Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with TVP Rzeszow

26 March 2023

Ambassador Brzezinski: “Witam” Grzegorz, I’m glad you’re here.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow; Poland has been in NATO for 24 years, from last year in a completely different situation. Ukraine fights for freedom. What do you say for those people who say “this is not our war.”

Ambassador Brzezinski: To those who say that this is not our war, I say the essence of this fight is what kind of world our children will inherit. Because this conflict, at its essence, is a collision between authoritarianism and dictatorship on one side, and democracy on the other. And that’s why President Biden, in Kyiv, here in Warsaw, projecting this message around the world, “we will be with the Ukrainian people, until the very end of this conflict.”

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: Today, Patriot batteries are standing in Rzeszow; American soldiers are stationed in the Podkarpacie region. Could the American military presence be even greater?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, American soldiers are, of course, as you say, in Rzeszow in the Podkarpacie area, but they’re also all around Poland. And I’m proud to work for a President who has created the first permanent, permanent, US military installation in Poland and that’s the Fifth Corps Forward Command US Army headquarters in Poznan, Poland. The American soldiers here stand shoulder to shoulder with their Polish counterparts. And I think it’s important that Polish soldiers and American soldiers have served together in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Kosovo, and elsewhere. They know each other, they have a history of working with each other. The collaboration is fantastic. And as a result, Poland is safe and secure. “Polska jest bezpieczna; Polska jest zabezpieczona.”

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: Thank you. And you were last year on the Polish-Ukrainian border in Przemysl. And what did you think then?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, I’ve been at the border, whether it’s Korczowa, Medyka, Rzeszow, or Przemsyl a number of times in the past year. There’s a banner that hangs over the Przemysl railway station, that reads three words: “Tutaj jestescie bezpieczni.” Here, you are safe. What a fantastic formulation for the people of Poland to project to Ukrainian refugees, coming for safety to Poland. And the world has seen this. And that’s why when President Biden was in Warsaw, he said this is a critical, critical, critical, relationship – the US-Polish relationship. And he said to the Polish people: “Thank you; thank you; thank you; thank you.” We could not be more grateful for what the Polish people have done in terms of a rapid mobilization to help the people of Ukraine. So that’s one of the things I think of when I go to that region in Poland. But it’s very much a critical, critical juncture in terms of what’s going to happen with the crisis in Ukraine.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: Right, you said the President Biden decided to go to Kyiv on the anniversary of Russian aggression. And could you tell some more details about the organization of (that trip)?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I think the most important thing was the message and the symbol of him standing with the President of Ukraine, in the heart of Kyiv on that cold day. It sent the message that the American people and the West will stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as this war takes. And unfortunately, we have to be prepared for it to last some time. And in the course of that we must be patient. We must show resolve. We must show solidarity and a unity of purpose with the people of Ukraine. That was the message of that visit. And I was so proud that our American President took that risky and brave step to travel there, because that was a first for an American President. An American president had not traveled into a war zone where there are no US military installations, as there are in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no US military installation in Ukraine. And President Biden wanted to do that, to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: Of course, we remember the night before coming to Kyiv, the Presidential airplane, landed in Rzeszow. Then there was the travel to Przemysl and then the travel to Kyiv by train was the great challenge, I suppose.

Ambassador Brzezinski: The US president took a great, great risk, and was very brave to do this. You know, he didn’t have to do this, to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine. But he wanted to go and be with them, to stand next to them, to be able to look them in the eye on their own ground, on their own land. And so he took that step, and I’m so proud of him. Because if he takes that risk, quite frankly, it speaks volumes as to his commitment to the people of Ukraine. And I think that’s the right approach on this.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: Your grandfather was a soldier in 1918. fought for the independence of Poland. Is this part of your family history? Was it important for you?

