Michnik's connections to Krakow stem from the obvious fact that he is a celebrated fighter for an independent Poland against Soviet dominated Poland, something that was needed at the time. Now he just turn up to collect honorary doctorates and does some book signings in Empik or does TVN appearances.
In the years 1980-1981 he was advisor to the Independent Trade Union “Solidarity” leaders in the Mazowsze region and the “Solidarity” Workers’ Committee at the Lenin Steelworks in Nowa Huta near Krakow.
Constantly arrested, he was sentenced to internal exile on December 13, 1981, to be allowed outof prison as a part of an amnesty in 1986. Michnik participated in the Round Table talks of 1989 and by 1991 had retired from politics.
However, as editor of Gazeta Wyborcza his track record of supporting an uncritical adulation of the USA, being close friends with another ex-Trotskyist turned into an apologist for the USA's "War on Terror" has irreperably dented his status as an opponent of torture and totalitarianism. The idea of "living in truth" seems to have been replaced by "living in silence" about the USA.
This is not to make the absurd suggestion that the USA is turning into some totalitarian state but Michnik has basically reneged on his belief in "speaking truth to power" if that power happens to be the hyperpower which stands, despite it's "mistakes" in the past, for a universal and beneficient force for Good.
Yet Michnik is now confined to criticising PiS as sharing the paranoid mindset of the PZPR which used the idea of "enemies within" and who are now not blatantly "the Jews" but secret Communists and "collaborators" used as scapegoats the consistent economic mismanagement and social atomisation and unemployment rates as a legacy of a Communist outlook.
Whilst Michnik is on form when targeting much of the stupidity of PiS and the right wing populists that split off from Solidarity adter 1990, it never occurs to Michnik that this atavistic nationalist backlash was a consequence of his own policies nor that his support for US superpower and neoliberal economics is also a legacy of the Communist inheritance.
As Mark Almond wrote in Who's Revolting Now ? ( 2002 ) on the way communism was succeeded by an extreme form of market fundamentalism which just added insult to an already injured and damaged society in Poland.
Exhausted by decades of Soviet-style communism and, with their low birth rates, hardly able to replenish the population, East Europeans may lack the vitality to rebel against further decades of western-imposed austerity - particularly as so many believed that the western model would make them all rich quickly.However, Almond in 2007 in The Price of People Power in the Guardian went slightly too far in suggesting that, in relation to the "shock therapy and IMF "conditionality" austerity measures and cuts that were setto occur in Ukraine after the "Orange Revolution", as happened in Poland under Leszek Balcerowicz, that
Poles used to rise when the price of sausages went up, as they did in 1956, 1970, 1976 and 1980. But since 1989, post-communism, with its deflation of expectations, has knocked the stuffing out of them.With vast sections of the once militant working class on the dole or reduced to penury, wives of ministers talk like arriviste Marie Antoinettes, one remarking that conversation in Polish society has become so advanced that people ask not what sort of mobile phone you have, but whether you have an ISDN connection.
"His Agora media empire grew out of the underground publishing world of Solidarity, funded by the CIA in the 1980s. His newspapers now back the war in Iraq, despite its huge unpopularity among Poles."Bronislaw Geremek reacted furiously in the British Guardian newspaper by mentioning his doing time in prison, as if that automatically made him a paragon of virtue, but did mention the fact that Michnik was not motivated to "sell out" by considerations of profit.It was really a part of his collossal vanity and his desire to identify himself with History.
Geremek correctly noted that Almond had indeed omitted "to note that Michnik is not the owner of Agora, and that when the company gave shares to its founders and employees, Michnik refused to take any. And that the Iraq war is the subject of fierce debate in Gazeta Wyborcza". But Michnik still did support the war.
Yet equally what Geremek omitted is that Poland was one of the few members of the "coalition of the willing" under Kwasniewski of the SLD to enter the Iraq War in 2003 without any discussions, challenges or real debate in the Sejm as most Poles were diverted by careful "public diplomacy" which focused the media and politics on Poland's entry into the EU.
