Ambassador Mark Brzezinski’s Interview with Tygodnik Podhalanski

20 July 2022

Ambassador Brzezinski: Thank you for the service that you as editors, you as journalists do. I think a free media, an independent media, is absolutely critical to democracy, to free market, to people’s growth, to people’s learning, and so forth. My sister Mika Brzezinski is a journalist. She’s a television journalist, and I have seen the hard work that she puts into her career. You can have an amazing interview one day, and the next day her boss is asking her what have you done for us lately? So it’s a hard career. And I just have so much respect for you and your entire team, and the profession of journalism. It’s an awesome thing. And especially now in Poland, a frontline state of NATO, given the Ukraine crisis, and we need even more information and comparing notes.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Without free media, there is no democracy.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Absolutely, you’re totally correct.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: A short interview. I should ask you about your impression of visiting Zakopane for three days here. Yes?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Yes, I am. Well, first of all, Pawel, thank you for talking with me this afternoon. I can’t tell you how personally meaningful, how fun, how awesome, this visit to Zakopane, to Mount Zysy yesterday, to this entire region has been. For me, the outdoors, being in nature is tremendously releasing and freeing. I feel that my mind opens as I go into a forest or up a hill, and that’s exactly what happened yesterday. We climbed to the base of the peak of Mount Rysy. And it’s something that I really wanted to do, because mountain climbing has been a big part of my being raised in the United States by parents, dad from Poland, mom from Czechoslovakia, and that’s what they did for us. They did not have much money when we were growing up. So we went to the public parks. We went to the National Parks, and we got out in nature. And sometimes we kids didn’t even want to do it. And mom and dad said, “Doesn’t matter whether you don’t want to do it, you’re going out on a hike today, and you’re going with us.” And that’s what we did. So, I just really so appreciated the last few days. I got a sense, a feel of the terrain, a feel for the environment, a sense of the crowds at Rysy, the crowds, people bringing little children up the hill. How awesome! bringing a two, an eight, a 10 year old, up the hill a little bit, giving them a little bit of exposure to nature – whether the kid likes it or not. Then I can tell you as a former kid, they will love it and they’ll remember it positively. So I’ve had a great time here in Zakopane today. We went to the Gorale museum. And it was just so personally touching. The Gorale are tough people. They have a lot of heart. They love the “ojczyzna.” And they are proud. And that is what I sensed when I visited the Gorale today. I’m still kind of feeling tingles on my skin for how wonderful the reception was. As an American of Polish descent, who serves as US Ambassador to Poland, I was deeply and profoundly touched by the reception they gave us today, and I will never forget it for the rest of my life.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodni Podhalanski: Wonderful. And how was Rysy? Was it hard hiking?

Ambassador Brzezinski: It was really hard. I didn’t think I would make it.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Did you get to the top?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I got I got to the top of where we wanted to go. We wanted to go to Bula. Do you know Bula?

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Yes.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Okay, have you been to Bula?

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Yes.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Okay. So it’s really hard to get there in my opinion. So I was huffing and puffing, and I didn’t know if I would get there. But I took it slow and steady. I think we stopped a lot just to kind of catch my breath. And we made it, and I was so proud of my Embassy team. We had people from Public Affairs Section. At US Embassy Warsaw, we have many diplomats serving at US embassies around the world, that have come to Poland to help given the crisis. So we had someone on our team, who is serving in the Middle East, come come along the trip, and it was just wonderful. It gave me a sense of the true constellation of our embassy population: people from elsewhere serving with the US Embassy people who have served here for a long time, people on security, people on public affairs. We just had a great, great time. I almost didn’t make it. I won’t lie to you.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Did you like the views?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Gorgeous. Gorgeous. I can tell you that I shared with my family, the pictures from up on the hill. My sister Mika wrote back immediately saying, “Incredible, how beautiful how gorgeous. This is awesome.” And that’s exactly how I felt really, really beautiful. We were lucky because of the weather. Because it was beautiful. If it had been raining, or if it had been worse than raining like sleeting or something, I don’t know if we would have gotten there. But I know that it was beautiful and sunny. So we made it.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: We don’t have such weather in the mountains.

Ambassador Brzezinski: You’re so lucky. Yeah, we’re so unbelievably lucky. So someone intervened for us, and I’m grateful.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Do you ski?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I do ski. I don’t ski very well, but I do love to ski. And I plan to come back in the ski season.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Winter here is more picturesque than in summer. It’s really all wonderful, wonderful time.

Ambassador Brzezinski: When are there less crowds winter or summer?

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: The same. There are some months when there are not such crowds.

Ambassador Brzezinski: I see. What months of those?

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: April.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Okay. I plan to come skiing in April. No, I’m just joking. I’ll come here during ski season. I look forward to that, but I felt that this was a gift. I’ve been all around Poland. I’ve been to Bialystok. I’ve been to be Gdansk. I’ve been to Gdynia. I’ve been to Poznan, Wroclaw, Przemysl, Rzeszow, Krakow of course, everywhere, and I’ve even been here before to Zakopane.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: This is your first time, yes?

