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Why I didn't sign the Letter of the 34
Jan Józef Lipski Social activist
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Well, Letter of the 34… At first in Café Snobs – as Szpotański called it, meaning the coffee bar in PIW [Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (National Institute of Publishing)] on Foksal Street – we held long discussions around the tables that we had to say something, but nothing was coming of all this talk. Eventually, Mr Antoni Słonimski came to the conclusion that all this talk needs to come to an end, that the time had come to act and he wrote a three-sentence, I think it had three sentences… in any case, I remember that it was a very short text, that the cultural politics is bad, that the restriction on the amount of paper is not right, and that censorship is harmful. That's more or less all that was said there in a pretty calm manner, so it's easy to see why this turned into a row – it was purely because of the stupidity of the authorities. Had the authorities attempted to ignore that anything like this had ever happened, everyone would have soon forgotten about it, and it wasn't an inflammatory text, but instead they blew it out of all proportion and above all, they did something that the others couldn't tolerate because suddenly, I found myself locked up. I mean, I was there for a total of 48 hours on Rakowiecka Street, they put me up in the ministry where I was fed very well. There were shortages in the shops, I had to follow a special diet because I had problems with my liver, my wife couldn't get veal anywhere but while I was there, I had my dinners, twice I had my dinner in the officer's mess at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. When I told them that I was on a special diet, I was given an entire plateful of veal which my wife wasn't able to get anywhere at that time. That, too, was very stupid because there's a lot that could be said about those people… Excuse me.  Yes?  But you didn't say whether you'd signed that letter. Ah, yes. No, I didn't sign it. I wasn't one of the signatories of the Letter of the 34. What happened was that when Mr Antoni Słonimski showed it to me, I think I was one of the first, we were always sitting around in that coffee bar in PIW. I said, ‘It's a wonderful text. What comes next?’ Mr Antoni said that he'd go there because he would find signatories at the PEN Club meeting but he said that he'd already ear-marked some of the professors, that this was a job for me and he told me to go to Kraków to hunt for more signatories, and that's when the problem arose of my signature, and Jasienica – who was a great friend of mine like Słonimski – Jasienica said to me, ‘Have you gone mad? You have to sign this!’ ‘Why do I have to sign it?’ ‘You have to sign it because that's the only thing that will protect you if you sign it along with the rest of us’, to which I said, ‘Forgive me, but I can't, you've got here...’ this was when all the signatures had been collected and he could see that mine wasn't there. I said, ‘These are 34 names from the intellectual life of this country, I can't sign this, I'd be a laughing stock, I can't sign my name alongside Słonimski, Lipiński, Pigoń, Ossowski and so on, that would just be ridiculous if I, the author of a few literary reviews, a couple of articles, were to sign this’ and so I didn't sign it so I'm not a signatory, but to be honest, for this letter to have been written, I know that I'm there right after Mr Antoni Słonimski and that thanks to the great solidarity of my friends, the authorities came to the conclusion that they won't keep me locked up there any longer. There was a message, ‘Don't do anything in Lipski's case’– a certain lady who was very au fait with the intricate workings of our politics – ‘because I've been talking with the aristocrat’, and Mrs Aniela Steinsberg was with Słonimski having a consultation and Kotarbiński was there as was Kisielewski and maybe someone else as well, and she said, ‘Yes, are they calling?’ because Słonimski had taken the call and this was how it had been explained to him, ‘So they're calling? Well, tomorrow we're going to the prosecutor's office to protest about the Lipski case if those are the kind of calls they're making’.

