Interview and translation by Jarosław Ostrogniew; French translation here
Tomasz Szczepański (Barnim Regalica) was born in 1964 in Szczecin (Poland). He is a historian (Ph.D. in humanities), writer, essayist, and activist, and an advocate of Zadruga (Polish pagan nationalism) and indigenous Slavic faith.
He was an anti-communist activist beginning in 1984, a member of the illegal Polish Socialist Party, and a member of the Confederation of Independent Poland since 1987. From 1987 to 1989 he edited the underground bulletin Intermarium.
After the collapse of communism he became an opponent of the democratic-liberal establishment. He was an organizer and participant in numerous anti-communist and anti-establishment patriotic and nationalist demonstrations. He taught history for 11 years and is currently an employee of the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw.
Tomasz Szczepański has advocated the idea of Intermarium and worked for its realization since the 1980s. He is the founder and leader of the Association for Tradition and Culture “Niklot” (active since 1998) and the metapolitical quarterly Trygław.
What are the theoretical foundations and origins of the Intermarium project?
The foundation of the Intermarium project is the aim of creating in Eastern Europe (or East-Central Europe), understood as the area between Russia and Germany, a pole of power able to counterbalance the power of either of these two neighbors. The aim of creating such a pole is to secure the area from imperial attempts by Russia and Germany and to create conditions for unconstrained development of the nations of the region.
The countries of the area are often divided into two sub-regions, the Carpathian Mountains being the borderline: the proper Baltic-Black Seas Intermarium (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine) and the Danube-Balkan segment. Both sub-regions are collectively called the ABC area after the Adriatic, Baltic, and Black (Czarne in Slavic languages) Seas.
In addition to geographical, economic, and cultural factors, the basic element creating unity in the area is the fact that it has been and still is an object of constant expansion by Russia and Germany, and historically also of Sweden and Turkey. And the political elites – and probably large parts, or even the vast majority, of the Russian and German nations – treat expansion into this area as legitimate, the evidence of which are their geopolitical doctrines: “Mitteleuropa,” “Lebensraum,” “the Brezhnev doctrine,” and the “near abroad.”
Attempts to realize the Intermarium project after 1918 were connected with two waves of democratization in Middle Europe (1918-1921 and 1989-1991), hence the common association of this concept with the idea of exporting the democratic state model to the East. This is not precise. It used to be this way, but it does not need to be this way, as the aim of the Intermarium project is independence, and democracy is a secondary issue. We can imagine that, for instance, a democratic counter-candidate of Aleksandr Lukashenko in Belarus could be simultaneously a pro-Moscow agent, thus in this case the advocates of Intermarium would support Lukashenko as the candidate securing – in his own interest – the separation of Belarus from Russia.
Intermarium should be also considered as a political expression of cultural distinctiveness of Central (Eastern) Europe from both its neighbors. Although politically it is a project countering primarily Russian imperialism, culturally it is rather an anti-occidentalist project.
I do not agree with the thesis that this area is a transition between the East (Eurasia) and the West, as this perspective considers the main feature of the region as simply the “attenuation” of occidental traits. Thus the uniqueness of the Intermarium is constituted only by the lack of its own features. Let us focus on what is culturally unique in this area. First, there is a powerful agrarian element in the national cultures of the area. Almost all of the nations have reconstructed their elites after a long period of time on the basis of the peasantry, or in the case of the Poles and Hungarians, and partly the Romanians, their elites consist of a nobility connected with the rural culture. However, in all of these nations the local bourgeoisie was weak, consisting mostly of ethnically alien elements. Thus, except for the Czechs, bourgeois cultural traits are very weak in the nations of this region.
Second, this is Slavic Europe. The examples of the Baltic countries, Hungary, and Romania only apparently deny this fact. Their strong connection with Slavic cultures, as well as the absorption of Slavic elements by the Hungarian and Romanian ethnos in the process of their development, is well-known.
Third, in the 20th century all countries of the region were subject to communism – the most destructive social experiment known in human history – and this has unified the social experience of these nations, enabling common understanding among them.
And finally, the concept of the nation understood in ethnic (anthropological) categories dominates in the whole region, contrary to Western Europe, where mere civic nationalism is more common. A member of a nation is a person who is connected with the nation by origin, language, and common culture (often also by religion); citizenship plays a much more minor role.
How was the idea of Intermarium developed in Poland and in Europe?
Although there were historical precedents, the Intermarium project was first introduced as a part of ideology of the Polish state by the Chief of State Józef Piłsudski in 1918-1922.
It is commonly identified with Polish federalism, which is not completely true. Polish federalism aimed at creating a common federal state from all the countries of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the idea of Intermarium aims to create an alliance of independent states.
