It was a delightful early birthday present for Aleksander Kwasniewski. The Polish president, who turns 46 this month, was re-elected in early October with almost 54 percent of the vote--his closet opponent garnered only 18 percent. During Kwasniewski's first term as president, Poland became a member of NATO and enjoyed steady economic growth. During his next term, he hopes to oversee Poland's admission to the European Union. But it will not be an easy road to Brussels: Poland is in the process of making vast governmental and legal changes to conform to EU norms. The former communist says he felt "deeply satisfied" that many Poles seemed to be happy with how he has run the country since he defeated Lech Walesa in a close race in 1995. Kwasniewski recently contemplated the challenges ahead in an interview with NEWSWEEK's Ginanne Brownell at his office in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. Excerpts:
BROWNELL: Your opponent ran negative campaign ads that caused quite a stir. This is the norm in many Western nations but seems to be new here in Poland. Is this the future of political campaigning in Poland?
KWASNIEWSKI: No. I don't think so. In Poland, it is very popular to say that in a campaign it is necessary to have an American style. But frankly speaking, America is America, Europe is Europe and Poland is Poland. To use such methods can be and many times is counter- productive. This election is a very clear and important example that Polish society is looking for good ideas and is against extremist methods.
What were your biggest accomplishments during your first term and what will be your top priorities for the next five years?
Last term was important because I reached two goals. The first was a new Constitution, and that is fundamental for Polish democracy. And second was NATO. We are in NATO, and it means a guarantee of security for Poland and it means a very strong position [for] Poland in the European community. In the next five years, the main task for me is joining the European Union. [And] to improve our relations with our neighbors, to keep the Polish economy growing and to solve social problems [like] poverty.
Why is joining the EU so important ?
We started our road to the European Union 11 years ago when we decided to change our political system, our economic system, everything. Behind us we have years of efforts, problems and successes. Historians [debate] when was the best time in our history--was it 400 years ago? …