Leszek Kolakowski, Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Aleksander Smolar remember Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,
Krakow, 24 September 2000"THIS IS A NATION YOU MUST STROKE AGAINST THE GRAIN"
Leszek Kolakowski, Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Aleksander Smolar remember Jerzy Giedroyc
On day one of the Christian Culture Congress at the Catholic University in Lublin, in an auditorium filled to the hilt, a debate that had followed the lecture of Professor Leszek Kolakowski was concluding. A real debate, it had raised the room temperature several notches. Before the scheduled break, our host, Archbishop Jozef Zycinski, approached the microphone once more in the session - this time not as a participant of the discussion but to inform the gathering that Jerzy Giedroyc had died. He described the deceased in a few words, everyone stood, there was a moment of silence, a prayer: Our Father, Grant him eternal peace… Afterwards, during the scheduled pause, we sat down in the rector's suite: Leszek Kolakowski, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Alik Smolar and our group from the "Weekly". The conditions were hardly perfect, there was no time for a prolonged conversation, the suite was abuzz with congress guests, and we remembered the Prince.
"Tygodnik Powszechny / Popular Weekly": - Jerzy Giedroyc was important in each of your lives...
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI: - I have immense respect for Jerzy Giedroyc
. I am not alone in this and it sounds banal. "Kultura" and the Literary Institute were immensely important to Polish culture. Giedroyc always dared to counter popular opinion and stereotypes, even if it prompted sharp reactions; for instance, he knew how to say, "Dear countrymen, we will not return to Vilnius and Lviv, that is something we need to forget" - which was shocking to many. Yet adopting this stance helped us resolve relations with our eastern neighbors. Giedroyc battled the stereotypes typically held by Polish exiles, because he knew - contrary to what most émigrés claimed - that the Poles were not a handful of traitors mixed in with the rest who, sword in hand, were raring to fight. He knew what Poland was really like and did not spare her bitter words when necessary. He also knew how to criticize "Solidarity", though he grasped its importance. He was bold, courageous and wise, and his contribution to our culture cannot be overestimated.
I met him in the fall of 1956 when I first went to Paris. I visited him with my since deceased friend Pawel Beylin. At this time boasting of having made such a visit was dangerous. Then we contacted each other on various occasions, I would sometimes write for "Kultura", which experience I truly value. The death of someone who is 94 years old should not cause a stir, but Giedroyc's departure fills us all with sadness.- How did his surprising critical attitude to "Solidarity" manifest itself?
TADEUSZ MAZOWIECKI: - He criticized both "Solidarity" and the Church. I don't know his opinion of the papacy of John Paul II, because we never talked about it. His criticism might have come from his inborn intellectual defiance. He had a very interesting personality, one that made "Kultura" multifaceted and open, above all to intelligent political thought, even though the views of its Editor, who equated himself completely with the publication, were often completely arbitrary. He was bitter and critical of "Solidarity" in early 1989. For example, he did not believe there were any great politicians in the "Solidarity" camp - which must have been painful to many of us. Yet I think - though I don't know if he's happy about this in the next life - that Jerzy Giedroyc should be very satisfied with what has happened in Poland and is good.
We met years ago, when I was still the editor of "Wiez", and he wanted to know as much as possible about Poland. He even advised me about editing the publication. When I was prime minister, he indicated what we should do, what we were failing to do.
ALEKSANDER SMOLAR:stroke against the grain". Someone who is right and has strong convictions can win Poles over to his point of view.
He was very important to Polish politics, to shaping the country's political culture, especially in terms of our relations with the East. He would repeat that Poland was a country that did not question its borders, and this helped us develop good relations with our eastern neighbors. During a conference marking one of "Kultura's" anniversaries, I stated that this stance, voiced by him, was essential to bring about democracy in the East: if those nations had not felt secure, had not been aware that Poland was no threat to them, I am not sure they would have sought independence, wanted to free themselves of Moscow.
We should also mention Giedroyc's impact on Polish elites - though some do not wish to admit this today while others remain blissfully unaware of it. In my opinion this was the greatest political achievement of Giedroyc and his circle. The paradox is that this man played a great political role while entirely lacking political talent. On top of everything, he was very shy. He knew how to talk to one person at a time, and was fantastic in these situations, but he lacked the ability to speak to larger groups. Perhaps that is why he never came back to Poland. At any rate, he did not consent to the publication of the interview I did with him for Aneks until ten years later, perhaps because it was a personal conversation during which he said that even before World War II his political activities were based on influencing and inspiring people and events, on intimate conversations, on bringing people together. Exile is a solitary world, while he created a Polish community spanning the globe. He knew how to show people that they could be useful to Poland while abroad.
He liked the concrete and would often say things like "do this and this" or "why haven't you founded a cultural center in Kiev?" He had a hundred thousand ideas a minute. He was pragmatic and a man of tough principles, one of which was Poland's independence. People who sinned against this principle were fired. He tolerated those who had a different vision or imagination of Poland's road to freedom, but he was merciless when he sensed that fundamental values were jeopardized. - It was he who made publication of your "Main Currents of Marxism" possible...
LESZEK KOLAKOWSKI: - Indeed, but I would mention first that he published Milosz, who the émigré community excommunicated, and he published Gombrowicz. Of course, when I approached him about "Main Currents..." Giedroyc willingly agreed to publish the three thick volumes.
ALEKSANDER SMOLAR: - We should add that he often published things that did not interest him personally - I'm not thinking of Leszek's work in this case, but Giedroyc had a gift, he knew what was important.- Can we compare Giedroyc to any other famous figure in our history?
ALEKSANDER SMOLAR: - No, although some justly compare him to Alexander Herzen, a 19th century Russian émigré and founder of the periodical "Kolokol", because "Kultura's" editor actually saw Herzen as a model. Once I asked him what fascinated him about Russia. Its size, its space... There is an anecdote he liked to tell about his return to Poland after World War I. He felt like a patriot and was fascinated by Polish history, but when he went to school for the first time and the teacher asked him a question, he saw the teacher turn red. He did not know why at first, but realized an instant later that he had answered in Russian. Some Polish biographies were this dramatic at the time.- Are you disappointed that "Kultura" will cease to be published given Jerzy Giedroyc's passing?
ALEKSANDER SMOLAR: - The magazine is a monument he erected to himself, so it's natural that "Kultura" will stop appearing. Poland is now independent and many periodicals will fill the gap, but nothing and no one can replace this man who, while deeply conservative, was very sensitive socially, more: who was incensed by callousness toward the poor, lack of sensitivity, the inability to conquer limitations. He knew how to conquer limitations and confirmed this through his good relations with Aleksander Kwasniewski, which was shocking to many, though the goodwill Giedroyc showed Kwasniewski clearly affected this president's policies toward the East.
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"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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