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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Czeslaw Bielecki

Interviewed December 10, 2023

I guess in ’83, we published with Jan Krzysztof Kelus and Urszula Sikorska, he’s [Jan Krzysztof Kelus] a fantastic bard of the Polish opposition with fantastic songs. And we wrote together with this couple the bestseller of the underground, The Little Conspirator. That’s a collection of writing made by people temporarily at liberty. That’s the beginning of the book. I wrote in this book the main chapter: “How to Plot” – “How to Plot,” the first chapter. The second is “Citizen Versus Secret Police” and the third, which is a masterpiece made by Kelus, it’s “Interrogation Game.”

And let me make a jump. After the death of my wife, Maria Twardowska, it was six years ago, I guess, I made two trips to Cuba. I was asked to go by the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe, directed by Irena Lasota and Eric Chenoweth in Washington [D.C]. And they organized this trip. I went there as an architect looking for some opportunities to make an exhibition, OK? I just interviewed the opposition. So after that, I wrote my manual, Freedom: A Do-It-Yourself Manual. And that’s a small booklet. You can put it into your pocket.

So it’s smaller than a Moleskin [notebook]. But it’s always covered with the regime newspaper. So that’s Daily Worker [a publication of the Communist Party USA] in English, that’s Pravda in Russian [a publication of the Communist Party in Russia]. That’s Trybuna Ludu in Polish [a publication of the Polish United Workers’ Party in Poland under communism], that’s Granma in Spanish [the official newspaper of the Communist Party in Cuba]. Because it was a long, long days tradition of ’60s and ’70s, when someone was reading an illegal booklet in the public transportation, in the train or in the bus, I don’t know why but people were covering it with a regular, a bit dirty regime newspaper. So when I have seen someone in the train reading a book of a format I knew in regular daily newspaper, daily paper, I was quite sure that’s Parisian Kultura [a defunct Polish publication in Rome and Paris] or Dziennik Polski from London [a Polish language publication in London] or something which is not legal or half legal, OK?

So we repeated this trick and we covered our booklet with this regime newspaper and with the recommendation of Lech Walesa [leader of the Solidarity freedom movement and President of Poland 1990-1995], which was inserted within this – it was kind of collage in this newspaper. So in this patriotic business, for instance, you will find a scheme of Palace of Culture, because when we were arrested in with a relatively large group from our city and firm, my successor, Tomasz Krawczyk, who was a mathematician, was working in the Palace of Culture [an enormous building in Warsaw that was constructed in 1955 by the Soviets as a gift to the people of Poland]. And the Palace of Culture is a fantastic labyrinth for people who know this building.

So they were tricking the pursuing police, hiding in some rooms. And this chain of command was designed as an illustration of this, how the system was working when in ’85, ’86, the police knew relatively a lot about us but didn’t know the structure. So in this book you will find, for instance, the files, police files, how they imagined our structure. For instance, in this scheme, it was something like an embassy. They didn’t mention U.S., Israeli Embassy, you know. But they – it was quite sure that they have an image which was completely false, how the chain of command is working within the firm. But those experiences from a real underground enterprise were used in an enigmatic way, not touching specific details, in The Little Conspirator.

But psychologically, what was a very, very nice and unique experience in my life as a political writer, that because I was anonymous and we were three anonymous authors; the book, it was anonymous – it was printed in different publishing editions in more than 100,000 copies, for sure. We published in CDN [To Be Continued, an underground publishing house in communist Poland] more than 40,000 copies, this small booklet. What made this book so popular – because I was using sometimes some expressions, very personal, which became our lingua franca [a language systematically used to make communication possible between people not sharing a mother tongue] within the firm.

For instance, I refurbished or renewed the word “to plot,” jak knuc [Polish translation of ‘plot’], which has a pejorative sense in Polish, but instead to say we will conspire, which means something very serious – how we will plot, how we will plot against the Reds. We called communists “Reds” or more – with less dignity, “the Red,” as one Red, which is signalizing the system. So when people started to read this booklet, they took it not as my personal language but our language. And that’s made, from my viewpoint, this book so popular.

So the principle of The Little Conspirator – be more intelligent, more creative, more systematic, more workaholic. Don’t be lazy. Don’t leave your door open when you are plotting, because your flat can be opened only for your friends, but when it’s too open, it’s open for the secret police as well. So it was a kind of permanent self-education of each of us, which made the firm efficient and stabilized and sustainable. For me, the biggest satisfaction was that after our mass arrests in ’86, the firm, under the direction of Tomasz Krawczyk and my colleagues, was still producing books, leaflets and as well my essays from jail. I smuggled. So it was for me the sense of the work, of a political work, political job.