Ewa Bienkowska on Jerzy Giedroyc
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no-image, Ewa Bienkowska on Jerzy Giedroyc
Ewa Bienkowska on Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,
Krakow, 24 September 2000"HOW MANY DIVISIONS DOES GIEDROYC HAVE?"
Ewa Bienkowska on Jerzy Giedroyc
To me as to many of my generation Giedroyc was firstly mysterious and mythical. Published in an unknown Paris suburb, "Kultura" (with its famed cover) accelerated the pulse of all who picked it up. My political awakening came late, at university. I learned the names of the writers and columnists associated with "Kultura". I was stunned by the tradition that enveloped them and dated back to the prewar Poland that was a taboo in communist times. I learned that this tradition was an extension of something even older - the Great Emigration of the Romantic era - and that the task and necessity remained the same: to protect free thought and creativity in preparation for a future independent Poland. In the 1960s my closest friends traveled to Paris, visited Maisons-Laffitte and talked about its amazing community: that handful of people who worked together and dined together in a kitchen that was like a monastic refectory.
In late 1968 "Kultura" abruptly invaded my home life. My father, Wladyslaw Bienkowski, shocked by the events of March, wrote MOTORY I HAMULCE SOCJALIZMU / THE MOTORS AND RESTRAINTS OF SOCIALISM - a book in which he assessed Gomulka's rule and examined his own conscience. Submitting it for publication to the communist authorities, he intentionally committed professional suicide and was promptly removed from all the positions he held. He decided to send the text to Maisons-Laffitte and may have been the first person living in Poland to publish there under his own name. Two years later he wrote another book, SOCJOLOGIA KLESKI / A SOCIOLOGY OF DEFEAT, in which he severely criticized the regime. When I first arrived in Paris in the spring of 1971, I was emotional and nervous at the prospect of visiting "Laffitte". I knew of their greedy interest in Polish domestic issues, of their habit of questioning guests about aspects of life in Poland. Armed with nothing but the ignorance of a young intellectual, I felt unworthy of those I spoke with.
Yet these were unforgettable moments. I had arrived at the myth's center: the famous kitchen with its Polish-French suppers, the dignified Editor who hardly eased the tension, Ms. Zofia Hertz with her sober questions, and Zygmunt Hertz and Jelenski, so charming and warm that my heart melted. The Editor wanted to know what my father was working on. My father had prepped me in Warsaw, telling me to say he was writing an essay about the general principles of societal development. Giedroyc
was unhappy: he should be writing about Poland, about the reality he knows well, and instead he escapes into abstractions! And he should especially not expect (he said gravely) to be read in translation, in foreign languages. Only Poles are interested in the experiences of a Pole in Poland, and they're interested in specific experiences, in records and analyses of contemporary history as it transpires. And my father was especially well suited to provide this due to his political role. I knew my father had broader ambitions, but it struck me that people who I saw as intellectual kindred of "Kultura" – Stefan Kisielewski and Wojciech Karpinski
- had voiced similar views. I repeated the same to my father many times.
No force supported this man, and his almost solitary struggle against the leviathan of Communism was incredible. Who was it that famously asked: How many divisions does Giedroyc have? Then came his solitary opposition to the new Poland, his refusal for long (to the end?) to acknowledge it as truly free and truly democratic. He decided, too, that his grave would be in Maisons-Laffitte. I see this decision not as expressing distrust toward today's Poland, but as consistent with his own destiny as an exile who proved that Poland's heart could live and beat beyond its borders.
The author is a Romance language and literatures scholar and an intellectual historian.
© by "Tygodnik Powszechny"
"Tygodnik Powszechny" printed this text in its 24 September2000 issue following the death of Jerzy Giedroyc. It appears onwww.culture.pl - courtesy of the editors and publishers of "TygodnikPowszechny" - in connection with "The Year of Jerzy Giedroyc," celebrated in2006.
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