- Ten years ago, Jacek Trznadel interviewed you for his book, Hanba
domowa [Domestic Disgrace]. He
said in that interview: "Our conversation is taking place on 9 July
1985." We are conversing on 27 October 1994. The day after tomorrow you
turn 70 and, having published "The
Army" in TS, you are expecting seconds from General
Jaruzelski and others.2
- General Jaruzelski is in the hospital, General Kiszczak has had two heart attacks, Admiral Kolodziejczyk, one suspects, will find an excuse. I hope that they will have a meeting of the general staff and will dispatch some courageous general to his death.
- You are quite sure of yourself.
- In my youth, I duelled twice. Once because of a woman...
- A fiancee?
-No, I did not even know her. But some bloke insulted her in my presence. I had no choice except to challenge him to a duel.
- Did you choose pistols?
- The choice was my adversary's, and he selected sabres. Our seconds decided that we would fight until "third blood."3 I could not sleep the night before, not because I was afraid but because I was anxious not to oversleep. We were supposed to fight at six in the morning in the Bielanski Park near Warsaw. He got me twice, but I almost cut off his ear. It turned out that he was a professional officer whereas I held the sabre for the first time in my life. Thus the result was encouraging.
- A duel is a matter of honor. Today, the word "honor" seems
on its way out of the vocabulary, just as is "duel."
- I was born and raised in the Second Polish Republic.4 For me, those twenty years are a yardstick with which I measure all that happened later, and not only matters of honor or duels. Life is like knitting: one has to attach the old thread to the new. Before we descend to the grave, the garment should be fit for wear. One has to know what kind of garment it is, which parts of it are poorly made and which are of better quality. It is important to realize that about one's own life, and also about the life of that nation or society in which one's private life was spent.
- You speak about the Second Republic, but you spent most of your life
in People's Poland.
- I have to admit that during most of that time I was unable to work on that garment. I do not know what happened, whether the thread was broken or it somehow rotted...5 So I began to putter around in a way that imitated work, just to keep alive.
- From the very beginning I realized that we were again occupied: bloodily, barbarically, churlishly. Those who had not smelled the Soviet smell before optimistically thought that "we would cover up these 'liberators' with our hats." Only a mild enemy could be dealt with in such a way, and besides, we did not have enough hats anyway. Then [our underground leader] Radoslaw gave the fatal order to come out of conspiracy.6 I was against it. Why should we reveal our existence to another enemy of ours, the Soviets? I knew that this decision to come out was based on dangerous illusions which would lead to the death of tens of thousands of young people.7
Telling the truth is the fundamental obligation of intellectuals, and the only possible justification for society's largesse toward them.
- Were these illusions a result of naivete or despair?
- Naivete. They stemmed from a childish certainty that we would manage, that we would find enough hats.
- When were these illusions shattered?
- I do not know. I lost contact with the former underground. I quit. I think they actually looked for me and considered me a deserter, but at that time I was already in a different and well-armed military unit. I maintained contact with the "forest bandits" for two years.8 I withdrew when I realized that the guerrilla enterprise was failing, and that the tupamaros tactic, or city fighting, was a better idea.
- One always tries to justify one's decision of course. I have great respect for those who remained faithful and remained in conspiracy and without hope.
- Romantic irredentism was not very popular after World War II.
- After a defeat Poles always become very pragmatic. There was talk then about voting for Stanislaw Mikolajczyk9 or even for the Polish Socialist Party that had long traditions; Polish workers and peasants together were supposed to prevail somehow. This infantile idea is still circulating today. In 1946, the result was falsified elections. The PPS of Jozef Cyrankiewicz had nothing to do with the pre-war PPS of Adam Ciolkosz.10
Jerzy Andrzejewski is still regarded as the most important post-World War II [Polish] novelist, even though he is barely mediocre, and his Ashes and Diamonds is a scoundrelly book.
