Andrzej Romanowski on Jerzy Giedroyc. "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,"GIEDROYC, OR POLAND"
Krakow, 24 September 2000
Andrzej Romanowski on Jerzy Giedroyc
We cannot yet assess the size of this loss. Not because Jerzy Giedroyc
's achievements were so varied and dispersed in time. Not because they reflected nonconformity and did not fit the labels that are valid today and assigned blindly, randomly. But above all because we live in a world "designed" by Giedroyc, and we remain unaware of this as we do of the presence of air.
Giedroyc created postwar Polish political thought. Precisely: thought, not political tactics nor - God forbid - ideology. The events of his mature years and his origins, family tradition, predestined him for this. A Pilsudski admirer, an officer under Anders, a civil servant of the 2nd Republic in Poland and in exile, he very well knew and understood the value of statehood and to his last days accused his countrymen of being deficient in their thinking about it. Simultaneously, his birthplace (Minsk in Belarus) and awareness of coming from a family of (Polonized) Lithuanian princes caused him always to search for broader traditions: the multi-national and multi-cultural. From thence derived his untiring research into Jagiellonian heritage, which was also dear to Pilsudski but difficult to pursue in the era of inter-bellum nationalism (and Bolshevik internationalism). One could say Giedroyc, born in the first years of the 20th century, was the last "citizen of the First Republic of Poland," one whose politics derived more and more from the collective interests of Poles, Lithuanians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians - all of whom he saw as depositaries of a collective heritage.
In calling Giedroyc a creator of political thought, we need to remember that others, above all Juliusz Mieroszewski, authored the "materials for reflection and meditation" published in "Kultura." Giedroyc wrote very little (his "Notes" began appearing regularly only in recent years) and edited instead. That meant recruiting various people for "Kultura": always unconventional people, columnists and writers with highly developed senses of civil courage and a willingness to counter broadly held opinions, shake up obsolete schemes. Giedroyc built his oeuvre called "Kultura," which was uniform in its polyphony, from texts by his collaborators. In the postwar era this oeuvre became the most important (and at times the only) tribune of free Polish thought. "Poland's situation is so difficult that every concept, every avenue needs to be studied. 'Kultura' is neither a socialist periodical, nor a revisionist periodical, nor a neo-Marxist periodical. We have only one goal: Poland's independence." The words are Mieroszewski's, but Giedroyc subscribed to this view completely.
Immersed deeply in the past, he was oriented entirely toward the future. Already in the 1940s he had no illusions about the political situation reverting to its status in 1939. Yet the objections of "Kultura" to London-based legalism were always accompanied by openness: ultimately, the periodical printed the broadest reviews of Polish life in Poland and abroad, provided information on the actions of the Polish Republic's exiled government. The dispute with integral anti-Communism, with stances like "the worse it gets, the better," was similar: after all, Giedroyc published the books of Jozef Mackiewicz. It seems the editor of "Kultura" most feared being locked in a ghetto - no matter if of the "legalist" or "anti-communist" kind. He combined adherence to principle in defending his arguments with a singular ideological syncretism that constituted mental pabulum for thinking people. Yet an orientation toward the country remained supreme.
From the outset this was the distinctive mark of "Kultura." And it was identical to the line pursued by the Polish section of Radio Free Europe. Giedroyc seemed to say that the Polish People's Republic was also some form of Polish statehood; divisions within its society were stratified and complex, sometimes countering the rule of the Communist Party. In Giedroyc's thinking, nothing was black-and-white, given once and for all. So it was hardly surprising in October 1956 when he declared his support for Wladyslaw Gomulka, 1st Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party... "In the name of freedom we cannot reject semi-freedom on behalf of those who have had no freedom in general for the last sixteen years," wrote "Kultura" at the time.
Simultaneously, "evolutionism," i.e. reliance on gradually liberalizing a system imposed from the outside, was also no dogma. As Poland backtracked on its achievements of October 1956, Giedroyc placed his hopes not with the party rulers of the post-Stalinist "thaw" but with rebelling Communist Party "liberals" and revisionists. "Kultura" and the Literary Institute published the work of Gomulka's former closest collaborator, Wladyslaw Bienkowski; it was here that Kuron's and Modzelewski's "Open Letter to the Party" appeared. A Great Meeting ensued: in Giedroyc's periodical Communist Party activists engaged in dialogue with "Polish London," columnists who had no illusions debated those who were then beginning to lose theirs... This was the germ for the subsequent appearance of "Solidarity," which rejected traditional divisions into left and right and into residents and exiles, which brought all people of good will together under a single banner.
