Poland glossary








ex-journalist/local MP/chairman of local NGO




July 1999



Section 1
Well, if you were to ask me who I am and where I come from, I would briefly say that my name is Krzysztof Komornicki, I am 57 years old. I have lived here for 22 years, over 22 years, in this small village of Wójtowice. I am married, my wife’s name is Dorota, and I have two daughters: Ola and Zuzanna, as well as a son by my first wife, he lives in Warszawa, is over 6 feet tall and he’s in his thirties already. But I don’t have grandchildren yet. And I was born in Krakow... I have done various things in my life, first of all, I studied for 10 years. That was a very nice period, then I worked as a journalist, then I got offended by the socialist government. I gave up the high life in Warszawa and I came here in the 1970s, in autumn 1976, in order to disappear from Warszawa and keep as far away as possible from it. And I started breeding sheep. That would do as an introduction.

Well, maybe we could start with your childhood. What was it like? Have you got any nice memories of your childhood?
We were living in Krakow. I was born during the war. I remember only two or three war scenes. Although my relatives won’t believe me that I do remember. When the Germans arrived in Krakow, I was only two and a half years old. Later, we moved from Krakow to Zabrze, where I went to the primary school, and where my father worked from dawn till dusk. My mother went to Krakow every week, to the Jagiellonian University, to complete her studies – classical philology. I don’t have particularly good memories of Silesia, the times were rough. Half of the class spoke German, and our teachers, the headmaster and all, they treated those Germans – 10-12-year old children after all – with unbelievable brutality. They had their hair shaven off if they were caught speaking German. Those memories fill me with disgust. But that’s what the times were like. Some time later, my father was moved to Warszawa, where we all moved together with him. There, I graduated from the Traugutt Secondary School, together with my younger sister. At one point, my younger brother was moved to a technical secondary school, and he was living in a dormitory, rather far away from us.
I took up studying physics at the University of Warszawa, but I was relegated from it after the first year. So I tried my luck at the Mediterranean Archaeology in Poznan, I took my entrance examinations there. Well, that will be the end of my childhood, won’t it? Now I’m talking about myself as a student. When I was in the fifth year of studies, I went to the west. I stayed in England for five years, then there were four years in France, where I studied at the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris. I returned to Poland in 1968, at the end of 1968, and I got a job as a journalist with PAP (Polish Press Agency). I worked as a journalist in Warszawa for several years, until 1976, when I made the decision that eventually led me to being interviewed by you right now. And because the events that took place in Poland in 1976 made me ‘downgrade’ myself [laughter] as an intellectual, I decided to start life anew here, in this God-forsaken place.
Section 2
Before 1976, where did you live? What did you do?
Well, I lived in Warszawa and, as I said, I was a journalist. I wrote here and there. My speciality was international affairs, but not only - I also wrote about social problems. I travelled a bit. I was a member of Gierek’s team specialising in American mass media. When he went to the States, I was busy finalising the so-called “third basket agreements” of the Conference for Safety and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki. For some time, I was a PAP foreign correspondent in London. I was an active member of a youth organisation, then I belonged to the party, but I always thought about myself as of a bit of a heretic - someone who always spoke their mind. As a consequence, various things happened to me that eventually lead me to where I ended up.

