Priceless Lessons by Maxim Behar: A Story with Zbigniew Brzezinski

Мaxim Behar talks about his meeting with a man whose ideas and theories are listened to by politicians and experts of high rank - the famous American political scientist and sociologist Zbigniew Brzezinski. This is a story of priceless experiences and lessons that Behar learned on the road to success and now shares in his author series Priceless Lessons for BGLOBAL magazine.  

“The Fifth Season” of… Zbigniew Brzezinski
The man who wrote the history of the collapse of communism at least twenty years before it happened.

For me to see Zbigniew Brzezinski in Sofia was tantamount to a miracle.

And it happened.

Dimi Panitza, the founder and honorary chairman of the Bulgarian School of Politics, called. He is an incredible friend, a great advocate for a free Bulgaria in the first years after the fall of communism, and one of the most active "advertising agents" of our country.

- The Great Zbig is coming! There will be no time for any interviews, but he will be speaking at a dinner at Sheraton Hotel in Sofia. I've secured you an invitation and a seat, from there on I'm counting on you to get at least two sentences from him for the Bulgarian media...

The truth is that Brzezinski foresaw that the system in Russia and Eastern Europe would "wither away" as early as the late seventies in his book on the theory of "convergence", in which, in general, he foresaw that the West and the East would exchange the best things of the two systems and unite them in a common future system. Because of this fact, he was totally denied in Bulgaria, but fortunately, his books reached my student backpack, thanks to the now-deceased professor Vesela Tabakova, who got them in ways unknown to me.

I arrived at the dinner an hour earlier and while explaining to the policeman, who closed the parking lot in front of Sheraton Hotel, where I was going and with whom I was going to have dinner, he raised the barrier but did not forget to say, "Well, only this one had not come to Bulgaria yet...". He knew his name and that in itself was no small thing.

Besides being a character, an incredible scholar, and a political scientist, Brzezinski was also an institution. Not only because he held one of the most important foreign policy advisory posts under President Jimmy Carter, but also because long before that he had built a name for himself as an astute and analytical mind who knew what would be years from now on the map of the world. And his predictions always came true.

Dinner was already ending, it must have been around midnight, and Brzezinski had been standing up straight for about three hours – first, he had a lecture, then he answered dozens of questions, and as he passed by my table on his way out of the restaurant, Dimi gently directed him towards me and whispered, "Zbig, didn't I tell you we had a journalist with us already. If you buy him a drink, you might learn some interesting things..."

Brzezinski stopped, gave me his hand, and when I spoke to him in Polish, despite the tiredness on his face, he visibly brightened up and said, "Well, I won’t fall asleep early anyway because of jetlag - the time difference - we can grab a Jack Daniels somewhere here in the bar...".

Actually, serious political conversations, even in those glory years, after midnight I don't remember having, but this one was really unique in its accuracy and its analysis. And thankfully, the bar was empty.

And even before we've ordered, I start asking:
- Does it now mean that we, in Eastern Europe, who were together in both the COMECON and the Warsaw Pact, now have different paths - the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary are moving fast, while we and Romania are lagging far behind?

 - Not so. There is only one path - market reforms and democracy. But do not forget that neither the European Union nor NATO are charities run by philanthropists who hand out money.  Your presence there simply has to be worked out...

I reminded him that the democracies themselves are still weak, there are no prepared politicians in Bulgaria, the media only now understand what it means to write freely and analytically.

- Do not underestimate your President Zhelyu Zhelev! He may not have a rich dissident biography like his counterparts in the Czech Republic and Poland, Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, but Zhelev handles all the strong winds at the top amazingly well, and we in Washington believe that you are an island of ethnic stability and understanding.

Brzezinski took a slow sip of whiskey, elegantly and carefully returned the glass to the glass table, and while holding the glass of soda in his hand, continued:
- I have always been against changes under Indigo, each country has its own peculiarities and it is up to its citizens to decide what they want and how they want it... For example, the end of Franco's regime brought back the monarchy in Spain and it proved to be very useful because it stimulated peaceful transition and democratic reforms. In neighboring Portugal, however, the fall of Salazar did not bring back the monarchy, but we see that socialist governments in both countries are doing equally well…

We talked a lot about Bulgaria, although he is hardly as deep an expert as he is about his native Poland or Russia, which he has been dealing with professionally all his life. He said he had read dozens of books about our country before accepting the invitation to come to Sofia for a day and that he was most surprised by the coarse vocabulary of politicians here. And as he talked too long about his friend Dimi Panitza, both of whom grew up together in Washington in immigrant families, he made sure to say how much he admired him because Dimi's wife, the Frenchwoman Yvonne, speaks Bulgarian much better than his own, the Czech Emily, speaks Polish.

But then his face stretched and clarified:
- I wish I could do for Poland what Dimi is doing for a new and modern Bulgaria. Keep people like him. Because I don't see Bulgaria having any dangers or enemies from outside in the next decades. You will have what you make yourself - a market economy, politics, democracy... If you make them well, you will live well. The world is now such that everything depends on you, Bulgarians. Don't ever forget it.       

It was past two in the morning when I remembered I had a present for him and nervously pulled it out of my then old-fashioned journalist's bag. I'd been thinking all day about what one might give someone who has everything and not leave it at the hotel or throw it in the trash at the airport.  

I bought him a CD with a wonderful performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and while my host was signing the bill, I wrote on the cover "To Zbigniew Brzezinski - the man who foresaw for Eastern Europe the fifth most important season - the season of democracy." He picked it up, read it several times, and said to me in Polish: 'Thank you very much. This disk will always be in my office in Washington. I love Vivaldi, but I appreciate democracy even more...".

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