Sunday, November 09, 2008

thinking back

This week-end, one of my father’s closest friends died. I called my dad (he lives in Poland) to see if he was feeling morose about it. He reassured me that he wasn’t ready to follow his once close buddy, Mietek, to the world beyond. But he was nursing some virus or other and so I didn’t keep him on the phone for long.

I perused Polish newspapers to read now about Mietek. This was a man of great national visibility. When my father and he were pals, Mietek (who was a constant presence in our home) was the editor of a very popular Polish news weekly. The paper was politically edgy, insofar as any paper could really be edgy in the times of censorship. Later, Mietek took on a leading role in government. His decisions as a politician are still being dissected and criticized, especially (but not only) by the younger generation – the people who hold the communist leadership responsible for economic stagnation after the war.

It’s healthy, I think, to sit back and do nothing every now and then. The skies are gray, nothing is pushing me out, the camera rests. And so I spent a good part of the afternoon thinking.

The politics of electing a president – that was part of it. Thinking about what one can and cannot say if one wants to win the support of the majority. Thinking about what one can and cannot say (and I don’t mean hate speech – in my mind, hate speech belongs nowhere) when one wants to keep a job, be an effective advocate, influence governance.

When Mietek was interviewed a couple of years back by the new generation of journalists, those whose adulthood coincided with the emergence of a free-market economy in Poland, he listened patiently to the accusations levied against him for not saying enough at the time that he was a news editor. (The accusations grow stronger for his later years as Prime Minister: he appeared to step back then, retreating from his prior defense of capitalism, but that’s another story.)

I think about that a lot: had I been in his position, working from within, believing in socialism (as he did, til the day he died), would have I been more outspoken?

Maybe, maybe not.

And so, how was I during those years when I lived in communist Poland? For one thing, I was young.

Ah, if I ever get around to finishing that chapter of my book, you’ll know.

One third down, a million thoughts to go.