Michnik as a fearless opponent of Soviet totalitarianism merely supported the Iraq War as editor of Gazeta with unquestioning belief in the propaganda put out by the Bush administration that this was a war of liberation whilst Geremek made dithering statements in the EU Parliament later about it leading to a potential rift between the USA and the EU ( especially France and Germany )
None of that practical politics mattered any more for Michnik inexorable spread of US power across the globe as a universal force for Good. No matter what the USA has done, Michnik will support it if can be justified by recourse to Human Rights, credulously buying the notion that Iraq was fought about that as opposed to an oil grab.
Or, as he puts it somewhat more fawningly and subserviently as any Polish People's Republic crony loyal to Moscow during the days of Soviet Communism would have put it, with regards invading Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968, on the issue of supporting the invasion of another state to icorporate it into an Ideological Empire
"Poland is an ally of the United States of America. It was our duty to show that we are a reliable, loyal, and predictable ally. America needed our help, and we had to give it".The irony of this is that such a posture is very similar to those Western fellow travellers who gave their unconditional loyalty to the Soviet Union, despite all their knowledge of the Gulag, the mass extermination of 'kulaks' during collectivisation and the systematic policy of state terrorism.
Michnik could not have been unaware that George Bush after 9/11 had flouted international law by claiming that "illegal combatants" were not entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention and thus could be held as 'ghost detainees' at Guantanamo Bay after being subject to 'extraordinary rendition'.
Michnik's silence on that is startling as such Orwellian language recalls the abstruse jargon of power and dehumanisation used by totalitarian regimes. He has written nothing on this, in fact remained silent on the unfolding catastrophe of Iraq where the level of deaths has now reached over a million people according to a thorough study by the Lancet journal.
The problem with Michnik is that his anti-totalitarian ideology can lead him to conflate Communism and Nazism with the idea that there is some monolithic Islamic totalitarian or "Islamofascist' threat, a position very similar to Christopher Hitchens, the Anglo-American so-called "public intellectual" .
Both Hitchens and Michnik are close associates who often lunch together in New York, as Hitchens reveals in his essay 'The Old Man' in his book Love, Poverty and War where he venerates Trotsky for his anti-totalitarian and anti-Stalinist stance, the very same politics that dates back to their involvement in the 1968 upheaval on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain.
As with Hitchens, who 'took a stand' after 9/11, so too did Michnik come to see the USA as waging a global "battle for civilisation" under George Bush.
"I consider that 9/11 was the day when war was started against my own work and against myself. Even though we are not sure of the links, Iraq was one of the countries that did not lower its flags in mourning on 9/11".The self-presentational and mock heroic dramatic upthrust of this foolishly conceived mission statement is curiously unbalanced. Like Hitchens, Michnik is taking upon himself a world historical pose that shows that the romantic liberation role as a '68er' and founder of Solidarity has gone to his head.
Moreover, the utter idiocy of yoking together Al Qaida and Iraq, a fanatical Islamist network of terror cells with the decrepit secular state of Baathist Iraq, can only occur where all opponents of the USA who use terror are regarded as part of one seamless existential enemy. Such a misconcieved ideology only ramps up the potential for a 'clash of civilisations'.
Michnik's potted view of history is crude and oversimplified, absurdly seeing Al Qaida as part of some spectrum of horror that necessitated any such invasion of the Middle East as it saw fit to preserve the liberty and security of the West.
In We the Traitors (March 28 2003 ) in Gazeta Wyborcza, Michnik responded to criticisms , by aa German journalist in Die Tageszeitung who claimed he had become an indiscriminate admirer of the USA when signing a letter declaring his full backing for the invasion of Iraq. That he had uncritically supported the Iraq War with met with a wholly blathering and incoherent response,
.....just as the great Moscow trials showed the world the essence of the Stalinist system; just as “Kristallnacht” exposed the hidden truth of Hitler’s Nazism, watching the collapsing World Trade Center towers made me realize that the world was facing a new totalitarian challenge.
