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'We Were Stupid'

A leading Polish intellectual who fought against the old regime says his generation focused too much on freedom with little thought to issues of social solidarity and inequality. From Gazeta Wyborcza.

by Grzegorz Sroczynski 17 March 2014

Marcin Krol, born in 1944, is a philosopher and historian of ideas. In March 1968 as a doctorate student he took part in the student protests and was arrested. In the 1970s he worked in the Polish Academy of Sciences, was an editor of the underground paper Res Publica, and wrote for Parisian Culture.  During the Solidarity era, he was an adviser to the Mazowsze region. In 1989 he took part in the roundtable negotiations that led to free elections. He later engaged in Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s campaign and ultimately resigned from politics. He was a dean at the University of Warsaw and sat on the board of executives at the Bathory Foundation. He gives lectures and writes books – the most recent one is Europe Facing the End.   

 

Grzegorz SroczyƄski: Is a war coming?

 

Marcin Krol: One with marching armies? No.

 

A revolution?

 

Something.

 

“A significant event of shocking character,” as you called this “something” in the book Europe Facing the End.

 

I am extremely pessimistic, and the book was supposed to be called It Won’t Get Any Better. Despite a commonly displayed devil-may-care attitude that ultimately everything is not so bad, the crisis will soon be over, and – once again – we made it. Indeed, it is bad, and sooner or later world issues will knock on our doors. Not on mine, perhaps, but surely on yours.

 

Marcin Krol. Photo courtesy of Gazeta Wyborcza.

 

What does everyone in Europe dream of? To go back to the state of affairs from before the year 2008, that is, to have a steady GDP growth of a few percent a year – less in some countries, more in others. But even if we manage to reach that pleasant state again – and likely we will – it will not solve our looming issues. Almost all economic growth is absorbed by the wealthy caste while the unemployment figures do not change, or change insignificantly and the new jobs come from temporary contracts on humiliating terms. Income inequality has reached heights that we would have considered scandalous not that long ago, and there is a dramatic decline in social solidarity. But we manage to continue deluding ourselves that the same system can still be clumsily taped back together and everything is going to be fine. In a sense, Fukuyama’s ideas about the end of history are coming true on a European level. If liberal democracy is the final form of human government, it should thrive by itself – just so, no need to worry. Our world might not be perfect, but it is surely bearable and all it needs are a few corrections, a regular tune-up here and there, some tinkering to bring the growth from 3 to 4 percent – and we will survive, somehow. Nothing bad is going to happen anymore. And exactly that notion is a very dangerous thing.

 

Because?

 

Because when “something” happens, we might hang from the gallows. Just like that. By inaction, we feed forces that will change the world according to their own whims, and they will not negotiate.

 

Who?

 

Nationalists, for example. The wave is growing.

 

For democracy to survive the next 50 years, substantial changes must happen to regain the idea of equality in a practical form – that is not easy and nobody knows what exactly needs to be done. At least I do not. What I do know is that we live in a world where 85 people own more wealth that half of humanity – three and a half billion people. An absolutely sick situation.

 

Never in my life have I been the panicky type. Even as [Communist leader Wladyslaw] Gomulka was sending me to prison in 1968 I thought that everything would end well. Today, for the first time I fear there will not be a happy ending. And so I wrote a grim book to spread my fear, in hopes that it will move somebody. If sensible people do not adhere to universal ideas of equality and fraternity, we will end badly.

 

That is something new.

 

New? Familiar tunes – freedom, equality, fraternity.

 

Yes. Except of the three, your generation selectively chose to teach us the importance of freedom. Free and industrious people will thrive as long as you leave them alone –the Res Publica quarterly you edited was full of such notions.

 

We were stupid.

 

In the ‘80s we became infected with the neoliberal ideologies. Indeed, I played a big part; I enlisted [center-right Prime Minster Donald] Tusk, [economist and former Prime Minister Jan Krzysztof] Bielecki, that entire Gdansk clique. I laboriously pushed Hayek’s writings on them. Me and [economist and former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Leszek] Balcerowicz, we had a similar world view those days. Not anymore.

