Jerzy Giedroyc przy pracy. Maisons-Laffitte, 1980 r. / Sygn. FIL00001

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Giedroyc – man of the east


“I am a man of the east” – wrote Jerzy Giedroyc to Juliusz Mieroszewski in 1966. It would be a serious mistake to think that this declaration refers to Giedroyc’s Lithuanian roots alone. 

He was born in Minsk and spent his childhood in Moscow; among his ancestors were Russians and Georgians; he himself had married a Russian. “I consider that I have a certain sensibility towards these matters” he further wrote to “Kultura’s” leading political commentator, and he was not wrong. For decades, the figure of Jerzy Giedroyc was inextricably bound up with matters concerning Eastern Europe, even eclipsing his other achievements – as for instance his discovery and promotion of the greatest Polish writers of the second half of the twentieth century – and his opinions and political programme recur even now in contemporary media discussions of Polish eastern policy. 


The Ukraine – an introduction 

It was not only his ancestral roots which influenced his fascination for the east. The contours of the inter-war Second Polish Republic and its geopolitical location meant that everyone in public life was bound to come into contact with the problems of the Ukrainians, of the Byelorussian minority, and of relations with the Soviet Union. So also it was with Giedroyc. At university, he had been exposed to the issues surrounding nationalism and statehood, when, wishing to defer military service, he opted for a course in history. It was then that he had attended seminars on the history of the Ukraine given by professor Miron Korduba. However, as he admitted in his autobiography, his breakthrough moment came when, now working at the Ministry of Agriculture, he had encountered the Hutsul peoples, and this in turn led him to the Ukrainian question. International relations between the Polish and Ukrainian nations were a recurring theme in the pre-war journals edited by Giedroyc: “Bunt Młodych” (The Revolt of the Young) and “Polityka” (Politics). At the behest of the Polish Foreign Ministry, he also set up a new journal “Wschód” (The East). Initially, however, the issues examined by Giedroyc in his journals were confined to establishing mutual agreements and good relations with the national minorities living within the territory of Poland – it was only after 1934 that treatment of the Ukrainian question was widened to include independent Ukrainian statehood. All this aligned Giedroyc with “Promethean” and “Jagiellonian” policies, which were advanced – with mixed results – by the Piłsudskiite camp. The historian Rafał Habielski writes “The independent ‘Bunt’, later ‘Polityka’, not so much initiated the discussion, but continued raising awareness and modifying potential solutions to this question with every change in Polish-Ukrainian relations and the international situation.” The Second World War and consequent redrawing of Poland’s borders necessitated a change in his approach to Poland’s eastern neighbours for Jerzy Giedroyc – now an émigré – but the spirit of seeking mutual understanding and agreement remained the same. 


The ULB region 

As early as 1952, Jerzy Giedroyc’s “Kultura” included a piece by Józef Łobodowski calling for agreement between Poles and Ukrainians and, more importantly, published a letter from a seminarian, Józef Z. Majewski, who wrote inter alia: “Just as we Poles have a right to Wrocław, Szczecin and Gdańsk, so the Lithuanians justly demand Wilno and the Ukrainians Lwów” and “Let the Lithuanians, whose fate is worse than ours, take delight in their Wilno, and let the blue and yellow flag fly over Lwów”. 

For Poles in exile, ever dreaming of Poland’s return to its pre-war borders, (and also for Poles in Poland, where verses of this sort were doing the rounds: “Just one atom-bomb let burn, and to Lwów we shall return”) any call for acquiescence in the loss of these two places, so holy to Poles, was tantamount to blasphemy. There was no end to the storm of outraged voices. In the face of this indignation, “Kultura” set out its editorial stance in a succinct statement: “Poland can regain and maintain its independence only within the framework of a federated European Union. We believe that membership of this future Union is the right not only of nations with independent statehood prior to 1939, but also of the Ukrainians and Byelorussians. In view of the present and future danger from Russian imperialism, it is a matter of the utmost importance for Poland that an independent Ukrainian state, with membership in the federated European Union, should come into being”. 


