The news from Poland has come in grim and rapid bursts; the few images available have been haunting ones -- tanks rumbling down an empty road, soldiers with their rifles drawn, a woman weeping in the street. On Wednesday there was another detail added -- the Polish press disclosed the names of the Solidarity trade union movement leaders arrested by the state in these last dark days. There were 58 names on the list. Miroslaw Chojecki's name was one of them.
His, however, is a different sort of imprisonment -- Chojecki was in New York when the shadow fell, and now he waits there, uncertain how long his exile will be. For the last five years, he had watched the movement ripen, from the beatings in Radom to the exhilaration in the shipyards in Gdansk in those last days of a summer that now seems so long ago, now that winter has settled on the factories and the cities and in the souls of his countrymen.
There were two others on the list who are also abroad, one an academician, the other another leader of Solidarity. "It was an attempt to intimidate those of us who are abroad and our families," Chojecki said yesterday through a translator. "And the list was drawn up some time ago. All three of us have been out of the country for several months now, so the list is at least that old."
His voice sounds nearly hollow from the news and the sorrow and the uncertainty. In the days just before the takeover, as he made the rounds in Washington, there had been a different tone, a feverish intensity that reflected a man in the middle of great things, caught up in the rising tide.
Still, he says, the news had not come as a surprise. "People had actually expected something like that. The aim of the confrontation is clearly to create a situation where Solidarity will lose control over the emotions of the people." The next step, he feels, will come from the Russians. "They have tried to crush us indirectly, and that has not worked so now they will be more direct. It is clear that the Russians are planning to quell and destroy the Solidarity movement," he says.
It is a movement to which he gave his heart and mind long ago. Chojecki was a 27-year-old prize-winning nuclear physicist when the workers called a strike in the city of Radom in 1976. Chojecki dropped everything to go to Radom and lend his support. "It was simply a moral decision," he said in an interview that took place a few days before the military took control. "There were people there being beaten by the police for a cause that was my cause. In such a situation, one has to help."
In the beginning, he helped to find doctors who would treat the wounded strikers and lawyers who would be willing to represent them without fee. But it wasn't long before he decided that the best way to help was to start an underground publishing network that could keep the workers informed and inform the public about what the movement was trying to accomplish. "It was obvious that the best way to help was to generate public opinion to the side of Solidarity," Chojecki said. "Everything had to be subordinated to that purpose."
His was not the only side to realize the importance of communication and public opinion; one of the first measures taken by the military men now in power was to cut off the telephone and telex lines from city to city and between Poland and the outside world. After the living-room war that Vietnam became, the effect of the lack of information and images is eerie. There is a feeling of unreality; does the tree fall in the forest if there is no one there to film it?
Chojecki was fired from his job in physics research, and arrested more than 40 times. His apartment was searched repeatedly. He went on a hunger strike for 30 days to protest one conviction, and on three separate occasions spent more than eight months in jail. Nevertheless he managed to put together an underground publishing house that had grown and flourished in keeping with the climate of hope. To publish, they depended on "elaborate, conspiratorial techniques" -- the printing was done in secret, in the basement of private homes, each time a different house. The pages would then be moved to another house for binding, and yet another for storage and for distribution.
The first year, Chojecki printed 500 copies. By the time he left, a minimum printing consisted of 5,000 copies, and they printed not only the bulletins and newsletters that help to sustain most revolutionary movements, but books -- novels and histories, and books of poetry, by European and American as well as Polish writers -- best sellers include novelist Tadeusz Konwicki and poet Czeslaw Milosz as well as George Orwell, Gunter Grass and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Of course, there were scarcities and shortages of nearly everything that was needed, except the wits and courage to make it survive. Chojecki had come to this country to get as much financial support as he could for his operation. Parts for the printing presses had to be smuggled in from other countries, and paper was in chronic short supply -- with him he carried bulletins printed on brown wrapping paper and books that squeezed two pages of microscopic print into one in order to conserve paper.
So much of what he had to say last week rings with sad irony now-- Chojecki talked about the library system they were setting up, 2,500 in all, so that the precious books they had managed to publish would circulate to as many people as possible. He was excited about the printing press they had installed at the Ursus factory, the first one to come above ground. A proud smile played on a face more accustomed to a knitted brow and lips pursed in concentration. "It is our first attempt to surface under the protection of the workers," he had said.
Everything, he had said then, "is going to be all right. It's a struggle, an uphill struggle. There's not much to eat, but it is more important to have the air to breathe. To breathe freedom."