If you’re not as old as I am, protest every day to restore democracy. The situation here in Poland pains me deeply. They have destroyed many things I fought for my whole life. Especially freedom.
The words that Lech Wałęsa delivered to Tonia Mastrobuoni are striking. The hero of Gdansk, if he was not by the grace of God still alive, would be completely erased from the Poland of today.And with him the memory itself of the Solidarność revolution, a historic passage that has become embarrassing for the current Polish leaders, with the explosive charge of the desire for freedom and democracy that was part of that revolution, and which determined its success. So much so that in some schoolbooks, in the chapter dedicated to Solidarność, the picture of the leading father of that revolution has vanished and has been replaced by that of the twins Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczyński, who at the time were at the side of the electrician from Popowwho rose to win the Nobel Peace prize, and were for two decades the absolute masters of politics in Poland. First in tandem, one being the president of the republic and the other the prime minister, then only Jaro, following Lech’s death in a plane crash in Smolensk. The surviving twin and his court transformedthat tragic event into a sort of dark legend against the Enemy to be cultivated and fed, one of the bases that became the foundation of the ideological power that has taken over Poland,and which revolves around Jaro, the strongman of the regime even if he is formally only a member of the Sejm, the lower chamber of parliament.
The conversation with Wałęsa is one of the many collected by Mastrobuoni in Poland and Hungary and is the one that politically most characterizes almost a decade of extraordinary work undertaken by the journalist from Repubblica in two countries – the “heart of Europe” – and condensed into a recently published book, L’erosione. The Poland of Wałęsabecame the symbol of possible liberation from the dominion of the up to then undisputed Soviet power within the center of Europe. For this reason, Wałęsa’s words cited above are shocking, going beyond a denouncement of the gravity of the contingent situation. The few decades between us and the events of Gdansk have transformed the country, making it one of the main players in Europe, thanks to hated Europe itself, a country that today is also militarily strong; at the same time, this growth has been accompanied by the total overturning of the spirit and the desires that animated that revolt led by Wałęsa to the point that the current situation now resembles – albeit in very differentpolitical and economic packaging – the conditions of oppression and arbitrary power of the Soviet era, while lacking even those glimpses of freedom, clandestine and otherwise, that also existed under the mantle of real socialism.
Hungary too, during the era of the bipolar world, was considered a relatively advanced Eastern bloc country, relatively free, marked by the unforgettable revolt of 1956. Today, along with Warsaw, Budapest is the nerve center of an ideological and political offensive – with all the necessary temporal relativizations – that seems as though it is being carried out by hierarchies and ideologies redolent of “Suslov” in the Brezhnev era.
A special correspondent and a true investigative journalist, Tonia Mastrobuoni has traveled far and wide in the two countries, oncemarginal in the media, and today very often at the center of the news, unfortunately, for the enterprises of disturbing personalities, even as humans, such as Hungary’s Orban and Poland’s Kaczyński and their related clans. It’s a power that is gradually consolidating, occupying all possible positions and nodes and destroying the important distinction and counterweight between the government, parliament, the justice system and the information system, and making the very hypothesis of political change increasingly difficult. In the meantime, they are trying to destroy any organized forms of political and social opposition. Theirs is an incessant activity fed by campaigns of denigration, falsehood and hatred towards “non-traditional” lifestyles, against individual rights and women’s rights, up to forms of personal intimidation and physical violence, all seasoned with abundant quantities of antisemitism, racism, homophobia and sexism, in short the whole repertoire of that which today is part of the categories of nationalism, “democratorship” and other definitions. Terms which, however, do not give a full account, as one gets from reading Mastrobuoni’s book, of the torsion these societies are experiencing, elevated to the position of laboratories and models that make converts.
Poland has been transformed into the most advanced laboratory of an international obscurantism that has taken root in the USA, in Russian and in a handful of other countries – and which has great hopes for Italy.
Reading Tonia’s book gives one chills. It is a story recorded live, rich in data, well argued, well organized and very readable. It is a gallery of extraordinary characters. There is a crescendo of anxiety that comes over the reader from the testimonies that Tonia has collected, encountering those who, truly heroically, risk their own skin, it must be said, to challenge the power and their police.
Much is owed to them by the many Poles and Hungarians forced to suffer in silence like what happens under despotic regimes. But we too – the other Europeans – owe a lot to them, to their resistance, and this is precisely this word that best captures their struggle. But we – as do they, the resisters – also owe much to the European Union, the only counterweight to the excessive power of the neo-despots.
If there was no EU, despite its limitations and slowness, the nightmare of a new, even worse, Soviet era would already be a reality in Warsaw and Budapest.
PS. Just as we were about to publish this review, news arrived of the victory of Alternative für Deutschland in Sonneberg, Thuringia. For the first time in Germany a candidate from an extreme right-wing party, AfD, has been elected to lead the Landrat, the regional parliament. His name is Robert Sesselmann.
Translated by Paul Rosenberg