 

My passion burned out fast. I realized that liberalism is becoming dominated by a degree of individualism that, one by one, drives out other values and destroys the sense of community. It is not even surprising; individualism is strongly promoted by free market forces that prey on it and profit from the lifestyle it entails. Social values, civic virtue, solidarity, common good do not get this boost. They are considered “ineffective” from an economic point of view.

 

A delusion prevailed that everyone can live separately, use his own personal freedom to earn as much as possible, live life as much as possible, and someone out there will govern. That one can focus their energy on their own pleasures and should not worry about the world’s ills.

 

Pleasant life.

 

This has existed as an ideology for more than 200 years and many books have been written, but nobody has the courage to call it benevolent despotism. But that is the real point.

 

Popular American columnist Fareed Zakaria poses that nowadays, democracy is detrimental to governing. Politicians waste energy on appealing to voters when they could attend to matters more serious – preferably long-term reforms. So there should be less democracy and even more liberalism. Let people have freedom in their houses, beds, in front of their television sets, let them do what they want as long as they do not involve themselves with politics because politics needs experts. After all, world matters are terribly complicated.

 

 

If such a thing as democratic enlightened absolutism or – as Zakaria wants – liberalism without democracy was possible, it would be great.

 

You mean a rule of wise experts.

 

Yes. Of course we cast votes in some elections, but that is of secondary importance because up there, in financial, economic, regulating institutions someone keeps vigil. That is the direction where everything was going for a while. And it would have kept going, if only the experts could be competent, infallible, and knew what to do. The crisis did not shake the world because the markets fell and recession happened. It shook the world because it showed that experts are a complete fiction. Major economic institutions and central banks turned out to be children in the mist. A month before the crash they were giving Greek obligations triple-A ratings!

 

You could say that we reclaimed history. And that is a benefit.

 

What do you mean?

 

The world will not just work while we hide under the sheets. That is the lesson from the crisis.

 

Zbigniew Brzezinski very honestly wrote 30 years ago: some things, one just does not know. Even if one is an adviser to the U.S. president and has access to secret sources of information. Should we invest in renewable or atomic energy? Will shale gas will be profitable and what effect will it have on environment? Do you know this? You do not. Do the experts know? The experts do not know either, even though they pretend to know.

 

I am sure that people like Jan Krzysztof Bielecki or others like him think that they would rule better without anyone interfering.

 

Your student. A faithful reader of Res Publica.

 

Once.

 

We forgot what real politics is. It is not about experts managing reality, but about making uncertain decisions. Politics is the sphere of risk. When it is necessary to take a stand on something, but have to depend on your nose and intuition.

 

I am writing a new book in which I am trying to show what skill in politics used to be. Real politics. One that changed the world in a not entirely clear direction. It will be about the great people who knew how to do this.

 

Namely?

 

Richelieu, Bismarck, Churchill, Charles De Gaulle. I dropped Pilsudski.

 

Why?

 

He was a genius but he failed the Second Republic. It was a country of working-class slum districts, farmers starving at the end of the winter, and university bench ghettos.

 

Take Churchill. With the greatest difficulty he fought to declare war on Hitler after the defeat of France because the majority of British politicians wanted to make peace. Hitler did not want to attack England, indeed he loved England. And God knows what Churchill’s decision stemmed from, after all he could not have known that he would win, he only had his intellectual and moral preferences. He stood by his own convictions. But if he had listened to experts, he would have secured peace. The same if he had had a “deliberative democracy” – which has become fashionable nonsense lately – then he would have carried out a quick referendum and also made peace.

 

All right, but what is this supposed to indicate? That experts are bad and the democratic vote is also bad?

 

No. This only proves that there is no such thing as politics without outstanding people. Politics is carried out by individuals who arise who knows why, who knows where from, and they change the course of history. If it were not for Monnet, who influenced Schuman, there would not be a European Coal and Steel Community, and then a united Europe.

