As a Polish journalist forced into exile three months ago, Peter Mrocyzk tells with unskimped anger his feelings of torment at being separated from his homeland. Poland's story of the year--the visit of Pope John Paul II--was unfolding, but here he is, 5,000 miles away in the United States.
His instincts to cover the event were natural, though he is no romantic. He understands that being in Poland would have been useless. Mroczyk would be a prisoner, not a newsman. In March, the Communist government told the 46-year-old broadcast journalist either to get out of the country or be jailed.
He chose exile--for good reason. From December 1981 to December 1982 Mroczyk was held in two Polish prisons. The charges against him--seeking to overthrow the government--were meaningless. His true threat to the Jaruzelski government came from his role as a major power in Solidarity. As a cofounder of the independent union, Mroczyk organized the nation's journalists into a bloc of resistance. When martial law was declared, 100 Polish journalists were imprisoned. That was the largest roundup of any single profession. The Polish media suffered the fate common to the press in states of siege everywhere: They were the first to be jailed. Mroczyk was to enjoy another distinction: He was imprisoned longer than any other journalist.
The story of this Warsaw reporter is one of professional bravery as well as personal patriotism. The details he offers about the control of Poland's press provide the background of intimidation that isn't always conveyed in its full terror in the reporting of Western journalists.
Mroczyk describes "verification trials." After martial law, a journalist who wanted to get his job back had to meet with government interrogators. "He was asked two questions," Mroczyk recalls. "What do you think about the introduction of martial law? And what is your attitude towards" the government? "If you did not give in clear unambiguous terms a positive reply, you lost your job."
In prison, Mroczyk shared for four months a cell less than 12 feet by 20 feet with 14 other prisoners. They had a table and an open toilet. Exercise was limited to half an hour a day. Mroczyk lost 30 pounds. His wife was not told of his whereabouts.
As a Solidarity leader, Mroczyk was after nothing spectacular. He wanted the press to have its voice. "Our union was trying to provide for the right of the journalist to be a journalist. That was the whole issue."
Running parallel to it was the government's definition of the press: the agent of the state's socialism. The job of the journalist is to present to the public the views of the government. "Under this system," Mroczyk says, "there is no information, only propaganda." By Mroczyk's accounting, the Polish people are given 18,000 hours a year of pro-government television news and 64,000 hours of pro-government radio news.
Aside from talking to American journalists, many of whom unthinkingly luxuriate in freedoms only dreamed of by the Polish press, Mroczyk has been briefing politicians and labor leaders. He is trying to explain that should martial law be lifted after the pope's visit, nothing of substance will be changed. "It will be window-dressing and a propaganda stunt. Under martial law, permanent changes have been introduced into the Polish penal code, the code of penal procedures and public institutions. Organizations have been banned. The fact is, the government doesn't need martial law anymore . . . It will still be fully in control, the police will be able to arrest anyone it wants."
Mroczyk, whose wife is staying temporarily in England, came to Detroit in March to stay with a brother who works for an automobile company. He speaks fluent English, learned from his British-educated mother. Aside from some lecture dates, he is unsure of his future. Mroczyk has a longing to return to Poland. His strongest conviction is that because the Polish resistance movement is steeled in nonviolence its chances for eventual success are better than if the citizens fought back with weapons.
This doesn't assure that tragedies won't persist. There is, he says in a lowered voice, the daily slaying of truth by the government-run media. The despair of the journalists is intense. Of all the professions in Poland, journalists have the highest suicide rate.