From the Editor

We commend Zbigniew Herbert for putting his reputation on the line and descending from the rarefied heights of poetic indirectness to the rough and tumble of political debate. For some time now, Herbert has been writing columns for Tygodnik Solidarnosc where he provides incisive comments on postcommunist power struggles.

We have often observed intellectuals of all ranks who have decided to spend the remainder of their lives accepting prizes, giving well-paid and predictable speeches, collecting interest on their fame as it were. They do not get involved in public debates (except as members of “herds of independent minds”), because the risks of engagement are considerable. Standing up for an unpopular cause carries a price. Oh, those Appeals written by the PEN Club members! How predictable is their range of vision and how choreographed their rignteous indignation!

The reputation of famous people is like capital. It can be kept in a safe deposit box, or it can be invested in a good cause.

Herbert has decided to tap into the capital of his reputation and speak up on issues of fundamental importance to Polish identity. He has spoken about Colonel Kuklinski; about deception practiced by representatives of the secular left who now inhabit the political space previously occupied by the Soviet-sponsored rulers of Poland; and about such values as honor, loyalty, steadfastness. He does not shirk the essentialist language which has all but disappeared from public debates orchestrated by media leaders.

Herbert's blunt language is very different from the muted tone of such recent books of his as Still Life with a Bridle [Martwa natura z wedzidlem] (New York: Ecco Press, 1991). To those who object to that tone, Jozef Pilsudski's reflection applies: in happier, more peaceful lands, things could be done according to the codes of savoir vivre. In the less fortunate lands, they often have to be done in haste. Certain things have to be said, certain judgments have to be passed, and time is short. Rather than consulting Miss Manners, Herbert speaks with History in mind.

Herbert is well aware that terms of discourse, in Poland and elsewhere, are set by the circles that need to be criticized. He deals with complex matters in ways not dissimilar from those of the common man: an anathema to the “knowledge class.” Paraphrasing the comment made once about Prince Jozef Poniatowski, one might say that Herbert saved the honor of the Polish intelligentsia.

We also publish a Letter, drafted by Herbert, to Czechnya's President Dzhokar Dudayev. It concisely restates the Polish point of view on issues which in American history books are usually seen through the eyes of Chechnya's adversaries.

Our thanks for permission to translate and publish, as well as for the permission to reproduce on our title page A. Chodorowski's illustration to the Herbert interview, go to Andrzej Gelberg, TS's Editor-in-Chief.

This issue also contains a scholarly description of a Slavic group of which little is known in America: the Wends, or Sorbs, of former East Germany. Professor J. S. Wilson's research shows that pockets of Slavic communities penetrated deeply into what most Americans consider ethnic Germany. Wilson's pioneering research raises many questions about the nature of assimilation and the strategies of Germanization in regard to the Wends.

For the third time, we publish an excerpt from Norman Davies' forthcoming Europe: A History. This time, the excerpt is guaranteed to ruffle some nationalistic feathers. Davies rightly warns us against a notorious habit of eastern Europeans to pay attention in their researches only to members of one nationality or ethnic group, forgetting about all the others. This invariably creates a distorted picture. We thank Professor Davies for permission to publish his work.

Professor Pienkos' comments on Polish Studies contain much sound advice. He issues a wise appeal to recent Polish immigrants to join the existing American Polish organizations such as the Polish American Congress and the fraternals, rather than forming their own groups.

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The Sarmatian Review
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