 

There are no inevitable laws of history.  There is us, the people, and there is chance.

 

Liberal democracy is just a happy coincidence. And human rights as well. Perhaps the fact that we outlawed torture is just a pleasant interlude in history. It is not the culmination of some natural process of human development as fancied by Fukuyama and a few others before him.

 

It is not very encouraging that human rights are just a coincidence.

 

I agree. But if you consider it as such, you are going to stop sitting in front of a television drinking beer. Because if it is a coincidence, and not an inevitable stage of development, then maybe it is necessary to start thinking about what direction everything is going in, right? Not experts, not human rights, not even the hand of the free market will settle this for you. You must do it yourself.

 

In this thing that we call politics nowadays, there are no outstanding individuals. For some reason, the selection is negative, probably because we like to choose people like ourselves. And then we get from them exactly what we unconsciously desire – a dose of anesthetic. Well, maybe it’s not great, but somehow it is going, someone out there – more or less – knows what to do. So the unpleasant news for today is that nobody knows what to do anymore. Certainly not them.

 

I personally really like Tusk and it would be a shame if he lost the election, because he is smart and he reads books. True, historical books mostly, but still he reads, and that is something the majority of politicians do not do. Columnists constantly complain that he has no vision. Of course. Same as Merkel, Cameron or Hollande, they are the same class of politicians; administrators of insolvent assets, tinkering experts, but no visionaries. For now, they are good, but in the end when the “something” comes, they will not be able to save us.

 

“Something” meaning what? I still do not know.

 

And you will not find out until it comes.

 

There is a limit, which cannot be determined with the help of experts, but which occasionally reveals itself. A limit – generally speaking – of injustice. And so it goes on and on, until there is a spark and a shock occurs.

 

Revolution.

 

Change.

 

A revolt of a large group of people who were unnecessarily given hope. Because society today gives hope, it gives a promise without knowing how to fulfill it. This has never existed on such a massive scale before. Society educates millions of people, shows them the allure of the world with television series and advice books that scream: “you can do more,” “develop your skills,” “better yourself,” “live to the fullest.” And then it all turns out to be a scam.

 

As long as the social classes were open and there was a widespread chance for advancement, it worked. But this is getting worse and worse. America grasped at the myth of the self-made man for a long time. It was a person who by his own hard work reached a high social status and wealth, and can now flaunt, drive a Rolls Royce, buy yachts and villas. Even if I envy him, I do not blame him.

 

Because in the rich man I see myself in – let’s say – 30 years.

 

That’s it. Hope. That was the mechanism that allowed people to endure without questioning the growing stratification. But this mechanism is ceasing to work. This is because the gap has become so large that no matter how much of a running start someone has, he cannot jump across.

 

From your book: “We are dealing with a moderate economic crisis, a serious political crisis, a dramatic crisis of civilization, and perhaps a mortal spiritual crisis.” What is a mortal spiritual crisis?

 

We stopped asking ourselves questions.

 

What questions?

 

The metaphysical ones. No one considers, for example, where evil comes from. The question was a source of intellectual progress in Europe for 18 centuries.

 

I was friends with [anti-communist activist and journalist] Adam Michnik, then we had various issues, but now everything is fine again and sometimes we talk about important issues. He is probably the last editor in chief in Europe who tries to push a four column text of the Hungarian intellectual Janos Kis into the daily paper. I, of course, read it, but at the same time I find myself thinking that even for me, a man brought up in the world of writing, such things seem to be out of place in a daily newspaper. It is not the fault of Kis or of Michnik, only mine. It is simply because I have become more stupid, just like the rest of the world.

 

The source of all of our problems is the decline in thinking. Essentially, this is what everything is about. Thinking that used to take itself incredibly seriously. To focus and read four columns of something important without jokes, interludes, or something that has not become plastered with attractive pictures or a video – it is now an achievement like an expedition to Mars.