No List 34 to...Najpierw były w „Café Snoby” – jak to Szpotański nazywał, czyli kawiarnia PIW-u na ulicy Foksal – przy stolikach długie rozmowy, że właściwie dosyć tego, trzeba się jakoś odezwać, ale nic z tego gadania nie wychodziło. Wreszcie pan Antoni Słonimski doszedł do wniosku, że dosyć tego gadania, przyszedł czas na czyny i napisał trzyzdaniowy, to chyba trzy zdania miało – w każdym razie pamiętam, że tekścik był króciutki – że polityka kulturalna jest niedobra, że ograniczenia papieru są nie tego i że cenzura jest szkodliwa, to mniej więcej tyle było tam powiedziane w sposób zresztą łagodny dosyć. I dlaczego z tego wynikła awantura, no to łatwo powiedzieć – wyłącznie przez głupotę tej władzy. Bo gdyby ta władza to spróbowała przemilczeć, że było coś takiego, to wszyscy by szybko zapomnieli i skądinąd nie był to żaden rewolucyjny tekst, tymczasem zrobili zabawę na cztery fajerki, a przede wszystkim zrobili taką rzecz, której to środowisko nie mogło tolerować. Nagle okazało się, że ja siedzę, to znaczy wszystkiego siedziałem 48 godzin wtedy na Rakowieckiej w ministerstwie mnie tam nocowali, zresztą bardzo dobrze jadłem, wtedy były trudności rynkowe, ja byłem na diecie, bo chorowałem na wątrobę, żona nie mogła dostać nigdzie cielęciny, a ja byłem tam i dostawałem obiady, dwa razy tam obiady jadłem z kasyna oficerskiego Ministerstwa Spraw Wewnętrznych. Jak powiedziałem, że jestem na diecie, to tak na cały talerz taką...taką cielęcinę dostawałem, której żona nie mogła dostać wtedy. No i...i to był...to było też wielkie głupstwo, bo o ludziach tego środowiska można dużo... [Q] Przepraszam. Tak? [Q] Pan nie powiedział, że pan podpisał, przepraszam. A tak. Ja nie podpisałem tego. Ja nie byłem sygnatariuszem Listu 34. Rzecz wyglądała w ten sposób, że kiedy pan Antoni Słonimski, mnie chyba pierwszemu właśnie pokazał – tam stale siadywaliśmy, tam w kawiarni PIW-u – ja powiedziałem: „Piękny tekst, tak dalej?”. No to pan Antoni powiedział, że on tam pójdzie, bo na zebraniu Pen Clubu to on tam sygnatariuszy znajdzie, a natomiast powiedział, że tam ludzi ze środowiska profesorskiego przeznaczył, że to jest robota dla mnie i kazał mi pojechać w ogóle do Krakowa, żeby tam jeszcze upolować sygnatariuszy. No i wtedy stanął problem ten mojego podpisu i Jasienica – z którym zresztą byłem bardzo zaprzyjaźniony, podobnie jak i ze Słonimskim – Jasienica powiada mi w ten sposób: „Czyś ty zgłupiał, ty musisz to podpisać!”. „Dlaczego muszę podpisać?”. „Musisz to podpisać dlatego, że dopiero to Cię chroni, jeżeli razem z nami podpisujesz”. Ja powiedziałem: „No wybacz, ale jednak nie mogę, tutaj to są...”. To już było wtedy, kiedy wszystkie podpisy były zebrane i on zobaczył, że mojego brak. Powiedziałem: „To są 34 nazwiska w życiu intelektualnym tego kraju, ja tego nie mogę podpisać, ja jeszcze...to będzie przedmiotem kpin w ogóle, że ja nie mogę podpisać ze Słonimskim, Lipińskim, Pigoniem, Ossowskimi i tak dalej, no będzie to przedmiotem kpin, no że ja, autor iluś tam recenzji literackich, no jakichś paru artykułów, że podpisuję z tego...”. I nie podpisałem i mojego... tak że sygnatariuszem nie jestem, ale prawdę mówiąc, do tego żeby ten list jakoś powstał, to nawet...no nawet wiem, to zaraz po panu Antonim Słonimskim jestem następnym. I dzięki dużej solidarności kolegów władza doszła do wniosku, że nie będzie mnie dłużej tam trzymać, bo była taka interwencja: „Nie róbcie nic w sprawie Lipskiego – pewna pani bardzo wtajemniczona w zawiłe sprawy funkcjonowania naszej polityki – bo rozmawiałam ze Szlachcicem”. A pani Aniela Steinsbergowa wtedy na naradzie u Słonimskiego, gdzie był też Kotarbiński, Kisielewski, może jeszcze ktoś, powiedziała w ten sposób: „Tak, tak telefonują? – bo to Słonimski odbierał ten telefon i tak mu tam wytłumaczono – "Tak telefonują? Jutro idziemy razem do prokuratury protestować w sprawie Lipskiego, jeżeli tak telefonują”.

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: Jacek Petrycki Marcel Łoziński

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.

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.

Tags: Letter of the 34, Cafe Snobs, National Institutee of Publishing, Foksal Street, Rakowiecka Street, Ministry of Internal Affairs, PEN Club, Kraków, Janusz Szpotański, Antoni Słonimski, Paweł Jasienica, Eryk Lipiński, Stanisław Pigoń, Stanisław Ossowski, Aniela Steinsberg, Tadeusz Kotarbiński, Stefan Kisielewski

Duration: 4 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1989

Date story went live: 10 March 2011