In Memory of Bronisław Geremek

Warsaw – When a friend dies unexpectedly, we recall his face, his smile, the conversations forever unfinished. Today I can see Bronisław Geremek, who died in a car crash a few weeks ago, in jail in Białołęka and hear his hoarse shouts from behind the bars of the prison on Rakowiecka Street. I see and hear Bronek in Castel Gandolfo, addressing Pope John Paul II.

I see him also during underground meetings of “Solidarity” and during the 1989 Round Table negotiations; I see him in our parliament declaring the end of the Polish People’s Republic, and on CNN announcing that Poland had joined NATO. And I remember dozens of private conversations, discussions, and arguments conducted over almost 40 years.

Bronisław Geremek was one of us, to quote the words of Joseph Conrad, a writer whom Geremek admired. He was an activist in the democratic opposition and in Solidarity, who fought for Polish independence and human freedom, and who paid a high price for it. He was one who wanted to remain true to the tradition of the January Uprising and the Legions of Józef Piłsudski, to the tradition of the insurgents of the Warsaw ghetto and Warsaw Uprising, to the values of the Polish October and the student revolt of 1968, to the values of KOR (Workers’ Defense Committee) and of “Solidarity.”

Geremek knew that exclusion and enslavement destroy human dignity, and degrade our humanity. He knew that dictatorships lead to moral shabbiness. He valued freedom, authentic knowledge, independent thought, the courage of nonconformity, the spirit of resistance, the beauty of Polish romanticism, disinterested behavior, and human dignity. He reacted to moral shabbiness with revulsion, but also with fear. He saw it as a source of disposable masses, a human reservoir for totalitarian movements.