 

My guide through the spiritual life, Hannah Arendt, believed that thinking is the most important thing under the sun and if one does not treat it seriously, one cannot understand the world. Today we do not take thinking seriously. It is just another pastime on the market. A nice way to spend time. I am getting free copies of all of these books about this and that from the publishers: how Singapore was established, the next day about some plant seeds, another time about the secret history of Russian special services, and after that some psychological guide.

 

And what is bad about that?

 

Nothing, except that it is not serious. It is just a way to pass time – because perhaps I will go to Singapore the next vacation? Maybe it would be nice to brag to my friends that I know about strange underwater plants or why Lenin got a stroke. It is gossip and trivia dressed up in the costume of serious books.

 

And what should a serious book be?

 

Philosophy, for example. Nietzsche, for example. Or a good novel that can change the fate of a man: Mann’s Magic Mountain or Lord Jim by Conrad. Literature that confronts you with a fundamental question: what do you live for?

 

How to live – a question of the common man.

 

No! “How to live?” is a common question of modern world. You will find it, along with all possible answers, in thousands of guides that litter bookstores. The constant question “How to live?” comes from a false belief that it is possible to possess the manual to life, do what it says and basically free yourself from thinking. And again we land in the arms of experts to take from us the burden of responsibility.

 

Let us not ask “How to live?” but “Why?” This is the most basic question that we have stopped asking.

 

 

Maybe these big questions do not have answers and we simply know it?

 

Of course. It is not possible to find final answers. But the meaning of life lies in the process of looking for them. Today people think that if there is no answer – well then, why would you bother asking where evil comes from?

 

It’s always been that way. Most people went about their lives and didn’t ask where evil comes from or why they live.

 

There is an important difference. We started with Flaubert, which you took from the shelf. The tragedies of Madam Bovary, Julian Sorel, and Conrad’s characters – unlike our dramas – were based on the fact that they were people aware of the consequences of their actions. Whether they did right or wrong, did they fulfill the commitments they made to others – for them those were fundamental questions that needed to be answered and the lack of an answer was a source of great ordeals and great suffering. Today, a lack of a response does not hurt.

 

Why is asking questions so important? The GDP does not grow from this.

 

Putting forth basic questions allows me to formulate goals, and therefore to live in a world I shape, and not in a world that I adapt to.  At this point we just adapt, and we see that by the increasing amount of counseling of all kinds. We stopped believing in the possibility of a radical change in the world. Unemployment? After all, it’s structural, there’s not much we can do about it. Social stratification? It’s an integral part of the market, too bad, what can we do? Low wages? Well, that’s the job market right now. And so on.

 

Our powerlessness can also be seen in the lack of any utopian or ideological thinking. No one is trying to design the world anew.

 

Asking important questions. Inventing utopia. Discussing ideas. Producing new ideas. Whose task is that?

 

Mine. It is the daily duty of intellectuals.

 

And?

 

Why do we not fulfill our duty? Because of broken communication between politics, media, and the spiritual world.

 

By whom?

 

By everyone.

 

It’s not worth it to write serious texts for politicians because they don’t read them. No politician in any country seeks the advice of philosophers. Michael Sandel told me that Obama persuaded him to become an adviser in some committee, but there was not a single meeting after that. Politics is no longer about changing the world, only about managing current affairs and maintaining a status quo deemed bearable by the electorate. How would a philosopher help with that?

 

The media also react only to current events and my appeals to report on something for a year do not go beyond me talking.

 

All right then. Politicians are guilty, the media are guilty. And you?

 

We felt unimportant so we became unimportant. That’s how it works.

 

You too?

 

Me too. The marginalization of thought overcame Poland in a fast and fantastic matter. After 1989 all it took was few years for no one to be any longer interested in serious texts. I saw it while editing Res Publica.

 

You write, “In a free Poland no one at Res Publica or anywhere else managed to start a public debate about issues that really matter.” Is that so?

 

Of course. All the debates that now ignite us revolve around – pardon my French – asses and surrounding areas.

