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Monday, May 16, 2022

Ham as for Gierek. Maciej Wierzyński’s column

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The best years of my life should have happened in the 1970s. Poland was ruled by Edward Gierek at that time and he wasted them on me. In cinemas there is a film showing the 10th anniversary of our history and the problems faced by the then first secretary. The film is called “Gierek” with dignity and unpretentiousness. I watched this picture with understandable interest the day after its premiere.

I learned a lot of interesting things from this movie. You could even say that this movie opened my eyes. I learned, for example, that the main problem, arch-enemy and arch-rival of Gierek, was the Moscow protégé Wojciech Jaruzelski. Just in case, I make a reservation: I am not a general lover, but I appreciate his foresight and cleverness. From the first years of martial law I remember the poem: “Come back, Gierek, he is still with us, a thief is better than a bandit”. Back then, I was even inclined to agree with the pronunciation of the poem, today I appreciate the general’s cleverness, but not that I would like to follow him into the fire.


In the rivalry between these two party leaders, the simple-minded and humane Gierek obviously loses to the cunning and ruthless general. The authors of the film only forgot that Gierek had been the leading figure of the party apparatus in Silesia since he returned from exile after the war. He survived Stalinism unscathed, survived March, warned the rebels in March that “Silesian water would break their bones”, and he did it so skillfully that it was not known who was the addressee of the warning – rebel students, Zionists, or maybe Gomułka’s party rivals – marsh mariners . Everyone could take the threat personally, it was so ambiguous that everyone could be afraid of it or be glad that it was aimed at enemies, or at least at political rivals.

In the film, Gierek is a reformer, aware of the limitations of the system inherited from Gomułka. In the first hours of office, he dismisses his comrade responsible for housing construction, an enthusiast of blind kitchens and space restrictions. Gierek respects the national tradition, values ​​the Church and sings Christmas carols, although he is not a believer. The work of building a better and, most importantly, strong and admired by the world Poland is hindered by Gierek, Moscow and its agents, and greedy Western bankers pushing him with loans that will lead the country to a catastrophe.

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Personally, I remembered the whole decade a bit differently: as a gradual, step-by-step censorship tightening the screw and backing off the promises made just after December 1970. Well, it was a professional bias. My point of observation was the position of deputy editor-in-chief of the weekly “Kultura”. Thanks to this position, I was a regular member of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party. During briefings, I listened to the instructions of Gierek’s helpers on press, culture and propaganda. They talked about how to highlight situations, who to criticize, where to look for enemies and where to find friends. According to them – invariably – friends were in the East and enemies in the West. I understand that according to the filmmakers: “Gierek” it was a camouflage.

The enemies were everywhere, even around, and Comrade Edward, in his holy naivety, saw them only in the East, and in the West he saw only the achievements of civilization. However, he was not – in my opinion – the kind of benevolent crowd that the filmmakers wanted to show, because, for example, the main motive for establishing 49 provinces – as far as I know – was not the need to rationalize the management of the country, but the desire to weaken the local barons threatening the First Secretary. I felt the tightening of the screw the hard way, not only in the interferences of censorship in the newspaper. At that time, I was running the cultural magazine “Pegaz” on TV and I played the song of a plumber performed by Jonasz Kofta, in which he sang: “I am afraid of this pipe that connects down and up”. The thing – like everything in those days – was strongly allusive. The point was, only good news was coming up through the pipe. And for such an innocent joke, I was thrown. I was warned earlier not to do such things, because these cabarets do not like Comrade Szydlak, who in the political office was responsible for, among other things, culture and propaganda. I did not heed these kind warnings, and by the way I would like to remind you that Comrade Szydlak was such a trusted collaborator of Gierek that they ordered him to be interned together with his boss.


These are my personal memories and individual experiences. Not very representative of the power of artistic generalization to which every artist is entitled, including the film director, Węgrzyn. I am disturbed by the fact that the film “Gierek” is too close to the obsessions of the camp that rules Poland today. And these obsessions are: the collusion of the whole world against Poland, the treacherous West and the need for Poland to become a superpower. The film implies that if some foreign forces had not killed the constructor, we would have a Polish neutron bomb today. The realization of this dream was just around the corner. The president found that these obsessions were easily tricked by voters, and that exploiting them brought him political gains. I think the movie “Gierek” will please the President.

It is worth noting, however, that neither the director Węgrzyn nor the screenwriter Woś are the first. A few years ago, the usefulness of the myth of Gierek was sensed by a modest producer of cured meats, who still earns money on the mythical “Jak za Gierka” ham.

Maciej Wierzyński – TV journalist, publicist. After the introduction of martial law, he was released from TVP. In 1984 he emigrated to the USA. He was a scholarship holder at Stanford University and Penn State University. He founded the first multi-hour Polish-language Polvision channel on the “Group W” cable TV in the USA. In 1992-2000 he was the head of the Polish Voice of America Section in Washington. Since 2000, the editor-in-chief of the New York “Nowy Dziennik”. He has been associated with TVN24 since 2005.

Main photo source: TVN24

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