“The Executed Renaissance”

Giedroyc never deviated from the course he had chosen, and eastern matters always had a place in the pages of “Kultura”. He was constantly seeking contacts among Ukrainian and Russian émigrés, and would encourage them to cooperate with him. One of the most important of “Kultura’s” authors was Bohdan Osadchuk, who also helped Giedroyc to make contact with the leaders of the Ukrainian émigré community. Another aspect of this collaboration was the publication at the end of the 1950s of an anthology of Ukrainian Poetry entitled “The Executed Renaissance”. This earned him much goodwill, not least among Ukrainian émigrés. Giedroyc’s vision received its fullest expression in the articles penned by Juliusz Mieroszewski. In his 1974 article “The Russians’ ‘Polish complex’ and the ULB region” he wrote that Poland must renounce the Jagiellonian idea, as its connotations for Lithuanians and Ukrainians, are associated with the idea of a Polish imperialism. Poland should, on the other hand, aim to co-operate with Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Byelorussians (hence “ULB”), for it is only their independence which can safeguard Poland from Russian imperialism. Moreover, Mieroszewski expected that Russia would also one day renounce imperialism: “the idea of self-determination and freedom for our brother-nations, separating us from Russia – together with a sincere renunciation of any imperialistic ideas, including any hopes of coming to some agreement with Moscow over the heads of these nations – such a programme would restore to Poland’s quest for independence its high moral aspect, which today is not evident”. 

One concrete outcome of the ULB concept was the “Declaration regarding the Ukraine” published in “Kultura” in 1977, signed jointly by Russian intellectuals (including Andrei Amalrik, Vladimir Bukovsky, Natalya Gorbanevskaya) and Poles (Jerzy Giedroyc, Józef Czapski, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński) declaring solidarity with Ukrainians fighting for their country’s independence and demanding the end of Soviet colonialism. Giedroyc’s success in mobilising Russians to sign an appeal calling for Russia to relinquish any claim on Ukrainian territory was stupendous and unprecedented (after all, even today many Russian democrats do not want to acknowledge Ukraine’s right to full sovereignty). It had not been the first time that Giedroyc had been involved in the relations among the nations of the Soviet Union: for example, in 1966 he had tried to mobilise Ukrainian intellectuals working at western universities to sign a protest against the repression being meted out against the Russian writer Andrei Siniavsky in the Soviet Union. On attempting to persuade Ivan Rudnycki, he said “participation by Ukrainians in this protest would have great political significance”. 


In Poland’s best interests 

The concept of “ULB” has now permanently entered the Polish language, and also the practice of politics, where it is sometimes extended to encompass the whole of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. As early as 1981, clearly in the spirit of Maisons-Laffitte (the home of “Kultura”), Solidarity promulgated its “Message to the workers of Eastern Europe”. In the years between 1989 and 1991, while the Soviet Union still existed, the newly independent Polish state adopted a “twin-track” foreign policy, maintaining relations with Moscow but also with its nascently independent republics. In 1991 it was the first country in the world to recognise independent Ukraine – (unfortunately, it took its time with Lithuania). The concept developed by Mieroszewski and Giedroyc was successively called upon by Polish presidents Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Lech Kaczyński and Bronisław Komorowski. 

In Polish foreign policy, the ULB doctrine is inextricably bound up with the Russian problem. Some would aver that the ULB idea is targeted against Russia, but that is not the case. Jerzy Giedroyc was never anti-Russian, indeed he counted on a meeting of minds with a post-imperial Russia. The distinguished Polish intellectual and diplomat Adam Daniel Rotfeld held that only a growing closeness with Russia could usher in the full realisation of Giedroyc’s vision. The “prince of Maisons-Laffitte” had written in his autobiography “I was always fascinated by Russian literature. I read almost as much in Russian as I did in Polish, which means quite a lot”. 

“Kultura” was constantly seeking contact and co-operation with the Russian émigré community, and the Literary Institute published books by Russian authors. In his work as editor, Giedroyc took inspiration from the 19th century Russian thinker Alexander Herzen, and his journal “The Bell”. As he wrote to Jerzy Stempowski: “Our objective is to be the yeast, to launch ideas. Herzen too operated without any mandate. We are the more adroit – or the more lucky – because he capsized on the Polish question, whereas we (up to now) have kept going, even after launching the idea of not prejudging the issue of Wilno and Lwów”. 