What was the reason for your coming here?
Yeah, that was the sharpest turning point in my life. I don’t think I will ever make a similarly sharp one. And I had never taken a similar one before. Namely, I can give you a brief version of what happened. Well, as you probably know, Gierek’s reign started quite pleasantly, so to say. Gomulka and his version of socialism collapsed on all fronts. Gierek opened Poland to the west, to Western money, to loans that we didn’t know how to use and which we are still paying back and we will for a long, long time to come, well into the 21st century. But generally, it wasn’t as bad as the Gomulka system. We were able to travel to the west a bit, it was easier to obtain a passport. But everything started turning wrong, because that socialism of theirs – we didn’t know that at the time, though – turned out to be non-reformable. And everything started to break down. And the journalists, at least those who had some remnants of their conscience, they had problems coming to terms with what they were writing about. There were also those who wrote for the regime and at its request: those didn’t have any problems. But those who really tried to address the public opinion, wanted to convey something through their writing, they were having more and more serious problems of remorse, the gap between what they described as reality and the reality itself was growing wider and wider. [The telephone rings]
Well, and in this way, as we remember – or maybe only my generation remembers – the June 1976 events in Radom, Ursus - but not only there - happened. When the working class eventually said: No, we’ve had enough. All of that was rather brutally extinguished, all those so-called Radom and Ursus protests. Numerous participants were brutally beaten up, sacked from work, persecuted. Shortly afterwards, a whole series of show trials ensued. As a journalist, I was admitted to the courtroom in the Warszawa Court of Justice, where the Ursus trials were held. It was so unbelievably surreal that after two, three days of watching those trials, that courtroom, I just... Can you turn [the tape] off?
[After a short break] So, after two, three days of watching the courtroom, of the trials, talking to the people there, their families, who were not allowed into the courtroom at all... I decided not to participate in all that [laughter]. I disappeared for a few days, together with a couple of friends of mine, so that I could get some time to digest all that, and I decided I would disappear, change my life somehow. I decided to move away, to move to the country, find a farm or something, as far away from Warszawa as possible. I started looking for a place in the Suwalki neighbourhood. The region was rather gloomy and empty, although there were rather large German farms still waiting to be taken. However, I didn’t think it was good for me. I thought they were a bit too large, I wouldn’t be able to cope. After all, I couldn’t tell a bull from a cow, and there I was facing the possibility of taking over such a huge farm. So, I took the opposite direction in my searches, I found myself in the Sudety Mountains, where I had a couple of friends. When I got there, I found a small 9 hectare farm, situated at a slope of a hill, with an old – 250-year old - house, and I fell in love with the place on the spot. That’s how I got where I am now.
Section 3
What did your relatives think about all that?
My family thought it was just a whim, some sort of madness. They did share my view that I was participating in something unpleasant, that I had a right to feel remorse, working at the ideological front, i.e. praising what should be condemned. But they thought I was not fit for such a drastic change, I would end up sadly, follow the downward path, and within a month I would either become an alcoholic or just an unhappy, sad human being. They knew I had no idea about farming, what breeding livestock is. Not to mention the fact that I had never been in a small village, with all its virtues, but also all its disadvantages at the same time. But above all, they knew I was a born adventurer, always on the lookout for adventures that you can experience in the so-called big world, that I loved banquets, diplomatic parties etc. True, I’d attended almost all [laughs] that I’d ever been invited to. I had friends in the various circles that you will not get to deal with in a small, mountainous village 500 kilometres away from Warszawa. But I made my point and eventually disappeared.

What were your first steps here? What did you do when you first arrived?
Well, the people from whom I bought this farm were still living here for two, three months after I arrived, and they taught me a lot. They taught me how to use a small, mountain tractor that I’d acquired together with the rest of the farm. They taught me how to take the sheep out to the pasture – they still had a small herd at that time, a herd that they eventually sold to me anyway. They introduced me to a few neighbours, without whom I wouldn’t live long around here. Those neighbours were to teach me the basics first of all. I didn’t know how to change fuses, I didn’t know how to mow, to milk cows. As I said, I couldn’t tell a bull from a cow. But slowly, gradually, one step after another, I got the neighbours used to me, I got them to accept my presence, especially that I never looked down on them, and I always made them aware I felt I was less experienced, more stupid than them. Well, I had problems. You see, I wear glasses, the Polish farmer seldom wears glasses. Besides, I spoke a language of an intellectual from a large town. Because of that, I had to get them accustomed to myself. I knew they thought I was foolish, and said that openly behind my back. And I think that was... my greatest victory, I mean, at one point they started treating me as one of them.

What makes you think so?
Because the socialist division of tasks eventually took place. Namely, they taught me how to use a scythe, milk cows and fence my pasture land so that the sheep didn’t run away, damage their meadows; whereas I wrote applications for them, arranged things in the various offices etc. You know, being simple peasants, they would get told off by the lowest rank clerks. As to myself, with my city street-wisdom, intellectual eloquence, I would go straight to the manager, chairman, director or comrade secretary. Especially that I soon got the fame of having been somewhere high in Warszawa, someone who denied all those black telephones on the desk, a black Volga car and things like that. Because of all that, they would never refuse my requests, just in case I had a powerful backup.
Section 4
So you were treated well later?
Yes. I think it was when I started being invited to weddings and wedding parties that I became a citizen of this village, although everybody would admit I was a bit crazy. They needed me, as it suddenly turned out, just as much as I needed them. I would have never been able to make proper hay without them. I discovered this very special kind of village solidarity, whereby people don’t have to like one another, they may gossip about one another, they may, I don’t know, fight at wedding parties, when drunk. But if there’s one who has got dry hay on the meadow, and a storm is coming, then all the enemies and friends alike, they will all grab their forks and rakes, and they will go and fight against nature arm in arm… with this specific mountain nature, where farming is something rather special. It is nothing like using huge, powerful machines; it’s something totally different.

