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 link to Poland was the fact that he was born and got his college education there.” Bielecki is Jewish. His family was forced to leave Poland during the official anti-Semitic campaign in 1968. He alone decided to stay. The Polish security apparatus is particularly vicious toward people who make such decisions.
The official Polish government spokesman Jerzy Urban confirmed recently that Czeslaw Bielecki, together with two other prisoners, has been on a hunger strike, and has been force fed, since October last year. His essay “Monologue,” smuggled from the prison in Rakowiecka Street in Warsaw, is a vivid document of the shameful consequences of Polish “normalization.” It begins with Bielecki’s police interrogator talking to him.
For those old hacks in Poland who—according to the Soviets—
have not yet outlived their usefulness.
“You don’t have to talk, but keeping silent won’t help you. We know almost everything about you, and we’ll soon find out the rest. I can keep on coming here for weeks or months on end because I’m in a different situation from you: first, I get paid for this and you don’t; second, I can leave at four o’clock, but you have to stay. I can leave and go out to freedom,” he emphasizes, but then corrects himself: “…to the other end of Rakowiecka Street.”
“Apart from you, everyone is very talkative,” he says. “Can you hear all the typewriters going? Everyone takes care of his own ass. Unfortunately, that’s the way things are. Everyone takes care of himself. That’s the way we’re born, and it’s not going to change.
“We don’t yet have communism, where everything is simply lying on the street and people take what they need. In any case,” he muses in typical interrogatory fashion, “writing isn’t going to change the geopolitical situation. That’s life, whether we like it or not. If Poland lay on the edge of Europe, like Norway or Sweden, then perhaps…. But when you get out of here or some other prison in ten or fifteen years, there won’t be any more publishing houses like Krag or CDN, and you’ll see for yourself. But maybe,” he meditates again, “they’ll get you under Article 124 for spying, and then it could even be the death sentence.”
It’s a long way from here to the brain-washing in the concentration camps of “liberated” Vietnam, I say to myself. There they have group lessons in Marxism-Leninism several times a day to give them a break from Arbeit macht frei. Here it’s just the “normalization” of real socialism. When one thinks about those who paved the way with their own lives, the only decent thing to do is keep silent.
It’s a sunny morning. Opposite me sits a man my age, blond and handsome, with a mustache, heavy eyelids. As usual, he’s impeccably dressed: beige shirt, a nice tie, and a navy blazer with silver buttons—the kind that “cadres” in the East like to wear as much as those in the West. When his own words tire him, he pulls out a book entitled Welcome to Hard Times, and relaxes for a while. It’s hard to see my situation in a heroic light; it’s more like a farce, capable of evoking terror only in the corpse of Yosif Vissarionovich.
I recall the accounts of those who have suffered in similarly banal conditions. I think of the hundreds of thousands of whom not even a shadow remains on paper, and of those who are now making their debut. I wonder how they are being threatened and what they fear as they sit in identical interrogation rooms, converted from the cells of Stalin’s time. When they justify to themselves their willingness to talk, can they see that their one and only motivation—which is so difficult to recognize—is their own fear? Do they know that it is fear that dictates the way they think and makes it senseless for them even to open their mouths? Do they get confused by the location of their own chair, which no longer stands in the corner of the room, but right next to the desk so that a monologue or two might lead, in the most natural fashion, to a dialogue?
To banish my uneasiness I recall my first contact with the “organs.” I was twenty years old. I was taken to a small room in the Mostowski Palace. The sterility of the place, or maybe the need to give myself courage, induced me to comment loudly: “So this is it. A white-painted room, a table and chair, two unidentified people, and a third one who’s innocent and doesn’t know what’s going on. A scene out of Kafka.”
“Everyone says he’s innocent. Kafka who?”
Then and there I knew what was going on.
“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care whether you spill everything, give us names and contacts, or not. We’ve already got everyone from your group anyway. It’s all over, your outfit is finished; we’ve got the printers, distributors, everyone.” And in a clumsy effort to provoke me, he says, “Even Radio Free Europe says you’re Poleski.” Then he states gravely, “I’d like you to outline your political credo, and we’ll draw up a memorandum for the official record.”
How can the interrogator know that I associate the word “memorandum” with the greatest renegade of the January uprising, Oskar Awejde, who broke down when his dyed hair started growing out in prison. I’m not in any danger from that. It’s no accident that I was wearing a wig when they caught me.
