Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with

19 July 2023

Ambassador Brzezinski: […] of women’s empowerment, and gender equality, because I understand that’s one of the things that – inclusivity, Polish society, Polish professional life, diversity, equality – is one of your focus areas. And it is also one of the focus areas of the United States Embassy in Poland. I will say that one of my formulations that I said to the United States Senate when I was going through Senate confirmation to become Ambassador to Poland and when I was asked by Senators about equality in Poland is that I would make clear that America embraces equality. And so you’re now at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence, and one of the things that I’ve done, that I think is a first, is I have required our Embassy – and we have 600 plus staff at the U.S. Embassy – that when we do representational events here at the Residence, we do all we can to have 50-50 parity, men and women, in the crowd that we pull together. That is a real priority of ours, and I’ve asked guest lists to be changed to reflect that.

I also very much focused on specific industries and equality. So, I’ve recently held a women in energy event because women historically have not been part of the energy profession in Poland, and Poland is going through a tremendous change energy-wise; or women in tech. And I do this Anna, if you ask me why I do this, is because I really believe in the thesis of someone who was my mentor, Madeleine Albright, who was the founder of Vital Voices, that democracy is strengthened through inclusion. And that is a very important point in Poland because I’m often asked by Polish officials, ‘Mark, what can Washington do? What can America do to strength Poland?’ And I say: ‘Look within; empower your people; include your people. If you want to strengthen yourself, that is what you need to do.’

Anna Dryjanska, Yes, that’s true. But I would like to start from your father, if that’s not a problem. Is there anything that you’ve learned about Poland that your father never mentioned?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I’ve learned a lot about Poland that my father never mentioned, even though he was the one who first brought me to Poland, in 1990. I have learned about what an unbelievably diverse country this is in terms of views, in terms of outlook, in terms of life experience, and that is something that you only learn by seeing for yourself. And so I’ve gotten to the four corners of Poland on my own – to the four corners of Poland, whether Przemyśl or Szczecin or Białystok or Wrocław or Poznań, wherever. I have been around this country a lot. I’ve traveled this country a lot to meet its people and to bear witness to the diversity of perspective, that there was no way my father could share with me when he would talk to me and my brother and sister about Polish history, about the Polish experience during World War II, about the Soviet occupation of Poland, and that type of thing. But the diversity of the human personality can only be learned through witnesses.

[the Ambassador’s dog, Daisy, walks into the room]

Do you mind dogs?

Anna Dryjanska, I love them. I wanted to ask…

Ambassador Brzezinski: Do you want to have this one?

[gesturing toward Daisy]

She has a party favor — we’re going to give her Daisy. This is my mother’s…

Anna Dryjanska, Daisy from Instagram!

Ambassador Brzezinski: Exactly. And that’s something I want to highlight, actually: I have an Instagram following called Ambassadog Teddy.

Anna Dryjanska, Yes, I’ve seen that.

Ambassador Brzezinski: And so it’s something I’m very proud of. I try to ask everyone I meet with to put the put the size up because at Ambassadog Teddy I’m trying to get as many viewers – you know, followers – as possible. Daisy was actually my mother’s dog, not my dog. My mother died around this time last year, almost one year ago, and Daisy was her dog in Florida for years and years and years and years. Since coming to Poland, I think Daisy has actually gotten healthier, even though she’s gotten older; she’s like a 12-year-old dog. When I first brought her here, she couldn’t walk up the stairs; she was not in good physical health. And now she can walk up the stairs and get out and about very easily. So Poland has been good for Daisy,

Anna Dryjanska, I’m so glad to hear that, but, I need to strongly focus on my question…

Ambassador Brzezinski: Clearly! Because I think you will get through two of your…

Anna Dryjanska, So now something harder, because after your visit to Redzikowo there are some comments that as an ambassador, and [with the] U.S. Army as well, you are the campaign poster for the ruling party. How would you comment on that? They look good – the Prime Minister – they look good with you, with U.S. soldiers… and how would you comment on that?

Ambassador Brzezinski: It is the role of a U.S. ambassador, and for all my colleagues who are diplomats at the U.S. Embassy, to meet with all stakeholders across the political scene. And so I regularly meet with the opposition; I regularly meet with opinion makers across the political horizon. And of course, I regularly meet with the government. Whether it’s in Redzikowo – and the day before yesterday, I was on a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea with the chief of defense of Poland, General Rajmund Andrzejczak. What we are doing at this time of crisis is engaging with all people who are part of Poland’s democracy. And of course I have to engage with the government; of course, I have to engage with the opposition.

