Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview at Open’er – Gdynia

1 July 2022

Radomir Wit, TVN: What about this meeting with President Biden? if I can start by this.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Thank you, Radek. First before I answer that question, let me just say I love Open’er. This is so cool! Oh my goodness.  I was at DakhaBrakha a little while ago and the energy. It reminded me of when I was with my late father, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in a Ukrainian Orthodox church, in Ivano-Frankivsk in the Carpathian Mountains. The soulful music, the chanting combined with the fight for Ukraine’s sovereignty. I love those guys. That was an awesome way to begin Open’er. But let me, Radek, answer your question. I’ve just come back from the United States. So I’m jet lagged and tired, but I have something special to share with Open’er. Last Friday, I had a one hour meeting in Washington DC, with the President of the United States, Joseph Biden, who asked me to come to the Oval Office to talk about something very special to him – something that really made his heart inspired – and that’s the reaction of the Polish people to the Ukrainian refugees, which he felt is so perfect; he felt is so amazing; and he felt he wants the world to hear about and see; and he asked me “why is this happening?” And I said “Mr. President, for the Poles, it’s 1939 again.” And I want to say the reason why I wanted to come to Open’er is because there’s so many young people here and this moment – this is you. That’s what President Biden wanted to talk about. The young people especially, in Poland, reacting to the Ukrainian crisis, getting up at 11 o’clock at night and driving to Medyka or Korczowa and getting a family to Bydgoszcz or Poznan or Krakow.  To the president: that is awesome. To the president: that is an inflection point, which means a changing point. And we Americans:  “Jestesmy z ciebie dumni”. We’re proud of you.

Radomir Wit, TVN: So this year, Mr. Ambassador because of your presence here we have some kind of connection with with President Biden.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Absolutely.  You know the President cares deeply about Poland. And quite frankly, the President also has spoken directly with the people of Poland that America will defend every square inch of NATO territory, including Poland. That is what he has conveyed. And I don’t know if you saw the announcement two days ago, but now US troops and a US military headquarters will be permanently stationed in Poznan.  And when I think of Americans who have fought for Poland, and Poles –  going back centuries, like Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Pulaski – who have fought for American freedom, that is what they were looking for: a permanent form of security so your children can be secure and their children can be secure in a permanent way. From the announcements at the NATO summit two days ago, that’s what we have.

Radomir Wit, TVN: And that’s very important for our national security and we will talk about our partnership, our relations between Poland and the United States. But for now, I would like to talk about inspirations, about challenges, and about your own history. I mean, we are looking for someone, some people who will inspire us, will tell us how to change the world around us. Do you have your role models?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I can think of one Polish person and one American person, for starters, as role models.  I’ll simply start by saying my late father Zbigniew Brzezinski said to me, my brother and sister, “do something bigger than yourself in your life.  Throw yourself at causes bigger than just your own personal gain.” And what I love about Iga Swiatek is after she won the French Open, she said she did this for the Ukrainians. I thought that was totally awesome for her to use her platform to give more awareness for the Ukrainian cause. One, Iga Swiatek and second, my personal hero in America is a guy who I joined as a young Polish American in 2006 for his presidential campaign, when even his name was more different than most Americans had ever really had acquaintance with. And there had never been an American president with a name similar to his.  And Barack Hussein Obama, when he first convened his campaign team, I really feel frankly, he was the only one in the room who truly knew he was going to be president. When I think of role models, I think of people who go for it and swing for the fences. I think of Barack Obama.

Radomir Wit, TVN: I’m pretty sure that we all admire Iga Swiatek, but I also would like to ask about …  maybe not differences, but I’m just wondering what is most important? If we can say that in that way, to collect some experience for example, in diplomacy, in politics, in administration? Or just to have some kind of feelings, some thoughts, some experience from people who inspired us? What is most important in your career, for example?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well in my career, I can tell you that the best advice that I ever received in my life, in my career, came after big disappointments, big setbacks, bad things had happened personally, professionally, and I was low, and I didn’t know what to do. And my late father, Zbigniew Brzezinski, sat me down, and he said “Mark, make this a disappointment. Not a defeat.”  A disappointment is a setback. It’s sad. It’s no question, not something that you love going through. But you learn from and you grow from, whereas a defeat is something that brings you down and keeps you down. My father had been a professor, a young Polish American professor at Harvard. He and my mom had gotten married. They expected to live in Boston for the rest of their lives, when my father suddenly was fired, fired from his job at Harvard, and had to start brand new in New York. And the first thing he and my mom did was they threw a big party to get inspired in Boston. And then the second thing he did was he went to New York, branched out and eventually moved on to Washington, set his sights on Washington. So he grew from the experience. And that to me has been a very important way of coping with something that will happen to everyone in this room, which is a disappointment. And you can’t let that disappointment bring you down and keep you down. You have to grow from it.

