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Adam Michnik

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Adam Michnik
Adam Michnik 2018.jpg
Adam Michnik, 2018
Born (1946-10-17) 17 October 1946 (age 74)
Warsaw, Poland
Alma materAdam Mickiewicz University
(M.A. in History, 1975)
OccupationJournalist, essayist, former dissident
Children1 (son)
Adam Michnik signature.svg

Adam Michnik (Polish pronunciation: [ˈadam ˈmixɲik]; born 17 October 1946) is a Polish historian, essayist, former dissident, public intellectual, and editor-in-chief of the Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.

Reared in a family of committed communists, Michnik became an opponent of Poland's communist regime at the time of the party's anti-Jewish purges. He was imprisoned after the 1968 March Events and again after the imposition of martial law in 1981. Michnik played a crucial role during the Polish Round Table Talks, as a result of which the communists agreed to call elections in 1989, which were won by Solidarity. Though he has withdrawn from active politics, he has "maintained an influential voice through journalism".[1] He has received many awards and honors, including the Legion of Honour and European of the Year. He is also one of the 25 leading figures on the Information and Democracy Commission launched by Reporters Without Borders.[2]


Adam Michnik was born in Warsaw, Poland, to a family of Jewish communists.[3] His father Ozjasz Szechter was First Secretary of the Communist Party of Western Ukraine, and his mother Helena Michnik was a historian, communist activist, and children's-book author. His step-brother on his mother's side, Stefan Michnik, was a Stalinist military judge in the 1950s, who passed sentence, including executions, in politically-motivated trials of members of Polish anti-Nazi resistance fighters. Stefan Michnik (who has lived in Sweden since 1968),[4] was later formally implicated in zbrodnie komunistyczne ("communist crimes") by Polish courts.

A step-brother of Adam Michnik on his father's side, Jerzy Michnik (born 1929), settled in Israel after 1957 and then moved to New York.[3]


While attending primary school, he was an active member of the Polish Scouting Association (ZHP), in a troop which was led by Jacek Kuroń. During secondary school, this particular Scouting troop was banned, and Adam began to participate in meetings of the Crooked Circle Club. After its closing in 1962, with the encouragement from Jan Józef Lipski and under Adam Schaff's protection, he founded a discussion group, "Contradiction Hunters Club" (Klub Poszukiwaczy Sprzeczności); he was one and the most visible leader of the left wing student opposition group, the Komandosi.[5]

In 1964, he began to study history at Warsaw University. A year later he was suspended because he disseminated an open letter to the members of Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) among his schoolmates. Its authors, Jacek Kuroń and Karol Modzelewski appealed for a beginning of reforms which would repair the political system in Poland.[6] In 1965, the PZPR forbade the printing of his works. In 1966, he was suspended for the second time for organizing a discussion meeting with Leszek Kołakowski, who was expelled from the PZPR several weeks earlier, for criticizing its leaders. From then on, he wrote under a pseudonym to several newspapers including "Życie Gospodarcze", "Więź", and "Literatura".

In March 1968, he was expelled from the University for his activities during 1968 Polish political crisis. The crisis was ignited by the ban of Kazimierz Dejmek's adaptation of Adam Mickiewicz's poetic drama Dziady ("Forefathers' Eve") in the National Theatre. The play contained many anti-Russian allusions, which were greeted with enthusiastic applause by the audience. Michnik and another student, Henryk Szlajfer, recounted the situation to a correspondent of Le Monde, "whose report was then carried on Radio Free Europe".[7] Both Michnik and Szlajfer were expelled from the university. Upon their expulsion, students organized demonstrations, which were brutally suppressed by the riot police and "worker-squads".

Władysław Gomułka used Michnik's and several other dissidents' Jewish background to wage an anti-Semitic campaign, blaming the Jews for the crisis.[citation needed] Michnik was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment for "acts of hooliganism".[8]

In 1969, he was released from prison under an amnesty, but he was forbidden to continue his studies. Not until the middle of the 1970s was he allowed to continue his studies of history, which he finished in 1975 at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, under the supervision of Prof. Lech Trzeciakowski.


After he was released from prison, he worked for two years as a welder at the Róża Luxemburg (Rosa Luxemburg) Industrial Plant and then, on the recommendation of Jacek Kuroń, he became private secretary to Antoni Słonimski.[9]

In 1976–77 he lived in Paris. After he returned to Poland, he became involved in the activity of Workers' Defence Committee (KOR), which had already existed for a couple of months. It was one of the best known opposition organizations of the 1970s. He became one of the most active opposition activists and also one of the supporters of the Society for Educational Courses (Towarzystwo Kursów Naukowych).[10]

Between 1977 and 1989, he was the editor or co-editor of underground newspapers published illegally, samizdat: Biuletyn Informacyjny, Zapis, and Krytyka. He was also a member of the management of one of the biggest underground publishers: NOWa.