“The charges against you are clear: you have broken the law. Every country has its police, and in every country they catch people who break the law. You broke the law and now you have to pay for it,” he says, presenting to me the charms of a legalistic argument rather than a principled defense of the interests of the Polish People’s Republic. But a minute later he reassumes the role of a functionary in some illegal center for public-opinion research: “Kuron, Walesa, Frasyniuk—I can understand that they can’t do anything else now; they don’t have any way out. But you? Let’s get back to your political views. Explain to me: You’re an architect, there’s so much you could do in your profession….” But he breaks off when he senses in my expression a lack of faith in the professionalism of a ruling group that allows the rest of us only to cultivate our own garden.
“Why don’t you save yourself? You’re like a railway lineman, a lineman who can’t change the direction of the train but who can stop it, who can do something, not just stand there transfixed: unscrew the tracks, throw a log under the wheels….” The interrogator is obviously thinking of the interrogation train; the locomotive of history he leaves to our journalist-rulers. He laughs, and I laugh even louder.
“OK, I’m a cop, but I’d like to help you, simply as a fellow citizen, particularly now that the situation is being normalized. Did you know that they’re supposed to abolish ration cards for meat in the summer? You can’t be a masochist who enjoys sitting here. You could write for Tygodnik Powszechny [an independent Catholic journal], it’s a paper with opposition views too. Polityka [an official weekly] could engage in polemics with you, and everything would be fine. It’s best to be a person of the center. Take some like Passent [a contributor to Polityka], for example. Does he have it so bad?”
“Just the address and telephone number of Maisons-Laffitte in your notebook will be strong evidence for the court. You know, of course, that the CIA is behind Kultura. Actually, I don’t know why they bother to print it, since even I’ve seen piles of it at the flea market,” says the physician of the system as he slides around on the contradictions of his statements, looking for the locus minoris resistentiae, the point of least resistance. “You know, I was at the flea market yesterday and saw not only the Flavius, which we found among your books—would you believe it cost 15,000 zlotys!—but also about thirty copies of Kultura. And no one was bothering the seller!” (And I’ve seen people reading Tygodnik Mazowsze [a Warsaw underground paper] in a commuter train.)
“Anyway, The Tin Drum has been published officially—but, of course, you were free then. Even actors are returning from their internal emigration and are appearing on television. Do you want some names? Ration cards for meat…. Oh, I’ve already mentioned that. There’s plenty of coffee in the stores. Would you like me to bring some to the interrogation?”
Number 2 comes in: “Since you don’t want to talk when you’re dry, maybe the three of us should take a paddy wagon and go and have a cognac somewhere.”
The first one rushes to normalize even the dead: “Even such an opposition writer as Andrzejewski is now publishing.”
“What do you think you’re doing, you kike, you Jew? If you don’t like it here, you should have left Poland!” His face is a few centimeters from mine. “You don’t want to talk, you scum? When I get through with you, you ass hole, you’ll start talking!”
Number 1 sits quietly at his desk; Number 3 sits behind me: “He just crosses his legs and sits there!” He jumps up, grabs me, and puts my feet next to each other. I don’t resist.
“Sit like that!” he screams, and leaves.
This was probably a test—the second since my arrest, which looked as though I was being kidnapped by a band of the Red Brigades. Number 3 presents himself in accordance with Colonel Pietruszka’s slogan: “First in work, first in sport.” Even when he sighs, the old ubek who’s doing time here for the murder of Father Popieluszko [the priest killed in October 1984] probably does so with one of Stalin’s slogans: “Even on our street, the sun will one day shine!”
“You see, I’m taking it easy on you. You wouldn’t want my colleague to…. Not everyone is as easygoing as I am,” says “my” interrogator, beginning to play his own tune as I instinctively cross one leg over the other. After a minute Number 3 bursts in and throws it off, as if I were a mannequin.
“Thaaat’s right!” they start shouting both at once. “When we throw you in a cell with 120 hardened criminals, then you’ll know what homosexual rape is like! Nothing will save you then! You won’t put that in your memoirs.” (That’s Number 1, in charge of culture.) “Here in a ministry block, you have luxurious accommodation. Hey, maybe we should throw him into solitary until he goes crazy? You’ve only got a couple of days. If you haven’t made a statement by Monday, we’ll use other methods—and now you know what kind,” ends Number 1.
I make it back to my cell safe and sound. Taking advantage of the fact that, on Rakowiecka Street, the sun isn’t yet shining only on the natives, I write a complaint about the interrogation methods. The final point is supplied by the government’s Chief Misrepresentative: questioned at a press conference about my arrest, he said, “To safeguard the success of the investigation I am unable to say anything about its results so far.”
The next morning I’m summoned upstairs. I sit by the desk and hear the usual: “So, you’ve decided to talk; let’s make a statement”—the prologue to the étude. Number 3 comes in and hands Number 1 the envelope containing the complaint that I gave the prison guard an hour ago.