Violence, fanaticism, and lies were challenging democratic values.
In fact, Michnik's polemic in defence of the Iraq War was precisely the place to discuss the "the ideology" of what is commonly referred to as Islamism, in the name of freedom of information and intellectual clarity as opposed to pure propaganda. Thus proving that Michnik seems to have forgotten that this is what freethinkers and writers like George Orwell did.
This is not the place to analyze the ideology that, while disfiguring the religion of Islam, creates a crusade against the democratic world.
Saddam Hussein takes part in this just as Hitler and Stalin did before him. He asserts that in the holy war with the “godless West” all methods are permitted. Waiting for this sort of regime to obtain weapons of mass destruction would be plain recklessness.
Using the word "crusade" with regards Saddam inverts the truth on it's head. One reason Bin Laden began to target the USA was because the it promised to station troops in the Holy Lands of Islam in Saudi Arabia only on a temporary basis and got the Saudi regime to reject Bin Laden sending in jihadists to get rid of a secular Stalinist style dictator he hated.
Moreover, though Saddam was a brutal tyrant, he did not possess WMD and so makes a farce of Michnik's rhetoric about Saddam 'being at war' with the West alongside Al Qaida when Saddam only borrowed jihadist language during the First Gulf War in 1991 to prop up sympathy and support in Arabic countries.
Michnik has just assumed that because Saddam was a totalitarian dictator then that was the reason he must have or be trying to possess WMD that could be used to attack the West. But the comparison had no basis in reality. Iraq in 2003 has no similarity to Hitler's Germany, an industrial powerhouse at the centre of Europe nor Stalin's rapidly industrialising Soviet Union.
Nor have any weapons of mass destruction been found since the USA invaded Iraq as the nation had had most of its military capacity smashed during the First Gulf War of 1990. The USA, fearful that Hans Blix would find no WMD, decided to pre-empt the conclusion of the inspections would not find any by invading.
The conflation of all "Islamist" enemies of the USA from Al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban etc as part of one demonological continuum perhaps reflects the dangers of Michnik's belief that Poland in concert with the USA can act as a Redeemer Nation, liberating the world's benighted people from tyranny everywhere.
Partly this neoconservative foreign policy is a form of what has been termed an "Enlightenment fundamentalism" that like Fukuyama sees history as moving towards a new global world order controlled and overseen in its birth pangs by the USA, where all nations will be freed and interconnected by neoliberal ideas of 'free trade' marketised societies and shared secularism.
To be fair to Michnik, at the 2009 Freedom and its Adversaries Conference in Prague, sponsored by Coca Cola amongst other corporations, he agrees with Jacques Rupnik that those
....who use the language of freedom and form part of the democratic transformation, but who discard the legacy of the dissident movement and the excessive spread of liberalism put the state in a position of the enemy and led to untransparent privatization and unrestricted greed. “We chose the quickest way – that of imitation.”Yet Michnik was not so keen on Rupnik's perceptive view, as he was responsible for supporting the Balcerowicz Plan that imposed the "shock therapy" first tried and tested in Pinochet's Chile under the influence of Milton Friedman and the "Chicago Boys", the very nation where Michnik had made it clear that torture was immoral no matter who did it.
Brutal power is equally repugnant whether executed under a red banner or a black one. The belief that there was no rightist or leftist torture, no progressive or reactionary torture, was a fundamental principle we lived by.
The German journalist accuses us of not being concerned about the Bush policies that lead to the suppression of humanitarian principles in international relations.
Certainly we are unsettled, but we believe that what leads to the destruction of humanitarian principles is rather the tolerance of totalitarian regimes and the cowardly silence about the crimes of the dictatorships in Iraq, North Korea, Libya, and Cuba.In his defense of the Iraq War, Michnik's propaganda dissolved into banal and windy generalisations and banal and oblique assertions about torture unworthy of something that a true dissident rather than what Poles call a "gadula" ( warbler ) would write in relation to it both in Chile, through supporting Pinochet, and continued into Afganistan and Iraq directly by the USA.