- Was pragmatism of the socialists already apparent before their
unification with the PPR?11
- Even before World War II some socialists already flirted with communism. These were the marginal socialists. After Yalta, nearly all of them decided to join the winners. I personally liked some of these pragmatists, e.g., Boleslaw Drobner.12
- I remember a rally at the Mining Academy in Krakow in 1947. The first to speak was a certain Szwalbe,13 a big shot, deputy head of the KRN.14 We coughed loudly to protest what he was saying. Drobner, a little and perky guy, jumped up to the podium. He said: "You won't succeed with me, I used to demonstrate on May 1 before the war. The mounted police charged but I stood fast. Not letting someone speak is the wrong way to go." He also said, "There is only one Poland, the one that exists now," and "there is only one law, the one that exists now." He intimated that he is not altogether happy with this but does not see any way out. He got an applause. He exemplified "the organic worker" of those years.
- In those years, the communists held a stick in one hand and a tasty
carrot in the other.
- Yes. For instance, diplomatic posts went to writers such as [Julian] Przybos, [Czeslaw] Milosz, [Ksawery] Pruszynski and others, even though Pruszynski never pretended to like the communists, rather, he favored Margrave Wielopolski's approach.15 However, before being awarded such carrots, writers had to demonstrate their loyalty. Our Nobel Prize winner had to write appropriate articles for the press. Only fear could force a man who was physically and psychologically healthy to commit himself to such excesses of conformism and lies. I would not advise Arka16 to republish these texts. He is too old, and he was my master. One does not forget that - the debt of gratitude and all that.
- We are marveling at your willingness to get along in this case. When
did you meet Milosz?
- In 1958, in Paris. He was then the most likeable and the poorest of all first-class poets. Together we emptied numerous bottles of cheap wine during conversations to which I owe a lot. He belongs to the generation that preceded mine. We used to meet at least twice weekly. Milosz lived in the suburbs, and we bid each other adieu before midnight, so that he would be able catch the last train home. He "chose freedom" at a doubly unlucky moment. At that time, intellectually, Paris was radically leftist, and Milosz's situation was ambivalent: while he was a member of the left during the German occupation of Poland, he later betrayed the socialist homeland. With the exception of Albert Camus, all intellectuals kept him at arm's length. However, his books got published. He would get a hundred francs per book. He had a wife and two kids, and could not make ends meet on that. He was saved by a job offer in America.
- Was Milosz sincere in these Parisian and alcoholic fraternizings?
- Not entirely. To tell the truth, he has never come to terms with himself. His main problem is the lack of a sense of identity. This is a serious psychological shortcoming which he tries to remedy by announcing that he is a citizen of the Great Lithuanian Principality or the Republic of Poland-Lithuania. These are handy and pretty names which dispense of obligations toward actual reality. One might just as well say, "I am an Athenian and I belong to the times of Pericles, and I am not in the least interested in your quarrels in wild northern Europe." I could say that I am a citizen of Galicia and Lodomeria, and I am working to install an emperor in my beloved Galicia and Lodomeria. Like Proteus, Milosz assumes the form of a tree, a cloud, a stream, a rock. Perhaps this proclivity toward metamorphosis (including political metamorphosis) is a feature of great poets. I doubt it. But I do agree with him when he says that great conflagrations do not release the poet from the right, indeed the obligation, to describe sunsets, lest the Arcadian myth disappears altogether and we cease to hope that happiness is posssible.
- So you are defending Milosz.
- All the troubles stem from his psychological proclivities. He told me once: "Do you understand? I always wanted to serve ...." There are such people. They are of the opinion that their work is of service to someone or something. That means they are under the impression that they are necessary.
- You met him again in the United States.
- This happened in 1968 or 1969. In a state of total sobriety, he told me that Poland should join the USSR. I said: "Czeslaw, let's take a cold shower and then let's go for a drink." I thought he was joking or trying to provoke me. But when he repeated that at a dinner with some native-born Americans (they liked the idea very much), I got up and let him know what I thought of it. One must not say such things, not even for a lark.
- Where did this idea of his come from?
- He is a torn man, one without a national, metaphysical, or moral identity... He has been fascinated by gnosticism. So had I, until I realized that this is dangerous nonsense. I have not encountered absolute evil except in men. I am willing to admit that gnostic beliefs could help one endure communism, just as they put to sleep one's sense of responsibility: Lucifer cannot be conquered with one blow, and therefore it might be futile to wrestle with the First Secretary notwithstanding his satanic connections ... Kolakowski17 played with such thoughts in print, perhaps to deafen the cry of his conscience which is not altogether clear.
