Marcin Krol on Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny", 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,"JERZY GIEDROYC'S POLITICS"
Krakow, 24 September 2000
Marcin Krol on Jerzy Giedroyc
When Jerzy Giedroyc
first became active politically and in publishing seventy years ago, which shortly led to the appearance of the first periodical he edited, "Bunt Mlodych" [Youth Revolt], his political views were at base identical to those he retained to the last moments of his life. He was interested in politics always and invariably, but was at all times capable of perfectly and consciously distinguishing this domain from those of culture, morality or economics. He saw neither morality nor culture as any less important, yet he viewed the political as self-contained, and it was additionally the only thing he felt passionate about.
Politics to him chiefly amounted to understanding and implementing state policy. The state tout court, rather than the nation-state, the state as an expression of civil society or as a community of shared values. Though Giedroyc almost never wrote articles, throughout those decades the exceptional columnists allied to the periodicals he edited expressed his position: Adolf Bochenski in "Bunt Mlodych" (when the paper's founders all reached approximately thirty years of age, they sensibly concluded that they were no longer young and changed the periodical's name to "Polityka"), followed by Juliusz Mieroszewski in "Kultura." Recently we were afforded a glimpse of Jerzy Giedroyc's own views, expressed in numerous interviews and in many published volumes of his correspondence.
Giedroyc saw state interests as objective goal, meaning - and this may sound trite - that they were supra individual, supra partisan and supra moral. If one were to apply the categories so often employed today in analyzing his views, we would be forced to view him as a proponent of realpolitik. Yet it was never that simple. An example might be the "Bunt Mlodych" community's attitude to Jozef Pilsudski as a person and to the political group known as the "Pilsudskiites." According to essayists like Adolf Bochenski, Ksawery Pruszynski or Piotr Dunin-Borkowski, Pilsudski was a symbol of statehood reborn as well as Poland's only politician to always act specifically in the interests of the state. Their attitude to the Pilsudskiites was different: "Bunt Mlodych" and "Polityka" often criticizing this group for rapidly exchanging state interests for those of their own camp. Walery Slawek, whom Giedroyc knew personally, was a somewhat mysterious exception in that he was spared criticism, but the politician took his own life - probably because he could not abide such a dramatic drop in his political camp's status, although we will never know be certain of the reason.
Giedroyc and his collaborators did not become active in Polish politics after 1935, but with other representatives of the new political generation they did plan to participate in the next parliamentary election in a bid to defeat the "generation of the enslaved," as it was termed in "Bunt Mlodych." They were prevented from implementing these plans by the outbreak of war.
A second example of Giedroyc's singular understanding of a policy of state interests was his attitude to both Poland's eastern neighbors and to the concept of human rights, especially when the West began to use the latter as a political tool in the 1970s. This was also evident in the stance he took after 1956; criticized as usual by most émigrés, he expressed reserved support for Gomulka's reforms. In these situations Giedroyc proved capable of discerning that while the means for achieving an objective, that is, Poland's state interests, might vary widely, moral or ideological rigor could prevent flexible employment of the most effective means. Thus, we should clearly distinguish between politics as understood by Giedroyc and the views of so-called political realists (contrary to idealists), who - like the nearly forgotten Adam Bromke - thought that only negotiation with existing regimes could be effective while any opposition could only cause tragedy or, God forbid, another doomed national uprising.
For Jerzy Giedroyc the political sphere was not limited to politics tritely understood as the set of relations between politicians, but encompassed all public behavior. It was this view that allowed him to respect and appreciate the activities of the opposition in Poland, which at the time were often a lost cause. He assigned importance to the actions and publications of rather small, even minute opposition groups like the Movement for Human and Civil Rights or the Polish Independence Alliance. Some of these groups added much to the intellectual debate on Poland's future, while others made only symbolic gestures. In Giedroyc's mind, all this combined to form Poland's political image. This view of the political realm was possible solely for an émigré, and also given Giedroyc's full and intentional insensitivity to psychological factors that might affect politics.
Jerzy Giedroyc saw Polish state interests not merely as its internal interests and not only - as we know - in terms of its future relations with its eastern neighbors, but also on a global scale. I had a chance to see this in person; I was completely surprised by his way of thinking that, today, looks to have been entirely accurate. In 1975 I was at Maisons-Laffitte among a larger group of people, and Jerzy Giedroyc made a speech describing fourteen points that were to be considered in thinking about Polish foreign policy. When he got to point thirteen only the kick I received under the table from Stefan Kisielewski prevented me from smiling (I should add that Jerzy Giedroyc was the only person in the world who Stefan Kisielewski really respected). In point thirteen, Giedroyc mentioned the Tibet situation and the effect it might have on the Polish issue. I now see that I was silly then in not understanding that this is, in fact, the right way to approach international policy.
Someone who assigns paramount important to state interests cannot be a strong proponent of any one ideology. Though state interests as a goal are not immune from ideological debate, by their nature ideologies offer partial visions, i.e. partisan visions. For this reason, Giedroyc never saw ideology as an indicator or prism for perceiving the world. Already during the "Bunt Mlodych" period, his collaborators openly defined their stance: neither nationalism nor socialism. Giedroyc could not stand nationalism to his last days, perceiving it as a harmful brand of stupidity. His attitude to socialism in its totalitarian version was similar. However, he had no other prejudices. For example, he proved able to appreciate the role of late 1950s and early 1960s revisionists, though attempts at rehabilitating "the young Marx" relative to "the old Marx" clearly did not interest him at all. His attitude to the Church as an institution (rather than to faith, for we know nothing about that) strictly depended on whether he saw the Church's public behavior as favorable or detrimental to state interests.
This picture of Jerzy Giedroyc as a politician might generate the impression that he was cold and calculating. Yet let us remember that Giedroyc's political successes were colossal: he educated several generations of people who became politicians and political thinkers, he was responsible for the fact that even after Poland's independence was restored no one thought of challenging the country's eastern border, and finally, it was he who enabled a magnificent continued development of Polish culture in the most difficult times - though this was never his main objective. Giedroyc understood his role very well and knew where he had succeeded. Yet unlike the vast majority of politicians, he never believed that this authorized him to reach for political power.
In recent interviews he vented his bitterness deriving - as it did in the 1930s - from indignation at Poland's political scene, from which the concept of state interests had almost entirely evaporated.
© by "Tygodnik Powszechny"
The author is an historian of ideas. His books include monographs on "Bunt Mlodych" and "Polityka."
"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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