• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

Poland: Malice, Death, Survival

Michnik’s three essays on hatred speak prophetically of dangers that beset twenty-first-century Poland. Today’s variant on “the culture of malice” is not anti-Semitism; if the signals were more openly anti-Semitic the West might have picked them up. This time around the disease is not ethnically focused, but is equally poisonous, bulging with bile, convulsed with conspiracy theories, and saturated with slanderous mudslinging. The twin motors are a pseudo-Catholic broadcaster, Radio Maria, which the Church hierarchy fails to rein in, and the chief opposition party, self-styled “Law and Justice,” whose members since their electoral defeat in 2007 have been calling ever more stridently for the overthrow of liberal democracy. Their targets are the legally elected president and government, the independent banks and media, and the former Solidarity leaders, like Lech Wałęsa, who were willing to deal with the Communists, presumably instead of cutting their throats. (Wałęsa is absurdly but persistently reviled as a secret police collaborator.)

The conspiratorial confabulations of “Law and Justice” and its fellow travelers include Poland’s alleged subjection to an international “condominium” run jointly from Moscow and Berlin, and the government’s alleged cover-up of the “assassination” of Lech Kaczyński, the then president of Poland, in April 2010 in an air crash, which official Polish investigators have unambiguously attributed to pilot error. Their language is extreme, crying “Treason,” “Murder,” and “Lies” on any occasion, and, in ominous imitation of the Deutschland, Erwache! of the 1920s, “Poland Awake.”

Michnik claims magnanimously that “the gutter is not a specifically Polish phenomenon.” But he quotes a critic who calls it “one of the most disgraceful diseases of the Polish soul” and unearths a long tradition of false accusations. In “A Wound upon Adam Mickiewicz’s Brow,” he examines the mind-set of the archetypal slander-monger, “the Great Lustrator” (lustration being the word for the purge not just of former Communists, but many others as well), the ringleader of the “eleventh-hour anti-Communists,” “the seeker-out of other people’s sins and wrongdoings, who is so lenient to himself,” and so censorious toward others. “Just as the Grand Inquisitor created heretics to justify the existence of the Holy Inquisition,” he writes, “so the Great Lustrator creates ever more suspected informers, for without them, he would be nothing.” This is “the Chairman.”

Michnik certainly finds plenty of eminent figures among the falsely accused; they include Gabriel Narutowicz, the murdered president of 1922; Marshal Piłsudski, who personified one of his detractors as “a ghastly midget on bandy little legs” “dogging my every step”; Stefan Zeromski, the novelist; Czesław Miłosz, the poet; the doughty postwar primate, Stefan, Cardinal Wyszynski; and the episcopal authors of the famous “Letter of Forgiveness” to Germany in 1965. And he finds plenty of noble Poles who spoke out against the witch hunts: the list starts with local counterparts of Zola and Masaryk, and the national bard, Adam Mickiewicz; it continues with Bishop Teodor Kubina, who denounced the Kielce pogrom, and ends in 1939 with a Cracovian student of literature called Karol Wojtyła. Michnik’s mentor in this field is the late Catholic journalist Stefan Kisielewski, the advocate of “the Forgiving Man.”

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print