As announced some time ago, this linguistically-challenged library asked researchers at the European University Institute to tell us their opinion on Polish books on Donald Tusk, the new president of the European Council and former PM of Poland, or on books he himself wrote.
We are pleased to be able to introduce Solidarność i duma, written by Donald Tusk in 2005, reviewed for us by Przemysław Jacek Pałka, a researcher in European Law at EIU. As we expected, it is one full of civic passion and expectations on President Tusk’s tenure at the helm of the European Council. For those who can’t read the book in original (stats here), Przemysław’s text casts a light on the author and the context in which he acted, and in fact makes one want to polish their Polish…
Here it the review:
“Writing is not my passion. Poland is my passion”. With these words Donald Tusk opens his short essay Solidarity and Pride (Solidarność i duma) from 2005. Indeed, the book is not a literary masterpiece. But it proves a fascinating read, especially because it was written in fascinating times.
2005 was a watershed year in Polish history. On the one hand, all the great projects we had been working on since the fall of communism in 1989 had been accomplished: a painful but successful transition to a market economy; democratization of the state and its structures; accession to NATO in 1997 and to the European Union in 2004 – all steps towards the main goal of ‘going west’ and ‘back to to Europe’. The scene that ends the book, the funeral of Pope John Paul II, was a historic moment of pride for millions of Poles. A new chapter in our history had opened with the Pope’s first pastoral visit in 1979, which gave the nation the strength to fight and ultimately bring down the totalitarian system; now it seemed that that chapter was being closed, when the wind memorably closed the Gospel book on the Pope’s coffin.
On the other hand, the domestic situation gave little reasons for enthusiasm. Widespread corruption, disenchantment with the government ruling since 2001, the perception of a ‘glass-ceiling’, omnipresent cliques and deals dating back from the old establishment so strongly contrasted with Polish accomplishments in the economy and external relations. Poland was getting ready for the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2005 with an unpopular government and extreme-populist movements both on the right and left, Two parties, Tusk’s Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) and Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość), were competing for victory, and symbolized change, hope and a bright future.
Tusk wrote the book before the elections. It starts with the history of the struggle against the communist regime, of Solidarność, the underground pro-democracy movement of workers and intellectuals. Moving from his little Heimat in Gdańsk and Kaszuby, Donald Tusk shows the reader the terrible conditions in which people had to live, the December strikes and workers’ deaths in 1970, the ‘carnival of freedom’ of Solidarity in 1980, and the communists’ attempt to suppress the people’s spirit by killing people and declaring the martial law on 13 December 1981. He gives an account of life as an opposition member, the physical work he earned his bread with throughout the 80s, and the formation of future elites in clandestine journals.
After 1989, the transition did not go smoothly. Tusk identifies the problems as he saw them then: a weak political establishment, social inequality, an over-grown administration mistrusting the citizen and seeking its own profit instead of the public good, public institutions benefiting the strong and the sneaky to the detriment of the weak and honest. He then briefly sketches a political program, and concentrates instead on the axiological heritage of Solidarność: the care for the other, the respect for tradition and will for progress, patriotism and openness, a clear pro-European stance. All this is a treasure, but also a task and a testament. On this values the politics should be built, said Tusk in the book.
The future was going to be different. Tusk and his party lost both the presidential and the parliamentary elections in 2005, the coalition split, Kaczyński turned to the right and flirted with the populists. Tusk came to power in 2007, to become our longest ruling Prime Minister since 1989. The values he spoke of 10 years ago – solidarity, pride of one’s own identity sourced in respect for the others, strong belief in the democratic and European project – are the ones that Europe needs now.
 This will be a blow to our trusted readers, but no, not even the EU Council library has staff to cover all 24 official languages; we stopped counting when we reached 10 or 12…