The Peace Treaty of Riga between Second Polish Republic and the USSR in 1921 meant the resignation to the political impossibility of this concept – not a complete resignation, as it remained both in the political thought and in the semi-unofficial practices of certain institutions of Second Polish Republic. The Polish army, during preparations for a war with the USSR, created the so-called “contract officers”: these were military-men from the nations conquered by the USSR, who were not Polish citizens, but who served on the terms of a contract. It was anticipated that in the case of a war with the USSR, soldiers of the Red Army who were willing to fight against Bolshevism would contact Polish Army units. The leadership of army units consisting of such soldiers (which could form the nucleus of future allied armies) would be entrusted to these contract officers. Due to their nationality and lack of Polish citizenship they would be considered more credible. Also émigré periodicals fom the USSR were supported, not only in the case of Intermarium nations, but also peoples of the Caucasus, Urals, and even the Kalmyks. Of course, Polish intelligence services cooperated with pro-independence organizations among these nations.
The concept of Intermarium was taken up by the young generation of Polish conservatives during the Interwar period. We often associate the idea of Intermarium with the Piłsudski’s political camp, and although this association is true, it is noteworthy that the Polish nationalist political camp has also embraced this concept, with one of the versions elaborated by Adam Doboszyński.
Nevertheless, it must be emphasized that up to 1939, Intermarium was on the margins of the Polish political mainstream, which rather aimed at defending the Versailles status quo. After the beginning of the Second World War, however, various concepts of a Central European federation had many influential proponents among Polish emigres.
The project has been revivified in political thought in Poland with the foundation of Confederation of Independent Poland (Konfederacja Polski Niepodległej – KPN, the first oppositional political party since the incapacitation of the Polish People’s Party in 1947 by the Communists). The KPN harkened back to the Piłsudski’s pro-independence movement, so it could not remain indifferent to its geopolitical thought. After 1980, when the collapse of the USSR and of the broader “socialist camp” seemed more and more inevitable, some of the other oppositional circles began to more or less openly refer to the Intermarium project. It must nevertheless be emphasized that this agenda was embraced by only a minority of the opposition.
In July of 1994 a League of Parties of Intermarium Countries was proclaimed in Kiev. The League consisted of pro-independence parties from six countries (Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Ukraine). The Confederation of Independent Poland, the Third Republic Movement, and the marginal Polish Republican Party–Third Power represented Poland in the League. Congresses of the League took place in 1995 (Jarosław nad Sanem, Poland), 1996 (Minsk, Belarus) and 1997 (Kiev, Ukraine). There was also an attempt to create a common bulletin, two issues of which were published. This initiative died out at the end of 1990s as a result of political changes in the countries involved – including the marginalization of the main advocates of the project.
It is noteworthy that some non-political social initiatives, undertaking the questions of Central Europe, have referred to this idea. These initiatives usually died out after a few years, due to the lack of state support and the inability to find other sponsors.
Although the Intermarium idea has been promoted by circles which have never exercised real state power, it must nevertheless be emphasized that some of the official policies of the Third Polish Republic (in 1989-2004) can be considered as more or less direct references to this idea. I consider the Central European Initiative (Hexagonale) and Central European Free Trade Agreement to be examples of this. The Visegrad Group is also an example to a lesser extent – mainly due to its limited potential and the declared aim of the group, which is the support of the countries of the group on the path to European Union membership, thus de facto cooperation in liquidating the sovereignty of the region. However, Polish policy after the collapse of communism was essentially aimed at entering the main structures of the Western world, that is NATO and the European Union. All alternatives to this aim – and Intermarium is such an alternative, especially in regard to the EU – were fundamentally rejected by the establishment. If certain elements of the project were used, it was rather as a medium of realizing the idea of the occidentalizaton of Central-Eastern Europe. After the Third Polish Republic entered the European Union, elements of the Intermarium agenda were visible in the policy of President Lech Kaczyński.
Nevertheless, the realization of the Intermarium project still seems to be the most effective way of securing the independence of Poland.
What possibilites for and obstacles to the realization of the Intermarium project do you see?
The entrance of most of the countries of the area into the EU has basically undone the possibility of realizing this project in the conceivable future. Although we must remember that it does not rule out creation of a regional bloc inside the Union; there are still institutional frameworks enabling cooperation in the spirit of Intermarium, created before entrance into the EU, such as the Visegrad Group, which can be filled with a new content in a new political configuration.
Discussion of the Intermarium idea makes sense, especially if we assume the collapse of the European superstate project.
The main opponents of the realization of the Intermarium project are Russian and German imperialists as well as advocates of the European superstate.
Why the Russian imperialists? This is obvious and does not need a detailed elaboration. However, we must notice that despite the evident successes of Vladimir Putin in overcoming domestic troubles and in international relations, the systematic demographic tendency toward a decreasing Russian population has not changed. Taking into consideration neighboring China and the already existing presence of not only Chinese capital, but also of a few million Chinese in Siberia (with a tendency to increase in number), the loss of a part of Siberia in favor of China, in one form or another, seems quite probable within a generation. Finally, the Russian economy, based mainly on natural resources, is dependent on the international prices of these raw materials.
