Wojciech Górecki is a reporter, journalist and an expert on the Caucasus. He was born in 1970 in Łódź. He studied journalism at Warsaw University and history at Catholic University in Lublin. As a diplomat, he served in 2002-2007 as secretary then counsellor at the Polish Embassy in Baku. He currently lives in Warsaw, where he works at the Marek Karp Centre for Eastern Studies.
For the love of Łódź
Wojciech Górecki debuted with a book titled Łódź przeżyła katharsis (Łódź Survived Catharsis, 1998), a story about his hometown, which he finds to be misunderstood, unloved, and subjected to unjust twists of fate. Although he has lived in Warsaw for many years, he still feels a very strong bond with Łódź and its history. Górecki emphasizes all the instances when the city has been excluded from the nationwide railway plans. When Tsar Nicholas ordered the Warsaw-Vienna railway to be built, Łódź was omitted as an important railway junction in favour of Koluszki. Another line, created in the interwar period, had been built so that it circled Łódź from the west. And when, in communist Poland, the railway connecting Warsaw with Poznań was designed, the railway station was built in Kutno.
Łódź has all the features of the provincial - he says. – although it is located in the centre of Poland, the centre of Europe, it is still treated as the end of the world. What’s striking is that on the one hand, Łódź impresses with a wealth of history and culture, on the other, it is treated with contempt by so many people. Recently, Hanna Krall told me that being from Łódź is like receiving a dowry. Who knows, maybe in the future once again, I will devote a book to our Promised Land.
It was in Łódź where he met Hanna Krall during the premiere of documentary film about her. He was 19 years old and he told Hanna Krall that he would like to write for Gazeta Wyborcza, which had just been established. She invited him to Warsaw where he was to show one of his texts. The reportage he decided to present was titled Końcówka Miasta (The End of the Town), and it told a story about the tragic death of a girl from childcare centre located on the periphery of the town.
Hanna Krall spent one hour with my text, underlining everything with red marker. And when I thought that there was no hope for me, she said: you wrote a great text, you are a good listener – recalls Górecki. - I believe that the most important thing for a reporter is the first sentence. You need to catch the momentum of the story and go with its flow. To write a good text, you have to go to a place you are interested in, either for one day or for one month. In other words, the reportage can be based either on the first impression or on a thorough knowledge on the subject.
Finding out the truth
Hanna Krall also gave him a hint of how to find out whether his interlocutor is telling the truth. She asserted that the proof that someone is telling the truth lies in a slight incoherence in someone’s story: “Nobody invents meaningless sentences. If everything is logical in the account, I start to be suspicious. When someone tells a story full of ambiguity, where some of the events do not necessarily result from earlier onces, I'm sure that the story is true."
Górecki argues that the text must “sound” properly. Therefore, he always prints it and reads it aloud. This is the only way he can find out whether he has accurately expressed his thoughts with words.
I'm in favour of brevity - he explains. - If you can write about something in ten words, it is best to use just five. As an author I have this bias of a historian-analyst. I feel uncomfortable if I don't read everything available about the subject I work on.
The other master of Wojciech Górecki is Ryszard Kapuściński, who taught him that the reporter should have his or her own theme and his or her own area of expertise. Kapuściński specialized in South America and Africa. He claimed that Africa is too vast to be described comprehensively. In the introduction to his book Heban (Ebony), he called this continent "a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a diverse, fantastical cosmos." And he added: "For the reasons of simplification and for convenience we say - Africa. In reality, “Africa” as such does not exist. It is just a geographical name."
Górecki has chosen the Caucasus as his theme. Why? Because it is a mosaic of peoples and languages, it is a “chessboard” of religions. As he claims, "there is a lot of everything." For this reason, the Caucasus is an excellent vantage point from which you can follow all the processes that will prove decisive for the fate of the world. And besides, the Caucasus is so small that it is possible to describe it in a comprehensive manner.
