Thursday, 27 August 2009

Czwarty Czerwca

The title of the book I read last Sunday – going through the 260 pages long paperback took me a bit more than two hours. Reading a book from cover to cover is usually doable when it grabs your attention and you can submerge yourself in the content. This one, written by Joanna Szczepkowska (the Polish actress famous for announcing the end of the communism in Poland) is an outline of her memories of living in People’s Poland.

With some conflicting feelings about the content, I hail the book as readable, gripping and all in all rather well-balanced. At the beginning my approach to the work was rather negative. The first years of Szczepkowska’s life were presented in rather one-sided and selective way. Picture was kind of gloomy – Labour Day parades, the rally in front of the Palace of Culture after Gomułka took over power, moral dilemmas and bickering over the system between her parents. Here the balance is already struck – mother is shown as a hard-line anti-communist figure, father does not support the system but tries to get by in it, hammering out as much freedom as possible without incensing the party dignitaries. Actress’ adolescent years are described as a series of events depicting the evil of communism – forbidden religion classes, children telling on one another, cracking sounds of drowned out Radio Wolna Europa, schoolmate proud of her father taking part in military intervention in Czechoslovakia, events from March 1968, one history taught officially, another passed on at home. The facts to describe were chosen rather selectively, but along the timeline world from black and white takes on the variety of all the shades of grey.

In 1969 an insurgent who fought in Warsaw Uprising pays visit to her parents. His story bears testimony of the big bravery, but as he leaves the flat young Szczepkowska challenges him by telling him what she had heard at school – that the Uprising had been a mistake. He admits, but signifies he’s afraid to said it aloud as everyone who says so is thought to be an Ubek.

In the early seventies actress-to-be flies to France for a theatre festival – here’s where a reader sees what the socialism was – not only lack of free speech, omnipresent lies, political prisoners, etc, but also backwardness. Students from France in colourful outfits making laugh at the poor student from behind the Iron Curtain.

Further comes the delineation of struggling the system, making concessions, fighting for the rights of people, joy with the foundation of Solidarity movement, later on the shock of Martial Law and the subsequent years of gloom. The chapter of 1983 is followed by the one of 1988 – an annoying gap for me. In the last passages the system is already falling apart, the Solidarity elites are divided into the one in favour of carrying on clandestine activity and blowing the system up and the one who incline towards talks with the ruling party. Szczepkowska is for give and take, Szczepkowska does not try to model herself on a person with a anti-communist biography – she was only flesh and blood, she had the moments of weakness.

The very last part is a detailed description of the recording of Dziennik telewizyjny, when she uttered the famous sentence “Ladies and gentlemen, on 4th June, 1989, the communism in Poland came to an end". As I watched the very short fragment of it, I could resist the impression of unnaturalness and theatrical gesture made by the actress – my right, but the fact it was not broadcast live and was not edited out by the censors symbolised the ultimate decay of the socialism – although the party still kept public broadcaster in a grip, the days of communists in power were numbered.

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