[Marxism] Evaluating Solidarnosc 25 years later
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 30 08:03:09 MDT 2005
>I suspect that part of the answer lies in the role of
>the intellectuals in the movement especially those
>associated with KOR. In the early 1980s many of
>these people still considered themselves to be
>socialists and even dissident Marxists as Kuron
>considered himself. But as the decade wore
>on, their economic views shifted sharply to
>the right. Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman
>became the new gods to take the place of
>Marx & Engels.
The New York Times
November 7, 1999, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
The Accommodations of Adam Michnik
BYLINE: By Roger Cohen; Roger Cohen is the Berlin bureau chief for The
New York Times.
It is a question of cabbage. Not an everyday demand at the trendy Tokyo
restaurant, where Poland's nouveaux riches purr into their mobile phones as
they gaze at the raw fish. But Adam Michnik, enfant terrible of the
revolution that brought democracy to central Europe and sushi and the
beautiful set to downtown Warsaw, wants the vegetable. In what form,
however, is unclear, and as Michnik seeks to define the cabbage dish, he is
transformed into a dervish. Wide-eyed, a Japanese waitress watches as a
whirlwind of gesticulation and stuttering utterances -- interrupted only by
long draws on a cigarette and a gulp of sake -- at last communicates the
desired thing: a spicy Korean cabbage appetizer, kimchi.
"Aaaaaah, yes, fan-tas-tic," Michnik, 53, sighs, his small eyes glittering,
satisfied that his favorite weapon -- words -- has not failed him. He is
stubborn; he has appetites; he will have his way. A decade ago, before
Solidarity's Polish revolution led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, cabbage
tended to be found floating in thin soup of the kind Michnik sampled during
six spells as a dissident in prison. "I thought I'd never see the end of
Communism," he says with a chuckle. "But now, here I am, part of the
nomenklatura of the new Poland!"
He was ever the provocateur, this Polish Jew whose paternal family was
largely wiped out in the Holocaust. This Polish patriot. This crazy, proud
Pole with the low-slung jeans that cry out for a belt, the hair
conscientiously uncombed, the Polish-Latin lover's stubble and the mind
that is anything but sloppy. As he provoked, he probed: the totalitarian
mind was always a target for him, even in its fathomless grayness. "Your
soul is as generous as the Ukrainian steppe," he wrote from prison in 1983
to Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, the interior minister who played a central role
in the imposition of martial law in Poland two years earlier. And
continued: "You are a vindictive, dishonorable swine." And surmised: "It
may come as news to you that there are two things in this world: evil and
good." And warned: "Those who have suffered and been humiliated will
present you with a reckoning."
The letter may have looked like bravura, and dangerous bravura at that. But
to everyone's astonishment, and just six years later, the reckoning came. A
bankrupt Communist system subsided into bloodless defeat, opening the way
for the mainly velvet transitions to democracy in central Europe. Poland,
the state Germans and Russians long enjoyed devouring for breakfast, freed
Europe. And Michnik -- the "Zionist agent" whom the Communists loved to
hate, the man who rejected offers of exile in Israel or Nice as "moral
suicide" -- joined the establishment.
Ten years is a long time in capitalism. All the states emerging from the
former Soviet bloc have found that. The West's system has proved
devastating, psychologically and materially, to many; no wonder there are
pockets of nostalgia for the old, deep-frozen ways. But democracy and the
market have also set much of a continent free from a tenebrous half-life in
which initiative was dangerous, informers ubiquitous.
On one level, Michnik, now the editor of Poland's most successful
newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza (Election Gazette), has succeeded in the new
world of winners and losers simply because he understood personal
responsibility earlier than most. But on another, the story of this Polish
Jew -- son of Communists, grandson of shtetl dwellers who were murdered, a
citizen of a state whose borders have been shifting, porous or nonexistent
for most of this century -- is also that of much of central Europe. It
involves the quest to escape from a murderous history in order to found a
stable, civil society. It is about the search for reconciliation, for an
inclusive national identity, for a steady place where myths are less
important than a mortgage.
"I would be lying if I said I did not want revenge," says Michnik, who left
prison for the last time in 1986. "Anyone who has suffered that
humiliation, at some level, wants revenge. I know all the lies. I saw
people being killed. But I also know that revanchism is never ending." He
pokes his cabbage with his chopsticks, wedges a clump, raises some to his
lowered mouth and chews with vigor as he continues: "And my obsession has
been that we should have a revolution that not resemble the French or
Russian, but rather the American, in the sense that it be for something,
not against something. A revolution for a constitution, not a paradise. An
anti-utopian revolution. Because utopias lead to the guillotine and the gulag."
