Adam Michnik

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Adam Michnik
Michnik in 2018
Born (1946-10-17) 17 October 1946 (age 76)
Warsaw, Poland
Alma materAdam Mickiewicz University
(M.A. in History, 1975)
  • Journalist
  • historian
  • essayist
  • former dissident
Children1 (son)
AwardsRobert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award
Erasmus Prize
Legion of Honour
Dan David Prize
Order of the White Eagle
Goethe Medal
Princess of Asturias Award

Adam Michnik (Polish pronunciation: [ˈadam ˈmixɲik]; born 17 October 1946) is a Polish historian, essayist, former dissident, public intellectual, as well as co-founder 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. He has been called "one of Poland's most famous political prisoners".[1]

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 Though he has withdrawn from active politics, he has "maintained an influential voice through journalism".[2] He has received many awards and honors, including the Legion of Honour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.[3] In 2022, he received the Princess of Asturias Award in the category "Communication and Humanities".[4]


Adam Michnik was born in Warsaw, Poland, to a family of communist activists of Jewish origin.[5] 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 military judge in the 1950s, who passed sentences, including executions, in politically-motivated trials of members of Polish anti-Nazi resistance fighters. Stefan Michnik (who lived in Sweden from 1968 until his death in 2021),[6] was later formally accused of zbrodnie komunistyczne ("communist crimes") by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance.[7]

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.[5]


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.[8]

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.[9] 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".[10] 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".[11]

Władysław Gomułka used Michnik's and several other dissidents' Jewish background to wage an anti-Semitic campaign, blaming the Jews for the crisis.[12] Michnik was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment for "acts of hooliganism".[13]

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.[14][15]


After he was released from prison, he worked for two years as a welder at the Róża Luxemburg's (Rosa Luxemburg) Industrial Plant and then, on the recommendation of Jacek Kuroń, he became private secretary to Antoni Słonimski.[16]

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).[17]

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.[18]

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".[19]

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.[20]

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.[21]

Since 1989[edit]

Adam Michnik in 1991
Adam Michnik in 2018

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.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24] 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 liberal 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 “thick line” attitude to the political history of the recent past. Michnik is a proponent and advocate of this policy.[25]

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.[26]

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.[27]

He is a member of the Association of Polish Writers and the Council on Foreign Relations.[22]

Since the conservative Law and Justice party led by Jarosław Kaczyński gained power in Poland in 2015, Michnik has been a vocal critic of the new government accusing it of undermining democracy in the country stating that "What we are seeing today is a gradual closing down of democracy. There is no other democracy than the liberal version. Everything else is a contradiction in terms."[28]


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."[29]

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.[30]


Michnik receiving Poland's highest decoration, the Order of the White Eagle, from President Bronisław Komorowski in 2010



  • 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[edit]


  1. ^ Studium Papers. North American Study Center for Polish Affairs. 1990. p. 62.
  2. ^ Judt, Tony, Postwar; A History of Europe since 1945, p.694
  3. ^ "Adam Michnik; Reporters without borders". RSF. 9 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b Princess of Asturias Award 2022
  5. ^ a b Pacholczykowa, Alicja (2010–2011). "Ozjasz Szechter". Polski Słownik Biograficzny. Vol. 47. Polska Akademia Nauk & Polska Akademia Umiejętności. p. 585.
  6. ^ "Sweden refuses extradition of Stalinist judge". The First News. 19 December 2019.
  7. ^ "Nie żyje Stefan Michnik. IPN oskarżał go zbrodnie komunistyczne" (in Polish). 30 July 2021. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  8. ^ "Klub Poszukiwaczy Sprzeczności. Tu zaczynali m. in. Adam Michnik, Jan Tomasz Gross i Marek Borowski". (in Polish). Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  9. ^ "Karol Modzelewski 1937-2019". Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  10. ^ Judt, Tony, Postwar; A History of Europe since 1945, p. 433
  11. ^ "8 marca mija 48 lat od wiecu na Uniwersytecie Warszawskim, który stał się początkiem tzw. wydarzeń marcowych" (in Polish). Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  12. ^ "Tension with Israel 50 years after Poland's anti-Semitic campaign". France 24. 6 March 2018. Archived from the original on 6 March 2018. Retrieved 11 January 2021 – via Agence France Presse.
  13. ^ Warman, Jerzy B.; Michnik, Adam (18 July 1985). "Letter from the Gdansk Prison". New York Review of Books. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  14. ^ "Adam Michnik" (in Polish). Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  15. ^ "Prof. Lech Trzeciakowski nie żyje. Pomógł Michnikowi, lubił "Wilusia" i był zawsze pod krawatem" (in Polish). Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  16. ^ "Adam Michnik". Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  17. ^ "Macierewicz i Michnik: jedynie publiczne ujawnianie poczynań władzy może być skuteczną obroną". Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  18. ^ "Niezależna Oficyna Wydawnicza Nowa Sp. z o.o." (in Polish). Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  19. ^ "Dzieła Wybrane Adama Michnika". Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  20. ^ "Od "komandosa" do naczelnego. Adam Michnik kończy 75 lat" (in Polish). 17 October 2021. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  21. ^ "Adam Michnik". Retrieved 13 August 2020.
  22. ^ a b "Adam Michnik | Reporters without borders". RSF. 9 September 2018. Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ "ADAM MICHNIK Gazeta Wyborcza -". Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  25. ^ "Adam Michnik w Opolu: Polska jest teraz rujnowana" (in Polish). 21 September 2017. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  26. ^ System Rywina, czyli, druga strona III Rzeczypospolitej. Skórzyński, Jan 1954-, Rywin, Lew, 1945-. Warszawa: Świat Książki. 2003. ISBN 83-7391-259-2. OCLC 58413331.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  27. ^ S.A, Wirtualna Polska Media (14 October 2004). "Helena Łuczywo zamiast Michnika". (in Polish). Retrieved 21 May 2020.
  28. ^ "Adam Michnik: The Polish journalist who makes the news". 21 April 2021. Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  29. ^ Paul Wilson, "Adam Michnik: A Hero of Our Time," The New York Review of Books, vol. LXII, no. 6 (April 2, 2015), p. 74.
  30. ^ Michnik, Adam (11 March 2014). "The World Needs Russia. Russia Does Not Need Putin". The New Republic.
  31. ^ "Nagroda im. Andrzeja Kijowskiego" (in Polish). Archived from the original on 26 November 2010. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  32. ^ "Robert F Kennedy Center Laureates". Archived from the original on 7 April 2014.
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ "The Prague Society | Promoting a global approach to business, politics and academia in Central Europe through transparent networking and off the record dialogue". Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  35. ^ "Adam Michnik odznaczony orderem Orła Białego" (in Polish). Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  36. ^ "Adam Michnik i Tomas Venclova doktorami honoris causa uniwersytetu w Kłajpedzie" (in Polish). Retrieved 27 November 2021.
  37. ^ "Laureaci 2013" (in Polish). Archived from the original on 1 July 2014. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  38. ^ "Lithuanian parliament awards Freedom Prize to Polish journalist". Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  39. ^ "Teenetemärkide kavalerid" (in Estonian). Archived from the original on 5 August 2020. Retrieved 18 June 2022.

Further reading[edit]

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