What were your first impressions when you came here?
I knew there was no turning back. I’d burnt all my bridges. I’d passed the point of no return, therefore I knew I just couldn’t lose. So, even when times were rough, and rough they were like hell, I had to clench my teeth and pretend nothing wrong was happening. I knew it would be difficult to survive. I knew mountain farming, despite the various grants and donations and sources of extra financing, was a hard job. Even though the official, state-imposed prices for food products – and they were ridiculously high, so you couldn’t possibly go bankrupt. My son and wife returned to Warszawa after a year. That was greatest loss resulting from my decision. They couldn’t stand it; I was left alone. Anyway, I knew I couldn’t fail, and that was what motivated me to struggle even more. The awareness that there is no turning away is a force that’s capable of moving mountains.

How do you find living in the mountains now?
Well, today it’s totally different than how it was back then. Today, after the reforms by Balcerowicz, after all the donations, grants and sources of financing agricultural activities in mountainous areas have been withdrawn, now that all the economy has been oriented towards the market, these days growing crops or breeding livestock in its classical form have become rather expensive hobbies. One had to turn to other sources of income. One had to look for more original methods of earning a living. Such as agro-tourism, for example, some sort of small-scale vineyard, some sort of farmers’ self-organisation - one cannot do much here on their own. Unless you are a born loner and think nothing of the world surrounding you. Anyway, these days I am one of what you would call intelligentsia déclassé. There are quite a few of us around here. I know there are many in the Bieszczady Mountains. The Bieszczady used to be fashionable at one time. If you wanted to run away from the city, you would pack up your things and disappear in the Bieszczady.
For the last several years, the intellectuals disappearing from the large cities appear here, in the Sudety Mountains. One of my friends was a psychologist at the University of Wroclaw and a doctor of ecology at the Technical University of Wroclaw. We’ve got an architect here, a naval engineer from the dockyards in Gdansk, to make things even more interesting. At the various turning points in the history of Poland, under the communism and after the collapse of the system, there were people who suddenly decided they’d had enough, they wanted it to be continued without them. So, there was the year 1976, 1981 or even 1989, when the new Poland began, and there have always been people who somehow couldn’t find themselves in the new circumstances, and they ran away. They ran away.
The problem now is to answer the question how I am feeling now. I mean, you cannot forget about your origins, about your past life. And, above all, you cannot forget that there are obligations you still have as an intellectual towards other people. The education you have and the skills, certain extra skills you have, they bring about certain obligations: obligations towards your neighbours, towards the people who know less or have limited abilities. The funny thing is that in time most of us intelligentsia déclassé eventually, as if we woke up, came back to public life. Somehow naturally, we became leaders. For example, in 1980, 1981, when the period of dismantling communism began, I found myself actively involved in the work of the farmers’ trade union. That was the co-op union, but it could as well have been Solidarity of Individual Farmers. I was an activist, I fought for the farmers, I reached the highest, central level. I was elected, in secret elections, to practically everything, also after 1989, when the new Poland began. Then I decided to become an MP. I ran for the post. I was elected. In the end, I found myself looking after various things that were extremely far from farming or livestock breeding. I was active in Parliament although I had promised myself I would never again take up public affairs, that I would never again go into the public life. Was that my inner call? I don’t know... People expect you, intelligentsia déclassé like myself, to represent them, look after their problems, because they think you can do more. They think you know how to represent them, defend their interests. So, the majority of us withdrew from public life, and they later returned to it. On 13 December 1981 (declaration of martial law in Poland) I promised myself I would never... and then it turned out after a few years that I had to take it up again - return to public life and look after others’ problems.
Section 5
What are you doing right now?
A few years ago, I discovered the wonderful world that appeared in our life after 1989. I mean the world of non-government organisations, the various associations. It was a great victory of our “Velvet Revolution” of 1989 that we can finally organise ourselves, that we are free to unite ourselves around some ideas close to our hearts, around citizens’ initiatives, more general or more precisely defined. And I plunged into that world, and I liked it from the very beginning. I was glad to discover that the 40 or 50 years under the regime did not totally destroy us. There was still a lot of potential in us, and the potential exploded in 1989. So now we have here such a small non-government organisation, called Zdanie (“Point of View” Association), and I am its president. There are several members of the organisation, but there are a large number of volunteers. Depending on what we do, there may be, say, 10 volunteers, but they may as well be a thousand.
At the moment, we are most active in the schools, we implement various projects, and we receive all sorts of grants to implement them. That is a very pleasant activity. I think I’m doing what I really like for the first time in my life. Not only what I know how to do, but also what I immensely enjoy doing. One of the things I like most about it is the fact that I do not have a boss or any superior above me – well, that’s been like that for some time now – but also I can immediately see the results of my actions. I do something and it takes, say, only a month to see something new happening. That there is some kind of new thinking, especially when you work with young people. Students and pupils are a very flexible material. You can convey to them almost everything, and if you do it skilfully, working on shaping a new, decent, wise and honest man, it brings effects after only a couple of weeks, a couple of months.
Section 6
Are you glad you made this decision to come here?
I mean, it’s difficult to say if I’m glad. I don’t think I could answer the question whether I’m glad I gave up the life I was leading then. I mean, I think the answer would be yes, I don’t regret. On the contrary, I think it was the wisest choice I could have ever made. I’m living here, surrounded by the beautiful nature, I’ve survived all my hardships - but I think there is no better school of life than difficult times. I overcame them eventually. And as for public life, great politics and so on, in the last 22 or 23 years, whenever there was an opportunity, I returned to it. At one point for almost three years, on another occasion - for two. Then, out of the blue, the Prime Minister offered me a chance to reform the Polish Press Agency (PAP). It was a government position, so I took it, and I think I implemented the reform as well as that could be done at the time. And I returned here, where my place is.
Now that I look back, I realise how much I lost, how much it cost me when I got involved in some affairs which were lost from the very beginning, with the little potential and possibilities I had at that time. But if I hadn’t got involved in them back in 1976, I would have probably never made the decision to move here, to this wonderful place, to leave everything behind. I wouldn’t have the family that I have now, a wonderful family. I wouldn’t have experienced all those great moments, like for example, being the MP or in the government. For a short time, naturally… for a short time. Everything would have turned differently to the way it actually did. But let’s leave the speculations. That was how my life went and that’s all there is to it. One has to look at it from the perspective of the last 22 or 23 years.

