On the Side of Geremek

The following is based on the speech given by Adam Michnik at the funeral of the historian Bronislaw Geremek, an early adviser of the Solidarity movement and former foreign minister of Poland, who died in a car accident on July 13 at the age of seventy-six.

In the face of despair words are powerless. We feel despair because we have to say goodbye to an exceptional man—and I cannot capture his uniqueness in words. The best I can do is to paraphrase a poem by Wis awa Szymborska: Bronek, this is no way to treat friends.

When a friend dies unexpectedly and tragically, we recall his face, his smile, our past and recent conversations, forever interrupted and unfinished. I hear Bronek’s reflections during the meetings of the underground Flying University in the 1970s and in parish halls, where we discussed the blank spaces on the map of Polish history. I see Bronek in 1982 in jail in Bialoleka, and hear his hoarse shout from behind the bars of the prison on Rakowiecka Street. I see and hear Bronek in the 1980s in Castel Gandolfo, addressing Pope John Paul II and members of the world intellectual elite, and I see him in the enormous chamber of the French National Assembly, explaining the significance of the Polish transformations.

I see him during the meetings of the leadership of the underground Solidarity movement and during the 1989 round table negotiations; I see him in the Diet when he declared the end of the Polish People’s Republic, and on CNN when he announced that Poland had joined NATO. And I remember also dozens of our private conversations, discussions, and arguments conducted over a period of almost forty years.

I also remember one of our last conversations, when Bronek asked me to sign a letter concerning an attack on Lech Walesa, alleging that in the 1970s he was a police informer, “Bolek.” Geremek was the author of a draft of this letter. We read there:

It is difficult to understand the intentions of the people and institutions who have now launched a campaign of accusations and libel against Lech Walesa. The Institute of National Remembrance, supposed to protect national memory, is today engaging in activities that destroy this memory. Today’s memory police resort to the hateful methods of the communist secret services and direct them at a victim of this very secret service. These policemen violate the truth and fundamental ethical principles. They do harm to Poland.1

This was one of Geremek’s last public declarations. I recall these words at his grave and I would like them to be remembered by everybody—including the “memory police.” I also want to recall here the most recent indignities, among them the scandalous article, published in a newspaper immediately after Geremek’s death, which claimed to appeal to Catholic principles. This article was prepared in accordance with classic models of Bolshevik propaganda.2

Geremek easily forgave acts of injustice committed against him. He would certainly also forgive…

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