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Radio was a ‘childhood companion’ of Polish Nobel Prize author Olga Tokarczuk

I learned something today by reading on the Internet the Nobel Prize in Literature Lecture delivered on December 7, 2019 at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. As a young girl growing up in Poland in the 1960s and the 1970s, a country at that time still under communist rule until 1989, she was often listening to the radio. As she described it, radio was her “great childhood companion.” In her Nobel speech, Tokarczuk mentioned hearing programs from all kinds of different stations—Warsaw, London, Luxembourg and Paris.

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

Literature Laureate Olga Tokarczuk
Photo: Clément Morin

The first photograph I ever experienced consciously is a picture of my mother from before she gave birth to me. Unfortunately, it’s a black-and-white photograph, which means that many of the details have been lost, turning into nothing but gray shapes. The light is soft, and rainy, likely a springtime light, and definitely the kind of light that seeps in through a window, holding the room in a barely perceptible glow. My mom is sitting beside our old radio, and it’s the kind with a green eye and two dials—one to regulate the volume, the other for finding a station.

Photo by Dušan Tatomirović

This radio later became my great childhood companion; from it I learned of the existence of the cosmos. Turning an ebony knob shifted the delicate feelers of the antennae, and into their purview fell all kinds of different stations—Warsaw, London, Luxembourg and Paris. Sometimes, however, the sound would falter, as though between Prague and New York, or Moscow and Madrid, the antennae’s feelers stumbled onto black holes. Whenever that happened, it sent shivers down my spine. I believed that through this radio different solar systems and galaxies were speaking to me, crackling and warbling and sending me important information, and yet I was unable to decipher it.

News and literature in the age of the Internet

By Ted Lipien

Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

I have never met Olga Tokarczuk and never had a chance to interview her, but in 1984, when I was working for the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service broadcasting from Washington D.C., I interviewed for the radio the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Czesław Miłosz, a Polish poet of the World War II generation who had spent a good portion of his life living in exile in the United States before his death in 2004. His and Tokarczuk’s political outlook based on liberal ideas guiding their creative writing is similar, but the books they wrote express their interest in people and human events by looking at them from different angles and using different literary forms. One common theme uniting them is that Miłosz like Tokarczuk wanted to be a witness to history and was committed to preserving historical truth.

Now that I know about Olga Tokarczuk’s early fascination with radio, if I had had a chance to interview her, I would have wanted to ask her whether in her teenage years she had listened to Polish programs of Radio Free Europe, the BBC and the Voice of America as they had a great impact on me when I was growing up in Poland in the 1960s. Born in 1962, she could have heard these broadcasts if her mother had listened to them, as millions of Poles did at that time, or she may have started listening to them a few years later on her own, but she did not mention these stations by name in her Nobel Lecture. I wonder what she thought about life in Poland before the fall of communism. Did it bother her to be lied to about history by Communist Party officials and regime journalists? Did she at any time want to leave Poland and live in the West? Could she have become a great Polish writer if she had emigrated? Czesław Miłosz went into exile in the early 1950s, but he was already at that time a well-known poet in Poland.

By joining the Voice of America staff in 1973 as a young trainee-broadcaster after emigrating to the United States from Poland three years earlier, I tried to repay my debt of gratitude to the Western radio stations for giving me an honest portrayal of history. Radio was then the most powerful medium for instant international communication with nations whose rulers did not want theirs populations to receive outside news. Communist regimes resorted to jamming radio signals of these stations but without much success. Radio was the only way for journalists in the West to reach large numbers of people living in Poland under communism and is was largely the only way for the Poles to get uncensored news and information although some of them lived through World War II and experienced post-war communist repressions or they could learn about history from their parents and some of the more school teachers who were willing to take risks and teach true history to students. I had two such teachers in my youth.

In her lecture, Tokarczuk made some interesting observations how the media world has changed since the arrival of the Internet.

The world is a fabric we weave daily on the great looms of information, discussions, films, books, gossip, little anecdotes. Today the purview of these looms is enormous—thanks to the internet, almost everyone can take place in the process, taking responsibility and not, lovingly and hatefully, for better and for worse. When this story changes, so does the world. In this sense, the world is made of words.

The flood of stupidity, cruelty, hate speech and images of violence are desperately counterbalanced by all sorts of “good news,” but it hasn’t the capacity to rein in the painful impression, which I find hard to verbalize, that there is something wrong with the world. Nowadays this feeling, once the sole preserve of neurotic poets, is like an epidemic of lack of definition, a form of anxiety oozing from all directions.

There are now millions of sources of what is described as “news.“ Practically everyone with access to the world wide web can be a provider of either true knowledge or fake news, sometimes to hundreds of thousands or millions of people at practically no cost. During World War II and the Cold War, usually only governments could afford the high price of high-power transnational shortwave radio transmissions of news programs. Now, almost anyone can play the role of a journalist or a commentator. For the money totalitarian and authoritarian regimes spent before on radio transmissions, they can now hire at much less expense an army of anonymous trolls to manipulate public opinion at home and abroad.

