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The Poles: swallowed but not digested

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'Like a nut in the cataracts of the Nile'
Jan Józef Lipski Social activist
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Well, I'm the sort of person who in all of these things which, as you can see, are of a global nature, has found myself as Miłosz wrote in The Moral Tract, ‘like a nut in the cataracts of the Nile’, and I couldn't say no when they proposed that I should come and join the Senate. You have to have a slight sense of responsibility if for years you've been in the opposition, but at the same time I have the feeling that no one really knows what I'm supposed to be doing. For example, I've got a few ideas on short-term solutions to the issue of pensions, but when I read in today's paper the pretty explicit pronouncement that the coffers are empty which might prevent... there won't be anything with which to pay the pensioners, then I say to myself, am I able to do anything at all here, think of anything, and I have to say that in my fairly full life starting with the Home Army, the opposition, KOR [Komitet Obrony Robotników (Workers' Defence Committee)], imprisonment and so on, I was never as stressed as I am today, because on those occasions I always knew I could do this or that, the effects wouldn't be very great but still... I had a sense of what I was able to do, how effective it would be and that this was my duty. At the moment, I have the same feeling of duty, that has remained, but I don't have the feeling that I'm able to make any difference to the process at hand. At the same time, I feel obliged, I have to, there's no other option, I have to try, and if I don't pay for this with my health, I will be very happy. And if in this whole melee I come up with something, think of something or suggest something which in some small way will move things forward, then we'll see. If I don't do that, I'll consider this a massive failure in my life.

Ja jestem takim człowiekiem, który w te wszystkie rzeczy, które mają jak widać charakter globalny... znalazł się, tak jak Miłosz napisał w „Traktacie Moralnym”: „jak orzech w Nilu katarakcie” i nie mogłem powiedzieć „nie”, kiedy mi zaproponowano, bym tutaj się znalazł na tej sali senackiej, bo trzeba mieć odrobinę odpowiedzialności, jeżeli się przez lata uprawiało opozycję; ale jednocześnie mam to poczucie, że właściwie nie wiadomo, co ja mam robić. Ja mam w głowie na przykład jakieś doraźne uporządkowanie spraw emeryckich, ale w momencie kiedy otwieram dzisiejszą gazetę, gdzie dosyć dobitnie mówi się o tej pustce w kasie, która być może w ogóle nie pozwoli... nie będzie z czego tym emerytom wypłacić czegokolwiek, no to sobie powiadam, czy ja jestem w stanie tu cokolwiek zrobić, cokolwiek wymyślić i muszę powiedzieć, że w moim dosyć bogatym życiu, począwszy od Armii Krajowej, przez opozycję, KOR, siedzenia w więzieniach i tak dalej, nigdy nie byłem tak zestresowany jak dzisiaj, bo wtedy ja zawsze wiedziałem: to i tamto mogę zrobić, ze skutecznością małą, niewielką, jakąkolwiek, ale… miałem poczucie tego, co jestem w stanie zrobić, jaka będzie tego skuteczność i że to jest moim obowiązkiem. W tej chwili mam to poczucie, że owszem, obowiązek pozostał, tylko nie mam żadnego poczucia tego, iż jestem w stanie skutecznie na tym procesie zaważyć. A jednocześnie czuję się zobowiązany, muszę, nie mam rady, muszę się starać, no i jeżeli ja tego zdrowiem nie przypłacę, no to będę bardzo zadowolony. A jak się w tej szarpaninie wielkiej znajdę, czy coś wymyślę, czy coś zaproponuję takiego, co by na jakimś małym odcineczku sprawę posunęło do przodu, no to zobaczymy; jeżeli nie, to będę uważał, że coś dużego w życiu przegrałem.

Jan Józef Lipski (1926-1991) was one of Poland's best known political activists. He was also a writer and a literary critic. As a soldier in the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), he fought in the Warsaw Uprising. In 1976, following worker protests, he co-founded the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR). His active opposition to Poland's communist authorities led to his arrest and imprisonment on several occasions. In 1987, he re-established and headed the Polish Socialist Party. Two years later, he was elected to the Polish Senate. He died in 1991 while still in office. For his significant work, Lipski was honoured with the Cross of the Valorous (Krzyż Walecznych), posthumously with the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (1991) and with the highest Polish decoration, the Order of the White Eagle (2006).

Listeners: Marcel Łoziński Jacek Petrycki

Film director Marcel Łoziński was born in Paris in 1940. He graduated from the Film Directing Department of the National School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź in 1971. In 1994, he was nominated for an American Academy Award and a European Film Academy Award for the documentary, 89 mm from Europe. Since 1995, he has been a member of the American Academy of Motion Picture Art and Science awarding Oscars. He lectured at the FEMIS film school and the School of Polish Culture of Warsaw University. He ran documentary film workshops in Marseilles. Marcel Łoziński currently lectures at Andrzej Wajda’s Master School for Film Directors. He also runs the Dragon Forum, a European documentary film workshop.

Cinematographer Jacek Petrycki was born in Poznań, Poland in 1948. He has worked extensively in Poland and throughout the world. His credits include, for Agniezka Holland, Provincial Actors (1979), Europe, Europe (1990), Shot in the Heart (2001) and Julie Walking Home (2002), for Krysztof Kieslowski numerous short films including Camera Buff (1980) and No End (1985). Other credits include Journey to the Sun (1998), directed by Jesim Ustaoglu, which won the Golden Camera 300 award at the International Film Camera Festival, Shooters (2000) and The Valley (1999), both directed by Dan Reed, Unforgiving (1993) and Betrayed (1995) by Clive Gordon both of which won the BAFTA for best factual photography. Jacek Petrycki is also a teacher and a filmmaker.

Tags: Moral Tract, Senate, Home Army, KOR, Workers` Defence Committee, Czesław Miłosz

Duration: 2 minutes, 25 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1989

Date story went live: 15 March 2011