- You once said that in those years you did not think you would live
long enough to see communism die. History surprised us in 1989. But the streets
did not resound with joyful songs.
- Sometimes I wonder why I feel discomfort when I wake up and remember that I live in a sovereign state. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I did not actively fight for freedom. [This time] we got independence as a gift from history; we did not shed blood for it. It was as if the communists suddenly became smart and said: "We will not do those nasty things any longer, errr .... let's have a drink instead." Sort of, one Pole speaking to another.
- If there was anyone who shed blood for our present independence, it was the Home Army [Armia Krajowa], for five long years [1940-1945]. Yet the Home Army's efforts, as well as the Warsaw Uprising [of August 1944], have been described by our literati as futile and politically erroneous. The same has been said about those guerrilla fighters who engaged in armed struggle against communism after the fake liberation by the Red Army. And about those who perished in the torture chambers of the communist police. Well, I hope I have said enough to qualify me as a fascist.18
- Indeed, there was little rejoicing [in 1989], and then things went really wrong.
Perhaps we were not prepared for freedom, perhaps communism is a disease which
- It is difficult to analyze the foolishness of one's own [nation]; it is certain however that the country's elite is principally responsible for it. During conspiratorial times, that is to say, under Stalinism and later, they did not generate a group of people dedicated to mapping out the course of action after liberation from communism. In contrast, during World War II, under German occupation, professionals of all kind worked out together the plans to rebuild the future respublica. For instance, the architect [Maciej] Nowicki19 produced an excellent draft of the transformation of Warsaw into a modern city. But we came out [of People's Poland] totally unprepared. We did not believe that we could become free, even though we had a subconscious conviction that we should fight and sacrifice from time to time. No one pondered the question of what to do after victory, or how to deal with the defeated adversary. Then came this fatal "Round Table" delivery - it did not even involve a cesarean section, rather it ended up with the birth of a brainless baby.20 It is an awful comparison, and I am sure Mrs. Boba21 will protest, but it is not entirely faulty. Many people, including myself, felt an almost physical pressure of the political forceps at that time.
Our major enemies are now our national shortcomings: hypocrisy, self-love, megalomania. This is the narcissism of the poor, who have been rejected by the powerful in this world. We need to engage in a massive enterprise of self-education which should make plain to us our failings and vices.
- Not only the political but also the intellectual elite are
responsible for what is going on today. The political elite did not know how to
govern. What about the intellectuals? Some years ago, you said that under
Stalinism, they were ruled by fear, pride and self-interest. You also said that
the major reason why some of them joined the opposition [after 1956] was that
they were rejected by Wladyslaw Gomulka [who just came to power and] who did
not like the intelligentsia. In an article published in Tygodnik Solidarnosc after the
September 1993 elections, you called the period after 1989 'the time of
semantic collapse.' Today we seem to be in for another form of Orwellian
language against which you warned us ten years ago.
- Many of us thought that after 1989 we would liberate ourselves from the lie, even if we were not instantly successful in building an ideal society. It did not work out because members of the elite began to interpret their behavior under communism as resulting from the "Hegelian bite" - whereas it is better explained as "Jakub Berman's bite."22 The elite proved incapable of creating the language of truth. Yet telling the truth is the fundamental obligation of intellectuals, and the only possible justification for society's largesse toward them. To think means trying to define who we are and what surrounds us. The intellectuals carry the grave responsibility for the use of words [in society]. Yet today in Poland, they do not wish to shoulder that responsibility. Things have gone so far that one can call [the writer Andrzej] Szczypiorski a monster of conformism and master of banalities, and he does not even wink; he is not offended. One may call General Jaruzelski a hero and Colonel Kuklinski23 a traitor, and nothing happens. Such are the wages of Marxism and its perverse dialectic and logic. Aristotelian logic knows the principles of identity and non-contradiction, Marxist logic rejects them.
- Dialectical thinking provided excellent training for the belief that
everything is relative.
