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Saturday, March 2, 2024

The art of conversation. Column by Maciej Wierzyński

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The death of an outstanding American politician, Secretary of State, i.e. Minister of Foreign Affairs and security advisor to President Nixon, Henry Kissinger, triggered an avalanche of obituaries and comments. They were casual and serious. Smart and stupid. Independent and repeating other people’s thoughts. The tone of specific conceit was striking in those published in the Polish press.

In the conservative, or perhaps using a less elegant nomenclature, pro-Pisto weekly “Do Rzeczy”, Piotr Semka’s commentary was titled “Kissinger’s fame on the rise”, while on the opposite side “Krytyka Polityczna” said goodbye to Kissinger with a list of his sins, including the seven-year extension of the war in Vietnambombing Cambodia, support for the Chilean dictator General Pinochet, and perhaps only out of politeness, the text included recognition of his political talents and diplomatic achievements. Prominent among them was the visit of American President Richard Nixon China and dragging Egyptian President Sadat from the group of allies of the Soviet Union to the group of countries cooperating with the United States.

In “Do Rzeczy”, I found an attempt to do justice to Kissinger’s political skills and fidelity to the principles of decency only from Marek Jurek, who noticed that maintaining world peace was the highest value for Kissinger. With such a program – this is my own addition – Kissinger could not count on popularity in Poland, which returned to the map of Europe after the partitions. It was the result of a great war between the superpowers, and maintaining peace would mean extending the existence of Europe without Poland. This possibility did not particularly bother Kissinger, because it must be admitted that it concerned him only insofar as the fate of small nations influenced the policies of world powers.

Jan Sadkiewicz, translator and publisher, notes in the introduction to his doctoral thesis, recalled on the occasion of Kissinger’s death, that this approach conflicts “with established patterns of Polish thinking about international politics. The Manichaean vision of international relations is difficult to reconcile with the recognition of the advantages of the balance of power, messianism with moderation absolutization of one’s own rights while giving the competition the right to have others, inability to compromise with the ability to negotiate.

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I like this list, because it is a harmful inheritance PIS the absolutization of one’s own reasons, or in human terms the compulsion to think the same way, is a stinking rotten egg, one of many left behind after eight years of this party’s rule.

Adam Daniel Rotfeld, from whom few people could expect Kissinger’s glorification, drew my attention to “The Restored World”, because it is the book version of Kissinger’s diploma thesis. Fortunately, Rotfeld is a wise man, gifted not only with an excellent memory, but also with independent thinking. And this is not so common in our country, because there is a cult of local authorities. A local authority, confirmed in its authoritativeness, often begins to rant on every topic and this is a disaster, especially if this role is played by a person who is reluctant to admit that he doesn’t know something.

But let’s get back to Kissinger. He was an undoubted authority in international affairs, although today zealots accuse him of believing Putin for too long, persuading Ukrainians to be moderate, and then changing his mind. I would like to remind you that he was not the first and not the only one to change his mind. The point of debating is to assume that the adversary can, through accurate argumentation, be persuaded to change his position, i.e. persuade him to change his mind.

Kissinger liked to debate. In one of the obituaries I read that already as Secretary of State Kissinger – and it was after the invasion of Cambodia – secretly met with a young activist of the peace movement. Kissinger wanted to know the arguments of his critics and at the same time remained convinced of the irresistible power of his own reasoning.

In the same obituary I found a sentence attributed to Kissinger, talking about the benefits of conversation. According to this, Kissinger valued conversation because it builds “even temporary bridges over mutual misunderstanding.”

Opinions expressed in columns for tvn24.pl do not constitute the editorial office’s position.


Maciej Wierzyński – television journalist, publicist. After the introduction of martial law, he was released from TVP. In 1984 he emigrated to USA. He was a scholarship holder of Stanford University and Penn State University. He founded the first multi-hour Polish-language channel Polvision on the “Group W” cable television 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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