Journalism is only as good and as honest as the people who deliver the news. Had Tokarczuk been alive during World War II and listened to wartime Voice of America broadcasts, she would have heard pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin propaganda delivered from the United States in Polish by such journalists as Mira Złotowska and Stefan Arski who later went back to Poland to work for the communist state media, or she would have heard English news written by the Stalin Peace Prize future winner, American communist author Howard Fast. However, if she had listened to the Voice of America during her youth from the 1960s until the 1980s, she would have heard the programs of the famous World War II anti-Nazi Polish underground army fighter and anti-Communist VOA broadcaster Zofia Korbońska. Had she listened to Radio Free Europe in the 1960s and the 1970s, she would have heard not only political news, but also the RFE music program, “Rendez-vous at 6:10,” hosted by Janusz Hewel. I had tuned to his program regularly in my youth and later worked with him when he was hired by the Voice of America moved to Washington, DC. She mentioned listening to Radio Luxembourg. The station was famous among teenagers in Poland for its music programs.

When it came to political news and information, the message was then, as it is now, only as good as the messenger. Tokarczuk believes that in the current informational chaos filled with hate speech, feel-good stories and fake news, literature can help readers find a deeper understanding of the world by providing a broader context in which humans look at themselves and interact which each other. In remembrance of her mother, she titled her lecture “The Tender Narrator,” hoping perhaps that she may encourage more people to communicate with love rather than hatred. Her advice may be much more difficult to apply to short-form journalism and to social media posts on the web, but journalists should pay attention to her words. Tokarczuk has received anonymous death threats on social media from fringe anti-Semitic Polish extremists. I also saw respected Voice of America journalists in the United States publicly posting a video with the VOA logo condoning violence against an American politician. The Polish extremists are almost certainly not journalists, and some of them may be Vladimir Putin’s trolls, but both in the United States and in Poland, social media outlets have contributed to destroying among journalists and other Internet users many previously observed limits of personal and journalistic decency, not to mention journalistic accuracy and objectivity.

To my disappointment, I did not find last week on the Voice of America English news website any coverage of Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel Lecture. When international news radio broadcasting was still popular, it may seem now that it was a much better medium for practicing good and comprehensive journalism, allowing for a more nuanced presentation of facts and opinions than the Internet has done so far. That may be true to some degree. VOA’s radio journalists were focused not only on delivering news censored behind the Iron Curtain but also on presenting and explaining ideas behind the news. The Internet, however, has far more information that can be instantly accessed in much less time than the radio was able to provide during the Cold War. The problem is not the amount of information but people’s ability to find accurate news and, more importantly, find an objective analysis. During the Cold War, radio listeners learned to trust some of the individual broadcasters and reject those they disagreed with, just as they do now, but now their sources of information are almost limitless, confusing, and often anonymous or operating under false flags.

For better or for worse, the era of international radio broadcasting is largely gone, as it has been replaced now in most countries by Internet-based platforms of trans-border communication. Such trans-border communication in itself is also becoming less relevant in most countries for many news consumers interested in domestic issues, unless it is managed by journalists living in diaspora who are in touch with their audience and have in-country news contacts on a daily basis. In general, people prefer the ease of using domestic media and domestic information sources for both domestic and foreign news over media outlets run by foreign governments or other foreign entities. This was also the case for practical rand technical reasons during the Cold War, but people behind the Iron Curtain knew then that not all news from domestic sources was accurate and that much of it was disinformation and propaganda. They had to rely on stations such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the BBC or the Voice of America to be fully informed.

Thanks to the Internet, dissident journalists can now reach their audience in most countries and still remain independent from any inside or outside government support. They can be working in their own countries or abroad. There are still, however, states such as China, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Iran and Russia, where many dissident journalists are in prison. Many journalists have been victims of assassinations. Hundreds of millions of poor people still have no Internet or mobile phones. If had a chance to interview Olga Tokarczuk, I would have asked her how she would propose to bring more decency to journalism and how she would want to communicate her message to help journalists in countries without a free media in their struggle for universal human rights. Would her message be different for countries such as the United States and Poland which have a free media and free speech? Olga Tokarczuk’s idea of relying on literature to expand understanding of other people’s emotions and actions is a correct one, but what would be her advice for journalists in the era of the Internet?

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

How we think about the world and—perhaps even more importantly—how we narrate it have a massive significance, therefore. A thing that happens and is not told ceases to exist and perishes. This is a fact well known to not only historians, but also (and perhaps above all) to every stripe of politician and tyrant. He who has and weaves the story is in charge.

Today our problem lies—it seems—in the fact that we do not yet have ready narratives not only for the future, but even for a concrete now, for the ultra-rapid transformations of today’s world. We lack the language, we lack the points of view, the metaphors, the myths and new fables. Yet we do see frequent attempts to harness rusty, anachronistic narratives that cannot fit the future to imaginaries of the future, no doubt on the assumption that an old something is better than a new nothing, or trying in this way to deal with the limitations of our own horizons. In a word, we lack new ways of telling the story of the world.

