-Gamal before his resignation.  

"Coming to Egypt and seeing all of these political developments made me feel 30 years younger; it reminded me of the days when we in Poland were still working and struggling for the end of dictatorship and the beginning of democracy," said Borusewicz.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Online on Thursday morning before he left back to Warsaw, Borusewicz spoke with admiration of the Egyptian revolution that he argued will not only change the face of political and social life in Egypt but also that of the region.

"Egyptians, like we Poles did before, have proven to all those who thought they were a people who would succumb to dictatorship to keep stability that they have an urge for democracy and that they could pursue this democracy," said Borusewicz.

This is one of what seem a scant few parallels that Borusewicz found between the democratic transformation of his country and that of Egypt. Another similarity, he suggested, is regional influence. "What happened in Poland in the late 1980s changed politics across Central and Eastern Europe and eventually led to the collapse of the USSR."

One prominent difference, Borusewicz said, was the role of the religious institutions and leadership. "When I spoke with both Pope Shenouda and Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb, I asked them both how they think things would work out in Egypt and they both gave the same answer and said they did not know," said Borusewicz.

"Those are the two men with the closest relationship to the almighty Lord. How come they don’t know?" Borusewicz said jokingly. He then added in a more serious tone that this situation highlights the distance between religious leaders and the masses.

"In the Polish experience of democratic transformation, the Catholic Church and especially Pope John Paul II played a crucial role in supporting the democratic transformation," Borusewicz said.

"When the political forces calling for democratization were negotiating with the government there was no faith on the side of the political forces that the government would deliver and at the time it was the Church leaders who oversaw the negotiations and acted as guarantors for the implementation of the deal," he recalled.

Another difference between the Polish and the Egyptian experiences, according to the speaker of the Polish Upper House, is the consensus that the political forces in Poland adhered to during the "years of struggle for freedom and democracy."

"We all stood together, millions of us stood together in one camp against the government and then when democracy came we then started to be divided into different political groups; this is a big difference because you need unity when you are standing in the face of the dictatorship," he said.

According to Borusewicz the revolutionary forces in Egypt need to show more pragmatism and reduce the volume of emotional reactions. "I am not here to tell Egyptians what to do, not at all, but I just happen to believe that more pragmatism and more consensus is useful for a better management of the transitional phase – at least that was our experience in Poland."

In Egypt, Borusewicz found that "it is almost only the Muslim Brotherhood who act with pragmatism and it is a good thing at times like these.”

Unlike Poland, however, Borusewicz noted that Egypt may have it easier in the sense that "You don’t have USSR next door with tanks on your territories and you have known the free market economy for many years, unlike us in Poland by the late 1980s, which meant that we had to go through very tough economic time of changing from the closed to the open system with our economy shrinking by 40 per cent."

Before becoming speaker of the Upper House of Polish Parliament, Borusewicz was a worker, a student of history and a political activist who was persecuted by the authorities – at times arrested, tried and jailed and at others managing to escape police capture. He witnessed what he calls "three waves of democratization: In Latin America in the mid-1970s, in Europe in the late 1980s and now in North Africa and the Arab world."

For Borusewicz this is the ultimate proof that the search for democracy is integral to the human nature. "We all want to live in freedom and with dignity," he said.

But for freedom, dignity and democracy to accompany stability, it is not enough, Borusewicz argued, for a nation to end a dictatorship. A nation, he insisted, has also to find reconciliation with all its forces – even those who belonged somehow to the old regime.

"Integration, not elimination is the way to move forward – It is what they call in South Africa ‘Truth and Reconciliation.’"

 

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