Going with the Prime Minister to the Aegis Ashore missile defense system that is based in Poland, that the role of which, the role of Aegis Ashore, is partly to defend America, and to bear witness to the system with the Prime Minister, given the number of Polish soldiers around the perimeter of that installation, makes perfect sense. We will participate in the diplomatic context of Poland fulsomely and completely, regardless of circumstance. This is a very important relationship for America. I realize elections are coming up, but we also have to continue to engage with all stakeholders about the military, the humanitarian, the business, the democracy and human rights, the people-to-people context. That cannot stop, and that we will continue. We will work always with whoever is in the governing authority positions to continue that engagement.

Anna Dryjanska, Right. So one question about military: Jarosław Kaczyński stated on October 15 last year in [inaudible] Poland needs nuclear weapons. Would you agree with this sentiment?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I really don’t want to comment about the nuclear posture of America. My role is to interpret for the U.S. government our engagement with Poland, and I don’t want to get into the nuclear piece. There are too many sensitive issues associated with that for me to kind of talk loosely about that.

Anna Dryjanska, Right, I get it. About the Presidential plane in Smolensk, in 2010: was it a disaster or an assassination? Because we have this huge division in Poland. Would you care to comment on that?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I remember actually going on television in America when the Smolensk disaster occurred, because as a Polish-American who had lived in Poland and understood a little bit about Poland, I could share with the American people what had happened and its impact. And what I shared with the American people is that Poland is crying today; that it has lost its leadership from this horrific tragedy.

We all understand what happened in terms of the cause of the tragedy – that’s been investigated fulsomely – and, I stick with my words from back in 2010: it’s a complete tragedy for the Polish people to lose its leadership like that. And the resilience of Poland’s democracy is seen by the fact that democratic governance continued without any interruption or halting, or anything else. I think that that’s an important thing to say as well: that Polish democracy is resilient; American democracy is resilient; and we are in the game to continue to advance those values in our special friendship.

Anna Dryjanska, It was a great tragedy, but disaster or an assassination? I am asking because prominent members of the ruling party — Macierewicz, Kaczyński — are saying it was an assassination, and they even point to Putin.

Ambassador Brzezinski: But there are some authoritative, conclusive determinations on what caused that, and I will stick with my words, which is what happened was just a terrible tragedy for the Polish people.

Anna Dryjanska, Okay, so let’s get back into present, the so-called Lex Tusk is just one example of the ways in which current government tries to influence the outcome of the upcoming elections. Are you worried, as an ambassador, but also as a Pole? Can I say as a Pole?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I think as a Polish-American.

Anna Dryjanska, As a Polish-American, are you worried about the fairness and legitimacy of the upcoming elections?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Look, every democracy including America – and President Biden made this clear when he was here in February – has to continue to nurture, strengthen, protect its democratic practices and principles. That goes with us in America, and that goes with Poland as well. I was very clear about Lex Tusk, and I will let my words and the words of the United States government speak for themselves and won’t say more about that. But I will say that, you know, democracy around the world is under threat. We, as citizens in a democracy, have a collective self-interest in looking for ways to defend the values and practices that we hold dear as citizens of a democracy. That is something that, as a friend of Poland, I have a regular conversation with the government and the opposition about.

Anna Dryjanska, Okay, so I’ve read your interview from Rzeczpospolita a couple of days ago, and you stated – I don’t know if these were the exact words because I translated it back from Polish to English – any relationship between two states consists of interests that bind them and divide them. So you talk a lot about things that bind us.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Right.

Anna Dryjanska, So what about things that divide us?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I mean, of course, every country’s relationship with another country is a combination of shared and differing interests. We have that in terms of our relationship with every country in the world. The shared interests that we have when it comes to the American-Polish relationship are pretty obvious: the military relationship and the military partnership is stronger now than ever before, more meshed together than ever before. And more, Anna, than just a photo opportunity when our soldiers come together. There really is a technological and professional meshing together of our soldiers. Same thing in terms of humanitarian relief and humanitarian response. The role of Poland is remarkable. Through different NGOs, we’re trying our best to support the incredible lift that the Polish people are doing to protect the Ukrainian refugees.

Of course, there are different interests, you know, each of us is a free market economy. Sometimes we’re aligned, and sometimes we’re competitive with each other in terms of what would be the ideal result of a business partnership. We will want the Poles to choose us, and they may choose someone else for a particular project, or the Poles may want the Americans to choose them for a particular business project, and we may choose someone else. So there are also competing interests, and that’s the nature of free market capitalism and competitive economies. And that’s what makes us stronger; our economies are designed that way because through that competitiveness, we produce the best products and the best results for our people. That’s the thesis, and I think it works.