John Amos Comenius, the great seventeenth-century pedagogue, coined the term “pansophism,” by which he meant the idea of potential omniscience, universal knowledge that would contain within it all possible cognition. This was also, and above all, a dream of information available to everyone. Would not access to facts about the world transform an illiterate peasant into a reflective individual conscious of himself and the world? Will not knowledge within easy reach mean that people will become sensible, that they will direct the progress of their lives with equanimity and wisdom?

When the Internet first came about, it seemed that this notion would finally be realized in a total way. Wikipedia, which I admire and support, might have seemed to Comenius, like many like-minded philosophers, the fulfillment of the dream of humanity—now we can create and receive an enormous store of facts being ceaselessly supplemented and updated that is democratically accessible to just about every place on Earth.

A dream fulfilled is often disappointing. It has turned out that we are not capable of bearing this enormity of information, which instead of uniting, generalizing and freeing, has differentiated, divided, enclosed in individual little bubbles, creating a multitude of stories that are incompatible with one another or even openly hostile toward each other, mutually antagonizing.

Furthermore, the Internet, completely and unreflectively subject to market processes and dedicated to monopolists, controls gigantic quantities of data used not at all pansophically, for the broader access to information, but on the contrary, serving above all to program the behavior of users, as we learned after the Cambridge Analytica affair. Instead of hearing the harmony of the world, we have heard a cacophony of sounds, an unbearable static in which we try, in despair, to pick up on some quieter melody, even the weakest beat. The famous Shakespeare quote has never been a better fit than it is for this cacophonous new reality: more and more often, the Internet is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.

Research by political scientists unfortunately also contradicts John Amos Comenius’ intuitions, which were based on the conviction that the more universally available was information about the world, the more politicians would avail themselves of reason and make considered decisions. But it would appear that the matter is not at all so simple as that. Information can be overwhelming, and its complexity and ambiguity give rise to all sorts of defense mechanisms—from denial to repression, even to escape into the simple principles of simplifying, ideological, party-line thinking.

The category of fake news raises new questions about what fiction is. Readers who have been repeatedly deceived, misinformed or misled have begun to slowly acquire a specific neurotic idiosyncrasy. The reaction to such exhaustion with fiction could be the enormous success of non-fiction, which in this great informational chaos screams over our heads: “I will tell you the truth, nothing but the truth,” and “My story is based on facts!”

Fiction has lost the readers’ trust since lying has become a dangerous weapon of mass destruction, even if it is still a primitive tool. I am often asked this incredulous question: “Is this thing you wrote really true?” And every time I feel this question bodes the end of literature.

In this ardent division into truth and falsehood, the tales of our experience that literature creates have their own dimension.

I have never been particularly excited about any straight distinction between fiction and non-fiction, unless we understand such a distinction to be declarative and discretionary. In a sea of many definitions of fiction, the one I like the best is also the oldest, and it comes from Aristotle. Fiction is always a kind of truth.

I am also convinced by the distinction between true story and plot made by the writer and essayist E.M. Forster. He said that when we say, “The king died and then the queen died,” it’s a story. But when we say, “The king died, and then the queen died of grief,” that is a plot. Every fictionalization involves a transition from the question “What happened next?” to an attempt at understanding it based on our human experience: “Why did it happen that way?”

Literature begins with that “why,” even if we were to answer that question over and over with an ordinary “I don’t know.”

Thus literature poses questions that cannot be answered with the help of Wikipedia, since it goes beyond just information and events, referring directly to our experience.

But it is possible that the novel and literature in general are becoming before our very eyes something actually quite marginal in comparison with other forms of narration. That the weight of the image and of new forms of directly transmitting experience—film, photography, virtual reality—will constitute a viable alternative to traditional reading. Reading is quite a complicated psychological and perceptual process. To put it simply: first the most elusive content is conceptualized and verbalized, transforming into signs and symbols, and then it is “decoded” back from language into experience. That requires a certain intellectual competence. And above all it demands attention and focus, abilities ever rarer in today’s extremely distracting world.

Humanity has come a long way in its ways of communicating and sharing personal experience, from orality, relying on the living word and human memory, through the Gutenberg Revolution, when stories began to be widely mediated by writing and in this way fixed and codified as well as possible to reproduce without alteration. The major attainment of this change was that we came to identify thinking with language, with writing. Today we are facing a revolution on a similar scale, when experience can be transmitted directly, without recourse to the printed word.

There is no longer any need to keep a travel diary when you can simply take pictures and send those pictures via social networking sites straight into the world, at once and to all. There is no need to write letters, since it is easier to call. Why write fat novels, when you can just get into a television series instead? Instead of going out on the town with friends, it would be better to play a game. Reach for an autobiography? There’s no point, since I am following the lives of celebrities on Instagram and know everything about them.

It is not even the image that is the greatest opponent of text today, as we thought back in the twentieth century, worrying about the influence of television and film. It is instead a completely different dimension of the world—acting directly on our senses.