In years 1980–1989, he was an adviser to both the Independent Self-governing trade union "Solidarity" (NSZZ "Solidarność") in the Mazovia Region and to Foundry Workers Committee of "Solidarity".[11]

When martial law was declared in December 1981, he was an internee at first, but when he refused to sign a "loyalty oath" and assent to voluntarily leave the country, he was jailed and accused of an "attempt to overthrow socialism". He was in jail without a verdict until 1984 because the prosecutor's office deliberately prolonged the trial.

Adam Michnik demanded an end to the judicial proceedings against him or have his case dismissed. Meanwhile, he wanted to be granted the status of a political prisoner, and began a hunger strike while in jail. In 1984, he was released from jail, under an amnesty.

He took part in an attempt to organize a strike in the Gdańsk shipyard. As a consequence, he was rearrested in 1985 and this time sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was released the following year, again under another amnesty.[12]

Since 1989

In 1988, he became an adviser of Lech Wałęsa's informal Coordination Committee, and later he became a member of the Solidarity Citizens' Committee. He took an active part in planning and preliminary negotiations for the Round Table Talks in 1989, in which he also participated. Adam Michnik inspired and collaborated with the editors of the Ulam Quarterly, before 1989 that journal pioneered the World Wide Web in the USA.

After the Round Table Talks, Lech Wałęsa told him to organize a big Polish national daily, which was supposed to be an 'organ' of the Solidarity Citizens' Committee, before the upcoming elections. This newspaper, under the Round Table agreement, was Gazeta Wyborcza ("Election Newspaper") because it was supposed to appear until the end of the parliamentary election in 1989. After organizing this newspaper with journalists who worked in the "Biuletyn Informacyjny", Adam Michnik became its editor-in-chief.[13]

In the elections to the Contract Sejm on 4 June 1989 he became a member of parliament for Lech Wałęsa's Solidarity Citizens' Committee electoral register, as a candidate for the city of Bytom.[14]

Adam Michnik in 1991

Both as a member of parliament and as editor of Gazeta Wyborcza he actively supported Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki's government and his candidature in the 1990 presidential election campaign against Lech Wałęsa.[15] After the breakup of the Citizens' Committee and Mazowiecki's failure, Michnik withdrew from his direct involvement in politics and did not run for a seat in the 1991 parliamentary election, instead focusing on editorial and journalistic activities. Under his leadership, Gazeta Wyborcza was converted into an influential left-wing daily newspaper in Poland. Based on Gazeta Wyborcza assets, the Agora SA partnership came into existence. By May 2004, it was one of the biggest media concerns in Poland, administrating 11 monthly titles, the portal, the outdoor advertising company AMS, and has shares in several radio stations. Adam Michnik does not have any shares in Agora and does not hold any office, other than chief editor, which is unusual in business in Poland. Michnik's shares are kept by Agora.

Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki in his exposé in September 1989 began a new, so-called broad-stroke, attitude to political history of the recent past. He is proponent and advocate of this term. In Gazeta Wyborcza he used his personal influence to protect General Wojciech Jaruzelski and General Czesław Kiszczak from being prosecuted for various crimes committed by Jaruzelski and Kiszczak during their time running the People's Republic of Poland (PRL). He gave an interview arguing the same which was published under the title Pożegnanie z bronią. Adam Michnik- Czesław Kiszczak by Agnieszka Kublik and Monika Olejnik which was published in Gazeta Wyborcza on 3 February 2001.[16]

On 27 December 2002, Adam Michnik and Paweł Smoleński revealed the so-called "Rywin affair" which had to be explained by a specially called parliamentary select committee.[17]

In autumn 2004, due to health problems (he suffered from tuberculosis) he resigned from active participation in editing Gazeta Wyborcza and passed his duties to editorial colleague Helena Łuczywo.[18]

On the anniversary of the introduction of martial law, on 13 December 2005, Michnik delivered an exposition at the University of Warsaw (an article was published in the Gazeta Wyborcza) in which he appealed to president Lech Kaczyński for statutory abolition for those who were responsible for the martial law. The article was a response to information about instituting an inquiry by Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) against General Jaruzelski. Michnik appealed about abolition even earlier – in 1991 (during an exposition at the Faculty of Law at University of Maria Curie-Skłodowska in Lublin (UMCS), "Gazeta w Lublinie" 11 December 1991) and also in 2001 in the article "Stan wojenny 20 lat później" ("Gazeta Wyborcza" 12 December 2001).

