The historian Adam Michnik was one of the most active members of KOR—the Workers’ Defense Committee—and during 1980 and 1981 was an adviser to Solidarity in Warsaw. Of his many important publications, the best known are The Church, The Left, A Dialogue, and Letters from Bialoleka. He was arrested on December 13, 1981, the night of the military coup in Poland, and interned in Bialoleka Camp near Warsaw. In the fall of 1982 he was charged, together with some other members of KOR, with attempting to overthrow the state. He now awaits trial in Investigation Prison in Warsaw, where this interview with a Polish visitor took place.
—Jeri Laber, Helsinki Watch
Q: You have now been locked up longer than Solidarity existed [legally]. What is your stratagem for doing time?
A: The idea is always the same: to work, and to believe that this is meaningful. I read a lot; I try to use my time to study. The news reaching us from outside suggests that doing time is meaningful, that it is a part of the Solidarity resistance movement, especially now, when the authorities make up successive lies concerning the progress of normalization and understanding [with society]. Our stay in prison is proof that normalization remains elusive.
Q: I understand that in this situation you want to avoid pathos even when you really live under the shadow of Zbigniew Herbert’s great words: “You have too little time / it’s necessary to bear witness / be brave when reason fails / be brave.”
A: Since the situation is pathetic—I don’t have to be; I am simply guided by an instinct for self-preservation. I have long known that one must never strike deals with the police. Such deals always end badly. They only know how to lie—but they are quite good at it. They are also stupid; unfortunately those they interrogate are sometimes even greater fools. So Herbert is right—the most important thing is courage and dignity. In general, Herbert is an excellent, perhaps even the best, writer for these times of contempt. This is not only my opinion, as more and more people refuse to talk with the gentlemen from the security police. It doesn’t require pathos, or great wisdom, only a little courage.
Q: What was your impression of the Holy Father’s visit? It was you, the political prisoners, whom the Pope addressed in his first speech on Polish soil.
A: Like everyone else in Poland, I greeted his visit with great joy and hope. One consequence of the Pope’s visit is that many of us were released. But in the long run there will also be other consequences.
One important event took place in prison: a majority of prisoners declared a hunger strike, demanding, among other things, that they be given the status of political prisoners. The strike was voluntary, no one was pressured. I, for example, did not fast. It was a moral gesture of great significance. I hope that this struggle for the status…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.