I don’t want to sketch an overall vision of crisis in telling stories about the world. But I’m often troubled by the feeling that there is something missing in the world―that by experiencing it through glass screens, and through apps, somehow it becomes unreal, distant, two-dimensional, and strangely non-descript, even though finding any particular piece of information is astoundingly easy. These days the worrying words “someone, “something,” “somewhere,” “some time” can seem riskier than very specific, definite ideas uttered with complete certainty―such as that “the earth is flat,” “vaccinations kill,” “climate change is nonsense,” or “democracy is not under threat anywhere in the world.” “Somewhere” some people are drowning as they try to cross the sea. “Somewhere,” for “some” time, “some sort of” a war has been going on. In the deluge of information individual messages lose their contours, dissipate in our memory, become unreal and vanish.

Literature is one of the few spheres that try to keep us close to the hard facts of the world, because by its very nature it is always psychological, because it focuses on the internal reasoning and motives of the characters, reveals their otherwise inaccessible experience to another person, or simply provokes the reader into a psychological interpretation of their conduct. Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

For full text of Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel Lecture, see:

Olga Tokarczuk Nobel Lecture: The Tender Narrator

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Józef Czapski on Katyn

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Polish military officer, writer and artist Józef Czapski, who had made a futile search for thousands of missing Polish officers in Soviet Russia during World War II killed on the orders of Stalin in 1940, was censored by the Voice of America (VOA) during his visit to the United States in 1950. Later, under tremendous pressure from the U.S. Congress, VOA stopped its censorship of the Katyn story but resumed it partially later in the Cold War until the Reagan administration put a stop to all VOA censorship about Soviet crimes.

During World War II, overseas radio broadcasts of the U.S. Office of War Information (OWI), which only later became known as the Voice of America, repeated and promoted Soviet propaganda lies under VOA’s first so-called director but in reality the radio program production chief John Houseman. Houseman’s extreme pro-Soviet line resulted in him being forced to resign in 1943.[1] But the real directors of these early “Voice of America” wartime broadcast and Soviet sympathizers hired by John Houseman continued their collusion with Soviet propagandists and covered up Stalin’s crimes well into the mid-1940s.

One of the early contributors to OWI information programs and later a volunteer in launching first VOA broadcasts in Russian in 1947 was Kathleen Harriman, daughter of President Roosevelt’s wartime ambassador to Moscow W. Averell Harriman. She had worked for OWI as a young reporter in London and later in Moscow, where she accompanied her father. It was Ambassador Harriman who in 1944 sent her 25-year-old daughter on a Soviet-organized propaganda trip to the Katyn forest near Smolensk, the site of the mass murder of thousands of Polish military officers and members of the Polish intelligentsia. After the trip, she produced a report for the State Department which supported the Soviet propaganda claim that the Germans were the perpetrators of the mass murder. The Polish prisoners of war in Soviet hands were in fact executed in the spring of 1940 by the NKVD secret police on the orders of Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Politburo. As Russia was then America’s military ally fighting Nazi Germany, President Roosevelt did not want to disclose Stalin’s genocidal crimes to Americans and foreign audiences.

When the Germans announced the discovery of the Katyn graves in April 1943, the Office of War Information immediately started to broadcast and promote the Soviet propaganda lie about Katyn, even though high-level State Department diplomats who earlier had warned the FDR White House of Soviet and communist influence at the agency in charge of “Voice of America” broadcasts, advised against fully accepting the Kremlin’s claims of innocence. Ambassador Harriman, his daughter, and OWI’s “Voice of America” propagandists helped to boost the Kremlin’s false propaganda claims. It was one of the most blatant Soviet propaganda lies, or what now would be called fake news, of the 20th century.

With so many high-level U.S. government officials and the Voice of America tainted by the Soviet lie, it is no surprise that VOA’s early history has been covered up, distorted, re-written and falsely presented by friendly historians with links to the agency, now called the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) and previously known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). They have ignored and most likely purposely obscured the early collusion between the Roosevelt administration and Soviet propagandists. They never mentioned VOA’s participation in the Katyn lie and the later cover-up of Soviet crimes, including mass deportations to the Gulag. Eventually, the Voice of America and State Department officials in charge of it were forced by Congress to change their programming policy in the early 1950s.The bipartisan Madden Committee of the House of Representatives blamed in 1952 the earlier pro-Soviet U.S. government propaganda on “a strange psychosis that military necessity required the sacrifice of loyal allies and out own principles in order to keep Soviet Russia from making a separate peace with the Nazis.” The committee pointed out that “this psychosis continued even after the conclusion of the war. In a warning about a corrupting effect of foreign and domestic propaganda combined with censorship, the Madden Committee noted that “most of the witnesses testified that had they known then what they now know about Soviet Russia, they probably would not have pursued the course they did.”

John Houseman is still presented in VOA promotional materials (2018) not as an apologist for Stalin, but as a defender of truthful journalism. His biography posted online by the VOA Public Relations Office says nothing about the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Military Intelligence preventing Houseman from traveling abroad during World War II and his hiring of communists and pro-Soviet sympathizers to work on the early VOA Broadcasts.

One will not learn from many of the books, online articles and promotional brochures about Kathleen Harriman as one of the early contributors to the Voice of America programs and about her defense of the Katyn lie. Even in the late 1940s and in 1950, the Voice of America was censoring witnesses of Stalin’s crimes, including statements by Józef Czapski. In the 1970s, VOA limited extensive readings from books by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in response to pressure from Moscow and directives from the Nixon and Ford administrations eager to promote the policy of detente with the Kremlin.