- Indeed. A good Marxist, like a good sophist, successfully argued for Helen's virginity, and then equally successfully demonstrated that she was a whore. I like to study beginnings and endings of phenomena. I read books this way too: having been introduced to the characters on the first few pages, I then reach for the last, to see them at the altar, in their coffins or in the midst of struggle... The beginning of the present semantic collapse goes back to the 1950s. Those who remained faithful to the principles of dialectic did so after massive training. They do not pronounce intersubjective judgments but instead treat the language as a form of attack or defense: "Under Bierut I wrote this, under Gomulka something else," but always following the rhythm of history, or rather, the Politburo guidelines. This amounts to a betrayal of language, a denial of the unequivocal meaning of certain ideas. Those of whom I speak are extremely subtle, they understand the concept of relativity, they analyze the flow of history and changing conditions, whereas I, a simpleton, simplify. I do however maintain that, first, one has to present a problem plainly, without using the conditional mood, and only then consider possible ramifications. When he already was quite old, Karl Popper used to bang his cane and say during a discussion: "In what sense did you use the word determinism?"
- One of the fundamental things I learned in high school in the Second Polish Republic was how to debate issues fairly. A debate, we were told, was not a fist fight where everything goes but an attempt to precisely explain one's own position. What counted was proofs, not power. Honest debaters are allies who together search for the truth.
- After the Trznadel interview, you were attacked. Your friend Adam
Michnik lamented that having reached Olympian heights in "The power of
taste," you began to favor trivial literalness. Since that time, the
so-called leftist and secular opposition (represented by the daily Gazeta Wyborcza) chose to
distance itself from your artistic work and from you personally.
- Michnik and I were friends once. Today this is a closed chapter of my life. Why are we friends no more? I ceased to understand the meanderings of his mind. I used to believe in his intellect and honesty. I was wrong on both counts.
- I do not quite understand why Michnik evokes so much disappointment and irritation. His is a classic example of a communist Dyzma.24 The depressing story of a talented youngster. People now ask, how does his heroic youth relate to what he is doing now? He seems to be sliding down into feverish activism. One perceives here the cynicism of the admirers of Macchiavelli, as well as common nihilism.
The beginning of the present semantic collapse goes back to the 1950s. . . Dialectical thinking provided excellent training for the belief that everything is relative.
- He has disappointed virtually all his former friends while remaining faithful to externals only. He continues to wear blue jeans, as if to emphasize that he favors poverty. Long ago, he wrote those books about the Church and the Left, and about Polish literature.25 Those books exuded innocence, passion, and trustworthiness. Now he stays in his paper citadel surrounded by true believers of both sexes. I recently talked to a forty-year old "youngster" who confided in me that he adored Michnik and would do anything for him. Forty years ago, I listened to a similar "youngster" who made similar confessions about Boleslaw Piasecki.26 Thus the pattern of the charismatic leader and dedicated worshippers repeats itself.
- How do such attitudes develop?
- Well, maybe people who fall in for them are genetically determined ... 27
- How do you explain the fact that the people whose genes apparently
favored totalitarianism have now proclaimed liberalism? Is that an authentic
transformation or an additional proof of their duplicity?
- In the 1930s in America, so-called communists and crypto-communists were in fact liberals [in today's meaning of the word]. It seems to me that the word 'liberalism' is the most banal and vulgar word in the entire Polish political vocabulary. It excuses any laissez-faire, economic as well as moral. It has become a device to blur the difference between concepts.
- Doesn't the present semantic collapse have as its source the
attempts to blur the differences between [the
Soviet-occupied] People's Poland and the Third Polish
- Not only the new but also the old elite are responsible for these attempts. These old professional elites are still in place. Even after the demise of communism, they retain their place in the pecking order. Jerzy Andrzejewski is still regarded as the most important post-World War II Polish novelist, even though he is mediocre in my view, and his Ashes and Diamonds is a scoundrelly book.