A reasonable revolution: that, it seems, has been Michnik's
late-20th-century aim. Normality was how Gazeta Wyborcza put it. The paper,
in its first edition, praised the normal, elevated it to a goal. Of course,
it is scarcely a ringing word in the West. But in Warsaw, too much heroism
or enslavement over the years has made "Liberty, Fraternity, Normality" a
fair revolutionary cry.
Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity, offered Michnik the editorship of
the paper in the spring of 1989. The debut copy had eight pages. Today, the
bulging tabloid sells 500,000 copies on weekdays. It has accompanied the
Polish transition, and buttressed it, with the same intensity as El Pais in
post-Franco Spain. The paper is normal: restaurant guides, local
supplements, eclectic opinion pages, an advertisement-stuffed magazine --
capitalism at work. It now stands at the heart of a media empire, Agora,
that went public earlier this year and is worth upward of half a billion
dollars. "A billion dollars," Michnik laughs. "Not my cup of tea!"
Michnik's allusions to business -- pronounced "beez-ness" -- all convey a
mild contempt. Before the stock offering in April, he surrendered his right
to shares that would have made him very rich. "The ethics of journalism are
one thing," he insists. "Another thing is the ethics of business." As the
share sacrifice suggests, he cannot quite resist the grand geste. But even
as he explains that in his heart he is "always a dissident," Michnik's keen
eye for the importance of "beez-ness" is evident. Indeed, there is a
certain affectation to this enduring "dissidence" and to his allusions to
being "a prisoner of my biography."
The fact is that a funny thing happened on the road from resistance to
responsibility: Michnik's realism, always the other face of his stormy
defiance, came to the fore. "I know very well that if we want to have
influence, we need material independence," he says. That influence, he
adds, is vital for the education of post-Communist society.
But is this new Polish society, with its rising unemployment, its myriad
poor and its leather-clad gangster-speculators, not a disappointment to him?
Far from it. Such problems are part of the inevitable cost of joining the
West. And what of the liquidation of the Gdansk shipyard, birthplace of
Solidarity, and the plans to sell it off to foreign investors? "So what?"
Michnik shoots back. "We don't need legends. This is not a legendary
A couple of miles from the Gdansk shipyard lives Anna Walentynowicz, a
small woman with gray hair tugged back off a broad face. Her apartment is
cluttered with images of the Virgin Mary and Pope John Paul II; she moves
about it with a muscular agility suggestive of her long career at what was
previously known as the Lenin Shipyard. She started in 1950 as a welder.
Because of her size, she was regularly assigned to the airless corners of
hulls. Later, she moved up -- quite literally -- to become a crane
operator, the job she held when she ignited the movement that brought down
Communism in Europe.
The spark flared on Aug. 7, 1980: Walentynowicz was fired for criticism of
directors and for making candles to commemorate the 44 workers killed
during a strike a decade earlier. But she was popular, and her dismissal
came just over a year after the Polish pope had emboldened his countrymen
through his extraordinary first visit. Within days, workers in the Gdansk
shipyard put down their tools. Their demands were Walentynovicz's
reinstatement and a pay raise. The strike that would lead to the
extraordinary grass-roots movement called Solidarity had begun.
"We wanted better money, improved work safety, a free trade union and my
job back," Walentynowicz, now 70, recalls. "Nobody wanted a revolution. And
when I see what the so-called revolution has brought -- mass poverty,
homelessness, self-styled capitalists selling off our plants and pocketing
the money -- I think we were right."
Call 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.
The fact is, however, that Solidarity was always a very broad coalition.
Therein lay its force. It brought together workers like Walentynowicz,
intellectuals like Michnik and the church. "We had not expected the mass
character of the movement," says Jaruzelski, who tried to crush Solidarity
with tanks in December 1981. "We had faced the intelligentsia in 1968,
workers in 1970, but never both of them together and never in the presence
of a Polish pope. You could describe it as an earthquake."
Raising the level on the Richter scale were the ideas of Michnik and Jacek
Kuron, members of the Workers' Defense Committee, formed in 1976 to provide
striking workers with legal help. Michnik knew the repetitive, if glorious,
disasters of Polish history and had already been imprisoned several times.
His conclusion: frontal assaults against the system tended to fail, but a
self-limiting action could work. His message: do not attack the party; try
to live as though it does not exist.