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Tomlinson on Voice of America coverage of Pope John Paul II

Ken Tomlinson, Rebecca Tomlinson, Ted Lipien with Pope John Paul II
Ken Tomlinson, Rebecca Tomlinson, Ted Lipien with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican

Former Voice of America (VOA) director and former Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) Chairman Ken Tomlinson, who died recently, told Voice of America two years ago that his most memorable moment at VOA was to visit the Polish Service and help arrange extensive news coverage of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Poland when the country was still under communist rule during the Cold War. The Pope’s visit to Poland helped the suppressed Solidarity trade union to intensify its peaceful struggle for democracy and eventually resulted in the fall of communism. Father Stefan Filipowicz, a Chicago-based Jesuit priest and former director of the Polish Service at Vatican Radio, provided religious commentary from a VOA studio in Washington during the coverage of the papal visit. Live audio transmission from Poland was provided to VOA by Vatican Radio.

Ken Tomlinson and his wife Rebecca later traveled to Rome with VOA Polish Service director Ted Lipien to meet Pope John Paul II who thanked the Voice of America for broadcasting news to his countrymen in Poland under communism.

Thanks to Ken Tomlinson’s support, funding from the Reagan administration and full bipartisan backing in the U.S. Congress, the Polish Service became one of the most successful language services in the history of VOA, with over 70% weekly audience reach in Poland in the late 1980s.

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Lech Walesa 70th Birthday Stamp – Historic VOA Interviews – 1985 – 1987 – 2002

“It is difficult to imagine what would have happened if it were not for the Voice of America and other sources with the help of which the true information squeezed through, which showed a different point of view, which said that we are not alone and that something is happening in the country — because our mass media did not do that.” – Lech Wałęsa, 2002

Poland’s Post Office will issue a stamp in honor of Solidarity (Solidarność) trade union leader Lech Wałęsa. The stamp will be released Sunday, September 29, 2013, on the Nobel Peace laureate’s and Poland’s former President’s 70th birthday.

The commemorative envelope, also issued by Poland’s Post Office, includes a reference to American support for Lech Wałęsa in a photo showing him speaking to the joint session of the  U.S. Congress. The envelope also has a photo of Lech Wałęsa’s wife, Danuta, receiving his Nobel Peace Prize on his behalf.

October 5, 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Nobel Committee announcement that the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to Lech Wałęsa — a news event covered extensively by the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service, Radio Free Europe and other Polish-language Western media.

Lech Wałęsa’s and Poland’s struggle for democracy received strong support from the United States government and American people. Both Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, funded by U.S. taxpayers, reported daily on the 1980 strikes, the martial law, and subsequent negotiations between Solidarity and the regime which led to the peaceful fall of communism in Poland.

In a 2002 interview with the Voice of America Warsaw correspondent Maria Bnińska, Lech Wałęsa said:

Link to video.

Lech Wałęsa: “Of course, what I’m about to say is well known.

It is hard to imagine – when the communist system was still in existence, when we had been betrayed but did not give up the fight — if there were would have been no other media that could encourage, may be not encourage, but to show, to provide the proof, to speak the truth, to speak about what was happening here and elsewhere — something we could not see for ourselves, being cut off from the real information, and fighting within our limited capabilities.

Therefore, it is difficult to imagine what would have happened if it were not for the Voice of America and other sources with the help of which the true information squeezed through, which showed a different point of view, which said that we are not alone and that something is happening in the country — because our mass media did not do that.

Therefore, I will say it briefly — we would not have what we have without the segment of propaganda, which was found in the Voice of America. It is not conceivable that it would have happened so quickly and so effectively if not for the Voice of America.

Even as a child I remember how my parents surreptitiously listened to the free word of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and others.

I also listened. I listened when they were listening.

And because of that, opposition was awaken, and the information and the real image of what was taking place here and in the free world.

And so, the great glory to the Voice of America and other media that had enabled us to survive, [gave us] the real information, [ability] to compare information, and so on, and so forth.”

Lech Wałęsa: “Oczywiście, ja, to co powiem, to jest ogólnie znane.

Trudno sobie wyobrazić — kiedy u nas obowiązywał system komunistyczny, kiedy zostaliśmy zdradzeni i kiedy nie zaniechaliśmy walki — żeby nie było innych ośrodków, które by zachęcały, może nie zachęcały ale pokazywały, udowadniały, mówiły prawdę, mówiły o tym co się dzieje tu i gdzie indziej — czego my sprawdzić nie mogliśmy będąc odcięci od prawdziwej informacji, walcząc w ograniczonych możliwościach.

Dlatego trudno sobie wyobrazić co by było gdyby nie było Głosu Ameryki i innych jeszcze źródeł przez które przeciskała się informacja prawdziwa, która pokazywała inny punkt widzenia, która mówiła o tym, że nie jesteśmy sami i że coś się w kraju dzieje, bo nasze publikatory tego nie robiły.

W związku z tym powiem krótko, nie byłoby tego co mamy bez tego wycinku propagandowego, który mieścił się w Głosie Ameryki. Nie wyobrażalne jest by mogło to mieć miejsce tak szybko i tak skutecznie gdyby nie Głos Ameryki.

