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Friday, June 21, 2024

Urgent matters, sad matters, imminent matters. Maciej Wierzyński’s column

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Far away, in Florida, Marian Marzyński dies. And so recently, the same Marian said goodbye to Mariusz Walter, the man who invented TVN. Marian believed that he created Mariusz. It’s best to agree that one wouldn’t exist without the other. Without Mariusz, there would be no Marian and vice versa. Without Marian, there would be no Mariusz. At least for me. Because to me they were inseparable.

Nearly 70 years ago they made the “Tournament of Cities” together. The legend of this program is still alive today, although hardly anyone remembers what its uniqueness was about. The idea was French and consisted of two small towns competing in various competitions, from milking cows on time to embroidering. The idea was imported to Poland by Marzyński. Against the backdrop of a modest, insecure television production of that time, “Tournament of Cities” stood out due to its scale, madness and insolence, because the competitions also involved the authorities forced to participate in the cow milking competition. Marian brought momentum, madness and insolence to the spectacle. However, for this madness to be born and be seen on the screen, Walter’s precision and accuracy were needed. Someone had to control Marian’s irresponsible temper.

Fortunately, it was a time when the ghosts and hopes of October 1956 still lived in people’s memories. The naive belief that socialism does not have to have the impenetrable face of a security officer or the dull face of a party instructor allowed for a little humor and a bit of unpredictability. The story of these two friends is a brief summary of the fate of a generation.

Marian is an altar boy saved by his mother, smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto, and Mariusz, the son of a wealthy Lviv lawyer, after the war a student at the Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice. He dreamed of a career as a football reporter. They met at the Radiokomitet, a radio and television station owned by the Party, run by the cynical but intelligent swindler Włodzimierz Sokorski. It was Sokorski who tolerated Marian’s antics and appreciated Mariusz’s organizational talents. Marian emigrated from Poland after March 1968. He tried his luck in the world. Despite his friend’s persuasion, the cautious Mariusz stayed. On state television, he made a career of a talented but recalcitrant specialist.

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The Solidarity revolt in 1980 changed everything. Poland has become a fashionable topic, such as it is today Ukraine. Marian, who taught film at an elegant college in Rhode Island, titled his reportage about his first trip to Poland after several years, “Return to Poland”. This reportage paved the way for his American career.

At the same time, Mariusz, thanks to cooperation with Jan Wejchert, entered the road to big money. A new chapter has opened in the history of friendship and rivalry between Marian and Mariusz.

When, after several years, I met Marian again, something completely new had just begun in my life: emigration. Marian, whom I only knew briefly in Poland, decided to remodel me. Make me an American. He called this process “soaking”. I was to forget what I was and slowly become someone else. My journalistic experience taken from the People’s Republic of Poland, my achievements, which I considered unique, Marian found useless. And because I liked sports, I loved skiing, in a new incarnation, according to Marian’s recipe, I was to become a salesman in a large sports store in downtown Chicago at the beginning, and at the end of this road a position of manager of such a store awaited me. However, if I had the necessary talent, persistence, and necessary entrepreneurship, I could even run a ski station in my old age, well, not in Utah or Colorado, but perhaps somewhere in Appalachia or even, with a bit of luck, Vermont.

Nothing came of it, I landed, unambitiously, but confidently, in a Polish diaspora newspaper, and at the end of my career I even managed the Polish section of Voice of America. Marian, showered with American awards, was not impressed by such an unoriginal career of an emigrant. Only when Walter took me in retirement to TVN, the paths of Mariusz, Mariana and mine crossed again. I understood the strength of their friendship and the tension of their rivalry.

Marian spoke of his friend’s business success with a mixture of admiration and envy. He liked to appear in TVN programs, although he spoke critically about them, and bluntly described Poland as “a country badly translated from English”. There was a sense of superiority and the experience of a man who has gone through the period of emigrant crawling. He said goodbye to his friend Mariusz with the words: “I have no objections to you. This is what I would like to say to a friend who lived both Polish systems with dignity”.

Many would like to deserve such an epitaph.

Marian commissioned me to read and edit his latest column for the Internet “Studia Opinion”. I felt honored. I think he forgave me for not becoming a salesman at a ski shop.

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


Maciej Wierzyński – TV journalist, publicist. 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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