In his mid-30's when the strike began, Michnik was already an obsession of
men like Jaruzelski, who saw in him "the most demonic man possible," as the
general now puts it. He had burst upon the scene in 1961 at the ripe old
age of 15. Jerzy Jedlicki, a historian, met Michnik then -- a beautiful,
almost angelic boy in his school uniform." The setting was a Warsaw
debating club, the Crooked Circle. Michnik unleashed a smoldering speech on
education reform that later got him expelled from school.
"He is oversensitive, short-tempered and he likes to shout," Jedlicki says.
"But from that first moment, this exceptional intellect was evident, allied
to an unusual courage. He never calculated the risk. I mean, his personal
Wanda Rapaczynski, now the president of Agora, also knew Michnik as a
teenager, "wandering around muttering about how the workers will not take
this any longer." She was struck by his obsessive nature. "There was always
a mission," she says, "this strange notion that somehow the universe can be
organized right, that here and there survivors of the Enlightenment exist."
By 1965, when he was a history student at Warsaw University, the obsessions
had landed Michnik in jail for supporting Kuron's criticisms of the party.
He was back in prison in 1968, rounded up in the anti-Semitic sweep with
which the Communists responded to student agitation. And back again in
1977, for protesting the killing of a Krakow student. "I worked very hard
in prison," Michnik says. "No phones, no women, no vod-vod-vod-vodka."
The stutter is disarming, imbuing Michnik-speak with an odd, tumbling
timing and reinforcing, if anything, the bons mots that pepper his
discourse. The juxtaposition of a speech impediment and evident
self-confidence is also intriguing; for some reason, the latter has not
cured the former.
But whatever the cultivated elements of his charisma, and however light he
now makes of the cells of the Polish police state, the fact is that prison
was indeed a time of serious reflection that would lead to conclusions
setting him on a collision course with the likes of Walentynowic. His
jailers, as he puts it, were "the thieves of my life." He hated them. But
he had to save his internal liberty. So he worked feverishly, waging "civil
war" to obtain books. One was by the poet Zbigniew Herbert, who wrote of
the ideology that "poisons wells, destroys the structures of the mind,
covers bread with mold."
And as he read and wrote, Michnik asked himself again and again: what
inhabits the poisoned totalitarian mind? His answer, in part, was that
totalitarianism was the revenge of the victims. Nazism was revenge for
Versailles. The Soviet revolution was the final vengeance of the
downtrodden against the czar, the factory owners, the rich. "After the
French Revolution," Michnik says, fist clenched. "It was not the treason of
the king that was in question; it was the existence of the king. You have
to be very careful when you judge and execute somebody for being a symbol."
Another thing happened in prison. He had been interrogated, beaten,
insulted. But one day, a senior officer of the security services held out a
piece of paper warning Michnik that his cell was bugged and identifying one
prisoner as a police informer. Then the officer burned the paper. A first
lesson in the dangers of sweeping judgment.
These feelings -- the abhorrence of revenge, the sense that truth is a
mottled thing -- would guide Michnik in the years following the revolution.
They have led him to a dialogue with Jaruzelski -- even a willingness to
promote one of the general's books -- that disgusts Walentynowic and leaves
her with the sense that Solidarity was a sham. "When I think I went on a
hunger strike for Michnik when he was imprisoned in 1985, I am appalled,"
she says. "Who is he serving when he protects Jaruzelski? In effect, the
Communists exploited the Solidarity logo to survive."
Walentynowic, who herself 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 "Third Way," a 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
"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."
It is true that Michnik's half brother Stefan was a military judge during
the postwar Stalinist period, when a brutal purge took place. It is also
true that he lives in Sweden. But this is the kind of charge that rouses
Michnik to fury. In part, it is the innuendo: with reference to a Jewish
prosecutor, the term "innocent Poles," rather than "innocent people," has a
particular resonance. In part, it is the insistent use of history as a
sullying cudgel. "My brother is a vehicle used by my enemies in the worst
kinds of provocation," Michnik says.
Poland, legendary Poland, is not quite normal yet.
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.
Jaruzelski, now 76, still uses those caricatural dark glasses. He is still
the pallid man who appeared on television Dec. 12, 1981, to announce
martial law. He still measures each word -- and there are an awful lot of
them / in the arid Communist bureaucratic style. But suffering from cancer,
he is obviously engaged in a reckoning.