“Just look at this slander! You kike. Did you hear me say anything like that to him?”
“Didn’t hear a thing,” says Number 1 in surprise.
“You know, he says something here about homosexuals, that he was blackmailed that he’d be raped if he didn’t talk. What garbage. It’s libel! And look here: ‘I protest against the disgrace brought on my country by anti-Semitism, by the threat to throw me out of Poland as though the security forces were its rightful rulers….’ ‘My country.’ I wonder what country he’s talking about. You try to be nice to him, and he libels you so you have to explain yourself to the boss.”
Number 1 shakes his head. “Is that nice?”
This is a contribution to understanding three worlds: the truth, their truth, and truth of Moscow’s Pravda.
Number 2 comes in. “I’ve been. Yeah, yeah, I just got back.”
“Are they mopping them up?”
“They’re mopping them up like a sponge. They’re gonna be processed.”
They’re trying out their professional slang: he’s just got back from Mostowski Palace, and they’re referring to the new arrests. Two years ago, exactly on the day of Grzegorz Przemyk’s funeral,1 I was a guest at the palace. The security men were commenting on a transmission from the “uniforms”—the term they use contemptuously to refer to the regular guardians of law and order and under-cover agents who communicate with walkie-talkies. “Shit, just put him in the hole before he starts to stink,” men with children of their own were saying, infuriated by the size of the demonstration.
“You should be on our side. We need people like you. You’re sharp, intelligent….” There’s a moment’s hesitation on the part of Number 2, who’s about twenty-five and has the face of a young wolf. “That’s right, sharp. Maybe we don’t have enough people like that. If we had more people like you, things would be different. Why can’t we be on the same side of the barricade…,” he hesitates, “desk?” He looks into my eyes impudently, à la Captain Piotrowski [one of the policemen convicted for the murder of Father Popieluszko]. Number 1 is a better professional. When he says, “Really, I’d like to help you!” he lowers his eyelids. He knows that even after years of training the eyes are bad at lying. He now starts in.
“I’m also thinking about your girlfriend, whom my friend is interrogating.” Number 4 has come in. “Every woman wants to have a family, a home, to settle down. Even prostitutes, that’s right, even prostitutes. A home, a family—for them that’s sacred. What do you think is going to happen? You’ll get out and then you’ll have to hide again. They’ll catch you again and…. Constant uncertainty. I couldn’t handle it,” he sums up.
In the silence that follows I think about the world’s oldest professions.
“Did Stefan see him?”
“Nothing so far.”
I assume that Stefan is Number 3, the one who’s supposed to scare you. Number 2 hasn’t lost hope.
“You won’t change a thing in this country. No-thing. I guar-ran-tee. I read everything that’s published underground and abroad. There’s nothing in there. No-thing. You want to see the latest issue of Kultura? I could bring it, the latest issue! I’ll bring it. You can read it out loud to us since you don’t want to talk. We’ll benefit from it and so will you. How about it? You know what really bothers me the most? Lying. I go to a demonstration just to see what’s going on. I see what it’s like and then I hear about it on Radio Free Europe and my ears literally swell up—what liars! It’s dreadful. To think up some kind of doctrine or write a Forefathers’ Eve is no big deal. You think about it, you sit down, and you write.
“But a worker doesn’t have time for such games. He has to work hard for his thirteen to fourteen thousand, and the norms are exhausting. It’s only to an intellectual like yourself that things look simple. You can’t reverse a river with a stick. You can’t make a revolution here. For that you need a very big stick—a ve-ry big one.” He laughs.
Indeed, a communist revolution is made with a very big stick. Only the first one was made with a short stick, but they quickly made it longer. But our revolution wasn’t “made” and that’s why it still exists, even without a stick.
“What language are you studying?”
“Well, it depends what side they attack from. You have to study the language they use on the side they’ll come from. I’ve taken up English.”
“You’re kidding. We’re in no danger from that side.”
They change the subject.
“We’re being so nice to you, but what if the other suspects get the idea you’re an agent? A spy? A double agent?”
“The CIA will come and kill you. And then what?”
“Or maybe the KGB?”
“Oh, that would be worse.” They burst out laughing.
In a minute we’re all laughing together. I hum a few patriotic lines to myself:
True sisters they be
Vaclav Havel was obviously right in calling this a post-totalitarian system; there aren’t many people left who want to be fanatics. True Soviet man doesn’t have to believe in order to practice. Colonel Pietruszka, the convicted superior officer of the men who killed Father Popieluszko, for instance, knows immediately from Trybuna Ludu [the Communist party daily] exactly where the dividing line between them and us is: “Either a brutal coup d’état [by Solidarity] or victory for the revolution,” it instructs the less erudite among them.