- Nowy Swiat Street and its environs28 have changed over
the years. The coffee shops which belonged to the Writer's Union and to the
Actors and Musicians' Union are now empty. Some of your friends "emigrated
to the nether world," others, like Leopold Tyrmand, sought refuge abroad
- Tyrmand and I were very good friends. He used to treat me with a bit of condescension, posing as an older colleague and mentor. He loved to provoke me. Once we walked together on Nowy Swiat and he told me: "I have finally decided who you are: you are a rag under the table on which beer has been spilt." I said nothing. He repeated louder: "A rag under the beer-stained table." He was very unhappy that I did not lose my temper. That's typical Tyrmand. But at some point our relations cooled. I did not know why until someone told me that Leopold felt aggravated that I published my poetry in [the monthly]Tworczosc and that I allegedly was editor when Tworczosc printed unfavorable articles about him. In fact, I have never visited the editorial offices of any periodical in Soviet-occupied Poland. Later I learned that Andrzej Kijowski published in Tworczosc an exceptionally stupid and vulgar review which ended with these words: "Leopold Tyrmand is a writer for .....heads." I had nothing to do with this of course. Tyrmand was truly a man of priniciple, and he considered my publishing there a form of disloyalty. He was brought up on Hemingway, and in manly friendships he was a fanatic of loyalty. Later we met in New York, he invited me over. But we never rebuilt the friendship. I did not feel like apologizing for something I did not do. Now I regret that I did not start a conversation that would have clarified things.29
- In his Diaries,
Tyrmand wrote warmly only about you and about Stefan Kisielewski.30
He blasted [Jaroslaw]
Iwaszkiewicz, [Tadeusz] Konwicki
- I would agree. I fought against Iwaszkiewicz all my life. However, now I would like to make peace. He did one thing right: he always tried to defend his fellow writers. he realized very well that the East was swalling us up; in regard to the East he was quite phobic, he sensed the invasion of barbarians. He feared that, once again, Poles would have to die en masse, that churches, palaces, and libaries would be pulverized. So he decided to come to terms with the new master. He would not sign protest letters, but in critical matters he would intervene all the way up to [the nominal head of state, Henryk] Jablonski. Such was the case with asking for pardon for the brothers Kowalczyk. But in spite of that, he was generally despised. I wonder what would have become of him in free Poland? Would he be able to make a living as a writer? I can see him as an old man sitting alone in his house in Stawiska; the roof leaks, the price of electricity goes up, and the authorities are not about to rush in to help. And while this goes on, his colleagues keep reminding him that he kowtowed to the Reds. If this were happening today, I would go to him and say: "Jaroslaw, I now understand you better."
The post-communist intellectuals are extremely subtle, they understand the concept of relativity, they analyze the flow of history and changing conditions, while maintaining that only simpletons simplify.
- Would he be able go to Czytelnik [a publishing house] and ask them to publish his short story? With whom would he discuss the terms, with Mr. Komar, a nice narcissist? On second thought, I think that Iwaszkiewicz would have found his way in these new conditions. He knew how to take care of himself, and he was a talented and prolific writer.
- But let us go down many, many steps. Kazimierz Brandys. He daydreamed of becoming Solidarity's favorite writer, but tons and tons of his publications from the period of "mistakes and misunderstandings"31 just could not be reprinted. He knew that very well. In the 1970s, he used to go to Andrzej Wasilewski, editor of the PIW [a publishing house], to place an order: "This should be published in 100,000 copies, and that, in 50,000 copies." Wasilewski, an apparatchik himself, would kowtow: "Yessir, but we shall also republish your Obywatele."32 Here the PIW boss hit the mark, and Brandys departed waiving his dainty hands and complaining that he was being blackmailed. Now he lives in Paris, just as [Cyprian Kamil] Norwid did, except in more luxurious conditions.33 Like many others, he plays the role of a victim of Polish anti-semitism and communism. But his pure socialist heart continues to beat leftward. The generous rightist, [Paris Mayor Jacques] Chirac, and so many others who helped him know only that he is a great writer persecuted by his countrymen; he writes about that often and with great dedication. He is one of those of whom Zygmunt Hertz34 used to say: "There are two kinds of people, those who are carried and those who carry." No matter what the situation, from the river suddenly emerge sixty half-starved Negroes to carry him in a gestatorial chair to the other shore. For the good of the cause, of course.