 

They focus on issues related to sexual morality. And that is not the center of social life, even including issues as serious as abortion. Progressive elites addressed gender and sexual inequalities and completely lost sight of simple economic inequalities that are a real scandal. Because why should we deal with some 19th-century social categories, when we have newer and more interesting ones? This way we handed ordinary people with ordinary problems over to the idiot right that will promise them the world.

 

You write: “No analyses, no descriptions or calls ever made caused any government to take clear notice of the enormity of Polish poverty and the size of the political and economic fraud, and then try to tackle those problems.” Do you maintain this statement?

 

Nothing has changed.

 

It continues: “Poland is a country of brutal and profound differences. Then when I turn on the television and I see what the disagreements are about, I see the total lack of elementary human solidarity.” Yes?

 

Of course.

 

This free Poland – with social inequalities, manufactured discussions, moronic media, stupid politicians – it was built by your generation. You and your colleagues from the underground. Shame?

 

All in all, no.  That Poland is not so bad. Let me rephrase: Poland is as bad as other democratic countries.

 

You only managed to get freedom right. Equality and fraternity you gave up on. Why?

 

This song was about freedom from the start.

 

I did not belong to any party, but I was close to the Freedom Union. [Solidarity activist and former Prime Minister Tadeusz] Mazowiecki lived around the corner, used to come, drink a few whiskeys, liven up around 2 in the morning, go out at 4, me and Julia, we barely kept going. And he would still talk loudly in the street because I used to walk him back home. That whole environment was my good friends, but, well, how to say it without offending anyone … we were detached from real human problems. In our point of view, that whole revolution was about freedom. Take for example problems with censorship in the Polish People’s Republic. Who had them? For 97 percent of Poles it was no hardship at all. For us – exactly the opposite, it was a fundamental problem that what we made by the sweat of our brow would be crossed out or not allowed into print.

 

Freedom was the most important thing for us, absolutely. Freedom was enough. We lacked imagination on the issues of social solidarity, rural poverty, state farms, and inequality.

 

One would think it is a basic skill of an intellectual, for him to have imagination – right?

 

I’m not making excuses for myself, I’m explaining.

 

State agricultural farms were disbanded in 1991 with one stroke of a pen. Several hundred thousand people were left out in the cold overnight. One day, it’s going to be a textbook example of how not to carry out reforms at any price. But we can only know this today. But then we were collectively levitating at the level of a certain fiction, inherited from literature of the opposition.

 

Fiction?

 

Fiction of the free market. Literally. The two most important books for us back then were: Free Market and Freedom by Hayek and The Open Society by Popper. I remember very well a visit to Tadeusz Syryjczyk, who used to be the Minister of Industry. I asked him “How is Nowa Huta?” He said proudly, “Bankrupt in half a year because the free market will erase it. It’s going to be privatized.”

 

Aha. And did you ask what would happen to the people?

 

I didn’t have to ask. It was obvious to us, because that terrible fiction was working. The belief that free people will find their place on their own and that a free economy will absorb any number of employees, one just needs to give it a push. This is what happened, in part.

 

Where did it happen? In Lodz, on Baluty? In the old state farms? There is a second generation there living on welfare.

 

We ran out of imagination.

 

Empathy.

 

Imagination.

 

I see a complete lack of sensitivity to the suffering of social groups other than your own. A total lack of empathy in representatives of the Polish intelligentsia. I cannot explain it otherwise.

 

Call it what you like.

 

You left social affairs behind. I want to know why.

 

(wife Julia calls out from the next room: “Not enough [Stefan] Zeromski”)

 

Julia is right. We read the wrong books.

 

Besides, you overestimate the role of Polish intellectuals in all of this. People stopped listening to us rather fast, we didn’t rule after all. Take for example the state farms, what do you imagine we should have done?

 

I imagine it as follows. You all have a meeting in the editorial office of the General Weekly newspaper where you worked, and then [editor] Jerzy Turowicz takes the phone, dials Bielecki’s number and says, “Chris, do you want to eliminate state farms? Perfect, but first we must think of a way to professionally mobilize these people. And until you have such a program, leave the state farms alone. And if not, our good relationship is over.” Simple.

