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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Maciej Wierzyński’s column. Similarity calculus

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Some time ago, writing here about the film “Gierek”, I noticed that this film should please the President. The positive hero, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, exposes himself to his enemies, the Russians and Western powers, for the same reasons why the same foreign forces are poisoning the life of the President today – writes Maciej Wierzyński in his column.

Namely, Gierek, just like the President today, did everything to “get up from our knees” and end the “micromania” that overpowered us. The ambitious goals were thus strikingly similar, only the propaganda slogans were different. Instead of “getting up from our knees”, we became the tenth economic power in the world, and the fight against micromania, i.e. historical pessimism, was waged under the call “for Poland to grow stronger and people to live in prosperity”. Roughly speaking, it was about the same thing: to inspire optimism in the Poles, who were tormented and tired by history, to encourage them to make an effort, God forbid, not excessively, saying that there is no other such nation on the globe, and the reward was to be the seizure of the a long time in the world’s top spot.

Gierek was not entirely successful. Poland did not grow stronger, but drowned in debt. Their repayment, mercifully spread over installments, was completed only a few years ago, when the main debtor was long dead. Why did it fail? This is what the book “The Great Disappointment” by Marcin Zaremba is about. And because today I see symptoms of disappointment around me, reaching for it I expected it to be a set of warnings addressed to the current authorities, which in my opinion follows Edward Gierek’s trail.

Marcin Zaremba, however, does not suggest anything. He does not claim that it naturally had to end this way, that is, badly. Conversely, Zaremba is not an enthusiast of historical determinism. Rather, he believes that focusing on the flaws of the communist system “does not answer the question why the revolution (the fall of Gierek and the “solidarity” revolution – M. Wierzyński’s note) took place in Poland, and not, for example, in Romania or in Hungary, where the system was similar. (…) There must have been ‘something’ else. And this ‘something’ is what this book is about.” Personally, I think that perhaps it didn’t have to end badly for the authorities, but the Gierek experiment, i.e. an attempt to live on credit, had to end badly for the country. For every country.

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I suppose it will be similar with the PiS experiment. While I admit that both of these experiments allowed different sections of society to enjoy the illusion of prosperity for a while, I can’t help but recall the old socialist joke: “True, great idea, but maybe it would be better to try it on rats first.” Anyway, I recommend reading Zaremba without any reservations, because his book allows you to better understand not only history, but also the present. It allows you to better understand history in the sense that in the current intentions of the authorities I see a similar, unimportant shortcut to modernization, carried out by an impatient team of people who do not intend to wait any longer in the queue for the state coffers.

We have Huta Katowice and its modern counterpart Central Communication Port and we have juvenile cynics ready to justify any idea of ​​power for money. We have the same desire to control everything, to centralize decisions. We have an aversion to self-government and filling key positions with our own people. However, there are also differences, because fortunately we live in different times.

The titular “Great Disappointment” came from, among other things, unfulfilled promises: the goods were there and then disappeared, people were supposed to live affluently, and there were empty tills and a card system waiting for them. This hastened the political catastrophe. The free market system knows no shortage of goods, the President is not haunted by night visions of empty shelves. He is haunted by the vision of people enraged by the lack of meat, and eventually even vodka. This is what Glapiński is for, who assures that there is none inflation. He prints money and reassures his colleagues that the exchange of 500+ for 800+ can be, as the highlanders say, somehow “worked out”.

“After the December crisis,” Zaremba writes, “Gierek and his associates were very keen on creating a climate of trust, which was served by buying the favor of professional groups considered crucial. (…) In October 1971, the Politburo recommended the government to ‘consider the issue of improving the material situation journalists'”. The president and his people came up with a similar idea, and billions of subsidies for TVP are a testimony to how zealously it is implemented.

I could quote neat analogies, to the readers’ delight, endlessly. The question concerns the finale of both experiments: will the nation notice and understand that it has been to a similar performance not so long ago?

Opinions expressed in columns for tvn24.pl are not the editorial position.


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

Main photo source: TVN24

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