What both Chile and Iraq had in common was the idea of what the radical writer Naomi Klein calls "the shock doctrine" where whole societies are subjected to rapid political seizures of power, the demoralisation of forces in civil society to have time to group against rapid measures of neoliberal policies that take control of resources and against the wishes of the citizens of a state.
As the Freedom and its Adversaries Conference reported,
Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, partially subscribed to Rupnik’s view on the emptiness of democracy. He warned of corruption leading to nihilism, cynicism and fundamentalism, not only religious or ethnic, but also market fundamentalism.The reason Michnik did not fully support Rupnik was because he supported the neoliberal reforms and then tried to criticise only the symptoms of the economic system that bred the nasty backlash in the form of PiS and nationalist politicians he has railed against since, even hyperbolically claiming that Kaczynski's government in 2007 might try a coup d'etat.
Michnik could not claim that he was wholly unaware of the fate that would await the workers who made Solidarity such a popular force for peaceful and democratic change. His contempt for them was manifest by the time that it was known that the days of Jaruzelski's regime were limited as was the power of the USSR.
As David Ost has shown in his The Defeat of Solidarity ( 2005 ) by 1985 Michnik was already in Takie Czasy (These Times ) launching an attack Polish workers for being impetuous and irrational in believing strike action could bring about change alone without being guided by those who knew what was best.
Ost writes that Michnik believed that
"Far from being the guarantor of democracy, labor activism is one of the main dangers to democracy. The rational elite, he argues, would have to take the place of workers in the Solidarity leadership if the organization was truly to be the agent of democratic transformation".The stage was already set for casting the extras in the film version of the Great Revolution against a degenerated and corrupted Communist state aside and giving due weight to the leading stars like Michnik who since 1990 has done little but boast about his role in history. As Ost puts it,
"In 1980 we might, he argues, to have thought about them as sensible and rational actors. In fact they are really irrational hot heads, hostile to reason and common sense, contemptuous of the notion of the compromise, and incapable of recognizing the 'limits and realities' of the real world.The effects of shock therapy in Poland were drastic and immediate in 1990. With the Communist system crumbling after decades of mismanagement, with a debt of $40 billion and inflation at 600%, the Washington based IMF rewarded solidarity by refusing to give it any aid unless it privatised vital public assets into the hands of Western investors
What Michnik and other like Geremek did not want was to tell the workers who had supported and made Solidarity and the victory over Communism possible was that the USA had demanded "reforms" that would trade off the debts incurred by a totalitarian regime it had never voted for in return for selling off state assets like mines, shipyards, and and factories at knock down prices.
The fact that many workers , union leaders and Solidarity members objected to the "shock therapy" advice of Jeffrey Sachs and the Balcerowicz Plan which liberalised all price controls overnight on January 1 1990 was not a matter for debate from the "irrational masses", though Michnik had his 'doubts' about it at the time about "whether it would work".
Yet Balcerowicz was a staunch admirer of Milton Friedman who had advised Pinochet on a revolutionary rupture from the past and to evade the need for obstacles like the unions, 60% of whom opposed the adoption of a radically privatised economy with virtually no state provision as a mechanism that would motivate entrepreneurship and a business boom overnight.
So the price of "reform" was a $1 billion stabilisation loan negotiated by Sachs based on rushing through reforms that the majority had been opposed to in the first free elections after the demise of the PZPR. Balcerowicz termed this anti-democratic measure as "extraordinary politics" which he later went on to define as,
....a period of very clear discontinuity in a country's history. It could be a very deep economic crisis, of a breakdown of the previous institutional system, or of a liberation from external domination ( or end of war )In Poland, all three phenomena converged in 1989 ( allowing ) "a radical acceleration of the legislative process" ( i.e a shock therapy package ).As the Tory historian Mark Almond commented with Swiftian ire on "Market Leninism" in Central Europe,
Adam Michnik used to joke that "all communists are reformers" - but so are all post-communists. It is just that the bright dawn of prosperity for all always shimmers just over the horizon. After 1989, top dissidents and the communists who jumped ship to join them did well out of adopting "the market economy" and occupying its commanding heights.Curiously, the idea of 'limits and realities' that allowed such "freedoms "did not get applied to Iraq apart from in trying to privatise its oil concessions into the hands of US corporations, breaking up the state and parcelling out the nation's resources whilst it descended into anarchy, bloodshed and chaos.
