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Adam Michnik: His essays do nothing more than settle old scores (credit: Stephan Röhl/Heinrich-Böll-Siftung)

This book contains five essays. The print is large, as is the spacing; there are 14 lines to a page. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the margins are wide. This would work out at roughly 70 standard pages of text. Luckily there is an index, so one needn't despair of ever again finding that elusive reference. And the book is divided into two parts, so one can easily find what one wants by subject. Part I, about morality and politics, contains two essays. Part II, about the French Revolution, contains three. Six people — an editor, the two authors of the six-page foreword, and three translators — toiled in this book's production. It is published by a great scholarly press. Despite this, it appears from the notes that a man called Berlin (no given name is provided) wrote a book called The Crooked Timber — Irving, perhaps, or the owner of a sawmill.

The first essay is devoted to the "moral vision" of Willy Brandt, whose chief characteristic in Michnik's eyes seems to be that he was an "anti-fascist". He is thus described three times, in phrases such as "the chancellor and anti-fascist". As in the Soviet Union, where "anti-fascist" was equated with "Communist" and "fascist" with "anti-Communist", "anti-fascist" seems to be the highest term of praise in Michnik's vocabulary. "Anti-Communist" is, in perfect accordance with this logic, a term of abuse.

Michnik praises Brandt's "moral criteria", displayed when he knelt down in front of the monument to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto — a gesture said to have shocked the politicians of the Western world, although it remains unclear why it should have done so. It is then asserted that for Brandt, as for Michnik and those Eastern European dissidents of whom he approves, politics was "not a means of realising the interests of specific social groups, but a struggle to rescue values". You could, as they say, have fooled me.

The rest of the essay is, somewhat bizarrely, a history lesson on Ostpolitik and an apologia for General Jaruzelski. Michnik quotes with approval Brandt's belief that Jaruzelski was a Polish patriot who saved Poland from Soviet intervention, and later explicitly expresses his own belief that "martial law was decidely a lesser evil than possible Soviet intervention". But we now know from a variety of Soviet archival sources, and have known for many years, that the Soviets did not intend to "intervene"; proof of this is available and has been published. We also know that Jaruzelski knew this perfectly well.

Michnik also neglects to mention, when speaking of Polish anti-Semitism, that at the time of the government's anti-Semitic campaign of 1968 Jaruzelski, having been promoted from his position as chief political officer in the army to that of chief of staff, was responsible for the army newspaper, which was incomparably more virulently anti-Semitic than any other organ of the Polish press.

But it is during the second essay — against lustration — that this book turns; the purpose of the rest appears to be to serve as props, designed to ram home the point in a variety of less than subtle ways — for example, through references to Sulla's proscriptions and McCarthy's "witch-hunts". "Lustration" refers to the process of identifying Communist collaborators (informers), making their names known and possibly, but not necessarily, banning them from holding public office for a period of time. In some Eastern European countries, such as the Czech Republic, it was successfully carried out; in Poland it was not, and remains a subject of controversy.

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