- Tadeusz Konwicki. The most talented of the contemporary Polish novelists. Talent is a God's gift, but character is something to be acquired by the beneficiary. He has committed such books as Na budowie.35 Before joining the opposition (and as Lithuanians usually do, he thought long and hard about it36), he was the bard of the youth so disgustingly cheated by the reactionary leadership of the Home Army, a leadership that eventually descended into the horrors of robberies, crime and violence... No wonder he was the party's favorite. What is harder to understand is why his works were considered courageous and honest. In one of his recent books, Konwicki writes about a meeting with Tyrmand in New York. As a seasoned writer, he does not mention Tyrmand by name, but rather calls him "the man in colorful socks." How cute! Well, "the man..." behaves like an idiot, he shouts, he foams at the mouth, he mocks the poor "provincial writer," who, however, does not reciprocate in kind but instead, loves him and reads Zly37 with respect. But he [Konwicki] apparently never read Tyrmand's 1954 Diary. In the spirit of mutual service, I would like to quote from that work of Tyrmand's. It appears that it was Konwicki and not Tyrmand who 'shouted and foamed at the mouth' under the New York skies. Here is what Tyrmand wrote:
During the gathering, the highest apparatchiks tore down at a certain
Konwicki, a young and obedient aspiring writer. He wrote a story about love.
All the accessories were in place: the noble UB38 officer, the
lovers keeping their trysts under the control of the local party cell. They are
never 'against' and always 'for' and 'with' the USSR. They talk Marxism in bed.
But the story did not please the apparatchiks. Why? People as old as the
roadstones, who looked like dwarfs and monsters: people like Melania
Kierczynska and Adam Wazyk - came forth to instruct ordinary folks with normal
looks about sex. Socially responsible, ideologically mature sex, as opposed to
the animalistic, unnatural, American and imperialistic sex. Mme Kierczynska,
that grey eminence of red literature, looked like a grotesque collage of dry
bones and warts. Since her life was totally dedicated to the struggle for
socialism, and since she looked as described above, her only sighting of a
penis must have been in an anatomical atlas. Yet she instructed [the aspiring writers] that marital
infidelity was a remnant of capitalism and it would disappear in the new era.
Konwicki's story probably will be spiked for good. The faces of the party
sages acquired a senile blush under the influence of this topic, while the
audience let go with the help of the Wedekinds and the Havelock Ellises, the
eternal symbols of their toothless sexology. Konwicki's story could safely go
to the waste paper basket so as not to disturb the people busy with the
rebuilding of Warsaw.
I felt sorry for myself but not for Konwicki. After all, he's got what he wanted, what he decided to choose and for what he was fighting. The appropriate "organs" will undoubtedly hand him in a few zlotys. He won't perish from hunger as long as he carries a party card in his pocket. Not so myself.39
- Later on, when Konwicki left the communist party and began to be published
by NOWA [a publishing house], he remained an "in" writer and a member
of the mutual admiration society consisting of [Gustaw] Holoubek, [Irena] Szymanska,
[Antoni] Slonimski and himself.... Creme de la creme, nothing better could have been had in Warsaw....
But I like Konwicki's books, there is some folkish simplicity in them, a
singsong voice, the smell of the earth, the beauty of language. I think that
Konwicki has not yet finished writing. I hope that his present singsong
stammering is not his last word.
- Come to think of it, among my fellow writers there have been quite a few military men: [Jan] Dobraczynski, a general; [Adam] Wazyk, a major; [Artur] Sandauer - I do not remember his rank, but I am not surprised that under martial law he praised the soldier's lot; [Wojciech] Zukrowski (a colonel, if I remember correctly). Zukrowski made his debut with a nice book in the horsey-patriotic tradition: A piebald horse or something of that sort. . . One of the classical useful idiots. Nothing will help him, not even the free market.
- Speaking of the free market: how does it influence the situation of
writers? They lost the sponsorship of the state, and western-style foundations
have not yet had the time to form and consolidate their resources. Aren't you
afraid of the possibility that this transitional period will create a
generational gap in Polish literature?
- The writer's profession does not bring material rewards these days. Sometimes it does not provide enough to keep body and soul together. My friend Marek Nowakowski is a very fine writer whose artistic development I have been following closely. He certainly suffers poverty even though he is an authentic writer. He writes for the newspapers, and apparently makes a living from that. He does not complain.