How did you meet your wife?
That is a story that is very meaningful to the fact that I am now here, in Wójtowice. When I was still an active journalist, together with a group of other journalists, I went to the Walbrzych region to see what was going on here. Among others, we came to Ksiaz castle, we visited the castle, and then we went to the neighbouring stables, the Sudety Stud and Stable. Suddenly, our surprised eyes – and we were suffering from a slight hangover from the night before – saw an Amazon, in a red coat, riding a beautiful horse. She stopped in front of us and we learnt that it was Dorota, MA Eng., who specialised in full blood horses there. Don’t remember what breed that was. She saw us around the place, all of us could not take our eyes off her. I wrote down her address and telephone number. A few months later, among thousands of cards I was writing to people before Christmas to various people, I found that address. I wrote her a note remembering the nice moments we spent in Ksiaz. She wrote back to me, we started corresponding, and we got to know each other rather well during that correspondence.
And then came the memorable June 1976, then the Ursus trials, and when I couldn’t find anything interesting in the Suwalki area, I wrote to her asking her if she could try and find something suitable for me, some sort of a farm. And I came here, and it was practically her who found this farm for me. But it also turned out that I came here with my wife and son. She went to the States, to take some sort of extensive agricultural fellowship. And when my first wife left me here all alone because she couldn’t stand it here, in this small village, leading this hard life, I wrote to Dorota to the States, as if telling her that the place was freed, and I was on my own, and only with a dog. And it turned out that Dorota, on her part, gave up her fellowship in the States, and all those huge farms where she was undergoing the practice, and she came back here. And we’ve been together for all those years. That’s how it actually happened. It’s a very nice story. An original one, anyway.
Section 7
What about bringing children up? Do you think it is better to bring children up in these circumstances or...?
Obviously, until a certain moment, bringing children up is a happy occupation, and it was as if winning a lottery ticket that we’ve got this place on a mountain brook in which trout live, that there is a forest nearby, which is not destroyed by acid rains - because indeed this part of the Sudety Mountains is as if an ecological oasis - that the children live in a large village house, with all its advantages, but also disadvantages, that they have their own, separate bedrooms… although there are monumental problems with heating, or for three years with water, but that’s another story. Anyway, the children live here in close contact with nature, where they can, say, play with a dog, run on the meadows with the sheep, where one can breed chickens. It is here that – if there is nothing interesting to cook for dinner – you can go to the forest and bring a basket full of mushrooms, you can bring home some fresh brambles and serve them with whipped cream as a dessert. And pick them from the bush literally less than 30 minutes before serving. These are totally different conditions: it is not a concrete jungle, the city with its noise and smells. On the other hand, the problem is that the village schools are at a considerably lower level that those in towns. Even our secondary school in the nearby town is nothing like the schools in Warszawa, Krakow or Wroclaw. And if you don’t take certain dramatic decisions at the right moment, I mean a decision to choose a good school, it may be too late. So you may have to take a dramatic decision that you have to part with your beloved daughters at a certain moment. And the decision is not only dramatic to the parents, but also, and maybe above all, to the young girls who have been living with their parents all their lives, whose upbringing was rather liberal. They grew up in contact with this magnificent nature, and all of a sudden, they have to go to a boarding school and live in a dormitory, with its regime. That was most painful to the older one, who is at the moment in the boarding school run by nuns in Walbrzych, where the discipline is much stricter that the atmosphere in which she grew. But it is a good school.
Yeah, this is where the problems begin. If we were living in a large city, there would be no problem with choosing a school, a good school. A school that would later allow them to take up studies and make the process rather smooth and stress-free. Now we are facing such decisions, which are rather unpleasant to everyone involved. But they are unavoidable. The moment our daughters are far away from us, somewhere in boarding schools, when they study in good secondary schools, our lives will change dramatically. Such children cannot be left without a regular contact. You have to get into the car and go a few hundred kilometres, if need be - if, for example, you hear a weeping voice on the telephone. That first year of such a new life will be very hard for those girls. The older one is now in her fourth or fifth month, whereas the younger one will have her go at it next year. At the moment she’s in the last form of the primary school. We realise that their lives are now taking such a drastic turn. I think that for their young personalities it may be a turning comparable to that I made in 1976. And one has to do everything so that the turn is as smooth as possible. So that you – God forbid – don’t run into a wayside tree.
Section 8
During your stay here, did you have such difficult moments?
Naturally, there were difficult moments. First of all, it was the first year, when I had to learn everything from scratch. That was one thing. Another was when I had to look after my first wife here, see that she is alright – something in which I absolutely failed – that my seven-year-old son got to love, took a liking to, this place. As you can see, I managed to face the first problem somehow. I learned more or less everything I needed. What a farmer and livestock breeder should know. As for the second important thing – I failed miserably. Another difficult moment was when I was left alone here. Alcohol consumption grew rapidly, I neglected the house altogether. The pipes got frozen on a few occasions and broke. But I had sheep and I treated them very seriously, and there were absolutely no moments of weakness. I knew I had to take them out to the pasture, feed them, and that was probably what kept me from falling into pieces.
Well, there were difficult moments, there surely were. The martial law, for example, was such a moment. All the hopes I associated with what was going on in Poland suddenly vanished. Here, at the local level, we talked with Solidarity. I was surrounded by party liberals, my responsibility was the so-called horizontal structures in the party, we had many partners to talks, very sensible partners. We had good contacts with Solidarity, we believed that the party should move a bit on that bench and make some room for compromises and agreements. As it turned out, the government in Warszawa thought compromises were out of the question. Everybody knows what happened next. The powers that be took a whip into their hands on December 13, and many of our hopes had to be abandoned - it was a difficult experience for everyone involved. For the first year or two, I felt like doing absolutely nothing. But at that time, I already had a family, and I had to go on living.

