Michnik, Jaruzelski and Pinochet

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Nov 13 14:08:33 MST 1999

I finally sat down and read the article I referred to the other day. (NY
Times Magazine 11/7 "The Accommodations of Adam Michnik", by Roger Cohen).
This eye-opening piece is online at:


Since it is such a powerful indictment of the "liberalizing" intelligentsia
and what it has wrought in combination with the ex-Stalinist bureaucracy
and western capital, I feel offer the following highlights as a service for
those who lack the time to read the lengthy piece.


Call (Shipyard worker Anna) Walentynowicz the embittered other face of the
European transformation that propelled Michnik to prosperity and power.
There are millions like her. Pensioners eking out a living on $200 a month;
the unemployed; those nostalgic for the predictable security, closer
communities and free day-care centers of old; the disillusioned who
believed capitalism was actually good in some moral sense and now recoil at
the egotism of what many former East Germans call "the elbow society."

But for Walentynowicz, the sense of betrayal is particularly intimate. She
is full of anger — against Michnik, against Walesa, against Gen. Wojciech
Jaruzelski, the stiff soldier in dark glasses who imposed martial law in
1981. All of them are now lumped in what she sees as a plot to rob the
workers and the poor. Solidarity, after all, is a word that means
something; she sees less of it in the Republic of Poland than its forebear,
the Polish People's Republic. . .

Walentynowic . . . spent 19 months in jail when martial law was imposed, is
full of conspiracy theories. Like others in the former Soviet bloc, she
actually dreamed of some sort of . . . true socialism. Instead, she got
capitalism, a miserable pension, the Gdansk shipyard liquidated by a
Solidarity government before its remaining assets were sold to private
investors late last year — and comrade Michnik carousing with Jaruzelski.

"The reason Michnik is against the vetting process for former Communists is
that his brother Stefan Michnik has dirty hands," she says finally. "He was
a military prosecutor in the 1950's, when many innocent Poles were murdered
by the Communists. Stefan Michnik was among those handing out the death
sentences. Now he is evading prosecution in Sweden."


They are the unlikeliest of pairs. Jaruzelski's unadorned Warsaw office
reflects the almost ascetic order of the man. Michnik's is submerged in
papers. The general is neatly groomed, with brown slacks and a brown
zippered sweater, while Michnik has all the elegance of a pimply teenager.
The soldier is of noble Polish birth, a member of the gentry who as a very
young man and a prisoner was seduced by Soviet power and doctrine, during
the Second World War; the writer is a man driven all his life by a visceral
loathing of Communism. Above all, as jailer and prisoner, they viewed each
other for decades as mortal enemies. . .

Michnik applauds Jaruzelski, above all, for grasping perestroika's
possibilities and steering Poland toward the 1989 "round-table" talks
between the regime and Solidarity officials that opened the way for a
peaceful transition. For the former dissident, the greatest political
innovation of the late 20th century is the negotiated end to repressive or
military regimes, in Spain, Poland, South Africa and elsewhere. "The
peaceful dismantling of dictatorships is the best gift our century can give
to the next," he declares.

And what of martial law? "For Jaruzelski," Michnik says, "it was the
defense of Poland against either Soviet invasion or civil war." And the
dozens of people killed in the military clampdown? "As dictatorships go, it
was relatively mild, and to find justice, other than in a few specific
cases of torture or murder, is impossible." So where do you draw the line?
"The dividing line is genocide. Jaruzelski was not Hitler. Franco was O.K.
for the Americans, and so was Pinochet."

. . .Late last year, Michnik used Gazeta Wyborcza to come out strongly
against Gen. Augusto Pinochet's arrest in Britain on charges filed by a
Spanish prosecutor. "Pinochet has in his country very many supporters, to
whom the general's trial would amount to a breaking of the internal
consensus. The Spaniards should recall the reasons why they decided to
forego a settling of accounts for the victims of the Franco dictatorship."
For a man who had harshly criticized the Pinochet dictatorship in the
1980's, it was a remarkable turnaround. "I never thought he would be so
ostentatiously friendly to Jaruzelski or argue for Pinochet," says
Jedlicki, the historian. "For a man of the left, defending Pinochet is


Outside the Gdansk shipyard, beside the three towering crosses that
commemorate strikers killed in 1970 and the whole struggle for freedom in
central Europe, a quotation from the pope has been engraved: "Silence in a
place like this is like a scream."

Only a few years have passed, but the cries of the long struggle are by no
means readily audible. Freedom is not necessarily beautiful. Where 17,000
people once worked, there are now about 2,700. The cranes once operated by
Walentynowic stand immobile over rusting girders and empty hangars. The
shipyard was liquidated in 1996 and taken over late last year by an
investment company called Evip that is trying, with partners, to revive
some shipbuilding while developing the site. "They were living on history
here and unable to compete in the West," says Andrzej Kwiatowski, an Evip
director directing the project, called Synergie 99.

He is hoping to piece together a $5 billion development package, complete
with hotels, offices, a harbor for luxury yachts and a theme park. One
small problem is that the famous meeting hall where Walesa, Kuron, Michnik
and other leaders of Solidarity once gathered during the heady days of the
strikes gets in the way. So Evip has come up with the idea of moving the
building and setting it down beside the memorial outside the gates. "Then
we could have a sort of museum to Solidarity all in one place, and that
would be very attractive to tourists."

Evip's chief executive is a glittering representative of the new Poland
named Ewa Plucinska, who has a wide smile and very white teeth and does
business from a Warsaw high-rise with a good view of Stalin's Palace of
Culture (now adorned with advertisements for Web sites). "The man I want to
invest in the old shipyard is Donald Trump," she says. "He has the kinds of
ideas we want. Tourism, casino, theme parks, everything. Why not?"

Why not, indeed? Poland is joining the West. It became a member of NATO
this year and stands a reasonable chance of being admitted to the European
Union by 2003. Warsaw is full of Western cars, new clubs and sprouting
businesses. The transformation over the past decade is astounding, and in
general it is the one Michnik sought.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: (http://www.panix.com/~lnp3/marxism.html)

More information about the Marxism mailing list