Już jako dziecko pamiętam jak moi rodzice, ukrywając się, słuchali wolego słowa Głosu Ameryki i Wolnej Europy i innych. Ja też słuchałem, słuchałem kiedy oni słuchali.

I w związku z tym, budził się sprzeciw, i informacja i prawdziwy obraz, który ma miejsce tu i w wolnym świecie.

I dlatego wielka chwała Głosowi Ameryki i innym środkom, które pozwoliły nam na przetrwanie, na prawdziwe informacje, na porównywanie informacji, i tak dalej, i tak dalej.”

Link to video.

Maria Bnińska: What does the 50th anniversary of the Voice of America mean for you?

Lech Wałęsa: I think, it is the present victory; its role in this victory.

At the same time, it is contribution to general knowledge, my own and for generations that lived through this period.

Many did not see the effects of their work.

We must remember many, in history and in everything else; they have made a great contribution.

This is, I think, for today the great contribution of the Voice of America.

Maria Bnińska: Co dla pana oznacza i czym jest dla pana piędziesięciolecie (2002) Głosu Ameryki?

Lech Wałęsa: No myslę, że obecnym zwycięstwem, udziale w tym zwycięstwie.

Jednocześnie jest to uzupełnieniem wiedzy ogólnej, tak moim jak i pokoleń, które w tym okresie przewinęły się.

Wielu nie doczekało efektów swojej pracy.

O wielu musimy pamiętać, i w historii i w tym wszystkim, że mają wielki wkład.

To tym, myslę, tylko i wyłącznie na dzisiaj jest ta wielka zasługa jaką jest Głos Ameryki.

In 1987, the faltering government of General Jaruzelski agreed to a visit by Vice President George H.W. Bush who urged Jaruzelski to come to terms with Wałęsa. Subsequent negotiations between the regime and Solidarity-led democratic opposition led to a peaceful transition to democracy in Poland.

The Voice of America Polish Service director Ted Lipien covered Bush’s 1987 trip and reported on these statements from Wałęsa and the U.S. Vice President after their dinner on September 27, 1987 at the residence of the American Charge d’Affairs in Warsaw John R. Davis, Jr. who later became U.S. Ambassador to Poland.

From a VOA Polish Service 1987 report from Warsaw:

Link to audio.

“Ja dziękuję bardzo za te słowa, które przyjmuję jako pochwałę Solidarności. Rzeczywiście postawiliśmy na pokojową walkę. … Dziękujemy bardzo ekipie Stanów Zjednoczonych za zrozumienie polskich spraw, Mamy nadzieje, że w tej reformie będzie tak jak dotąd pomocna naszemu krajowi.” – Lech Wałesa, Warsaw, September 27, 1987.

“The American people have great affection and, as you know from recent action, support you, support Solidarity and support the objectives that you’ve outlined here this evening. And to the people of Poland. we’ve had a marvelous visit” – Vice President George H.W. Bush, Warsaw, September 27, 1987.

Poland’s communist regime organized a referendum on political and economic reforms, which was held on 29 November 1987. Around a third of eligible voters did not participate, defying the regime. It was the first time that Communist authorities in Eastern Europe had lost a vote.

Link to audio.

This was not the first interview, the VOA Polish Service did with Wałęsa. Polish Service reporter Peter Mroczyk had done the first one by telephone from Washington in August 1985.

In his 1987 interview with in Gdansk, where Ted Lipien had gone by train from Warsaw avoiding police surveillance, Wałęsa did not attach much importance to the just concluded referendum, which — as he pointed out — had not been not organized according to basic democratic principles. For one thing, as he pointed out, Solidarity and other oppositions groups in Poland had not been consulted and had no access to domestic media prior to the vote.

In the interview, Wałęsa said, however, that Solidarity and the government have no choice but to reach an agreement.

At the same time, he strongly objected to the regime’s reluctance to enter into a real dialogue with the democratic opposition in Poland. In answering a question under what conditions Solidarity would participate in talks with the Communist regime, Wałęsa answered:

“If the authorities invent terms such as ‘socialist pluralism’, ‘socialist economy’, ‘socialist law’ ‘socialist safety net’, then there is nothing to talk about. We can say that the law is good or bad, the economy works well or not, but not to invent absurdities.”

“We propose to the authorities political pluralism, so that we would not find out after 40 years what we are learning today: that Stalin was a murderer, that Khrushchev was an ignorant man who did not use the opportunity to really show himself, that Brezhnev destroyed chances and opportunities and cut the legs under socialism. We need political pluralism so that such things would not happen and we would not be ruled by murderers and others.”

“The condition is to say that there is only one pluralism and that there is no [such thing as] socialist pluralism. If we will talk in these terms, then there are no conditions. We are ready to talk.”

Asked about an upcoming meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Wałęsa expressed hope that during these talks a point would be made that without real reforms, Poland and the rest of the Soviet block would continue to represent a danger to the rest of the world due to instability and risk of unpredictable events and potential violence.

