It is not my intention to offer here a biography of my close friend Adam Michnik. I just want to offer some responses, hopefully informed, to the following question: Why does Adam Michnik matter? He matters because in times of infamy, he raised his voice and suffered for this. He matters because he has a moral compass and some of us regard it as persuasively indispensable. He matters because he does not yield to nativism, tribalism, clericalism, militarism, Orbanism, Putinism, LePenism, Trumpism, populism, and other political pathologies. I dedicate this thext to the memory of Leonidas Donskis.
Adam Michnik in Vilnius, Lithuania
Minima moralia: In “Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors,” one of his most influential essays–and also one of my favorites–, Adam Michnik wrote about Piisudski, but in fact about himself: “…his is not simply a national but also a very human perspective. It is not patriotic and political concerns but my own concerns, my own good that inspire me to fight. This will rescue me from sinking into the anonymous, shapeless mass of the depraved, captive, and obedient.” (“Letters from Prison,” University of California Press, 1985, p. 210)
Image: Adam Michnik, Warsaw, December 1981
Cosmopolis: “By his actions, always nonviolent, Michnik established the unity of his premises and conclusions. I would draw your attention to a hypothesis: capable of seeing greatness in the past in people like Gandhi, we may fail to see what takes place in the present. If this hypothesis is correct, Michnik is one of those who bring honor to the last two decades of the twentieth century, even if a film on his life will not be produced soon.” (Czesław Miłosz, Foreword to Adam Michnik, “Letters from Prison and Other Essays,” translated by Maya Latynski, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985, p. XV)
I mourn here here the loss of a dear friend, historian and public intellectual Mihnea Berindei (1948-2016). I have known Mihnea since 1985, we have been involved in numerous anti-totalitarian activities. He was the soul of the democratic exile in Paris, closely linked to Soviet and East European dissident circles. He invited me to contribute to journals such as “La nouvelle alternative” and “L’autre Europe.” He organized solidarity campaigns with Paul Goma, Vasile Paraschiv, Doina Cornea, Mihai Botez, Radu Filipescu, Dorin Tudoran and other dissidents. He arrived in Bucharest immediately after the fall of the Ceausescu regime and participated in the creation of the Group for Social Dialogue and its weekly, “22.” He co-authored an impressively documented and immensely illuminating book about the June 1990 state-backed violent repression of Romania’s emerging civil society. In 2006, Mihnea served as a member of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania. Words cannot describe his total commitment to the writing of the Final Report.
A few years ago, in Paris, Mihnea accompanied Horia Patapievici, Mircea Mihaies, and me to Monica Lovinescu’s and Virgil Ierinca’s house on Rure Francois Pinton. Graciously, he gave us permission to choose, each of us, one book from the late couple’s legendary library. I chose Boris Souvarine’s “Staline” with Monica’s annotations. Two features merged in Mihnea’s marvelous personality: noblesse and largesse. I was the beneficiary of both. In May 2012, when the ten PM Victor Ponta fired Ionan Stanomir and me from the leadership of the Institute the Investigation of the Crimes of Communism, Mihnea resigned from the Sceintific Board, together with all the other members. Mary Sladek and me extend our deepest sympathy to Catherine and Vlad. Mihnea Berindei’s name belongs to the history of honor in Romania. May he rest in peace!
On the World Poetry Day, let me pay tribute to a poet who defended the honor of the Cuban letters in one of the world’s worst despotisms. Blessed be the memory of Heberto Padilla (Born: January 20, 1932, Consolación del Sur, Cuba; Died: September 25, 2000, Auburn, Alabama). As a reviewer in TLS memorably put it: “All Padilla’s qualities–irritability, skepticism, broad reading, intellectual curiosity, restlessness and a suicidal outspokenness–were bound to exasperate monoman…iacs like Fidel and Raul Castro.”
Now I am determined to forgive everything
In order to cleanse my tired heart,
Open it only to love’s fatigue.
And so, those who are directly at fault
For my furies, the determined craftsmen of my sorrows
Are declared innocent once I finish this poem.
(“Sorrow and Forgiveness”)
En la foto estamos Heberto Padilla, Roque Dalton y yo (Guillermo R. Rivera). El mar que ves detrás es el de Varadero. Es febrero de 1967 y estamos conmemorando el centenario de Rubén Darío, con el auspicio de Casa de las Américas. Heberto tiene 34 años, Roque 31 y yo 23. No tenemos ni idea de lo que nos espera.
Svetlana Alexievich is right when she quotes Hannah Arendt: Russia and Belarus live in dark times. For the author of “The Origins of Totalitarianism” dark times refer to an age in which human rights are despised and demagogic mountebanks enjoy huge mass support. Elections in Lukashenka’s Belarus? What a grotesque joke! Democracy in Putin’s kleptocratic Russia? The apotheosis of masquerading! “It isn’t about Putin. It’s about the collective Putin. He has a huge approval rating, perhaps 80 percent.”