- I think that is how it should be. Poverty will weed out those who are not top notch. I do not believe we are soon going to have sponsors for art and culture in Poland. Our nouveau-riches are quite different from the Medicis. I do hope, however, that we shall eventually return to our traditions, such as the nineteenth-century custom that the rich spend some of their money on lofty causes.
- Henryk Sienkiewicz received a country house as a gift from the
nation. . .
- But in France, no one gave Gustave Flaubert even an efficiency apartment. Here again I see the Polish tradition: admiration for those writers who have been recognized as the spokesmen for national aspirations. This tradition is fading away today.
- The Polish rich or, more exactly, the wives of the rich, have
recently introduced the fashion of inviting to their mansions a motley of
painters, poets and artists.
- I do not like that. This is the worst that can happen to a poor artist: to be invited to live on caviar and champagne for two weeks, and then again go back to the snack bar. I see a young poet reciting his poetry and looking with hatred at the conspicuous consumption that surrounds him, and his fat hostess covered up with gold trinkets. . .
- The nouveau-riches may introduce some transient fashions but they
will never become authorities. Or perhaps Poland today does not need people
with moral authority?
- Nations seldom receive from History political leaders who also possess moral authority. Before the war we had Jozef Pilsudski, but no one after him. Obviously, [the Soviet-imposed] President Boleslaw Bierut, or the petty chinovniks [of People's Poland], do not qualify.40 Our foremost task is the rebuilding of the concept of moral authority and of the belief in values. A lack of values is mortally dangerous to a nation. But since our liberals so hate the notion of authority, our task will not be easy.
- The experience of communism was dramatic and terrible. Can we get
cured of communism without engaging in repentance?
- Practice shows that sooner or later, the dark spots on history's map show up from under the gilded surface. Western countries, from France to USA, are examples. One has to fight the dark tendencies of one's past, like Germany did after World War II. This was a massive and masochistic work, but the Germans have succeeded in getting rid of the terrible complexes of nazism; they have shown the world a new face of Germany.
- What will happen to us, since we have not subjected ourselves to
this curative process?
- I am afraid we may sink totally into idiocy. Maybe it already is too late, but I think we need to start a process of national education and get rid of our complexes. We are now in a comfortable political situation, in the sense that we do not have to spend all our energies on defending our borders. Our major enemies are now our national shortcomings: hypocrisy, self-love, megalomania. This is the narcissism of the poor who have been rejected by the powerful of this world. We need to engage in a massive enterprise of self-education which should make plain to us our failings and vices. We should start with the schools, for which new textbooks must quickly be written. These textbooks should tell us plainly who we are. Second, I have always believed that the former high communist officials, as well as those who committed crimes against human rights in Soviet-occupied Poland, should be barred from occupying state offices in the Third Polish Republic. As a citizen, I shall always vote for that. But it now seems that such weeding out is not about to be undertaken.
- Or perhaps we should return to the tradition of dueling and get rid
of those Soviet-sponsored officials this way?
- I do not think that is possible. According to the Boziewicz Codex defining the rules and regulations of duelling, these gentlemen are not possessed of "honorable background."
1 Andrzej Gelberg is Editor-in-Chief of Tygodnik Solidarnosc, a trade union weekly and a leading Polish journal of
opinion. Anna Poppek is member of the Editorial Board of TS. Zbigniew Herbert is Poland's foremost living poet
and one of the most respected members of Poland's intellectual elite. His
sterling record during the Soviet occupation of Poland is second to none. All
the ellipses are the authors'. Square brackets in the text indicate editorial
clarifications. This interview appeared in TS, 46(321), on 11 November 1994.
2 "Armia" appeared in TS in October 1994. It is a satire on the post-communist political establishment, and it ends with a mocking challenge to a duel directed to the former communist dictators.
3 Until the third wound.
5 Herbert's first volume of poetry appeared in 1956, when he was 32. He is referring here to the years 1945-1956, when the Stalinist regime in Soviet-occupied Poland made it impossible for people of his intergrity to participate in public life.
6 A reference to those Poles who fought the Nazis and supported the Polish government-in-exile in London.
7 In 1944-47, thirty thousand former Home Army soldiers were executed by the Soviet-controlled political police in Poland. See Teresa Toranska, Them (Harper & Row, 1987), 139, 201-355. Seel also Teresa Toranska, "Waltzing with Molotov," Harper's Magazine, July 1986, 2021.