Furthermore, after departing from communism, Russia has not found an alternative ideological foundation for the reconstruction of the empire. Despite official support, Orthodox Christianity has not come out of the post-communist crisis. Eurasianism could be such a foundation, but it would mean breaking with the hopes of parts of the Russian elite for the occidentalization of Russia.
That Intermarium is obsolete from the perspective of German policy is also a point that probably does not need much elaboration. Let us focus on the convergence of German and Russian interests, apart from certain economic complementarity (on the one hand a developed and energy-consuming economy, on the other a provider of almost inexhaustible energy resources). If we assume that the aim of German policy is the regaining of losses – including immaterial ones, such as international position – which the country suffered after the defeat in the Second World War, it is difficult to conceive Germany regaining territory in Central Europe if the region creates a strong political structure. And such a structure would also not be in favor of Russia, thus the German-Russian cooperation against the countries of Intermarium (especially against Poland as a potential leader of the region) is completely natural.
Thus we arrive at the last group of opponents of the Intermarium project: the advocates of the EU as a superstate. Contrary to the previous ones, they do not represent interests of a certain state or nation, but a certain ideological project, for the EU is also an ideological project. It is a democratic-liberal scheme, aimed against all strong national and religious identities, striving to create a “European” identity by uprooting national identities. The Intermarium project must provoke dislike in these circles for at least two reasons.
First, are “cultural” reasons: nations inhabiting the region, due to the common experience of communism, are more attached to their identities which have so often been threatened. Thus, they are unwilling to renounce these identities for the sake of a European mirage, especially when they see that it is often a tool hiding national interests of the old members of the EU. Second, the Intermarium nations have also the experience of Russian hegemony. It induces them to cooperate with the United States, which – even if the US provokes some objections – is nevertheless appreciated as an ally possessing not only real strength but also the will to use it. And the EU as a geopolitical project aims at pushing the Americans out of Europe.
What possibilities do you see of persuading the closest neighbors of Poland to become involved in realization of the Intermarium Project?
The alliance of two of the strongest countries of the region, Poland and Ukraine, is the spine of the geopolitical concept of Intermarium. One needs only to take a look at any map and calculate the potentials to know the reasons.
Ukraine — or rather a large part of the Ukrainian elite arising from the anti-communist tradition — never had to be strongly persuaded to get involved in this project. The prejudice against Poles is very weak, as Ukraine is simply a large country and will remain such, even without Crimea. And a new generation has already grown up for whom an independent Ukrainian state is something obvious. Furthermore, the war in Donbass has strengthened Ukrainian distinctiveness (including the Russian-speaking Ukraine). Simply put: war favors clear self-definitions.
Belarus – here, when it comes to anti-communist elites, the situation is similar, despite greater fears of Polish revisionism. The problem however is that these elites are sparse, which is connected with the weakness of Belorussian state traditions. Furthermore, the “pro-Western” elites supported by the grant system have a tendency to support the cultural postulates of the sponsors, which will not bring success in the Belorussian society. (There is some analogy to the supposedly anti-Putinist actions of Femen, which have done far more to help than harm Putin.) It seems that some hope may be pinned on the evolution of the “Lukashenkian” elites, which are rather willing to rule their own state, not to be functionaries of the Muscovite empire. This of course applies also to Lukashenko himself.
Lithuania is the most difficult element of the puzzle, because the Lithuanian elites have defined Poland and Poles as the worst threat, and the Lithuanization of Poles in the Vilnius Region is a demand of the Lithuanian raison d’état. We cannot consent to this, and this has nothing to do with Polish revisionism. Besides, participation in the EU and NATO gives them a sense of security, which makes it easier to quarrel with Poland.
We surely share a fear of German revisionism with the Czechs. The question is: how much have the Czech elites made their peace with German domination? If they go much further, it would almost constitute consent to becoming some kind of a new Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia – with a similar territory. Acceding to the demands of Sudetenland Landmaschafts can lead to this. I cannot answer this question. But the reaction of our elites on the issue of German demands toward the Czech Republic was surely petty-minded, if not even cowardly. After all, in this issue we are in the same boat.
The question is whether Polish policy can influence and moderate the relationship of Hungary with her neighbors, which is a key issue for the peace in the region. Hungarians have the right to defend their minorities in other countries, but it must be clearly stated that one glance at the ethnic map proves that Transylvania just cannot be regained by Hungary. Anyway, Poland should act in an mitigating way as much as we can, as the quarrels in our region will be used by external factors.
It is even possible to establish positive relations between the Intermarium and Russia – but with a Russia which is reconstructed mentally, not only politically and socially.
