- After October ’56, Mieczysław Rakowski became the editor-in-chief of “Polityka”. In the 1980s he was at the top of the government. He was the Prime Minister and last First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party
- Rakowski, who met President Kennedy in 1962, was amazed at America. There were situations where he couldn’t quite find himself
- Rakowski, in his thirties, although proficient in three foreign languages, was uncomfortable in exclusive restaurants, unable to operate orange juice machines and was astonished at unrounded US prices, historian says.
- After Rakowski returned from the United States, the then First Secretary of the Central Committee of the PZPR, Władysław Gomułka, was furious. “You went to America, asked to be sent, and how did you behave there? Like a liberal” – he said
- dr. Przeperski recalls that during martial law, when Rakowski was the deputy prime minister of the PRL government, repression against political opponents reached an unprecedented level since Stalinist times.
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He was an officer in the Polish army, student of party schools and after October 1956 he became editor-in-chief of the weekly magazine Polityka. In the 1980s he was at the top of power – as Deputy Prime Minister, Prime Minister, member of the party authorities and finally the last First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party. The figure of Mieczysław Rakowski is remembered in his book by Dr. Przeperski.
– Mieczysław Rakowski is today most often associated with either the “flag” of the last Communist Party Congress, or with the astonishingly liberal economic reforms aimed at restoring the dying economy of the Polish People’s Republic. His adventures in the 1960s, when he was quite young and already an esteemed companion, are few if not at all his adventures traveling the world as a showcase of Polish communism – tells Onet, the author of the book “Mieczysław Rakowski. Political Biography”.
dr. Michal Przeperskic
Nuclear war on the horizon. Rakowski talks to Kennedy
dr. Przeperski writes about Rakowski’s travels and places special emphasis on his visit to the United States. In the early 1950s and 1960s, the then editor-in-chief of Polityka tried unsuccessfully to obtain permission from the Central Committee to travel to the United States. When Rakowski got such permission, it was 1962.
During his stay, he had nearly 150 meetings with scientists, politicians, journalists and civil society activists. But the most important was undoubtedly the meeting with President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on September 9, 1962 in Newport.
– Hardly anyone could afford a few months’ trip to the US then, let alone talk about the meeting with President John F. Kennedy. Such an honor was experienced not only by the editors of such popular weekly newspapers as Polityka, but also by the leaders of communist countries. Meanwhile, in September 1962, just weeks before the height of the global political crisis, which nearly ended in nuclear war, Rakowski was chatting with Kennedy as if nothing had happened, and furthermore – as indicated by US documents – he subtly took distance itself from the anti-American rhetoric of the communists. It was something unheard of – emphasizes the historian.
Why did Kennedy meet Rakowski? “The State Department documents leave no doubt that it was the president’s coincidence and goodwill, as well as the mediation of his family,” writes Dr. Przeperski.
“Strangely enough, the machines work flawlessly”
Rakowski was taken by surprise by America and there were situations where he couldn’t quite find himself. – On a visit to the US, this export communist was enchanted by modernity and tinsel, which was impossible to imagine under the conditions of the gray, rough communist regime in Poland. Rakowski in his thirties, although he could speak three foreign languages, at the same time felt uncomfortable in exclusive restaurants, could not operate orange juice machines and was amazed at the unrounded American prices, says Onet’s interlocutor.
“We play with the machines. Colossal. You throw in ten cents, press a button and a paper glass (e.g. with orange juice) plus the inherent ice pops out right in front of you. What’s weird, the machines work flawlessly” – Rakowski constantly noted the impression of the States.
A charge against Rakowski. Gomułka was furious
A visit to the US and a meeting with Kennedy increased his prestige, but also caused him problems. A declaration signed with first and last name from the Polish embassy in Washington was delivered to the office of the first secretary of Władysław Gomułka. The author accused Rakowski of committing “countless indiscretions about domestic affairs” during his visit to the United States and expressing “excessive admiration for American reality”.
Gomułka did not hide his anger. When Rakowski returned to the country, he heard from the first secretary: “Damn, here’s a man thinking about your perspective, about an activist […] [a wy] You went to America, asked to be deployed, and how did you behave there? Like a liberal.
– The image of the “liberal” is very permanently associated with the figure of Rakowski, but you have to look very closely at such misleading labels. Above all, he was a man of the radical left and a very ambitious politician, his ‘liberalism’ was therefore contractual and dependent on the context of the moment. Under martial law, when Rakowski was deputy prime minister of the government of the Polish People’s Republic, repression against political opponents reached a level unprecedented since Stalinist times, the historian emphasizes.
Onet’s interlocutor states that Rakowski is a multidimensional figure full of contradictions. – Thanks to the fact that he left behind many volumes of daily newspapers, we can not only recreate the details of his political career, but also observe almost the entire history of communist Poland through his eyes. However, beware! The ten-volume edition of Political Diaries is very different from the original diaries—kept in the archives of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University—that form the basis of my book.
– It allowed us to review everything we knew about Rakowski so far. Or rather, what he wanted to tell us about himself and his time – notes Dr. Przeperski op.
Michał Przeperski – born 1986, doctor of history, collaborator of the Institute of History of Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences, specializing in the history of Central Europe in the 20th century. He studied history and law at the University of Warsaw and also studied history at the Central European University in Budapest. Author of the books “Hot Thirties. Events That Shaked the Republic of Poland”, “The Unbearable Burden of Brotherhood. Polish-Czech Conflicts in the 20th Century”, and “Mieczysław F. Rakowski. Political Biography”. Winner of the “New Books” award for the best book (2017) and award in the competition for the best historical debut of the year. Wladyslaw Pobog-Malinowski (2012).
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