Asked about the visit to Poland by Vice President George H.W. Bush two months earlier, Wałęsa said:

“I’m personally very pleased that I had a chance to get to know such an outstanding representative of the American people, and now I know that the United States is in such an excellent position because it has such outstanding leaders. I hope that he will lead after the next elections.”

Wałęsa in effect endorsed Bush for his planned presidential run in 1988. Asked whether he would like to travel to the United States, Wałęsa said that like everybody else he would like to see America but that current conditions prevent him from making a trip at this time.

The VOA Polish Service was one of the first Western media outlets to interview Walesa by phone after he was released from detention by the Polish martial law regime. The first VOA phone interview with Walesa was done by Peter (Piotr) Mroczyk in August 1985.

Link to audio.

Lech Walesa: “The ideals which we presented and which we pursue are truly great.

We could not achieve them even if our organization had prospered. Therefore, there is much in front of us. We must still do much. …

This is very difficult because programs that have been proven successful elsewhere can’t be implemented where we are geographically located. This is our difficulty, because we must be mindful of the restrictions and remember that we can’t do everything.”

Peter Mroczyk (1947-2007), who recorded the interview, later became the last director of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe (1989-1994).

The last Voice of America Polish Service on-air radio program to Poland was heard on July 20, 2000 after almost 58 years from the first VOA Polish radio broadcast in 1942. Internet and feed service to radio and TV affiliates in Poland continued until May 2004.

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Z.

Zbigniew Brzezinski o Jałcie – About Yalta, 1985

In an article for the Winter 1984/1985 issue of Foreign Affairs, “A Divided Europe: The Future of Yalta,” Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote that “Yalta is unfinished business. Forty years after the fateful Crimean meeting of February 4-11, 1945, between the Allied Big Three of World War II, much of our current (1984/1985) preoccupation with Yalta focuses on its myth rather than on its continuing historical significance.”

Dr. Brzezinski made the following comments (in English) about Yalta to the Voice of America (VOA) in February 1985:

Dr. Brzezinski: Yalta was also the last opportunity for the West, and notably for the United States, to have done something significant to avert the division of Europe.

After all, the Anglo-American democracies were infinitely more powerful than the Soviet Union.

And, instead of trying to shape a more constructive European system close to the end of the war, while at Yalta, the Western leaders in effect caved in.

And, while they did not give away Eastern Europe to the Soviets — the Soviets already had it, and it had been given away at Teheran — they failed to use the opportunity to try to shape an arrangement for Europe, which would have averted what subsequently evolved, namely: the partition of Europe.

Yalta has thus become the symbol of that partition.

I think they could have pressed Stalin to accept arrangements in Central Europe which would have been more palatable and which would have probably also helped to avoid not only the subsequent division of Europe but also the American-Soviet Cold War in Europe.

Their naivete seems to have dominated their thinking.

Certainly, the arrangements for democracy in Eastern Europe were left for Stalin to execute. And, one should have had some idea how Stalin interprets democracy, on the basis of Soviet experience.

Link to audio in Polish.

Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service director Ted Lipien interviewed Dr. Brzezinski about his article and his proposed solutions to ending the division of Europe. Brzezinski stated that Western leaders had not agreed at Yalta to the division of Europe, but at the same time they were naive and did not press Stalin to insure that free elections would in fact be carried out in Poland and in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe under Soviet military domination.

This is the part of the interview (in Polish) dealing with Yalta. In the rest of the interview, Dr. Brzezinski stressed that the return of Central and Eastern Europe to the rest of Europe needs to be a largely European process with strong encouragement from the United States.

Ted Lipien: W opublikowanym przez pana niedawno artykule poświęconym konferencji jałtańskiej i jej następstwom, zauważa pan, ze wbrew powszechnie rozpowszechnionej opinii, Zachód nie zgodził się w Jałcie na podział Europy. Dlaczego więc Jałta stala się tym symbolem zdobycia przez Rosję dominacji nad Europą Wschodnią?

Zbigniew Brzezinski: Dlatego, ze jednym z następstw Jałty był istotnie podział Europy, oraz w Jalcie, Zachód, a w szczegolnosci Amerykanie i Anglosasi, nie wykorzystali możliwosci by wywrzec nacisk na Stalina i na Sowietów w kierunku ustanowienia czegoś we Wschodniej Europie i Centralnej Europie co by bardziej odpowiadało aspiracjom ludów zamieszkujących ten region Europy.

Ted Lipien: Czy fakt, ze Armia Czerwona zajęła większość obszarów Europy Wschodniej nie przesądził właściwie o przyszłości politycznej tej części świata.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: Niekoniecznie. Dlatego, że jednocześnie Związek Sowiecki był wyczerpany wojną, i bardziej skoncentrowany i politycznie inteligentny nacisk ze strony Zachodu skierowany na osiągnięcie pewnych konkretnych celów — nie przesadnych ale konkretnych — sądzę mógł byłby mieć pozytywny rezultat.

W każdym razie wiemy tylko to, że tego nacisku nie było, tego rodzaju prób nie było.

W Jałcie była deklaracja o demokracji w Europie Wschodniej, ale wykonanie tej deklaracji pozostawiono całkowicie w rękach Stalina.