Radomir Wit, TVN: So I guess the most important is not to give up.   But you know, it’s easy to say not to give up, but how do find the strength inside?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Sure. By putting it in context. How do I find the strength inside? by putting it in context. And by understanding that every single person faces setbacks. You know, one thing that I love about American education and the American way of life is that every American young person fails. And when I was ambassador in Sweden, I really was trying to propagandize this American approach. And I think I would do the same thing in Poland and that is, we learned that it is okay to fail. It is okay to fail, actually two or three times. In fact, in America, it’s healthy to fail and that you’ve gone through failure shows that you tried and that you’re willing to try again. There are many people who run for public office who talk openly about three or four even bankruptcies. There are many people who have failed in other ways, and in America it’s a sign of resilience if you can stand back up.  To me, it is a fundamental feature of humanity to be able to overcome and cope with failure and to be better. That’s an important piece of how I have learned to cope with that.

Radomir Wit, TVN: Mr. Ambassador, I think that it is quite a good moment for some kind of advertisement or someone would say product placement but I would like to mention about an Instagram account and it is not mine, of course. Mine is definitely more boring than Ambassadog Teddy. Yes?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Yes, absolutely.

Radomir Wit, TVN: I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about it.

Ambassador Brzezinski: And this is when I turn to the audience and I humbly ask every one of you for your help. Why? Because my dog’s Instagram account, Ambassadog Teddy, has almost 10,000 followers and the US Embassy Warsaw Instagram has 13,000 followers. I need your help to beat the US Embassy Warsaw.  Help my dog beat the US Embassy Warsaw’s Instagram account. Let’s do that tonight. But quite frankly – and I do ask for your help actually @AmbassadogTeddy.  But I will say this: when I came to Poland in January I brought my German Shepherd, and my German Shepherd has been a way of communicating with people other than through politics and government and bureaucracy, connecting with people about myself, my personal story, a little bit about the dog, some of the things that we’re doing around here and ideas that I want to share from myself to you. And it’s been awesome. I have loved doing @AmbassadogTeddy’s Instagram account, but I need your help.

Radomir Wit, TVN: I’ve just already checked.  There is some gain but I think not enough. So you know what to do. Just …

Ambassador Brzezinski: Please everyone! Help! Go to @AmbassadogTeddy. It’s really worth to see it because it is a story about communication and how to explain the world, how to explain your activities as the ambassador to other people, how to talk about these things, how to find some language, common language and I think that’s important in your job. Absolutely. I mean, this is a time of connecting with people and especially the people of Poland, where we have to get from behind the embassy walls. We have to get away from the official statements and protocol and that kind of formality to work with the people of Poland because this is a difficult time and we are all in this together. So that’s why social media and coming to Open’er and getting around to Lodz where I went to a basketball game recently, which was totally awesome. Doing all these things that connect with the people of Poland, who we are proud to stand with is my goal. That’s why I do it.

Radomir Wit, TVN: And that is why we used social media to collect some opinions some questions from young people. Just let me read some of them.  For example, “Human rights, LGBT plus rights are often used in political discussion. These are not issues that should be used in a political struggle.”

Ambassador Brzezinski: One message I have been clear on in Poland since starting here five months ago as US ambassador: America embraces equality. We have been clear on that message and for the last couple of weeks, as we celebrated Pride Week, we have lit up the US Embassy in Warsaw with pride colors. We took part in the in the Warsa-Kyiv pride parade in the largest embassy numbers that anyone can remember. I have raised the rainbow flag over both the Chief of Mission Residence, the CMR, in Warsaw and the embassy because we are clear that America embraces equality.  But I have something to report to you: My predecessors, previous ambassadors also took steps on equality and they received very bad criticisms on social media. And what I have to tell you, what I have to tell this crowd is: as we visibly and openly embraced equality the last couple of weeks, we really have not received any negative social media criticism. There’s a change going on in Poland. We’re happy to participate in that.  We’re all participating in that, and it’s important for all of us to embrace equality.

Radomir Wit, TVN: So it means that things which are mentioned by politicians, it is not the same as people think?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I feel that Poland’s people embrace human rights, equality. It’s been part of Poland’s independence struggle. They know the difference between right and wrong. It’s one of the reasons why President Biden brought me to his office last Friday because he sees the love in Poland. He sees the humanity in Poland. He wants to celebrate that, and so do I, and so do the Polish people.