This would be (speaking in certain mental shortcuts) a Russia of Boris Savinkov or Alexiey Shiropayev. By the way, the latter should be promoted in Poland. It is noteworthy that nobody is doing it, perhaps because of Shiropayev’s opinion on the role of Jews in the history of Russia.
The problem with Russian imperialism is that it is not only a geopolitical concept, something serving the national interests and thus something which can be rejected if it does not serve them anymore. It is an effect of mentality shaped by Orthodoxy synthesized with the Mongol tradition and German bureaucracy: “the Knouto-Germanic Empire” as it was once brilliantly stated by Mikhail Bakunin. If Russia is the “Third Rome” (and this was the official doctrine of Muscovite Orthodoxy, to which Russia is now returning), then it even has an obligation to be an empire. Preventing this means the breaking of not only the physical (which is currently already taking place in Russia through its demographic crisis), but also the spiritual foundations of Russian imperialism.
And that is why with great fondness I welcome the current renaissance of Slavic religion, which does not have a “Weltmacht” aspect. Some hope lies in the rebirth of the tradition of Novgorod as an alternative model of Russian development to Moscow. But all those anti-imperial currents of Russian thought are marginal, at least at the moment.
However, all hopes that this problem can be dealt with through the officially proclaimed reconciliation of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland with the Moscow Patriarchy of the Orthodox Church, which is one of the pillars of imperialism, are in my opinion without sense.
Let us add that dealing with the Königsberg question must be a certain element of the normalization of Polish-Russian relations. This geopolitical absurdity threatens us by its mere existence, not only as a base for possible aggression. It also creates a field for Russian-German cooperation, which is always a lethal threat for Poland. Nobody can guarantee that Moscow would not be willing to give it back to Germany, for instance by simply selling it. Thus, we must search for such a solution for this Oblast, which will not be connected with its belonging either to Russia or to Germany.
What is your view of the possibility of realizing the Intermarium project in light of recent events: armed conflict in Ukraine, the immigration crisis in Europe, or the recent Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Poland?
Russian aggression in Ukraine has proved to all interested parties the durability of Russian imperialism, and it is far less significant whether the leaders in Moscow honestly wish to rebuild the empire or if it only uses imperialism as a tool of internal politics. For if it is only an example of the latter, it speaks a lot about Russian society itself. Without a doubt the ruling Law and Justice party and President Andrzej Duda are better prepared for this imperialist recidivism of Moscow, about which they have actually warned others before. From this point of view the last elections in Poland are a good change.
Regarding Ukraine, the war has strengthened Ukrainian identity; an enemy easily cements a community and defines the political horizon, which we already know from Carl Schmitt.
The war has also been an alarm bell for other states of the post-Soviet area, which is also useful.
It has also hampered the actions of the pro-Moscow lobby in Western countries, especially in Germany, Italy, and France, although I have no illusions regarding position of these countries; they want to do business with Russia, and they are ready to sell our independence for this business, just as Roosevelt and Churchill sold us out in Teheran and Yalta. Regardless of that, they had to do something; hence the sanctions.
The immigration crisis weakens Europe, but from our perspective this is good, as the contingent pressure which can be put on us – especially by Germany – will be weaker. Please remember that Intermarium is supposed to secure us not only from Russia but also from Germany, and the German constitution still states that the legal borders of Germany are those from 1937. From our perspective it is good that our historical enemies have internal problems.
The annexation of Crimea had a side-effect: it has complicated relations of Russia with the Muslim world (the issue of Crimean Tatars), and the Russian involvement in Syria has complicated them even more.
In Russia: Russian opposition against imperialism has emerged, this time of a nationalist, not democratic-liberal character (for instance: Russians from the Russian Federation, who are volunteers fighting on the Ukrainian side, and I am not speaking about mercenaries). Although the information about this is, due to various reasons, unclear in regard to the number and extent, it is still an interesting phenomenon.
I don’t want to play the prophet here, but the initial successes of Moscow in the Crimea and Donbass (although the latter is quite limited) might be the beginning of very serious problems.
While working on this interview we have used the following articles:
Szczepański, Międzymorze – zapomniana idea niezależności narodowej i stabilizacji regionalnej,„Obywatel” nr 3 (29) 2006, on-line: http://wolnemedia.net/polityka/miedzymorze-%E2%80%93-zapomniana-idea-niezaleznosci-narodowej-i-stabilizacji-regionalnej/
Idea Międzymorza ma nadal sens z Tomaszem Szczepańskim rozmawia Jakub Siemiątkowski, „Polityka Narodowa” 11, on-line: https://narodowcy.net/polityka-narodowa/idea-miedzymorza-ma-nadal-sens
Personal website of Tomasz Szczepański: http://barnimregalica.pl/
Website of Niklot: http://www.niklot.org.pl/