On April 13, 1985 the Warsaw police arrested Czeslaw Bielecki, one of the most talented young Polish writers. They were unusually brutal and as a result Bielecki was immediately put in a prison hospital. At first he was accused of “activities on behalf of a hostile foreign organization,” which, according to the present interpretation of Polish law, can mean any émigré organization, such as a publishing house, magazine, or a Solidarity office, and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Recently, however, the charges were made more severe, accusing Bielecki of “plotting to change the Polish system by force,” a crime punishable by ten years in prison, and in some cases the death penalty.
At the time of his arrest Bielecki, who is thirty-eight, was the head of one of the largest Polish underground publishing houses, CDN (an acronym for “To Be Continued”) which, since the declaration of martial law in 1981, has issued some forty books of poetry, fiction, essays, and political commentary. With a total circulation of 125,000 copies, CDN was one of the best-organized enterprises of its kind; for four years it managed to escape the police searches that have closed down many other independent publishers. Yet the vicious way in which Bielecki’s case has been handled, and the gravity of the charges against him, suggest that the government was concerned to do more than simply close down one of the most important cultural institutions in Poland.
I have known Czeslaw Bielecki since the early Seventies. When we met, he was gaining a reputation as a gifted architect, as well as a talented graphic artist and writer. He worked as a contributing editor of the professional monthly Architektura, where he published essays on the social and political implications of modern architectural ideas. We collaborated on three plays, in which theater was used as a metaphor for participation and passivity, freedom and control, community and individualism.
At the same time, using the pen name “Maciej Poleski,” he wrote political essays published in the Polish monthly Kultura in Paris, and later in the Polish underground press. Their sober tone and their realistic assessment of the Polish struggle were often compared with similar essays by another Polish dissident, Adam Michnik. Bielecki wrote that Polish resistance should be conceived as a matter of particular tasks and duties, not as the occasion for dramatic statements and romantic sentiments. The sober pragmatism of his views seems to have been particularly upsetting to the guardians of order in Poland.
Very few people outside the circle of his closest associates knew about Bielecki’s unofficial activities. He never sought publicity. As a result, he was much less known, especially abroad, than one might think, in view of all the work he published. Perhaps because of this relative obscurity, the Polish authorities chose him as a victim. The Polish internal minister, General Czeslaw Kiszczak, tried to discredit Bielecki in one of his official statements, saying that Bielecki’s “only …