In intuitively laying the foundations for "Solidarity" and thus for the Third Polish Republic, "Kultura" at once sought to anchor Poland in Europe. "Poland can regain and maintain its independence only within a federated Europe,"
wrote Giedroyc in 1953. This invalidated nationalist thinking and moreover state tradition of the 2nd Polish Republic, which had ultimately been built on the ruins of the national aspirations of Poland's eastern neighbors. It took great character to make "Kultura" available to this option, to accept the return of Lviv to the Ukrainians, Hrodna to the Belarusians, Vilnius to the Lithuanians... Resigning from these traditional eastern "strongholds" of Polishness paid off in something far dearer: reconciliation. The unrealized traditions of the First Polish Republic served as the premise for founding the Third. Giedroyc emphasized to the end that the better, stronger Poland's position was in the East, the greater its importance would be in the West. Thus, from the outset his political thinking was in step with the European unification process.
This was possible because there was not a hint of ideology in Giedroyc, for he did not treat his arguments as separate from the times in which he lived. The "ULB" concept (Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus), seemingly "promethean" and "anti-Russian," never led him to become a Russophobe. The contrary: having spent his childhood in Russified Minsk (and his early youth in Moscow), he acquired a lasting sentiment for Russia that endured throughout his life. Giedroyc felt he was a man of the East. He was somewhat suspicious of Euro-Atlantic civilization and was irritated by what he saw as the snobbish Polish preference for the West. He had no doubts that Poland could be a very valuable partner to Russia, especially in the cultural sphere, so he distributed information about Russian culture, popularized the achievements of the country's dissidents and showed us a different side of a country from which centuries of enmity had kept us separated.
Either way, Poland's 1980s independence movement progressed along a path programmed by "Kultura." It was not a path of revolution or worldwide military conflict, but it was also not one of passiveness, waiting for freedom to "fall in our laps from the tree of history." It was from Giedroyc's spirit that "Solidarity" got its "long march" strategy and its 1981 "Message to the Nations of Eastern Europe." His thinking was the source for the amicable and neighborly relations treaties that independent Poland signed with all its eastern neighbors in the early 1990s. This does not mean that Poles authentically thought through the output of "Kultura." They accepted it unwittingly, primarily because there was nothing else that approached it in quality. Perhaps in this lies the drama of Giedroyc's final years, which brought triumph as well as the bitterness of unfulfilled hopes. Once Poland was free, this man who instinctively supported the state found himself condemning the demise of long-term thinking, the pursuit of self-interest over the common good, the terrorism of tattered formulas, and ideology's command over public life. His stance may have reflected the defiance of a free man refusing to be type cast and embodied a specific idea of the duties of an editor, i.e. one who should always remain independent. Yet perhaps it was chiefly about pursuing politics based on right of state, without asking oneself: Who does this serve? Giedroyc showed his countrymen a certain ideal of statehood and instructed them to climb higher. Woe to those who lagged behind on the march.
Political thinking was only half of Jerzy Giedroyc's work. He initiated all that is great in contemporary Polish literature, all that enjoys recognition throughout the world. When in 1953 Socialist Realism ruled the country and the London-based "Wiadomosci" [News] was paying homage to prewar tastes reminiscent of the Skamander movement, only the "Kultura Library" published new books by Gombrowicz
. This house also published first editions of works by Herling-Grudzinski
, Lobodowski, Straszewicz, Mackiewicz, Czapski
, Vincenz, Wittlin
, and provided publishing opportunities to the next wave of Polish exiles: Hlasko
, and Zagajewski
. So many names from so many different parishes! The tastes and tolerance of the Editor, who approved the publication of works so varied, so controversial at times, must have been exceptional. It is no exaggeration to say that he rescued the continuity of Polish culture from the deluge of 1939-1945, that he launched the careers of at least several writers who are our pride today. And by printing innumerable documents and accounts of recent history - so often misrepresented or passed over - in the "Historical Notebooks," ["Zeszyty Historyczne"] he ensured the survival of the Polish identity.
An identity issuing from an utterly forgotten tradition... Once more: Giedroyc was the last to perceive our country in the categories of the Jagiellonian commonwealth. Also, he was the last to treat Polishness in ethical categories: as a duty, a mission, a value. This, too, may be part of the legacy he leaves - along with exceptional civil courage, a propensity for blasphemous judgments, a willingness to cut across established opinions. Poland was a difficult heritage for Giedroyc, one that required incessant struggle and disputes, but one that condemned him to greatness. The rest was obvious. And it is hard to believe that someone once had to state the obvious for the first time.
© by "Tygodnik Powszechny"
"Tygodnik Powszechny" printed this text in its 24 September 2000 issue following the death of Jerzy Giedroyc. It appears on www.culture.pl - courtesy of the editors and publishers of "Tygodnik Powszechny" - in connection with "The Year of Jerzy Giedroyc," celebrated in 2006.