Krzysztof Kozlowski on Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,
Krakow, 24 September 2000"THE STAR OF PERSEVERANCE"
Krzysztof Kozlowski on Jerzy Giedroyc
In the latter half of the 20th century, Poland was sustained - in spite of historical turmoil - by scarcely more than a dozen great figures. They mostly shaped our country's image, and we admired them - or debated them. Without them, we would have been an even lesser country. Today we bid farewell to one - Jerzy Giedroyc
Never in high office, he refrained from publishing his own books and articles, led a half-monastic life, remained at home almost always, and never achieved spectacular victories. Yet he was stubborn and independent in all that he did for Poland. He was literally consumed by Poland.
Near his long life's end, he refused the Order of the White Eagle because the 3rd Polish Republic had not fully become the Poland he had so doggedly strived to create. Surely though, he should also have been given a Polish medal that was planned after the partitions but never implemented. A thoroughly Polish distinction, it was due to be called the Star of Perseverance, and Giedroyc deserved it like no one else.
Jerzy Giedroyc had an uncommon instinct, or a sharpness of sight, if you prefer. Before the war it prompted him to rally future political elites around his periodicals "Bunt Mlodych" / "Youth Revolt" and "Polityka" / "Politics". He thought that most vital at the time. This was as accurate as what he did at the war's end, when he flawlessly read the needs of exiles but above all of Poles in Poland, who no longer enjoyed full freedom of speech. In creating "Kultura" and the Literary Institute, initially within the Polish II Corps in Rome and shortly afterwards in Paris, he was thinking long term and had no illusions about the near future.
Refusing to bow to emotional pressure from his countrymen, he countered high-minded daydreams with merciless realism, asking the hardest thing of Poles: that they think. He hardly won any friends. Isolated by émigré organizations, furiously fought by the Polish People's Republic, he toiled to build a singular one-person institution by recruiting some truly formidable pens. A broadening audience was reading - often with reverence - hundreds of issues of his monthly, hundreds of the books he published. This produced a force that even its enemies had to acknowledge. Amidst adult members of the intelligentsia, it is simply inappropriate today to admit that one was not raised on issues of "Kultura" and books from the Literary Institute. Even so, Giedroyc melancholically repeated that reaching people was one thing and influencing them another. He often felt he was wasting his breath. Yet it was decades of Giedroyc's persuasion that provided a breakthrough: we learned that our neighbors to the east are Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine rather than Russia, and we accepted this long before the countries reappeared on the map. Clearly, Giedroyc laid the foundations for Poland's new eastern policy, dismantling stereotypes and forcing a revision of deeply rooted convictions.
The 20th century is ending, and with it comes the definitive end of an age. An institution whose role in Polish history can be compared only to that of the Czartoryskis' 19th-century Hotel Lambert is disbanding. The 21st century will require different methods and instruments, Poles will face new challenges, but who will inspire us to make that added mental effort?
© 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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