Ambassador Brzezinski: No. This was not my first time in Zakopane. I was in Zakopane 30 years ago, when I came to Poland on a Fulbright scholarship. All of us American Fulbrighters, there must have been like 12 of us, we all we all arrived in Poland at the same time. One of the Fulbrighters actually became a high level US State Department official. And so I served with him as a Fulbright scholar with others. And we were all brought to Wilanow Palace, we were brought to the Royal Castle. But we were also all brought to Zakopane. And so we took a hike through the mountains here. And then 30 years later, I’m back here as US ambassador. And I cannot believe the change, the amount of growth. It’s completely transformed, completel. It’s completely changed. And I think that’s important because the capacity to change, the ability to change is a strength. And what I have seen in the 30 years, since I was a Fulbrighter in Poland, and now as US ambassador, is incredible change. So much economic development, so much assimilation with the rest of the world, so much knowledge about the rest of the world. Even the speaking of English, was much more seldom 30 years ago, than in Poland today. So the capacity for change is a power. And the Poles have a great, great power in their capacity to change. And they should know that and I definitely see that as Ambassador.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Thank you very much for this. Do you think that tourists from America would like to come here?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I don’t think it; I know it. That’s why I shared all the photos from Zakopane on my Instagram – ambassadogteddy. Please go to hashtag @ambassadogteddy, my dogs Instagram account, because that’s where I put all my personal messages as well. Please like it as well, if you’re willing to do that and follow it. And I share it on that Instagram account and through the US Embassy account because I want Americans to see the beauty of the natural topography of Poland. It is a beautiful country. It is absolutely extraordinary. And my fellow Americans would love it. And that’s why since day one, I’ve been inviting our leaders and as many Americans as I can to come to Poland. I’ve been here for six months. In fact, today is July 20, and it was exactly six months ago that was the day before I was leaving for Poland. I can tell you since getting here, I invited as many American officials to come and see Poland to bear witness to the Ukraine crisis and the humanitarian context of that. I’m so pleased that we have what I think is a virtual record in terms of having the president, the vice president, top cabinet officials, and around 100 members of Congress, including the Speaker, and both majority and minority leader, come to Poland. It is a remarkable bearing witness to Poland. I’m so proud when everyone comes, and the first thing I say to them when they get off the plane, I say thank you for coming to Poland. Let me tell you what I’m seeing. Everyone is impressed. And our president says “thank you” for the Polish response to the humanitarian crisis. It is awesome. And we’re grateful as a nation.r

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: You said that President Biden said to all the ambassadors, “get out from Capitals.” Mr. Ambassador do you go to the villages go to the countryside in Poland? Is that the best way to know a country?

Ambassador Brzezinski: Well, you have to see a country and not just a city. You have to get out from the capital. Because most people in the country don’t live in the capital. Most people live outside the capital. And knowing a country is about its people. It’s about its topography. It’s about its culture. What I was able to see here is the Highlander Gorale culture, meet people from this beautiful part of Poland and get a sense of its topography, which is such a shaping force of the people and the culture here. I feel that I’m much more educated than I was before. I’m grateful for the chance to do that. And it means so much personally to me, because I come from a family of “polskie pochodzenie” and for us, the way my father thought about the Gorale people was as a tough people, a people loyal and committed to the defense of their “Ojczyzna”, fatherland, and a people for whom an absolute commitment to the security of Poland is paramount. And that’s what I see in in the Tatry and all over Poland today. And there’s not a second that I’m in Poland as US ambassador that I am not totally grateful.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Thank you. Did you the food? regular food?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I did try.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: “Oscypek?”

Ambassador Brzezinski: I did try regular food. So I have some “oscypek.” I’m going to bring it back to Warsaw. I was given that at the Gorale museum

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: So how’s the flavor? Good?

Ambassador Brzezinski: I haven’t eaten that one yet. Because I was given it in about an hour ago. So I would have had to eat the whole cheese in the car, but I’ve had it before and it’s really good.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Okay, thank you.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Of course, thank you for having me.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: Thank you for visiting.

Ambassador Brzezinski: Thank you

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: (We are very honored that you are with us.)

Ambassador Brzezinski: (Thank you.)

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: (I’m speaking Polish, because I want to encourage you to speak bit of Polish.)

Ambassador Brzezinski: (I speak a little bit of Polish. I havent’ had the opportunity to practise my Polish. Because I lived in Poland thirty years ago, but I did live in Poland. I was on a Fulbright Scholarship to Poland thirty years ago. The first time I was in Zakopane I was on a scholarship. There is such a huge change in Zakopane now since thirty years ago. But thirty years ago I was on a scholarship. I studied the transformation of constitutionalism in post-communist Poland. I wrote a book on the subject of constitutionalism in Poland. I lived in Warsaw. I had the opportunity to observe how the American Embassy operated. That was impressive. That’s why it is for me entirely a huge honor to serve as Ambasador to Poland.)

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: (We have very fond memories of Iwona Sadecka. I don’t know if you knew her. She is a former employee of the Consulate in Krakow.)

Ambassador Brzezinski: (Of course.) Of course I know Iwona.

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: (She was here a few times a year and supported us very much.)

Ambassador Brzezinski: (Iwona is a very impressive woman and professional. Yes, I know Iwona personally.)

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: (Thank you.)

Ambassador Brzezinski: (Of course.)

Pawel Pelka, Tygodnik Podhalanski: (Mr. Ambassador whenever you are in the mountains, we invite you to visit “Tygodnik Podhalanski.”)