Wiedząc jak Stalin interpretuje demokrację, można było z góry przewidzieć jaki będzie rezultat tego rodzaju rozwiązania.

L.

Lech Walesa on Importance of Voice of America in Poland’s Struggle for Freedom and Democracy

“Nie wyobrażalne jest by mogło to mieć miejsce tak szybko i tak skutecznie gdyby nie Głos Ameryki.” — Lech Wałęsa, 2002.

“It is not conceivable that it would have happened so quickly and so effectively if not for the Voice of America.” — Lech Wałęsa, 2002.

October 5, 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of the Nobel Committee announcement that the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to Lech Wałęsa — a news event covered extensively by the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service, Radio Free Europe and other Polish-language Western media.

June 4 and June 18, 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of the first post-World War II partly-free Polish parliamentary elections, which resulted in the resounding victory of the Solidarity opposition and paved the way to the fall of Communism in Poland.

Link to audio.

In an interview with Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service reporter Maria Bnińska, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa spoke in 2002 about the importance of VOA – Głos Ameryki – to the people in Poland during the Cold War when the country was under communist rule and local media were controlled and censored by the Communist Party.

Link to video.

Lech Wałęsa: “Oczywiście, ja, to co powiem, to jest ogólnie znane.

Trudno sobie wyobrazić — kiedy u nas obowiązywał system komunistyczny, kiedy zostaliśmy zdradzeni i kiedy nie zaniechaliśmy walki — żeby nie było innych ośrodków, które by zachęcały, może nie zachęcały ale pokazywały, udowadniały, mówiły prawdę, mówiły o tym co się dzieje tu i gdzie indziej — czego my sprawdzić nie mogliśmy będąc odcięci od prawdziwej informacji, walcząc w ograniczonych możliwościach.

Dlatego trudno sobie wyobrazić co by było gdyby nie było Głosu Ameryki i innych jeszcze źródeł przez które przeciskała się informacja prawdziwa, która pokazywała inny punkt widzenia, która mówiła o tym, że nie jesteśmy sami i że coś się w kraju dzieje, bo nasze publikatory tego nie robiły.

W związku z tym powiem krótko, nie byłoby tego co mamy bez tego wycinku propagandowego, który mieścił się w Głosie Ameryki. Nie wyobrażalne jest by mogło to mieć miejsce tak szybko i tak skutecznie gdyby nie Głos Ameryki.

Już jako dziecko pamiętam jak moi rodzice, ukrywając się, słuchali wolego słowa Głosu Ameryki i Wolnej Europy i innych. Ja też słuchałem, słuchałem kiedy oni słuchali.

I w związku z tym, budził się sprzeciw, i informacja i prawdziwy obraz, który ma miejsce tu i w wolnym świecie.

I dlatego wielka chwała Głosowi Ameryki i innym środkom, które pozwoliły nam na przetrwanie, na prawdziwe informacje, na porównywanie informacji, i tak dalej, i tak dalej.”

Lech Wałęsa:“Of course, what I’m about to say is well known.

It is hard to imagine – when the communist system was still in existence, when we had been betrayed but did not give up the fight — if there were would have been no other media that could encourage, may be not encourage, but to show, to provide the proof, to speak the truth, to speak about what was happening here and elsewhere — something we could not see for ourselves, being cut off from the real information, and fighting within our limited capabilities.

Therefore, it is difficult to imagine what would have happened if it were not for the Voice of America and other sources with the help of which the true information squeezed through, which showed a different point of view, which said that we are not alone and that something is happening in the country — because our mass media did not do that.

Therefore, I will say it briefly — we would not have what we have without the segment of propaganda, which was found in the Voice of America. It is not conceivable that it would have happened so quickly and so effectively if not for the Voice of America.

Even as a child I remember how my parents surreptitiously listened to the free word of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, and others.

I also listened. I listened when they were listening.

And because of that, opposition was awaken, and the information and the real image of what was taking place here and in the free world.

And so, the great glory to the Voice of America and other media that had enabled us to survive, [gave us] the real information, [ability] to compare information, and so on, and so forth.”

Link to video.

Maria Bnińska: What does the 50th anniversary of the Voice of America mean for you?

Lech Wałęsa: I think, it is the present victory; its role in this victory.

At the same time, it is contribution to general knowledge, my own and for generations that lived through this period.

Many did not see the effects of their work.

We must remember many, in history and in everything else; they have made a great contribution.

This is, I think, for today the great contribution of the Voice of America.

Maria Bnińska: Co dla pana oznacza i czym jest dla pana piędziesięciolecie (2002) Głosu Ameryki?

Lech Wałęsa: No myslę, że obecnym zwycięstwem, udziale w tym zwycięstwie.

Jednocześnie jest to uzupełnieniem wiedzy ogólnej, tak moim jak i pokoleń, które w tym okresie przewinęły się.

Wielu nie doczekało efektów swojej pracy.

O wielu musimy pamiętać, i w historii i w tym wszystkim, że mają wielki wkład.

To tym, myslę, tylko i wyłącznie na dzisiaj jest ta wielka zasługa jaką jest Głos Ameryki.