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Open letter from Kuroń and Modzelewski

RELATED STORIES

Being introduced to Jacek Kuroń
Jan Józef Lipski Social activist
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I can't tell you what kind of reaction there was throughout the country to the Letter of the 34, I don't even really know what happened among the workers of the Warsaw area. At that time, I didn't have those kinds of contacts. The intelligentsia, with the exception of the party members, was positive about it and very supportive and so on, but there were other voices that were saying, ‘Is it right to wash your dirty laundry in public?’ This referred to the fact that news of the letter had reached foreign broadcasters. To which Mr Antoni Słonimski replied immediately when somebody said this to him, ‘In your opinion, dirty laundry should stay dirty, no doubt’. However, after the Letter of the 34, the next significant and serious event was the open letter from Kuroń and Modzelewski, two party activists at Warsaw University who for some time now had been viewed with suspicion. They had organised and were leading a debating society under the aegis of ZMS [Związek Młodzieży Socjalistycznej (Union of Socialist Youth)], and this aroused the disapproval of the authorities. The atmosphere there was really very relaxed. At some point – I recall this very well, I already knew Modzelewski but not Kuroń – Modzelewski was walking past the university library with someone I didn't know. Modzelewski waved at me to stop and said, ‘We're just coming back from the local party committee where we handed in an open letter to the party’. Then he said, ‘Oh, you don't know one another, Kuroń – Lipski’. I asked what was in the letter and Modzelewski told me in a few sentences more or less what the letter contained. To which I said, this is what I answered them, ‘Oh, well, you've got a bit of time left, go and clear out your flat because they'll be coming for you tomorrow morning’. They were a bit surprised that I was so certain about this but then, I'd had my own experiences associated with the Letter of the 34. And that's exactly what happened except that it was worse than it had been for me. I mean, they ended up having a political trial, sentences, right now I can't remember what they were exactly, but three years, three-and-a-half years, something along those lines. They spent a long time inside, perhaps not the whole sentence, but either way, they weren't released until the end of '67. To be honest, I was quite sceptical about it and even during that hour-and-a-half that I was able to talk with them, even then I was saying I liked the idea of new structures built on workers' councils or something, I liked that a lot, but if you imagine that this can replace parliamentarianism then I'm amazed. But at that point, they were fascinated by their own concept and so shortly afterwards, they were locked up. I tried to attend their trial and for a while I managed to get in because identities weren't being properly checked of the people who were more forceful at pushing in, while Gajka Kuroń said I was her brother so somehow, I managed to get in.

Jaka była reakcja w całym kraju na List 34, tego ja w ogóle nie umiem powiedzieć, nawet nie bardzo wiem jak w ogóle nawet w warszawskich środowiskach robotniczych to przebiegało. Nie miałem wówczas w tym okresie takich kontaktów. Środowiska inteligenckie, no z wyjątkiem partyjnych, przyjęły to pozytywnie, życzliwie, tak dalej, ale były również inne głosy pod tytułem „czy należy prać brudną bieliznę poza domem?”. To znaczy, że to dotarło do rozgłośni zagranicznych. Na co pan Antoni Słonimski z miejsca komuś takiemu, kto mu tak powiedział, odparował: „Pana zdaniem brudnej bielizny prawdopodobnie w ogóle prać nie należy”. No, ale...a po Liście 34 następnym takim poważnym, istotnym wydarzeniem to był list otwarty Kuronia i Modzelewskiego, dwóch działaczy partyjnych na Uniwersytecie Warszawskim, którzy już od dłuższego czasu nie byli zbyt dobrze widziani. Oni zorganizowali, dyrygowali takim, pod egidą ZMS-u odbywając...działającym klubem dyskusyjnym, który budził bardzo duże niezadowolenie władz, była tam rzeczywiście dosyć atmosfera dużej swobody dyskusyjnej.

No i w pewnym momencie – a zapamiętałem to bardzo dobrze, Modzelewskiego już znałem, Kuronia jeszcze nie – przed biblioteką uniwersytecką idzie Modzelewski z kimś mi nieznanym. Modzelewski macha ręką, żebym się zatrzymał i powiada: „My wracamy właśnie z tutejszego komitetu partyjnego, gdzie złożyliśmy list otwarty do partii”. No i tutaj mówi: „Aha – mówi – Wy się nie znacie: Kuroń – Lipski”. Ja mówię: „A co w tym liście było?”. No i Modzelewski tak w trzech zdaniach mniej więcej mi powiedział, co było. A ja na to powiadam...powiedziałem w ten sposób: „Aha, to...no i macie jeszcze trochę czasu, wyczyście mieszkanie, bo jutro rano po Was przyjdą”. Oni byli trochę właściwie tym zdziwieni, że tak bez żadnych wątpliwości, tak mi się to wydaje, no, ale ostatecznie miałem własne doświadczenia związane z Listem 34. No i tak się stało, tylko się gorzej skończyło niż dla mnie. To znaczy skończyło się, no...procesem politycznym, wyrokami, ja w tej chwili nie pamiętam jakie one tam dokładnie były, ale coś trzy, i trzy i pół czy coś, mniej więcej tego rzędu w każdym razie. No i kawał czasu tam odsiedzieli, trochę tam nie do samego może końca, ale w każdym razie wyszli z więzienia, no gdzieś pod koniec roku '67. I...tak prawdę mówiąc, to do tez tego tak się odnosiłem sceptycznie, chociaż...i nawet...i przez ten parę... przez te jakie półtorej godziny, kiedy miałem okazję z nimi...możność z nimi wtedy rozmawiać, to nawet mówiłem, że mnie się bardzo podoba pomysł oparcia tutaj jakichś nowych struktur o jakieś rady robotnicze czy coś, bardzo mi się to podoba, ale jeżeli wy uważacie, że to może zastąpić parlamentaryzm, no to się bardzo dziwię. Ale oni byli bardzo zafascynowani tą swoją koncepcją wówczas, no i wkrótce poszli...poszli siedzieć. Starałem się chodzić na ten ich proces, nawet przez pewien czas udawało mi się, że tak jakoś nie sprawdzali nam dokładnie dokumentów, że kiedy się człowiek energicznie wpychał, a Gajka Kuroniowa twierdziła, że jestem jej bratem to jakoś mi się udawało wchodzić.

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, Warsaw, Warsaw University, Union of Socialist Youth, Jacek Kuroń, Karol Modzelewski, Antoni Słonimski, Gajka Kuroń

Duration: 4 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1989

Date story went live: 10 March 2011