In Maisons-Laffitte, the ULB doctrine was seen in a wider foreign policy context. It was premised – with justification – that the key to the security of a future independent Poland lies in coming to agreement with the other nations of Eastern Europe. In his “Autobiography for Four Hands”, Giedroyc writes: “Our leading objective should be the normalisation of Polish-Russian and Polish-German relationships, while at the same time defending the independence of the Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Baltic states, and working with them in close cooperation”. Elsewhere, in an interview with Barbara Toruńczyk, he said that Poland needs an independent Russia as much as it needs an independent Ukraine – if only occasionally to play one partner off against the other. Giedroyc held the East in great affection, but he saw everything through the lens of Poland’s best interests. He promoted the ULB concept because he supported the nations of Eastern Europe, but principally because he thought it was in best interests of the Polish state. He also averred that Poland’s position in the West was dependent on its significance to the East. Thus – after 1991 – he advocated maintaining relationships with the ULB countries, even if their leaders did not come up to expectations. Consequently, he thought that it was in Poland’s interests to maintain cooperation with Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus. 

This does not mean that he closed his eyes to issues of human rights. Up to the end of his life, he engaged in various initiatives for furthering democracy in Eastern Europe – in 1988 “Kultura” had published the Byelorussian Declaration of Freedom, signed by Byelorussian intellectuals, and by Jerzy Giedroyc and Andrzej Wajda among the Polish signatories. The very year before his death he was trying to persuade Czesław Miłosz to nominate, jointly with Wisława Szymborska, the Belarusian writer Vasil Bykaŭ for a Nobel Prize. „I do need to explain to you that the award of a Nobel to a Belarusian author would be, without exaggeration, a revolution for Belarus” – thus he wrote to the author of „The Captive Mind”.

Giedroyc was a supporter of Polish-Ukrainian understanding, he criticised Poles for being anti-Ukrainian, but also protested when Ukrainians were less than truthful. In 1976, on finding falsehoods about Polish-Ukrainian relations presented as facts by a Ukrainian magazine, he had written to Ivan Kedryn-Rudnytsky: “There are many issues between Poles and Ukrainians – painful issues, most grievous issues. But I do not believe we should operate with distorted facts. It is surely in the interests of both our nations to normalise relations, which means telling each other the whole truth – and nothing but the truth”. 


What next after Giedroyc? 

One should not treat Giedroyc’s concept as something immune from modification. In one of his interviews he himself said: “Our position – as evident in Mieroszewski’s columns – underwent many about-turns. In given circumstances the watchword can be caution, in others it can be something else. It is clear that we have to adapt to changing circumstances with greater or lesser success – if only because even if one can’t directly influence unfolding events, one can force people to think and reflect. I think that was probably the most important role ‘Kultura’ played. Whether or not various concepts came to anything is of small significance. What does matter is to cleave to reality. And to take account of world opinion”. 

How was –and is – Giedroyc’s concept seen by his readers? It is unfortunate that neither he, nor the whole output of “Kultura”, are more widely known in the countries making up Eastern Europe. He is, however, known and valued by those countries’ elites, yet they too propose treating his concept as merely a starting point. A few years ago, the distinguished Ukrainian historian Yaroslav Hrytsak wrote: “I fear that Giedroyc could suffer the fate of many classics: a lot is spoken about them, but few people read them, and even fewer understand them. We really need an appropriate understanding of Giedroyc, now that his epoch is over. His works arose in specific historical contexts, which will never repeat themselves. Much of what he wrote, whether good or bad, loses its point in this new world which came into being after 1989, after 9/11 2001, after the Orange Revolution of 2004. Happily, Polish-Ukrainian relations have improved, yet both nations stand in the face of new challenges and new threats. The question that we have to answer, if we wish to retain our own intellectual honesty and integrity, is: What next after Giedroyc?”. 


Andrzej Brzeziecki is the editor-in-chief of “Nowa Europa Wschodnia” (The New Eastern Europe) and a columnist on “Tygodnik Powszechny” (The Universal Weekly). 

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