"Tolstoy said the two greatest misfortunes in life were bad health and a
bad conscience," he says. "I have the first, and the second in part. Many
things I would have done differently. I am aware of the mistakes, the
wrongs I did people, for which I was morally responsible, even if some
things happened outside my knowledge. But my intention was always to help
Michnik, in effect, has given him the benefit of the doubt. They met for
the first time in mid-1989, shortly after the elections that brought
Solidarity into the first non-Communist government in the Soviet bloc.
Earlier in the year, Jaruzelski had suggested that Michnik was manipulating
factory workers, comparing him to "the tail wagging the dog." When Michnik
held out his hand to the general, who was still president, his first words
were, "This is the tail of the dog."
The general was amused; an odd bond formed, one that can provoke a certain
queasiness. Jaruzelski is now a charter member of the Michnik fan club. "A
titan of the intellect," he says. "A giant in moral terms." He adds, "I
have a complex because for many years I considered him an agent of the West."
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."
Jaruzelski was not Hitler. But when Poland turned on its surviving Jews in
1968, he was at the forefront of the anti-Semitic campaign that landed
Michnik in prison again. "We will not tolerate the least bit of foreign,
antinational, cosmopolitan and antisocialist views," the general said then,
using the elaborate shorthand for Jews.
Such bilge provoked Michnik to a reckoning. His father was Ozjasj Szechter.
(Michnik used his mother's maiden name.) Szechter was from Lvov, where 90
members of his family, including Michnik's grandparents, were killed by the
Nazis. But in Stalinist postwar Poland, official history had no place for
the Holocaust; Michnik was raised in what he calls "a totally Polish way."
That, however, was before he experienced anti-Semitic persecution, and he
responded with the pugnacity that is the glint of steel in his otherwise
rumpled manner. "I was filled with rage to fight anti-Semitism," he says.
Those fists are clenched again. "I do not accept being a prisoner of fear.
Of Communism, of fascism. That one can bear. But of one's fear. No. Never."
So in reconciling with Jaruzelski, Michnik was reaching out across both
racist and Communist ideologies. It was a stretch, but his belief in the
cause is deep. The Michnik doctrine may be summed up as follows: At the end
of a war -- and dictatorships leave the same sort of divisions as civil war
-- the priority must be to rebuild the peace. If there is evidence of a
particular, identifiable crime, like the murder of the Rev. Jerzy
Popieluszko in 1984, it should be prosecuted. The authors of genocide must
be tried. But the quest for other forms of justice is illusory. Worse, it
is damaging because it prolongs the war.
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 courageous."
But perhaps courage is not the issue here. What distinguishes Michnik is
the unusual alliance of the head and the heart, of the strategist and the
rebel. He was never ready to bow to dictatorship; but nor did he simply
want to fail gloriously, like the Warsaw uprising of 1944.
As early as the 1970's, he was plotting the critical alliance of the church
and the left in his book, "Church-Left Dialogue." In the 1980's, he pushed
Solidarity forward even as he urged it to avoid bloody confrontation. And
in the 1990's, he has sought an understanding with his jailers in the quest
for a stable Poland that would join the West. "Was Pinochet personally
responsible for these murders?" he asks. "I don't know. But I do know that
you have to choose between the logic of reconciliation and the logic of
justice. Pure justice leads to new civil war. I prefer the negotiable
Michnik emerged as a mediator early in Europe's upheaval. When Solidarity
swept to an extraordinary victory in the first half-free election of June
1989 (many seats were reserved for the Communists), the Warsaw Pact was
still there, as was the Berlin Wall. Whatever perestroika might mean, it
did not seem yet to signal Mikhail Gorbachev's readiness to dismantle the
Soviet empire. Michnik wrote a decisive editorial -- Your President, Our
Prime Minister" -- that finessed open conflict with Moscow. Jaruzelski did
indeed stay on as president; Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Solidarity's prime
Mazowiecki thought Michnik's article was a mistake. "I was against that
degree of caution," he says. "I thought the danger was that we would be
taken over by the system." But now he feels that Michnik was right. "In an
explosive situation, the responsible thing to do is defuse the mine."
When the government was voted in on Aug. 24, 1989, there was nothing to
indicate the wall would come down less than three months later. There were
still two blocs armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons; Ceausescu was
openly demanding a military intervention in Poland. "God knows what might
have happened," Mazowiecki says.
But the breach had been made, and Michnik believed that the whole Communist
structure would soon collapse. He visited Vaclav Havel that summer at his
home in Hradecek in what was then Czechoslovakia; Havel was still
skeptical: Czechoslovakia was not Poland. But Michnik sensed a new
openness, a new humor, in the streets. He said, "By the end of the year,
Communism will be finished and you will be president." Havel laughed.