Radomir Wit, TVN: We are at the Music Festival, as you have already mentioned, because you have seen some places here around us. So I would like to ask about the impact and artists. I mean, their impact is quite huge. I mean, they can change the world. And very often they use the fact that they are pretty well known to talk about important things. Is it good in your opinion?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, one of the things I love about Open’er is that there’s such a diversity of artists on display here tonight, tomorrow night, and so forth. So that is actually what art is about. It’s a diversity of different approaches. But to me, all of those approaches are about challenging convention, challenging the status quo, and making us think, and you know why I think that? because my mother is an artist, and she was an artist in Washington, DC. And Washington is a government town. Washington is a political town. And so she kind of did her art all on her own, with the support of my dad who was so proud that she would make these big rubber molds of trees, and cast them into resin sculptures, and then ultimately moved to the wood medium, and carved these giant, giant sculptures that have a strong ecological message. And I I took from her the strength of personality that an artist must have to stand alone, to challenge convention, to do something that others may go: “Wow, that’s different. That’s even weird.” And it’s beautiful. My mom is, I think, so beautiful in her strength. And in our home, the Brzezinski home, in Virginia in America, it was true gender equality. My father may have been kind of a famous guy. But when the kids came home from school, and my mom was working with her chainsaw on a huge sculpture, we did not interrupt her until she finished her work. Because her work was just as important as my dad’s. And I so respect that now, as an adult. I respect that context. I respect his support of her willingness to challenge convention. To me, that was a beautiful equality. And it is something that informs me every single darn day here in Poland.

Radomir Wit, TVN: It is very important, Mr. Ambassador, because among these messages, these opinions and questions from the Instagram, there were also issues connected with gender equality. There is still a lot of work to do with this.

Ambassador Brzezinski: There’s a lot of work to be done on gender equality around the world. And I can tell you the Brzezinski house was filled with strong women.  My sister, Mika Brzezinski, has stood up to political intimidation in the United States and other things that just made me proud to know her, and to see the guts that she has.  You know, I served as US Ambassador to Sweden. And one of the things that I just loved about Sweden is that well over half of the ministers in the Swedish government were women when I was Ambassador there between 2011 and 2015. I suspect it’s close to that now, because gender equality is so unbelievably important in Sweden. And I remember when President Biden came to Poland in March, and we stood in front of the Presidential Palace, it was such a moment of pride for me to see my colleagues from the US government. I was standing next to Samantha Power, who is our (USAID Administrator), Amanda Sloat from the National Security Council, other women who I report to as US Ambassador. I seek their guidance; I seek their experience. And we’re all better off because of that. There’s a lot of work to be done on gender equality.  As the father of a 13 year old girl, that is incredibly important to me. And I fight that fight every single day.

Radomir Wit, TVN: Mr. Ambassador, you mentioned your sister, so I have to ask about this because she’s a great well known journalist. And is it helpful for you to have a sister who is a journalist?

Ambassador Brzezinski: it’s helpful for me to have a sister who’s super smart and super strong.

Radomir Wit, TVN: And she was here in Poland with you.

Ambassador Brzezinski: My sister helped me and my 13 year old daughter move into the embassy in January. And she broadcasts.  She’s the co-anchor of America’s most popular television morning political talk show: “Morning Joe.” And she did her broadcast from Poland. And more importantly, she helped me get situated and get a strong start. I couldn’t be more grateful to my little sister.  When I was a boy, I never would have imagined my sister Mika saving me from myself and helping me as much as she has. She has been a blessing. And yes, she was here in January,

Radomir Wit. TVN: Mr. Ambassador, we are talking about human rights, about the challenges, about the world which is changing around us, and the democracies also. How important – I have to ask this question as a journalist – how important are free and independent media? how important are they for democracies?

Ambassador Brzezinski: A free and independent media is critical to not just democracy, but effective government, because a free and independent media offers different ideas, and creates a platform for a competition of ideas. I think sometimes people look at the United States, look at our political season, and go: “Oh, my God, look at them argue.  Look how nasty it is.”  Well the American democratic system has as its base the competition of ideas. And yes, Americans do argue, sometimes loudly. And that’s how we get to the best result. And the way we do that, in a mass society is through a free and independent media. I love the competition of ideas between Polish media, among Polish media, I can tell you that I strive to support the practice of a free and independent media in Poland. And I have many friends as journalists, and it’s something that I’m very proud of. And I will add, it’s also key to a strong economy. I mean, look at the American firms operating in Poland, whether it’s Google or Uber or Hilton Hotels.  You learn through the media: “what works? what doesn’t work? what’s a better approach? what is a new innovation?” That is a absolutely essential basic component of a strong economy as well.