 

Well, that would be the end of the good relationship. Simple.

 

Do you think that our opinion mattered to anyone? Nobody listened to Turowicz anymore. The Polish intelligentsia quite quickly got a lesson in disdain. Do you remember how Walesa handled Turowicz at the Citizens’ Committee meeting? This humiliation was a sign of times: “Mr. Turowicz, stand up and tell us what you have against Walesa and democracy.”

 

You know what? I don’t care at all about what Walesa said to Turowicz 25 years ago. These are excuses.

 

This is context. It is very important.

 

No, important context is that I was raised on your underground newsletters and manifestoes in which you wrote how wonderful solidarity between people is and that there will finally be justice in a free Poland. I was 15 years old when the free Poland was born, and I was running around in a shirt that read “Jacek Kuron for parliament.” I naively thought that my idols were spending all day thinking about what to do, so that there would be justice.

 

I’m sorry.

 

Did you even talk about social issues? About equality, for example?

 

No.

 

With [Leszek] Kolakowski, Turowicz, [Jan] Michalski, [Jakub] Karpinski? You were friends with all of them.

 

We were friends, but we didn’t talk about social issues. Well, not in those days.

 

In those days?

 

Up until 1990, when a group of intellectuals met, then yes, we would have serious discussions. About how to solve various problems and about the priorities for Poland. Then, it disappeared from our conversations because of the belief that the relationship between reason and power had been broken. Why should I concern myself with fixing this world if no one is listening to me? I’ve already explained this mechanism to you.

 

In that case today what does a Polish intellectual talk about when he meets with another Polish intellectual?

 

Nowadays? Not about social life at all. Sometimes it is about books, we talk about jokes, oh, and for several years our conversations have been focusing on the fight for universities – where principles of market competition are being introduced, possibly destroying our science in the process.

 

Of course.  The invisible hand of free market came to the universities, and only now you start the conversation.  Your own ass hurts.

 

I should respond rudely to this remark, but you are unfortunately right so I will not.

 

You talk about [Jaroslaw] Kaczynski, too.

 

Oh yes. Wonderful topic.

 

Because a Polish intellectual’s job is to hate Kaczynski. It gives him purpose.

 

Colorful hypothesis, but untrue.

 

That is your only passion. Hearing his name wakes you all from your slumber. You too. Your most ferocious article is about Kaczynski, you suggest a state tribunal for him and you write, “I call on the Polish government to make a harsh, even unlawful, response.”

 

Great example.

 

Kaczynski plays a significant role, because he does a lot of harm. And he corrupts us the most, you and me too. Because the standards of one’s opponent ties one very strongly. Arguing with his nonsense, I become in a sense a lesser man – which can be seen in that article, and I agree, those are not musings of an intellectual, but a livid text of an angry citizen who has reached his limits.

 

Social inequality does not make you livid and you don’t write open letters when real estate agencies hire bandits to drive people out from their homes. Moral outrage is reserved for Kaczynski. Comfortable.

 

Please! You cannot free yourself from Kaczynski and not deal with him. He says something, [Antoni] Macierewicz says something, and how can you not react? Do you smile when they spit in your face? When someone tries to set your country on fire, are you not to react? The elite did not react to the Smolensk nonsense and that was a mistake, because it spread [Kaczynski pushed the idea that the 2010 plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, that killed his brother, Polish President Lech Kaczynski, and 95 others was an assassination and that a Russian investigation amounted to a cover-up, in which Tusk was complicit – Ed.]. An intellectual cannot always smile and gently wag his little finger.

 

They will lose, they will lose for sure…

 

Aha.

 

You’ll see.

 

I knew Lech and Jarek, they were my good friends. But we are a generation of servitude. Jarek is full of spite because he used to be a second-rate oppositionist. That is the problem of many intellectuals, who showed up in Solidarity. We were only advisers. Walesa could always kick someone in their ass, which he sometimes did. In a sense, Polish politics is still a 30-year-old conversation about who was the greater hero, and treating those insecurities.

