In this issue, we are pleased to offer our readers the first-ever translation into English of the Jerzy Giedroyc-Melchior Wankowicz correspondence. We are publishing only excerpts, but they are revealing. Giedroyc is arguably the most significant Polish intellectual "mover and shaker" of the last fifty years, and the monthly Kultura which he has edited for half a century initiated two generations of Poles into the ideas and attitudes that became the distinguishing marks of Polish intellectual circles. For better or worse, Giedroyc has become a defining voice of the left-leaning Polish intelligentsia. Furthermore, his integrity, patriotism and resourcefulness are a model and a legend. While the letters do not literally tell us "how Kultura was born," they adumbrate the path any editor has to take to make his/her periodical flourish.
The letters have been ably prepared for publication by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm. They show that Giedroyc was a perfect editor willing to invest time and effort to help his writers advance (e.g., his attempts to find English and French publishers for Wankowicz). It is to Giedroyc's everlasting credit that he made possible for Czeslaw Milosz and Witold Gombrowicz to shine. Sometimes, the otherwise good periodicals on Eastern and Central Europe do poorly in this country because their editors wish to use them as springboards for their own careers, rather than as vehicles for other people's thoughts. Giedroyc did not want to make a career of Kultura and that is why he made a career of it. The law of unintended consequences.
Another aspect of the letters is talking at cross-purposes which frequently occurs between émigré intellectuals and Americans of Central and Eastern European descent. Polish intellectuals do not understand that American Polonia owes its allegiance to America first, and that its members would not behave as do the Polish political émigrés. It is up to the latter to convince the former that certain actions need to be undertaken, but a failure to persuade cannot be blamed on those who were not persuaded; rather, it should be laid at the feet of those who failed to persuade.
As Giedroyc learned from bitter experience, only those things get done which the editor is able to accomplish him/herself. Then and now, most people of note have their own agendas and they take unkindly to those who wish to use them instead of cooperating with them for a mutual benefit. In his early years, Jerzy Giedroyc tried many timesunsuccessfullyto enlist others in his plans. Wankowicz was one of those he tried to enlist. His amusing rejoinders to Giedroyc's pleas showed him at his best. Wankowicz possessed a "Sarmatian" ability to chat and tell stories, the ability which made his books into bestsellers in Poland.
Giedroyc was wrong in suggesting that American Polonia would approve of People's Poland because of that country's ostensible promotion of workers and peasants. American Polonia remained staunchly anticommunist, much more so than many a Polish intellectual who paid for a comfortable living with his/her integrity, e.g., Ksawery Pruszynski.
We would be remiss not to mention Professor Andrzej Walicki who contributed a review to this issue. Walicki points out that Andrzej de Lazari's trilingual work, Ideas in Russia, is grounded in an essentialist approach to reality, the approach which has been part and parcel of Polish culture for centuries. Professor Walicki's own position is anti-essentialist, and he rightly warns us against the excesses of essentialism. He is also right to point out that Polish scholarship on Russia is substantial and often first-rate. To make it available to the English-speaking world is a challenge which the Americans of Polish descent should welcome.
Also in this issue, Marek Chodakiewicz sensibly argues that the United States' engagement in Europe is in Poland's best interest. The American presence in Europe keeps that continent at peace. Finally, Professors Hunter and Ryan remind us of the dramatic difference between the uses made by Poland and Russia of freedom. While Russia continues to wither even though billions of dollars flow to it from the US Treasury (allegedly to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, but perhaps special interests play a role too), Poland receives no handouts yet it manages to grow.
Back to the September 1999 issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 10/11/99