But mass unemployment and cuts in health and social services have plunged people into poverty. Real wages have fallen and birth rates have collapsed across eastern Europe. The children of the 1980s - the last generation born under communism - are voting with their feet as they flee west, just as their parents dreamed of doing.
Nor has it applied to mentioning the way IMF economists impoverished Russia in immiseration throughout the 1990s by applying wholly inappropriate policies leading to the death of over a million Russians according to Lancet Medical Journal, the same one that investigated mortality rates in Iraq.
Nor have limits and realities been evident on the War on Terror which Michnik has also supported as a global crusade of simplistic Good versus Evil which gave the USA the right to resort to pre-emptive measures to arbitrarily imprison and torture people in Afghanistan, whether they were "terrorist suspects" or Pakistani taxi drivers.
Michnik has maintained his silence on the now proven fact according to the Open Society Justice Initiative and The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights that Poland allowed CIA "extraordinary rendition" flights six times between February and October 2003. Clearly, the torturing of Muslims by "repetitive administration" is part of a war for human rights.
That news comes now as Iraq falls from the headlines and after successive governments whether of the SLD, PIS or PO lied continually that they had not been. Clearly Michnik's description of himself as a "Converted Dissident" makes sense in this light. Nor once has he mentioned this or broken the silence.
Yet the ideology of 'solidarity between Poland and the USA is also important in that the American Revolution happened at the same time in the late eighteenth century with the help of Polish rebels like Kosciuszko who then went on to fight for freedom against Russia against the plans for the Third Partition of Poland that happened in 1795 when Poland lost its independence for 123 years.
The Polish messianic myth goes back deep into Polish history and comes from Michnik's reading of the poet Adam Mickiewicz who in Dziady saw the liberation of Poland as essential for the downfall of all Evil Empires everywhere ( by which he thought of as the European powers of Russia, Austria and Prussia that had partitioned Poland in the late eighteenth century ).
Indeed, Michnik's decision to be part of KOR, the Workers Defense Committee to challenge the Polish Communist Party came after his involvement in protests against the 'oafish censors' who banned the performance of Dziady in the National Theatre in 1968 because of its anti-Russian slant, with it's view of the Empire as one huge prison frozen in tyranny and built upon the bones of innumerable dead.
In Mickiewicz's work a universal war of liberation was the only way in which the Tsarist despot who erected vain monuments like that of Peter the Great on his horse who is like a waterfall frozen solid and whose reign will melt under the warm western winds that shall unleash an almighty flood ( as the invasion of Iraq did but in in floods of blood).
Likewise the neoconservative ideologues who advocated the Iraq War back in 2003 similarly thought that by destroying Saddam's Babylonian tyranny, this would trigger of simultaneous liberation struggles in neighbouring Syria and Iran as people there saw that freedom was possible.
The fantastical idea that the collapse of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe was remotely comparable to the complex situation in the Middle East, or that the USA was acting as a force to destroy imperialism instead of reflecting an imperial war for geopolitical advantage and a secure oil supply, shows how much dissidents like Michnik had entirely lost the plot by 2003.
John Gray, False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism.
John Gray, Black Mass :Apocalyptic Politics and the Death of Utopia.
Mark Almond, Uprising.
Mark Almond, Who's Revolting Now.
Mark Almond, The Price of People Power
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine
David Ost, The Defeat of Solidarity : Anger and Politics in Post Communist Europe
Czeslaw Milosz, A History of Polish Literature