“Actually, I could stop coming here, but I want to give you a chance to get out of this somehow. You wouldn’t be the first one; no one would hold it against you. If you take advantage of Article 57, which deals with the possibility of an exceptional reduction in sentence—you’d have to put it in writing, of course—you could count on a reduced sentence and even… (he pauses, even though he knows he’s not getting anywhere) a complete remission! But you have to make the first step. How about it? Shall we come to some arrangement? You’ll be freed and you’ll tell the younger ones, ‘I’m retiring.’ I know from the prosecutor that you often write to your sons. That’s good, very good. I’ve got a small kid too, but I don’t live like you do. I’ve got one room with a kitchen.”
He’s singing the wrong tune again; not long ago he told me he has three thousand books at home. “But don’t bring them up to follow in your footsteps. After all, there’s no point in your getting out and then coming to see your kids in prison.”
This generation game reminds me of a palindrome which my son thought up when he saw Jan Józef Lipski’s book, KOR: UROK KORU, the charm of KOR. I smile instinctively.
“I’d like to know what it is you’re…,” Number 1 interrupts my thoughts. Yes, even though 1984 has been and gone, the thought police can’t overcome the technological gap.
“I guess I’ve had enough experience by now to appear on One-Man Theater. A whole month has gone by, and you haven’t even opened your mouth to say ‘good day.’ I can understand that you don’t feel like saying ‘thank you,”‘ declares Number 1.
Number 5 comes in. As though he doesn’t know that I haven’t yet said a single word, he pulls a file from his briefcase and asks one question after another. He makes notes and reads aloud his answers: “The suspect refuses to answer, the suspect refuses to answer, the suspect refuses to answer….” Finally he explodes.
“You’re a fine conspirator, you are. So many people are inside because of you. Practically half the block. If you were such a great conspirator, you’d have paid attention to those tails, as you like to call them, and you wouldn’t have ended up here.” He smiles, revealing rotten teeth.
Their favorite motif. No matter how many mistakes I have made—I carefully sift through my thoughts; every criticism can be an inspiration, although I know that they’re just trying to put me down—and no matter how many people are inside “because of me,” there is one very precise measure: seven years ago I used for the first time the pseudonym M.P., and it’s only now that they have me in their hands as M.P. It took several years to find a traitor who, before giving himself up, would give me away and thus immediately gain his freedom. It took another few years to track me down. Number 1 interrupts my thoughts: “I can reconstruct every step you took after December 13. Every day, every place you went, everything.”
Nonsense. I see the faces of those magnificent people with whom fate brought me into contact, who shared with me the risks, who drove me around or gave me the key to their apartment, who went shopping for me, and who “kidnapped” my children and allowed me a glimpse of them. In fact, things are good, and they will get better. Despite my predilection for individualism, I haven’t appeared on One-Man Theater. Solidarity is antitheater.
The monologues I have heard are no match for the artistry of “The Interrogation Games” which appeared in The Conspirator’s Handbook, a best seller published by CDN and publicized at one time by both Newsweek and Tygodnik Mazowsze. (I feel obliged to make this point, as I have been publicly presented as the head of the firm.) On the other hand, they constitute the fullest version of the electoral program of dialogue and understanding that I have come across—presented, morever, with an honesty befitting the Party. And because in this country it is the authorities who elect the listener and not the other way around, the role of silent medium has fallen to me.
Telling the Sejm [parliament] how, as longstanding agent, I had been instructed by the CIA to take over from Jerzy Giedroyí as editor of Kultura, General Kiszczak elegantly observed that the Americans consider Giedroyí to be “an old hack who has outlived his usefulness.” The quotation marks around the words with which General Kiszczak referred to one of our most admirable countrymen were intended to prove the authenticity of this opinion. They were also intended as evidence of the power of the SB: the world on which they eavesdrop is as small as the Third Block in Mokotów Prison. I have never believed and I do not believe in the almighty power of the police, hence I treated the above statement as simply an example of the general’s preferred style—this explains the dedication.
I have now come to my third reason for making the authorities’ monologue available to a wider audience. In his speech to the Sejm General Kiszczak presented the bold hypothesis that the only thing that binds me to Poland is the fact that I was born and acquired a higher education here. In response, I am publishing a documentary record, showing to what it is that this modern Cheka functionary is bound by his place of birth and education. Quod erat demonstrandum.
—translated by Jane Cave and Roman Dumas
March 27, 1986