8 The name coined by the communist press for those Poles who waged a guerrilla war against the Soviet occupier.
9 A representative of the Polish government-in-exile who wanted to join the Polish post-war government, in accordance with the Yalta stipulation of free elections in Poland. He had to flee for his life as Stalin's brigades closed in on the remnants of independent Poland in the late 1940s.
10 Jozef Cyrankiewicz, Prime Minister of Soviet-occupied Poland in 1947-52 and 1954-70. Adam Ciolkosz, a pre-World War II socialist who died in exile.
11 Polish Workers' Party (PPR) was a Soviet-style communist party. In 1948, at a joint "congress," the two parties united and formed the Polish United Workers' Party.
12 B. Drobner (1883-1968), a left-wing member of the Polish Socialist Party before World War II, later member of the Union of Polish Patriots, an arm of the Soviet government formed in the USSR in 1943. He returned to Poland in 1944 as a functionary of the Soviet-imposed Lublin government. Member of the PUWP.
13 Stanislaw Szwalbe (1898-?), a left-wing socialist before World War II, deputy speaker of the Sejm in 1947-1952. Member of the PUWP.
14 Krajowa Rada Narodowa, a Soviet-imposed temporary government dissolved in 1947.
15 Aleksander Wielopolski (1803-1877), head of government in the Russian-controlled Kingdom of Poland and a great adversary of the 1863 Polish rising against tsarist despotism.
16 Arka [since 1994, Arcana], a major Polish journal of opinion (see BOOKS).
17 Leszek Kolakowski, a contemporary Polish philosopher, author of the widely acclaimed Main Currents of Marxism.
18 An ironic reference to persons in the international intellectual community who have vilified those in Poland and elsewhere who fought against the Nazis and against the Red Army. They have sometimes been described as "Nazi helpers" or "fascists" by people who knew better, but who were so ideologically committed to communism that they refused to see more than two camps in the world: communism and nazism.
19 Maciej Nowicki (1910-1951), the author of the project for the United Nations building in New York.
20 The Round Table agreements between Solidarity representatives (by then, the left wing intellectuals were ostensibly on Solidarity's side) and the communist government were signed in 1989. They specified that the forthcoming June 1989 elections would be so structured that a portion of the seats in the lower house would be reserved for communist candidates. The Senate was open to free elections.
21 A conservative member of Parliament in 1992.
22Jakub Berman, head of State Security in Poland (see fn. 7). The expression "the Hegelian bite" is Czeslaw Milosz's.
23 Col. Ryszard Kuklinski used his high post in the command of the Warsaw Pact to pass on to the American side documents about communist plans. The information he provided enabled President Reagan to adopt a winning military strategy during the cold war.
24 Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy, a novel by Tadeusz Dolega-Mostowicz (1898-1939) about an unscrupulous opportunist.
25 The Church, the Left, and the Dialogue; and The History of Honor in Poland.
26 B. Piasecki, the leader of PAX, a communist front organization designed to penetrate the Catholic Church in Poland. PAX had publishing privileges and relatively ample funds. It had an unknown (and apparently minuscule) number of members, including some Catholic priests.
27 Herbert's irony here refers to the (strongly contested) medical hypotheses that various types of behavior are genetically determined.
28 The area of literary cafes and boutiques in Warsaw.
29 This editor talked to Leopold Tyrmad shortly after Milosz got the Nobel Prize. Tyrmand then said: "It was Herbert and not Milosz that should have received the Prize."
30 Stefan Kisielewski, writer and composer. See BOOKS.
31 The term introduced by communists after 1956.
32 Citizens, Brandys' Stalinist novel.
33 C.K. Norwid, arguably Poland's most profound Romantic poet, died as a pauper.
34 A longtime collaborator of the Paris Kultura.
35 We Are Building, Konwicki's Stalinist novel.
36 Konwicki's family belonged to the Polish minority in Lithuania.
37 The Evil One, a mystery novel by Leopold Tyrmand.
38 The arm of the KGB in Soviet-occupied Poland.
39 The text of Tyrmand's Diary has been translated directly from Herbert's quotation.
40 Russian for "petty official.'"