“When I hear that Kaczyński played the first violin during the strike, I grab my head”
Photo: Chris Niedenthal / Forum
I have it in the picture. Only one. From the last day of the strike at the Gdańsk Shipyard. He sits sad on the sidelines in the BHP hall. I didn’t even know who I was photographing. I was focusing on another person, and Kaczyński – this is how it turned out – was in the frame by accident – says Chris Niedenthal about Lech Kaczyński in Jacek Tacik’s “Polish-Non-Polish Talks”.
Niedenthal is one of the most respected European photojournalists. He has worked for the weeklies “Newsweek”, “Time” and “Der Spiegel”, among others. Winner of the World Press Photo Award in 1986 for the portrait of Janos Kadar, Secretary General of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, which was featured on the cover of “Time”. He was the first Western photojournalist to be admitted to the Gdańsk Shipyard during the strike.
He was born in London to a family of Polish war emigrants. After graduation, however, he decided to return to Poland. – I don’t even know how exactly it happened. Perhaps I was attracted to your lust for freedom? – wonders.
Jacek Tacik: The anniversary of the August Agreements is behind us …
Chris Niedenthal: … without agreements.
Divided again. On the one hand, Lech Wałęsa, on the other, the government of Law and Justice. And it was in the BHP room, where the legendary leader of Solidarity signed four agreements with the government of the People’s Republic of Poland on August 31, 1980.
It seems that this anniversary will always be a dividing one. Life has shown that I am naive, because after 1989 I was convinced that Poland would become a normal country, that it would be good, that the bad fairy tale would end nicely. However, since 2015, i.e. since PiS took power, we have had a sudden twist. We thought we had reached a happy end, and everything started to go wrong here. The set design faded, the props broke. New actors with twisted mouths appeared on the stage.
Maybe it is even good for journalists? Something is happening, there is something to talk about. But for someone who is old and would like to rest, this is a problem. The political system I observed as a teenager is here again.
The commune we know from four decades ago is unlikely to ever come back. But the mechanisms that drove it are used by Jarosław Kaczyński’s party. The shops are full today, you can travel, but the idea and the ideology itself refer to the Polish People’s Republic. You don’t think so?
One leader, one party?
Hence this aversion to Wałęsa?
Every dictatorship tries to change history. This was and is also the case in Poland. Wałęsa is inconvenient for PiS. He criticizes the party, its president and – this is probably the most important thing – is a hero, and someone else is supposed to be the hero.
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