 

That’s right. And I’m sick of you all being like this. Do you know what your oppositionist friends remember the best? That in 1986 you ate chicken with [Jerzy] Urban. And that you shouldn’t have eaten that chicken with him. And that Michnik threw you out of his name day party for it. And so on, they can go on for an hour about this. Ridiculous.

 

(laughter)

 

That was meatballs. In the Cabinet of Ministers’ canteen.

 

First of all, that was 30 years ago!

 

So, Urban was actually eating thighs but I only had meatballs.

 

It came to the fact that in 1986 we decided to try to publish Res Publica legally. Who could get it done? Urban. So as the editor, I went to negotiate, he took me to the canteen, promised anything I could think of, under one condition, for me to join Jaruzelski’s Consulting Council – of course I refused and he didn’t agree to the legal paper. That’s it. Only years later, when the thaw was coming, did we get approval. To this day I have a furious letter from Adam: “Prison benches for some, parliamentary benches for others.” For me, that is, because Jaruzelski would surely put me in the parliament.

 

But there is an inconsistency in your account – it was not me who was thrown out of Adam’s party, but my colleagues Michal Komar and Tomek Jastrun. (laughter)

 

For me, it is not at all amusing that you still care about those little stories.

 

Not much longer. Mine is a dying breed.

 

Actually, why did you never make a political career?

 

I didn’t want to.

 

Did Mazowiecki call you?

 

Yes. First I was to be the culture minister, but I decided I didn’t know enough about it. So he proposed that I become the head of television. I declined that, too. I came close to accepting the position of editor in chief of Rzeczpospolita, which used to belong to the state back then, but Jacek Ambroziak – he was the head of the Council of Ministers’ Office in Mazowiecki’s administration – entered the room and said something like, “So now, my dear, you will be under me.” “No, darling, I will not.” That is how I did not become the chief editor of “Rzepa.”

 

Because of who was going to be under whom? Is that important?

 

Of course. It began right at the start, immediately. Ambitions. I did not want to participate. You know, in the opposition, we also had our bad characters, they were just concealed by a common enemy – and it exploded, afterward. You can see that in Polish politics even today.

 

Nowadays, I’m in decline.

 

Decline?

 

One can use a multitude of techniques, and I am using a technique old as the world, known from ancient times. That is, I run away. We’re talking in a house 160 kilometers [100 miles] from Warsaw exactly because I am running away from ailments.

 

Like what?

 

For example, passing time at meetings full of stupid people. I don’t have to attend them. For a long time I was a dean, and if you ask my colleagues you will find that the council meetings never lasted over half an hour.

 

Escape.

 

Yes. I’m free from ritual obligations I would have had in Warsaw. Every week some acquaintance sends an invitation to an event promoting their latest book, often quite poor, and I don’t have to go, because I’m not going to drive two hours. I’m released and vindicated.

 

What next?

 

In the Institute of Public Affairs, we’re planning a book on the occasion of 25 years of free Poland. I’m supervising that. And you know what? I only invited people from the young generation, born between 1975 and 1985. Not [Jadwiga] Staniszkis, [Adam] Krzeminski, [Pawel] Spiewak, and Krol writing the same thing all over again, but 30- and 40-year-olds. They belong to a different reality. With an incomparably higher sensitivity to social issues, that difference is clear.

 

And us? We are what we are. And that’s how it is going to stay.

 

If World War II had not happened, in 1940 Poland would have had a parliamentary election. Do you know who would have run in it? Young people called [Stefan] Kisielewski, [Stanislaw] Stomma, [Jerzy] Giedroyc, Turowicz, and [Jozef Maria] Bochenski. If not for Hitler, these young people would have taken over and changed Poland. It would be more just, without bench ghettos and with an agrarian reform.

 

Young Bochenski wrote about the politicians of his time that it is not good when power is taken over by a generation in captivity. The same applies to us. We went through a washing machine, even if we went in clean and came out clean, the process left us battered.

This interview was originally published in Gazeta Wyborcza. Translated by Anna Kotlabova.

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