On taking office, Prime Minister Mazowiecki placed his first call to Pope
John Paul II. Within minutes, Mazowiecki was speaking to the pope. "I said:
'Holy Father, a few hours ago, I was elected premier. It is a very great
task. Please pray for me."' Instead of going to Moscow, as tradition
demanded, Mazowiecki chose to make his first foreign visit to the Vatican.
After he was admitted to the papal quarters, all aides were asked to go,
and the two Poles were alone. For several minutes they sat in silence,
opposite each other, arms outstretched, hand in hand.
Nobody predicted the fall of Communism. The physical force did not exist
within the countries to bring it about. It was a victory of moral
conviction. A silent victory.
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.
Unshaven, he sweeps into his office from Gdansk. Most weekends, he travels
there to see his 12-year-old son, Antoni, who lives with Michnik's
estranged wife. A question about the weekend is met evasively. His private
life is his private life. (He calls the Lewinsky investigation
McCarthyism.) As for his reputation as a ladie's man, he has a standard
line: "Not my fault if some women have bad taste."
His desk is piled with books, lighters and cigarette ends. He asks for a
call to be made, but his secretary is unable to complete it immediately.
"I'm waiting, I'm waiting," he shouts. "O.K. Adam, O.K. Adam." Patience is
not one of his virtues.
Putting a newspaper together is a painstaking business. Michnik is not
painstaking. He is Gazeta's symbol and gives the paper its broad political
orientation. But the day-to-day running of it he leaves to Helena Luczywo,
who like many at the paper has been there from the outset. "Adam is a
little strange," says Piotr Pacewicz, a deputy editor. "He is abroad about
30 percent of the time, and he is essentially interested in our political
image. The fight for circulation, the quest to make the paper more vivid
and indispensable, that's our job."
Michnik has had his mind on other things. He has shifted politically. He is
now estranged from many former Solidarity colleagues, some of them in the
government. He sees the party as too identified with a clerical,
nationalist and xenophobic right he now views as a greater threat to Poland
than the ex-Communists.
Chief among his ex-friends is Walesa, his son's godfather, who was supposed
to be the keynote speaker at Gazeta's 10th anniversary gathering this
spring. Walesa, having confirmed his presence the night before, failed to
show. A calculated insult. "Walesa has moved from the heroic mode to the
court jester," says Rapacynski. "He feels he 'gave' the paper to Michnik
and then was betrayed." As for Michnik, he is scathing: "Walesa has the
mentality of a Caesar: La Pologne, c'est moi. He has his great place in the
history of Poland, but he is typical of the revolutionary leader who, like
Robespierre or Lenin, cannot really accept a pluralist society." Walesa
The former Solidarity leader is not alone in being irritated by Michnik's
elevation, through the newspaper, to a sort of conscience of the new
Poland. Jerzy Urban, once Jaruzelski's spokesman, now a downscale newspaper
publisher, says, "His lofty moral points of view are simply tiresome."
But they have had an impact. The past still churns -- some senior officials
have been forced out recently after a vetting of their past -- but attempts
at trying senior figures of the former regime have petered out. Right-wing
nationalist groups regularly attack Gazeta using anti-Semitic innuendo, but
the attacks remain marginal.
What Michnik wants now is a multicultural Poland. In some ways, it is an
absurd illusion. The Jews are mostly dead or departed. The Germans have
left. So have the Ukrainians and Byelorussians, swallowed by postwar
borders. But if Poland cannot become an inclusive civil society -- even
with much diminished minorities -- where on earth does Michnik the
Polish-Jewish patriot belong? For he is a patriot still. Faced by the
endlessly competitive victimhood of Poles and Jews, he tries to take an
evenhanded position. He finds in some Jewish attitudes a distasteful
"triumphalism of suffering" that leaves no room for the three million
Catholic Poles killed in World War II and casts the Poles wrongly as mere
abettors of the Nazis.
This quest for balance is typical of Michnik. Even in the raging 1983
letter from prison to General Kiszczak that described him as "swine,"
Michnik's conclusion was cool to the point of detachment. "As for myself,"
he wrote, "I hope that when your life is in danger, I will be able to
appear in time to help you," even if the price should be that the general
"once more wonder at my incorrigible stupidity and decide to lock me back
in prison all over again." Men of courage generally have a sense of humor;
Michnik is no exception.
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