Jerzy Pomianowski on Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,
Krakow, 24 September 2000"MAISIAGALA BREAD"
Jerzy Pomianowski on Jerzy Giedroyc
Poland mourned often at the last century's end, so many remarkable people passed away. We might fear that in this mass of names and recurring praise the exceptional qualities and achievements that made Giedroyc
an incomparable phenomenon might quickly be forgotten and lost.
In the last 54 years, he published 636 issues of the most serious periodical in our press's history - and maybe not only ours - and 511 volumes of the "Historical Notebooks" without which our annals would have been a minefield for future researchers... He published over 500 volumes in Polish in a 'library' replete with books banned in communist Poland, including some of the 20th century's key titles, as well as many works by Russian and Ukrainian dissidents... He also provided an example - so rare in Poland - of a solitary life devoted solely to unselfish endeavor... And apart from all this, he proved Chesterton right: a real patriot can never be happy with his country. Giedroyc was the opposite of a chauvinist; the one thing he could not abide was Sarmatian 'tum ta ta tation.' Yet he turned away few countrymen, knowing only one type of atonement for one's sins: making up for them in life. Generous and economical, he detested the Polish propensity for squandering talent and defended talents precisely when they faced defamation, trampling, ignorance. Were it not for his monarchic diligence and care, there probably never would have been any CAPTIVE MIND or TRANSATLANTIC.
Several of his deeds stripped him of the right to retreat back onto a path that led Poland from one glorious defeat to another. I will mention only some of his projects, those that might determine the country's political future if the Editor's indications endure long enough to be understood and pursued.
Giedroyc and "Kultura" shaped and refined the goals of a revolt that had been growing in communist Poland's population. The periodical's open discussions and program articles preceded the Polish clandestine opposition's development of a program. The communist regime had good reason to see "Kultura" as the main subversive publication and to attack it with the pens of its storm-makers. The periodical's readers formulated coherent demands that became the spontaneous slogans of the workers' movement, undoubtedly contributing to the appearance in Poland of an unusual, mystical phenomenon - an alliance of workers and the intelligentsia. It lasted an instant, but that instant was needed for the Gdansk accords to be agreed. In their programs, other Polish oppositional centers saw this alliance as a utopia, but Giedroyc was sure: without a utopia, practitioners lose sight of their goal. He liked to repeat that historical defeats were more often caused by a lack of vision than by a lack of pragmatism. As a born pragmatic, he changed tactics while never compromising principles.
Hence, he devised a serious program for when the changes he deemed unavoidable actually occurred. His certainty was not born of irrational faith, but of a superior knowledge of what was happening at the 'Center,' in the paralyzed Soviet economy and in its imperial machinery set to pursue a suicidal confrontation with the West.
From this certainty he drew, and tirelessly disseminated, conclusions that put Poland in a unique position: that of being the sole country in the Socialist Camp where the 1989 transition was not a complete surprise. He did not do this alone, but he did hold up one of the two lanterns that allowed that train to enter the station; Turowicz's publication was clearly the second such light.
Thus, for the first time in our history, Norwid's
diagnosis proved false:
"...In our country?... Booksappear - too late. Actions?... Born too early."
The think tank the Editor assembled to support his chief idea was right in all its predictions: he was sure the Soviet Union's disintegration was unavoidable. He emphasized this element more than the fall of communist ideology, because he knew the latter had been a sham for long and he was also more concerned about nations held in lock-up. And not only about the Polish nation. The rest of the world saw his view as a utopia, and a harmful one at that, because it upset relations with the USSR.
During one of my first excursions to Maisons-Laffitte I finally met Jerzy Stempowski
. He asked me right off about Ukraine - did I know anything about social movements, books, protests by supporters of the samostiyna? I decided that this master was a dreamer and tried to divert the discussion onto theatrical topics. I did not stop talking until Giedroyc stood up and walked out of the room without uttering a word.
