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In Search of Lost Meaning

In Search of Lost Meaning: The New Eastern Europe

Adam Michnik
Edited by Irena Grudzińska Gross
Translated by Roman S. Czarny
with a Foreword by Václav Havel
Introduction by John Darnton
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    In Search of Lost Meaning
    Book Description:

    In this new collection of essays, Adam Michnik-one of Europe's leading dissidents-traces the post-cold-war transformation of Eastern Europe. He writes again in opposition, this time to post-communist elites and European Union bureaucrats. Composed of history, memoir, and political critique,In Search of Lost Meaningshines a spotlight on the changes in Poland and the Eastern Bloc in the post-1989 years. Michnik asks what mistakes were made and what we can learn from climactic events in Poland's past, in its literature, and the histories of Central and Eastern Europe. He calls attention to pivotal moments in which central figures like Lech Walesa and political movements like Solidarity came into being, how these movements attempted to uproot the past, and how subsequent events have ultimately challenged Poland's enduring ethical legacy of morality and liberalism. Reflecting on the most recent efforts to grapple with Poland's Jewish history and residual guilt, this profoundly important book throws light not only on recent events, but also on the thinking of one of their most important protagonists.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94947-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. FOREWORD: About Michnik
    (pp. vii-viii)

    I have known the name of Adam Michnik since 1968. I remember vividly how back then, listening to the news from Radio Free Europe about the events in Poland, I heard about the crackdown at Warsaw University—and the names Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik. In Prague at that time, the “Prague Spring” was at its height, and I was worried that we only cared about ourselves and were not interested in what was going on in neighboring Poland. I tried a bit to raise awareness about the Polish events. I think by then it was becoming clear that to...

    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Irena Grudzińska Gross
    (pp. xv-xx)
    John Darnton

    “Twenty-five years ago, in August 1980, Poland changed the face of the world,” Adam Michnik writes in his chapter “In Search of Lost Meaning”: “I close my eyes and see it—it was a beautiful time with beautiful people. I was thirty-four years old and convinced that my generation was writing an important chapter in history.”

    Now I close my eyes and see the Michnik of those days. He has curly brown hair, a rumpled look, a bit of stubble that suggests he’s been up all night, the pallor of someone who’s spent a lot of time behind bars. His...


    • CHAPTER ONE Poland at the Turning Point: Fifteen Years of Transformation, Fifteen Years of Gazeta Wyborcza
      (pp. 3-21)

      We are the witnesses of a miracle. Let us consider what the Polish prayer sounded like twenty years ago.

      Dear Lord, make Poland have freedom instead of dictatorship; dear Lord, make Poland have a democratically elected parliament; make television and radio, the press and publishing houses free of censorship; open our borders and give us a free market economy; dear Lord, make Poland stop being a satellite country, make the Soviet army leave Poland, and allow Poles to become members of NATO and the European Union by their own choice.

      We, however, when we were penniless and starting to publish...

    • CHAPTER TWO In Search of Lost Meaning: The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Solidarity Movement
      (pp. 22-36)

      Twenty-five years ago, in August 1980, Poland changed the face of the world. I close my eyes and see it—it was a beautiful time with beautiful people. I was thirty-four years old and convinced that my generation was writing an important chapter in history. When recalling those days, I reach for my notes, as I do not trust my memory any longer. Too much bitterness and sadness have accumulated in my memory in these last few years; so I am not quite sure I am doing the right thing in writing up bitter remarks that do not quite match...

    • CHAPTER THREE Rage and Shame, Sadness and Pride: The Twenty-Fourth Anniversary of the Imposition of Martial Law
      (pp. 37-58)

      For many years I feel rage on December 13—Solidarity, proved helpless, could be knocked out by a military coup. I feel shame because we didn’t manage to prevent that dark scenario, because on a weekend night I let the authorities arrest me in front of my house when I should have had the foresight to hide. And I feel sadness, because Poland lost her great historical chance to sway history. But these feelings are coupled with pride because we managed to survive. Today, however, I feel regret that this anniversary is no longer an occasion for reflection and reverie...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The Bitter Memory of Budapest: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Budapest Uprising
      (pp. 59-72)

      On November 1, 1956, a few minutes before 8 p.m., Prime Minister Imre Nagy spoke on the radio to make a memorable appeal to the Hungarian nation:

      The Hungarian national government, imbued with profound responsibility toward the Hungarian people and history, and giving expression to the undivided will of the Hungarian millions, declares the neutrality of the Hungarian People’s Republic. The Hungarian people, on the basis of equality and in accordance with the spirit of the UN Charter, wish to live in true friendship with their neighbors, the Soviet Union, and all peoples of the world. … The century-old dream...