Is there anything that you learned while living here, something you never expected to learn?
Well, above all, I discovered the mountains, and I discovered their special nature. Me, who had always lived in large cities, say, in Warszawa or in Paris – these were the longest periods. I had been sensitive to nice architectural perspectives first of all, good pubs, interesting theatre performances. I had no idea how much pleasure can be drawn from the contact with nature, even if you have to struggle with it. Such a, I would say, difficult nature. Here and now, I am a man who – despite the 23 years spent in the mountains – is still exceptionally sensitive to the beautiful scenery, a nice smell, a pleasant sound, the simplest of all: a shimmering mountain stream. All the changes in the flora and fauna disturb me. I take great pleasure from watching the tens of species flowers on these meadows. I get mad when I find a cigarette end, a bottle top, not to mention a plastic bag, on my path here. That is something new to me, something I would not have believed if I had been told about 25 years ago. If somebody had told me that I would one day sit here and say such things to this microphone, I would send that person to a psychiatrist.
Anyway, it seems you still can develop this sort of sensitivity in a grown up man, that very special kind of sensitivity, I’d call it an ecological sensitivity. Until recently, I thought it was only children who can be taught such things, but it turns out that also a grown-up, already shaped, can be changed in this respect.
Section 9
What do you think, have these mountains changed since you first came here?
To some extent, one can say there have been some changes. When I first came here, the process of depopulation was in progress. There are some villages that have remained only names on the map, like the village of Biala Woda, for example. At the moment, we are experiencing an opposite phenomenon. There are people coming here. Some of them build their summer houses here; some others are fed up with the cities, and they return to their parents’ farms. They often try their luck in what has become known as agro-tourism. It is amazing how many farms offering their hospitality to town dwellers have appeared around us. They offer horse riding, trekking the breathtaking mountain trails. That is a totally new phenomenon, and a positive change. The mountains stop getting depopulated. I think they will be again taken into possession by people, but this time it will be more sensible, better planned, taking into account the requirements of a harmony between economic needs and preserving certain basic principles related to the environment and its needs. Especially given that the Sudety neighbourhood, not only the mountains, is a large piece of human heritage that we have to take great care of. Because, if the coming generations can accuse us of the sin of neglect, if we do neglect something, that will be irrevocable. That will mean that as people, as humankind, we didn’t perform our most basic duties.