Radomir Wit, TVN: Mr. Ambassador, we still have some questions from Instagram connected with the topic which was mentioned at the beginning of our meeting. And for example, how has the US-Polish relationship changed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Ambassador Brzezinski: The American Polish relationship is stronger now than ever before. And what it’s important to report to you is that it is multi dimensional. It’s not just military-to-military. It’s also democracy-to-democracy, economy-to-economy, people-to-people. Of course, the military piece is important. It’s super important. We don’t know what crazy Putin will do next. We don’t know who he’s going to attack. But I can tell you, when I meet with the over 10,000 American soldiers in Poland, they say, “We are ready. We are ready for any contingency. We’re ready for any kind of attack”. And I think that’s an important thing to share with you as well. But I will also say that, just like President Biden said when he was here in Poland in March, it’s important for your democracy to be healthy and strong – rule of law and human rights. And President Biden was clear we have our own struggles in America. America has its own problems that we are working on. Look at the January 6 Committee hearings right now.  Tremendous challenges that we’re working on, on the economy. It is important. It is important for you and for America, for Poland’s economy to remain healthy, strong and grow, even though you are on the frontline of a crisis, on the frontline of war. And that’s something that we’re advocating and advancing and promoting, as well.

Radomir Wit, TVN: We also received question: “Why wasn’t Russia ever invited to join NATO?”

Ambassador Brzezinski: Russia was not invited to join NATO, because Russia wasn’t ready to join NATO. And it has acted in a way that threatens the transatlantic community, not advancing the transatlantic community.  If anything that we’ve learned from what Russia did is that we gave the Russian leaders way too much credit than we should have. Many Polish analysts were correct in their read of Russia, that Putin never walked away from his true KGB roots, that he always wanted to resurrect some kind of crazy approach to a former Soviet bloc, or even Czarist Russia and the West and the transatlantic community does not accept that. And we will stand firm in fighting against that.

Radomir Wit, TVN: That’s the great achievement of the free democratic world that we’re standing together in NATO, not only NATO, against the Russian invasion, I guess,

Ambassador Brzezinski: Absolutely. Never has the democratic world been more united against Russia in the modern era, as it is now. And we’re seeing Russia conduct itself in a way similar to some of the atrocities that occurred during World War Two. It is appalling that they are doing this. And yet we live in an age when forensically – meaning the ability to investigate -these crimes, war crimes, genocide, cannot be hidden easily.

Radomir Wit, TVN: Mr. Ambassador, and now let’s talk about our own communities. I mean, various question like this: “How can young people effectively influence the choices made in their communities?”

Ambassador Brzezinski: Through these things: hold up your cell phone?  Through these things. This is how young people organize today, through social media. Never before has the ability to organize been as easy then through these cell phones and through social media and other platforms. And you can change the world that way. And quite frankly, my generation has not followed through in terms of addressing the challenges of our time, whether war, or equality, or human rights, or the environment and sustainability. We didn’t do as well, as I think we should have. And it’s up to you. We look to you young Poles, young Americans, everyone in between and beyond. Help our world by organizing, connecting with people who you may never meet around a cause that can help this world that you will inherit and that your children will inherit.

Radomir Wit, TVN: Mr. Ambassador, I have to ask about the support. I mean, the US Embassy supports various types of artistic activities, projects of nongovernmental organizations, for example. So let’s say if someone has an idea how to change the world around, so what forms of help can he/she count on?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I would say two things. One, first, go to the US Embassy Warsaw website, because we have all kinds of programs, all kinds of fellowships, and scholarships that we can point you in the direction of to support your artistic work, your innovation, and your ideas. But I would also second, say this, come to America; visit us; come to our universities; come and get an internship or work in America. See how we do things.  Tell us where we’re wrong; learn where we’re  right. Bring that here; bring that elsewhere. America is a place of ideas, churning ideas, and we live in an age when those ideas are not going to be kept behind borders and boundaries, and this type of thing.  The ability to share those ideas, and to move those ideas through you, through your technology is like never before.  Come to America. We want to welcome you there just like I’ve been welcomed in Poland. And I think that’s a way to grow your ideas and to be a bigger and better practitioner of what you love.

Radomir Wit, TVN: And there are many very interesting programs provided by the State Department, for example. So I just wanted to join that kind of program. At the end of our meeting,Mr. Ambassador, before we’re going to listen to the great artists, I just want to ask you to collect these impressions, these opinions, these thoughts from our meeting. And, you know, what is your message for all young people who are joining our meeting, who are joining Open’er festival?

Ambassador Brzezinski: My message to young people and not just at Open’er, but young people across Poland is know this: the story of what is happening here now heavily driven by young people in terms of the embrace of Ukrainian refugees.  The world loves you.  You are introducing a beautiful, lovely face of Poland. And the world is saying “thank you.” This is your moment, celebrate it, leverage it, make yourself stronger for it. And as a Polish American, I say thank you for what you’re doing. You are lifting all of us up and just live this moment. Celebrate it. Have a great time, because we owe you.

Radomir Wit, TVN: Thank you for these words. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for being with us. Thank you for your own story. I just want to remind you to follow AmbassadogTeddy’s account; you won’t regret it. I hope there will be something about our meeting today on this account. And thank you just thank you for being with us here today.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Thank you all.  “Dzienkuje slicznie. Do zobaczenie.” Yeah, let’s have a great, great night.