Faiz, one of the Górecki’s protagonists, says:
I like European poetry, but I do not value its sophistication. I like Asian poetry, but I don't agree with its philosophy. I am not European, and I'm not Asian. I do not feel Caucasian either. I feel Caucasian in terms of geography at most. Caucasus is inhabited by Georgians, Armenians, Azeris, Chechens, Circassians, Ossetians. There are Muslims, Christians, and worshippers of fire. We look alike, but we have different cultures and different characters. It’s because Caucasus is the whole world, the entire planet.
From this comment, Górecki took the title for his second book, Planeta Kaukaz (Planet Caucasus), which received an enthusiastic review from Ryszard Kapuściński:
Wojtek Górecki wrote a great book which is the result of his fascination with a world not so distant from Poland, but completely unknown and unfamiliar to us. (...) It's a great merit for the author to contribute to knowing others with his writing, and through this knowledge - to understanding and rapprochement. Górecki overcome the magnitude of the difficulties encountered in those sites and reached the most inaccessible places, where he met extraordinary people, endearing us with their simplicity and heart. In his lively and precise way of writing, not only the entire North Caucasus, but also the individual communities inhabiting it are transformed into separate, smaller planets, so that the result is the rich and diverse "Cosmos Caucasus". The author's passion, his effort, perseverance and knowledge employed in creating the book resulted in a volume which is one of the most valuable publications of the young generation of Polish reporters.
The reporter portrayed the town of Łagań flooded with the waters of the Caspian Sea, the level of which is constantly rising. The authorities wrote off the town and refused to help. The disaster surprised everyone but the Kalmyk elders, who have a saying that the sea always retrieves what belongs to it. Another reportage in the volume tells the story of the awakening of the volcano Elbrus. Each year, the magma chamber residing in the highest mountain of the Caucasus rises. When the temperature reaches a certain level, the ice massif will melt and the flow rate of the Kuban river will exceed the capacity of its channel. The resulting wave will be 20 metres high. Abkhazia will be washed away from the surface of the Earth and hurled into Turkey. Unfortunately, the authorities don't seem to care too much about it. They do not subsidize research into it and obstruct any alarming reports. Certainly, one can be angry at reality, but this won't prevent a cataclysm.
World in a grain of sand
In 2010, Górecki published Toast za przodków (A Toast for the Ancestors), a continuation of Planet Caucasus. The book argues that the great Italian reporter Tiziano Terzani was right when he claimed that in a single moment one can see the eternity, and in a grain of sand one can discern the world. Focusing on the history of the President of Azerbaijan, who taught the West what parliamentarism should look like, and Mecca, how a devout Muslim should live, Wojciech Górecki created a universal story about power. In an equally metaphorical manner Górecki depicts two brothers - one of them feels the heir of Western culture, and the other - of the Orient. It seems that the boundary between Europe and Asia separates the table at which they sit. Górecki’s reportages are beautifully written and intertwined with notes which are reminiscent of Ryszard Kapuściński’s Lapidaria.
Prof. Andrzej Pisowicz, who specializes in subjects concerning Armenia and Iran, stated in his review of the book:
Throughout the book you will see that the author is not only an expert on the political affairs of the South Caucasus (among other things, he speak the Azerbaijani language), a great writer, but also (as you would expect, given his biography) a consummate diplomat. He skilfully keeps 'equal distance' to the three nations, which is of great importance since they can be easily offended by any sign of unjust treatment. He fairly deals critical 'blows', but at the same time he knows how to value each of the nations without paying “cheap” compliments. On the one hand, Azerbaijan is rebuked for corruption, Georgia - for the cult of Stalin, and Armenia - for rampant nationalism resulting in some scientists falsifying history; but on the other hand, the author appreciates Caucasian hospitality and cordiality which the foreigner experiences every day in all three countries.
The story of the Caucasus completes the book titled Abchazja (Abkhazia), published in April 2013 by Czarne publishing.
Author: Bartosz Marzec, July 2010, ed. & transl. GS, 30 July 2014
- Łódź przeżyła katharsis, 1998,
- Planeta Kaukaz, 2002, tranlated into Italian and Georgian
- La terra del vello d`oro. Viaggi in Georgia (Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 2009)
- Toast za przodków, 2010, translated into Georgian and Chinese
- Abchazja, 2013, tranlated into Georgian