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Wildstein: I understood that Catholicism is my fate

With great effort and great trouble we are, eventually, able to replace one’s national community for another one, but to live alone – we are not. A man is not an individual being. We live in a community. This is what makes us human – says Bronisław Wildstein, writer, essayist, publicist, opposition activist in the communist Poland.

TVP WEEKLY: On Saturday 11 June 2022 you will celebrate your 70th birthday. You have played many roles in your life, including that of a dissident, journalist, publicist, writer. Which one do you feel you are?

BRONISŁAW WILDSTEIN: A writer. I knew I was going to be one from an early age. My first attempts, very naive of course, were made at the age of 12. Admittedly, I made my official debut quite late, with the novel “Jak woda” [Like Water] in 1989 – I was 37 years old – but even before that, I was writing all the time. I use various forms, mainly literary, but I also try to analyse reality more theoretically in essays, or do more ad hoc journalism. Nevertheless, it is writing.

How did this passion start?

I have always been interested in literature. When I could not yet read, my father used to read books aloud to me. And once I learnt to read, I quite quickly turned to serious books, for example by Aldous Huxley. I also read literary criticism, some essays. I was always interested in the world. I reflected on its colourfulness. And on the fact that it would be worthwhile to understand it somehow, and therefore to describe it.

Which artists inspired you in your youth?

This was changing, depending on the age. Anyway, it would be a shame to refer to some now…

You seem to have had a weakness for the work of the existentialists.

At the age of 18, I read “Filozofia egzystencjalna” [Existential Philosophy], an anthology compiled by Leszek Kołakowski and Krzysztof Pomian. With difficulty, because it is not an easy read, but I was fascinated by it. I read André Malraux very early. And when I was 17 – Samuel Beckett. This is the kind of literature that is worth coming back to. Just like William Shakespeare, whom I have been reading all my life. I started when I was 12 – I got bits and pieces of his work that inspired me.

I also reached out for poetry. At first, Julian Tuwim, but early on I also read “The Iliad and the Odyssey”. I liked Polish Romantics, the works of Juliusz Słowacki, who interested me more than Adam Mickiewicz. To understand Mickiewicz, however, you need to be more mature.

Apart from literature, however, you also had many worries on your mind.

When I was 16 my father died of cancer. I quickly had to take responsibility for myself. My mother could not take care of me because she was very ill. Rather, it was me taking care of her. In general, I had a somewhat peculiar childhood. My father was the commandant of a military hospital. We lived on its grounds. So I didn’t have a normal yard where I could spend time with my peers. But as a child, the yard has a socialising role. That’s why entering the world was a bit more difficult for me. But I had to manage somehow.

You have Jewish roots on your father’s side. From the Six-Day War in June 1967, the communist authorities began feeding anti-Semitist behaviours, culminating in March ‘68. How did you feel about that atmosphere?

It wasn’t that important to me, because at home I didn’t really talk about my Jewish roots. Although I suspected that my father was Jewish. With time, however, I became sensitive to anti-Semitic remarks. Whenever they appeared in my environment, I reacted immediately. Sometimes it ended in a fight.

My reaction was not one of fear. Rather, it was a sense of frustration related to the stupidity and meanness of people revealed in this way. I was less than 16 years old during March ‘68, but I was already mature enough to know that this was an organised action of the authorities. And that there were certain people who succumbed to the communist narrative, unleashing their dark side.

You are a Catholic. But when you were young, the Church did not go your way. Probably under the influence of your father, who held dear Marxist views.

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By Łukasz Lubański

Translated by jz

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