Ambassador Brzezinski: My grandfather, Tadeusz Brzezinski, was a storied and loved man in the Brzezinski family. And as you say he was a soldier, but he was also a diplomat. He was a diplomat, who served in Lyon, France, in Leipzig and Dresden in Germany, before World War Two, where he actually took some risks himself to give passports to those who were being made stateless, including Jews and Poles who were being interned – and he helped him. This was before the most vicious phases of the Holocaust. But he was celebrated on Ellis Island in the United States, which is a national park as one of the diplomats who took risks to help others, and I’m so proud of his legacy. As the United States Ambassador to Poland, I will say this: I knew my grandfather; his diplomatic career was interrupted by World War Two. After World War Two, he stayed in Canada, and sold insurance door-to-door in Canada and wasn’t particularly successful. He would have loved to have been an ambassador. So for every millisecond that I am US Ambassador to Poland, I walk in his shadow; I am humbled by this opportunity; and I don’t take a moment for granted.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: When when we look around this incredible room, we see the photos of your father, Zbigniew Brzezinski. This is part of the history of the United States and of Poland’s history too. What do you think (would) cross (the mind of) anybody that I suppose woul see these photos?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, you know, when I’m here in Poland, and I go to Przemysl and Rzeszow, I think of my father at a young age, a young man who wanted to be involved in international policy and in foreign affairs, and who experienced tremendous upheaval, like any children of war experience. My father was cast on North America’s shores by World War Two, growing up first in Canada, and then coming to the United States, going to Harvard to do a doctorate in government, and beginning an academic career before going into the US government and becoming like a blood brother to President Jimmy Carter. They achieved so much during the Carter administration. But for my father, Poland was always a North Star. There was a reason why in his first year as president, Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter traveled to Poland and met with Cardinal Wyszynski, and said something about human rights and freedom while here. Poland was very much my father’s North Star, and we children: myself, my sister Mika, my brother Ian, very much heard the word “Przemysl” and my father’s memory of the town as we were growing up, having ourselves no exposure to Poland. So for me to go to Przemysl, to meet with the mayor, to go to visit with a family that lives in my father’s former home in Przemysl is such such a reflective moment for me, Grzegorz, in terms of my own family roots, and informs me a lot about the man that my father was. Because I learned so much from from my father. My father was a generous man, in terms of knowledge, and intellectualism, and scholarship. He was always a teacher; he was a natural teacher, and he would love to have his children learn things, debate each other, big topics. I remember debating detente, and things about us Soviet relations. I think we were eight years old. We were very young, when we were being introduced to the world by him. He was a great teacher, and to go visit his roots in Przemysl shows me that he was a man who had local roots, but global reach, and I miss him terribly.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: I imagined that when you were a young boy and you heard “Przemysl” – it’s a little complicated for Americans. Did you just look for it on the map? for this little city on the Polish-Ukrainian border?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I think my brother and sister and I simply looked for Poland on the map, not Przemsyl. So for me to finally, in 1990, go visit Przemysl with my father and with Janusz Onyszkiewicz, who was Defense Minister at the time, was such an adventure, to go into eastern Poland, and to visit a little town and see the river that runs through it, people swimming in it, because it was June when we visited it, and to go visit the house and the family that was there. It was such a remarkable moment. And I remember getting out there, Grzegorz, it was two-lane roads, from Warsaw all the way to Przemysl. Today, when you drive out there, you see how much growth and development, the expansion of the roads and the infrastructure. And you see how much progress Poland has made. One of the things I always tell my American visitors here to Poland is: the capacity for change of Poles is enormous – the change that has happened here in this country. It’s sometimes difficult to fully take on if you live here, but I came here in 1991 and then left for 30 years. Now I’m back here as US ambassador. The change in this country is stunning. And the capacity for change of Polish people is one of the great strengths and assets of the people.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: I try to imagine what you felt in 1990 to see the city with the great river. On the one side is the old park with the churches and the market. What did you feel?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, to me, it was a beautiful moment, Grzegorz. I was a kid from Northern Virginia when I came here in 1990. I stayed here on a Fulbright scholarship for a couple of years, and the more I got to know Polish people, the more I realized how “pracowity”, how hard-working the Polish people are, how much potential they have, how interested they are in the world. I really fell in love with the country. That’s why I always tell people “Kocham Polska.” I really love the people of this country. And what I have seen in Poland, over the last 30 years, is an embrace of the world, an openness to learning about the world, directly through travel or through the internet. It’s just to me so amazing how much closer America and Poland have become over 30 years through the government to government connection, military and so forth, but also through business, through exchanges between people, through travel. It’s a wonderful meshing together of the two societies. For me, 2022, 2023 these are golden years in the American Polish relationship. Because while hard and while difficult, and while the Ukraine crisis is shocking, the Polish people are stepping up and introducing themselves to the world as a humanitarian superpower. It is a beautiful thing for people elsewhere to see. Again, I quote Joe Biden, he doesn’t go everywhere and say: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” He did that to the Polish people and I agree.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: You said “pracowity.” Your grandfather Kazimierz was very “pracowity.” He was in a tennis club, in theater. He was a lawyer, a great part of the history of this city, Przemysl.

Ambassador Brzezinski: It’s true. My grandfather was someone who was cast into exile by the creation of the Iron Curtain and the fact that he could not return to Poland after World War Two. He missed Poland terribly. When I look at what’s happened in Poland through his eyes, how much he was hopeful about Poland, the potential he saw in Polish people if given the chance to re-engage the West … I think if he looked at Poland right now, and us talking right here in this house, he would be so happy. He would be so proud of his countrymen, and of their children, and of their children, and what they have done with this country, and he would be so proud of the American Polish relationship, and how it’s come together. And he would be so proud about how the Americans and Poles are collaborating on the crisis in Ukraine, even though this is a tough moment. That’s what he would have said, and I’m so proud to be here, to try to channel that positive energy, because I know that that’s what he would have felt.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: So what should be the most important thing for us in thinking about the future, the future of Przemysl, the future of Poland, the future of Ukraine, and the future of United States?

Ambassador Brzezinski: This is what I think when I think of Poland’s future: what I’ve seen in Poland, in terms of the rapid social mobilization of people across the country, especially young people, young people from towns and cities all across Poland, from Warsaw, of course, Krakow, and Poznan and Wroclaw, but Przemysl, Rzeszow and Bialystok, and everywhere to help others has shown me and the world that Poles are interested in doing something larger than just themselves. And that gives me and many people who watch Poland, as friends of Poland, great, great hope for national renewal in Poland. And I’m convinced, Grzegorz, that when she, when she becomes the president elect of the Republic of Poland, in 25 or 30 years, and she was organizing last year and this year, a clothing drive in Bydgoszcz, or a food kitchen in Krakow, or a GoFundMe page for an apartment for Ukrainian family in Przemysl. She will be informed by this experience that she’s done last year and this year, about doing things larger than ourselves, and will make her a even greater President of Poland 25 or 30 years from now. I think this will be Poland’s finest hour, where they dug deep, and it was hard. And they did something for a neighbor in need. And the world saw it and the country will benefit from this for years to come. And I am sure that that’s what the US president feels about Poles as well.

Grzegorz Boratyn, TVP Rzeszow: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for the invitation here, for the possibility to talk each other and thank you very much.