Anna Dryjanska, I will also ask you about the Bidenomics, but first, maybe about elections still? Sorry for reading… What can we do together so that Putin troll farms don’t manipulate our elections, and I don’t mean only Polish or American but also in Western states, Western democracies. Do you have any information about things that we should be cautious about in the following months?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I think that, you know, the way people talk with each other and communicate with each other more than ever before is in the cyber sphere and on the internet. Making sure that we are meshed together in terms of cyber defense and cyber protections is one of the goals that we’ve been really advancing since before Russia’s attack on Ukraine. We have brought America’s top leaders and best experts on cyber defense and cybersecurity to Poland to engage with the government, to engage with industry so that people here are safe because all of our systems are somewhat fragile to cyber-attack. And we have a collective self-interest in not been manipulated that way. So working together in cyber protection, cyber defense is something that I’m very, very focused on and has been a real priority of my embassy.

Anna Dryjanska, And this leads us up to January 6, 2021 and Capitol riots. Did you have any inkling about what was going to happen or were you surprised?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I never thought I would see such a thing. I live just outside of Washington, D.C., and I was really shocked by the actions of some people. I think the follow-on administration of justice and prosecution speak to that.

Anna Dryjanska, I don’t…

Ambassador Brzezinski: You are talking about the January 6 attack on Congress, right?

Anna Dryjanska, Yes, yes. But, I… I’ve read the Michael Michael Fanone book…

Ambassador Brzezinski: Oh, yes. He’s the police officer. Yeah.

Anna Dryjanska, And he’s, like, very skeptical about the follow-up. Of course, people are thrown into jail for attacking the Congress, but…

Ambassador Brzezinski: Hundreds of people.

Anna Dryjanska, …but for example, Republican Party is like – sorry for being informal – like “nothing happened.”

Ambassador Brzezinski: No. It was a very serious constitutional crisis and attack on our system. The Department of Justice is still in the process of identifying who participated, what did they do, and should there be any administration of justice. So, I want to be careful in terms of what I talk about, but I think both the plea agreements and the trials that led to convictions speak volumes in terms of what happened. That is a very serious thing, obviously.

Anna Dryjanska, This is only my view: I’m worried that we will see similar scenes in Poland this fall or maybe next year. And are these your concerns?

Ambassador Brzezinski: It is very much a message from the U.S. that free and fair elections, a level playing field, and should there be any transition of power, a peaceful transition of power, is very much in our shared interest – in the Polish interest, in the American interest, and in the interest of the American-Polish special friendship.

Moderator: I think we have time for one more question.

Anna Dryjanska, One more question. Okay. So at the end, I’ll ask about women, because both Polish and American woman have had their reproductive rights further limited in recent years. Do you have anything to say to Polish women regarding this issue?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I have something to say broadly, about that issue and the issue more generally, about women’s rights in Poland. My partner Olga Leonowicz and I really, together, spearhead an effort from the Embassy to convey that women’s rights are human rights, they are a priority. We’re trying through both formal and informal dialogues to learn what are some of the things about Polish life that may not lend themselves to gender equality and women’s empowerment. And some of the things I’ve heard are concerning. I have had many young women complain to Olga Leonowicz and me that when they go through the university system, the professors share their network with male students but not with female students. And if there’s anything an American university instructor is told today, [it] is you are to engage your students on a very equal footing and share your networks, because what is more empowering than sharing with someone their network? A network is your road to the future because people get their first jobs through networks and through networking. And your first job is your most important job, as they say. So, if it’s true that university professors aren’t sharing their networks with female students, and they are with male students, that’s a humongous setback, and a real problem.

That’s the kind of practical thing I’m trying to figure out right now, and to see if there’s any messaging or any kind of engagements that we can do, to do something about it, because equality is important. Equality is a core cornerstone in our relationship, and we do not give a millimeter in terms of the practice of equality. So that’s the kind of thing that I want to really emphasize in terms of our gender outreach, in terms of our women’s empowerment, that there are things about Polish life that we’re still trying to figure out, but just like in America, there is room for improvement, in Poland, there is room for improvement as well, when it comes to gender equality.

Anna Dryjanska, Thank you, would you like to add something I haven’t asked you about that you want to incorporate.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Just that, for me, as a Polish-American, to be here, in Poland in 2023, is really the pinnacle of my life, and something I never dreamed of doing. I am also so hopeful and optimistic in terms of the historical direction of things. We’re now at a moment of crisis in the east; Russia has attacked Ukraine, and there’s a war right next door. But I believe profoundly,

Anna, that the sun will rise, metaphorically speaking, and there will be an opportunity for a transformational and rebuilding moment, not just focused on Ukraine, but all of Eurasia, that will bring in those states that were weaker and a little bit left behind, into the Western orientation of the global system. And that will be, for particularly the young generation that may be uncertain at this moment but are giving so much especially to Ukrainian refugees, a true moment of great opportunity. And I am sure they’re going to rise to the moment from what I see from their conduct today.

Anna Dryjanska, So you can say not only to Poland but to other countries as well: wasze państwo jest bezpieczne; wasze państwo jest zabezpieczone.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Zdecydowanie tak.