Have you got any other memories from your previous life?
Sure I do. But I’m not that keen on returning to them. I made a few mistakes in my life, I made a few wrong decisions, made a few wrong choices, but I think I repaired everything with this one decision to come and live here, to take up totally new responsibilities. If I have any memories to which I like returning, they will be memories connected with the 22 or 23 years spent here, in Wójtowice. And the memories connected with the few breaks I had, as I told you - in Parliament, in the government, my activities in the trade unions in the meantime, a few official or less official trips to some of the more interesting parts of the world. Those are memories to which I like returning, although things that happened then are not always what a normal person would treat as pleasant, generally speaking. But if it comes to this part of my life connected with living and working here, I think I could say it has been a positive part of my life, as opposed to my previous life.

Is there anything you would wish for?
What I would wish for? Well, above all, I would wish that my children should grow to make intelligent choices, so that they never find themselves in a situation similar to mine at one point in time, when I could not find a place for myself, and I knew I had to break up with something, but I didn’t know how to go about it. It turned out eventually that I did know, but these are the choices I’d like them to be spared. I would like to be able to continue my activities without any major obstacles, activities from which other people benefit, especially those who are in greater needs than I am. I would like to continue – together with Dorota – our various projects, foundations, whose statutory aim is to help others, especially those who find it difficult to adapt to the new circumstances after 1989, to try and make their lives a bit easier, those who cannot find their place in this new Poland of ours, where one has to make an effort and show what they are worth themselves, what they can do, when there’s nobody to make the decisions for the people: what they should do, what they should think, and, above all, what they should consider their happiness. I would like to continue doing that, and I think chances are I will.
Section 10
Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m wondering how long this interview already is. How many pages do you think?

Fifteen, maybe 16...
Already? Jesus, I think that’s long enough.

Thank you very much.