    • CHAPTER FIVE The Sadness of the Gutter
      (pp. 75-97)

      Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote in hisTristes tropiques,also translated asA World on the Wane, that soon after Columbus’s discoveries, the Spanish colonizers established a commission to ascertain whether the natives were people or animals. They asked: Are the Indians capable of independent living, just like the Castilian peasants? The answer was in the negative, and the conclusions of the report were obvious: It was better for the Indians to become slaves than to live like free animals. At the same time, Lévi-Strauss stated, the Indians occupied themselves with catching white people and drowning them, then guarding the drowned bodies...

    • CHAPTER SIX Accusers and Traitors
      (pp. 98-113)

      My honest dislike of accusers and attackers dates back to the time of the Polish People’s Republic. There were witch hunts of people whom I truly respected, often my teachers and friends. They were accused of high treason, and those accusations were accompanied by vile abuse and lies—lies that were usually not quite refined either. Sometimes the accusers also tried to get at me, which at first flattered me, then amused me, and finally bored me. The attackers had their own peculiar language: it swarmed with frightening adjectives and lofty exclamations, while family names were used as insults. The...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Accusers and the Noncivic Acts
      (pp. 114-133)

      In December 1965, the Polish episcopate, with Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the primate of Poland, and the metropolitan of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła, sent a famous letter to the German bishops. That letter, having enumerated the enormousness of Polish war damages and victims, read: “In this truly Christian spirit but also in a very human gesture, we extend our hands to you, sitting on the benches in the concluding days of the Council, and grant you our forgiveness while at the same time asking for yours” (in the popular propaganda of the time, that turn of phrase was quoted as “we forgive...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT A Wound upon Adam Mickiewicz’s Brow
      (pp. 134-170)

      InForefathers’ Eve,Adam Mickiewicz says while many wounds had been inflicted upon him by enemies, wounds that “soaked his breast with blood,” “the wound upon his brow” was of a different character:

      The Woman: He had one wound upon his brow,

      A single wound and very small:

      It seemed a drop of black, I vow.¹

      The Wizard: That is the sorest wound of all:

      I saw it, I examined it;

      That wound he did himself commit.²

      Konrad (the protagonist ofForefathers’ Eve) “did himself commit” the wound—but why? Historians of literature were inclined to connect the wound with...


    • CHAPTER NINE The Kielce Pogrom: Two Examinations of Conscience
      (pp. 173-203)

      In the report prepared by the Kielce Curia and delivered by Bishop Czesław Kaczmarek to the U.S. ambassador in Warsaw, Arthur Bliss-Lane, two statements are worthy of mention. They read as follows:

      The Kielce events, regardless of their background, regardless of the fact that they were provoked, and regardless of the fact that the authorities could have prevented them but did not want to, were nevertheless a crime that blemished Polish society. It was known that certain of Poland’s enemies would try to attack her because of that crime. Any honest Polish government, like any government in the world, would...

    • CHAPTER TEN The Shock of Jedwabne
      (pp. 204-212)

      Did Poles collaborate with Germans to murder Jews? It is indeed difficult to find a stereotype more absurd and more false. There was no Polish family that would not have been injured by the Nazism of Germany and the Communism of the USSR. These two totalitarian dictatorships claimed the lives of three million Poles and three million citizens categorized by the Nazis as Polish Jews. Poland was the first country to categorically reject Hitler’s demands and the first country to oppose Nazi aggression militarily. The Polish people never produced a Quising and no military unit bearing the Polish standard ever...

    (pp. 213-216)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 217-224)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)