It started almost by itself …
Many, many years ago, when I was twenty years old, I published my first article in the nationwide Polish student weekly magazine “Politechnik.” It was a story about a political initiative that hadn’t worked out. I deeply offended some and was highly praised by a few. It was an augury of what was to come. In the following several years, I published a few hundred texts in various Polish magazines.
In recognition of my writing in student magazines, in the summer of 1972, I was awarded a one-month internship in „Życie i Nowoczesność”(“Life and Modernity”), a weekly section of “Życie Warszawy,” a main daily newspaper in Warsaw. At that time, “Życie i Nowoczesność,” under the leadership of Stefan Bratkowski, was the most regarded political periodical in Poland. My internship evolved into continued freelance writing until the fall of 1973, when party apparatchiks had had enough and fired Bratkowski and his team.
Fifteen minutes of fame
After losing independence at the end of the 18th century, Poles turned to tradition and literature to preserve their national identity. In the 19th century, the political situation in Europe did not give Poles a chance to regain independence, and uprisings were losing battles from the start. For centuries trade and banking in Poland were in Jewish hands, and Poles did not have much respect for this kind of activities, and consequently lacked the skills to be successful. This combination of circumstances created a stereotype of a Pole as someone who recites patriotic poems, fails in economic activities, and fights to the last drop of blood for a lost cause. It was in this context that Adam Mickiewicz, the greatest Polish romantic poet, called the ideas of his youth “lofty and stupid”.
Thirty years after World War II, Poles had changed. For all the patriotic talk, they’d learned the value of professional education. They became homo economicus, and in political thinking and action, were more into getting small, but nevertheless real, gains, rather than losses in bravado actions for the great cause. I put it in writing, titled “Neither lofty nor stupid” (“Ani chmurni, ani durni”) and “Polityka”, the main political magazine in Poland, published it in as a cover story. This text shocked the Polish intelligentsia. Almost every columnist in the country responded. I was famous.
A prestigious award
In the late seventies, besides “Polityka”, I wrote for “Przegląd Techniczny” (“Technological Review”), a political weekly magazine targeting young engineers. In 1979 I got the third prize in a competition for the best story about the start-up of an engineer’s career. About fifty authors participated in this competition, among them the best reporters in the country.
Transport. Problems and hopes.
In 1978 I was offered to write a popular book about the transportation system in Poland. So I did it.
The letter written too well
During the “Solidarity” period in 1980-81, I wrote many ad hoc political pieces. My open letter to a top party member was duplicated in hundreds of “Solidarity” bulletins and cost me my job after martial law was introduced.
Could it be better in Poland?
In early 1980, sensing the oncoming crisis, I started writing a book defining conflicts, discussing possible scenarios of their eruption, and looking for peaceful solutions. The manuscript was ready on the day “Solidarity” was born. My book was purchased by one of the most reputable publishing houses, “Wydawnictwo Literackie”. A few days before the manuscript was to be sent to the press, Martial Law was introduced. The publisher attempted to save the book by trying to find an influential politician who would support the book. A former journalist in “Życie Warszawy”, Wiesław Górnicki who knew me personally, then a personal advisor to gen. W. Jaruzelski, took the bait. He devoted three weeks of his summer vacation to write a 30-page (one-sixth of my book) review only to come up with the conclusion that my book should not be published. I wrote an equally long response, showing his lies and errors, and arguing that the only honorable exit for communists is to give up power, which they finally did only a few years later.
In the meantime, I landed in Chicago and published my book here, together with Górnicki’s review and my response to it.
An engineer’s mind
I have a master’s degree in electronic engineering with a specialization in mathematical machines. Abstract mathematics and control theory (of complex technological processes) strongly influenced my understanding of social phenomena. My thesis project was about the identification of complex technological processes, but I added a chapter about identifying complex social processes as well. This was a result of my interest in political science. Besides my engineering education, I took two years of university-level classes in philosophy, sociology, economy, and political science. I was one of the most active members of the student political science club at the Technical University of Gdańsk (Politechnika Gdańska).
In the trenches
At the beginning of my writing career, I met many older colleagues who, after several years of writing, had felt drained of new ideas. Being aware of this, I cherish the inspirational aspect of my professional career. Political circumstances in Poland cooperated to the extent that I was able to publish as a freelancer, but due to my political standing, I could not get a steady job as a political writer. Under martial law, I was forced to open my own business because I could not get a job at all.
In Chicago, I went through the hard times typical of many immigrants. Having difficulties finding decent employment, I started my own company, which I sold profitably ten years later. I enjoyed being an entrepreneur. Being in the service business, I got exposure to the bottomless richness of experience. I had many clients among the affluent and as many among the poorest. I had been in the residences of top GM executives and in the headquarters of the El Rukns. I had seen and experienced America not known to most of the politicians and business people.
I have a professional understanding of current telecommunication systems. As a consultant, I gradually evolved from engineering to business consulting.
For many years I put my writing aside, publishing only a few texts. In December 2000, “Gazeta Wyborcza”, the largest Polish newspaper, published my text about the town of Cicero, IL. While working on this text, I managed to have a two-hour face-to-face conversation with the town President, Betty Loren-Maltese; later sentenced to eight 8 years in prison. At that time, she did not talk to the media, turning down, among others, CBS 60 Minutes.
Seeking inspiration, I went as far as reading hundreds of pages of writings by Marcus Tullius Cicero. None of the authors of more than a hundred articles about the town of Cicero, published within the last several years in the English language press anywhere between Los Angeles and London, had gone that far.
For Americans, the future is always more important than the past. One of the most famous sayings of my mentor, Stefan Bratkowski, is that “the future has the great past.” In their political thinking, American intellectuals are disengaged not only from the history of other nations that most of them simply do not know but also from the history of America itself. For Bush, the word “crusade” was a figure of speech. For a large part of the world it is a vivid part of history, emotionally embedded in people’s minds as if it had happened eight days, not eight centuries ago. I see many immigrants who in order to Americanize, drop the traditions of their country of origin. The baby is thrown out with the bath water, and in the course of this process, America is a country with no history. About two-and-half centuries, not very rooted in the public consciousness, does not count.
I noted that many political commentators in America, looking for historical perspective, reach the times that they remember as far back as the sixties or fifties. As about five thousand years old history of humankind has not existed.
Could it be worse in America?
Most likely, it will. For those of us who’ve experienced a tougher life, America is really “the beautiful.” It is hard to imagine it being better, but it could easily get worse. When I was growing up in Poland, we were asking ourselves how many years America was ahead of Europe. I liked the answer Stefan Bratkowski gave; for about two hundred years America has been on the sidetrack. At its inception, the U.S.A. took its own path, which proved to be successful, and followed by others. After reaching its enormous wealth and power, America seems confused in defining its place in the world; which in the meantime changed as well. Let us take the Afghanistan experience as an example. It is telling when the richest and most powerful nation on Earth arrives at the conclusion that in order to protect its security, it needs to go into a war against one of the poorest and weakest nations. It is telling even more that Americans did not foresee that it was the war they could never win.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, America has more questions than answers. The track Americans chose when the Republic was born soon became the main route of civilization development. Stalemate is now the best word to describe Americans’ ability to resolve their problems within the last few decades. The world will not wait. China’s economy is becoming the largest in the world. One may ask how many years it will take before the economic and cultural center of the world will float from New York to Shanghai. Or anywhere else.