The tenets of Poland's eastern policy as devised by Giedroyc and Mieroszewski guarantee our lasting independence. They simultaneously resolve an eternal dilemma - how to relate to a sovereign Ukraine without making Russia an enemy? "Kultura's" columnists claimed that the reason for Polish-Russian disputes disappeared as the 'Nearest East' nations living between our two countries gained freedom, for efforts to dominate our mutual neighbors have brought centuries of bloody struggle. The "Kultura" circle envisaged a strategic alliance with our nearest eastern neighbors achieved by Poland relinquishing its claims to the 'Frontiers' with Vilnius, Lviv and Hrodna. The editor of the London-based "Lviv and Vilnius," a matchless columnist and awkward politician, pragmatically returned to communist Poland to live a life of misery. Giedroyc, a stubborn utopian, stayed in the Paris suburbs to be abused and vilified in unison by patent patriots in exile and in Poland, and finally saw the day when his desperate concept gained universal acceptance and entered the canon of national common sense. Giedroyc took what to Pilsudski had been an unfulfilled dream and transformed into a sober and serious strategy, gradually convincing brilliant minds that he was right and then winning over entire masses. Reason enough to earn him first place among Polish statesmen.
Just as notably, Giedroyc never advocated the concept as a tool for fighting Russia and Russians. He agreed that Russia would only develop if the neighbors it shared with Poland achieved independence; the very temptation to re-conquer Ukraine hindered the reforms Russia needed. It is hard to imitate England, France, Holland (and Germany and Japan), to forget about colonies, partitions and territorial conquests, and to focus on modern, intensive economic management... Indeed, no other nation in Europe faces this dramatic choice. Meanwhile, on their new path Russians have experienced nothing but bumps, and the former expansionism seems to remain an option.
Giedroyc saw the importance of this - for Russia, for Europe, for Poland. So he assigned great importance to informing Russians about the solutions Poles had chosen, about the difficulties they encountered, what finally proved successful which of our experiences might be a warning. He even more intently sought to establish a dialogue with Russians on various topics. Not in the old style, with the verkhushka, but with those most receptive and curious about the world, and about Poland. After all, formerly subjects, we had become citizens, voters.
So, "Novaya Polsha" appeared and has existed one year. The monthly reaches Russia's intellectual vanguard and its far corners. Issue one included a message from Giedroyc. He neither wrote about Slavic kinship traditions nor about an overcoat that two well-known youths once hid beneath in Saint Petersburg, but about centuries of bloody struggle, Poland's long enslavement, the fact that it was time to talk to Russians as equals, without duplicity. Only then is understanding achievable.
Giedroyc convinced me to establish and edit the magazine. There is no greater satisfaction than that which stems from realizing an idea born in so fine a mind. I believe Jerzy Giedroyc deserved more than posthumous honors. We need to accept his concepts as vital instructions and not abandon his strategies. Yes, "Kultura" will never appear again, yet we must fulfill the duties he described therein.
Here and now I must confess that in my long life I owe this man more than I owe anyone else, because on many occasions he assigned me work and duties that lent meaning to my life. An exile in a Florence hotel, I received from Giedroyc (through Gustaw Herling
) the first pages of Solzhenitsyn smuggled out of Russia and a letter requesting their translation. He commissioned reviews, responses, articles, scolding me for my sluggishness. He encouraged me to gather all my sketches, wrote an introduction for the resulting book and - yes - then surprised me in the way only he knew how to, with a Mieroszewski Award. Yet I best remember not the honors but my last meeting with the Editor - this Easter at Maisons-Laffitte. We broke a piece of dark, rye bread from Maisiagala in Lithuania. He had developed a liking for it and asked me to send him some; I found it in a Warsaw shop. I hid that morsel in my pocket and think only that distinguishes me from the thousands of Poles whom Giedroyc nourished with wisdom.
© by "Tygodnik Powszechny"
The author, currently editor-in-chief of "Novaya Polsha" monthly, translated a number of books for the Literary Institute, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" and "The First Circle". He was also a frequent contributor to "Kultura."
"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.
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