He has taken various positions of support for the former Communist secret police officers, against the Catholic Church and against various post-Communist opposition parties. He has remained a supporter of the moderate Platforma Obywatelska and, upon the election to the Presidency of Poland of the opposition Pis candidate Andrzej Duda on 24 May 2015, published an article claiming that Poland was on the path to dictatorship.[19]

He is a member of the Association of Polish Writers and the Council on Foreign Relations.[13]


While Michnik's contribution in abolishing communism in Poland is widely acknowledged and valued, there has been observed a phenomenon of strong hostility or even hatred since the mid-1990s, mainly from the Polish right, for two reasons. Firstly, Michnik's views concerning lustration, a heated political issue in the 1990s in Poland, the purging from the public life of people involved in the communist system, roused controversy. Michnik opposed lustration and, as his detractors argue, used the influence exerted by Gazeta Wyborcza to persuade the public. Secondly, Michnik's newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza combated the nationalistic slant of Polish clergy and spotlighted incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy, which was interpreted by those still strongly attached to the Catholicism as an assault on the Church and so alienated a large section of the population.


According to Canadian translator and writer Paul Wilson, Adam Michnik "[holds a] core... belief... that history is not just about the past because it is constantly recurring, and not as farce, as Marx had it, but as itself:

The world is full of inquisitors and heretics, liars and those lied to, terrorists and the terrorized. There is still someone dying at Thermopylae, someone drinking a glass of hemlock, someone crossing the Rubicon, someone drawing up a proscription list."[20]

The real struggle for us is for the citizen to cease to be the property of the state. (Hitchens p.174)

Brutal and cruel colonialism is not the only, or the determining, aspect of English, French, and Dutch identity, even though the colonial era profoundly influenced these cultures. Likewise, Russia is not doomed to despotism at home and aggression abroad. It is no sphinx—it is a country full of conflicts and debates.[21]




  • In Search of Lost Meaning: The New Eastern Europe , translated by Roman S. Czarny, editor Irena Grudzinska Gross, 2011. (ISBN 9780520269231)
  • Letters from Freedom: Post-Cold War Realities and Perspectives, translated by Jane Cave, 1998. (ISBN 0-520-21759-4)
  • Church and the Left, (David Ost, editor), 1992. (ISBN 0-226-52424-8)
  • Letters from Prison and Other Essays, translated by Maya Latynski, 1986. (ISBN 0-520-05371-0)



  • "An Open Letter to International Public Opinion". Telos 54 (Winter 1982–83). New York: Telos Press.

See also


  1. ^ Judt, Tony, Postwar; A History of Europe since 1945, p.694
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Pacholczykowa, Alicja (2010–2011). "Ozjasz Szechter". Polski Słownik Biograficzny. 47. Polska Akademia Nauk & Polska Akademia Umiejętności. p. 585.
  4. ^ "Sweden refuses extradition of Stalinist judge". The First News. 19 December 2019.
  5. ^ "Klub Poszukiwaczy Sprzeczności. Tu zaczynali m. in. Adam Michnik, Jan Tomasz Gross i Marek Borowski". (in Polish). Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  6. ^ "Karol Modzelewski 1937-2019". Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  7. ^ Judt, Tony, Postwar; A History of Europe since 1945, p. 433
  8. ^ Warman, Jerzy B.; Michnik, Adam (18 July 1985). "Letter from the Gdansk Prison". ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Adam Michnik". Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Macierewicz i Michnik: jedynie publiczne ujawnianie poczynań władzy może być skuteczną obroną". Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  11. ^ "Dzieła Wybrane Adama Michnika". Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Adam Michnik". Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  13. ^ a b "Adam Michnik | Reporters without borders". RSF. 9 September 2018. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  14. ^ Kamm, Henry; Times, Special To the New York (5 July 1989). "Solidarity Takes Its Elected Place in the Parliament". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  15. ^ "ADAM MICHNIK Gazeta Wyborcza -". Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  16. ^ "". Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  17. ^ System Rywina, czyli, druga strona III Rzeczypospolitej. Skórzyński, Jan 1954-, Rywin, Lew, 1945-. Warszawa: Świat Książki. 2003. ISBN 83-7391-259-2. OCLC 58413331.CS1 maint: others (link)
  18. ^ S.A, Wirtualna Polska Media (14 October 2004). "Helena Łuczywo zamiast Michnika". (in Polish). Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  19. ^ "Adam Michnik: to aksamitna droga do dyktatury". (in Polish). 25 May 2015.
  20. ^ Paul Wilson, "Adam Michnik: A Hero of Our Time," The New York Review of Books, vol. LXII, no. 6 (April 2, 2015), p. 74.
  21. ^ Michnik, Adam (11 March 2014). "The World Needs Russia. Russia Does Not Need Putin". The New Republic.
  22. ^ "Robert F Kennedy Center Laureates". Archived from the original on 7 April 2014.
  23. ^ "World Press Freedom Heroes: Symbols of courage in global journalism". International Press Institute. 2012. Archived from the original on 16 January 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading

External links