- August 29, 2014
“It is not possible to make a magazine for all”
Romuald Mieczkowski. Journalist, specializing among others on issues of Polish-Lithuanian and Polish neighbors in the East problems, as well as Poles abroad. Writer, journalist, cultural animator. Active in Vilnius and Warsaw. In cooperation with the Polish Radio, Polish Television, BBC, “New Journal” in New York, and more important titles of the Polish community abroad around the world. Author of books, collective positions, television and radio scripts, articles. He participates in Polish and Lithuanian cultural and social life, as well as the cultural life of other countries with particular emphasis on the cooperation with the young creative intelligentsia, artistic education, building concrete international contacts.
24 th December this year the quarterly “From above the Wilia” will celebrate its 25th anniversary. Since the beginning the title is allocated to that date.
I’m doing it on purpose, because actually the anniversary lasts all year. Besides, when it comes to the fact of its celebration, I do not belong to those who are scrupulously celebrating different “anniversaries”. But in this situation I am well aware that this is an opportunity to remind who we are and what purposes we have. And that’s why this year is also the year of the summary of what we did. It is the year of answers to other questions that – I do not want to be immodest –are fitting to answer, considered in terms of the advisability of intentions: what came out good, and what came out not good, what should be changed, what should be improved.
Let’s start with the good news
The fact that I have readers who remained with me since the first number release is a confirmation that we are needed. Such readers like for example, Tadeusz Pardej, Paweł Matusewicz and Edmund Pawlak have been reading “From above the Wilia” since 1989. Of course, there are hundreds of readers; the title goes to the prestigious libraries – not only in Poland but also in the world. How writers joke, if their book is read at least by two readers, it is worth to publish it, if there are more readers, and they are in hundreds –it is right to be pleased. However, we should not forget about the formula of the magazine, which is niche, addressed to a particular reader.
Let’s go back to the period before 25 years ago, that was not easy …
Well, precisely, as a former colleague from our Polish journal in Lithuania you must well remember it. For each magazine, including “From above the Wilia.” The creation of the title proved to be significant in such a way that today we can talk about it as a certain phenomenon. In fact, the title turned out to be “roomy”, popular and lively, which I am glad, because I suggested it’s creation. As a former radio DJ, I was also among the founders of the radio named the same way; in 1994 there was created a gallery, which has played a huge role in a time when there was no Polish Community Centre or Polish Cultural Institute. We also worked in a Polish Documentary Film Studio, we were organizing conferences, various meetings, including among others organized for 21 years Poetry Festival “May in the Wilia”, recently expanded to the stage “and above the Vistula”. More and more books are also appearing in the “Library From Above Wilia”.
The title was created with the support of Czesław Okińczyc.
We should begin from this that “From above the Wilia” would not be created without our meeting. It was a breakthrough for both of us. Czesław took care of organizational and legal matters, I was responsible for publishing process. We had the same views in that period. And that period was not easy, it was the era of turmoil where occurred attitudes of anticipation and even lost. We wanted to have our voice on the substantial matter: independence. It would be more difficult, if not Polish solidarity base power that served us substancially. I was a reluctant chief and pointed out that it is about our – the Lithuanian Poles – point of view.
You attracted the best indigenous forces, local journalists, intelligentsia and enlightened people from Poland and from the world.
It evokes the greatest satisfaction. We were immediately joined by fellow-poets who not only presented their latest works. For example, Alicja Rybałko, then Józef Szostakowski had their permanent columns. Such journalists of Vilnius as Jerzy Surwiło, Danuta and Wojciech Piotrowicz, Alwida Bajor, Józef Szostakowski, Halina Jotkiałło, Krystyna Marczyk, Julitta Tryk, Barbara Znajdziłowska and others also collaborated with us. In our journal, Aleksander Borowik began his way of journalism, here also worked future scientists – Teresa Dalecka and Andrzej Pukszto. As for the personalities from abroad, I will say briefly: I was very lucky.
You have been meeting with people like Czeslaw Milosz, Jerzy Giedroyc …
Since 1986, I have exchanged tens of letters with Jerzy Giedroyc, which were a kind of lodestar for me. When I was faced with a dilemma of closing the magazine, it was Giedroyc who told me that it would be a “crime”, mishandling opportunities, because the representatives of the intelligentsia (and even elite – modest ones but still the elite) were remaining the chroniclers of achievements of their community. The politicians have the task of talking about problems. “Do not go into the direction of popularity, but one in which you will be appreciated by the Lithuanians and others” – more or less he said. Czesław Milosz also often repeated, that we were going to reach the “top shelf” for us Poles to be treated as partners and respected in Lithuania, in Poland and in the other countries. And after all we have our scientists, artists, legions of young creative intelligentsia. Continuing this topic, let me add that I have learnt much from the talks with Edward Raczynski, Ryszard Kaczorowski, Tadeusz Konwicki, Norman Davies, Tomas Venclova and other writers and poets. Giedroyc, being in Maisons-Laffitte was assured by me that “From above the Wilia,” like his “Culture” would still be published, as a substitute for our modest “Culture of the East”. And to commemorate, when in 2000 I was changing bi-weekly magazine to a quarterly one, I kept the format of his magazine.
You have chosen a niche that was not occupied, because when it comes to Polish editions, we had Polish daily newspaper – “Courier Vilnius”, then there was created “Our Newspaper”, then yet another ones. You chose a different way.
Pretty soon I came to the conclusion that it is impossible to make a magazine for all. Different titles can be linked, if they complement each other. To “bear witness”, lofty citing Herbert, you have to have your face. Even more than that, in the face of media and communication revolution that the Internet brought. The Internet will not threaten the magazines, if the more and more niche reader wishes to read them to find there specific things, which are not known in the networking sites, which are also more disruptive to contemplate the larger materials. Hence, thank God, the interest in “From above the Wilia” still remains. The evidence of this can be the editorial office’s mail. Looking through it, I have found many kind letters! Among them were letters from many famous people, not only from Poland. We received letters from Lithuanians, Jews, Russians, from the Nordic countries, even from Japan and China. Increasingly, there are researchers of our history and the present situation.
During these years the magazine reinvented itself.
Once again I will recollect Parish “Culture”, I mean a certain reference point. Figuratively speaking, my religion is the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.I always emphasize: I am Polish Lithuanian and I deplore what is happening now in the Polish-Lithuanian relations. In Vilnius we forget about the greatest wealth of this city – multi-ethnicity and multiculturalism. Without this there would be no such a soul of a character. Using the language of today’s people we are lacking “promotion of common achievements”. And I want to do it. Around the “From above the Wilia” grouped quite a few supporters of such point of view, with the memory of the WKL, the Poles in the context of the Lithuanian conditions, as well as the European opening, who also – as people thoroughly modern -are discussing issues for example on our facebook websites.
So it seems that you’re not alone, but you actually are, almost only one, you publish, promote and distribute “From above the Wilia.”
Well, I can not afford to have a marketing department, or even classical editors and vacancies. I have a few obliging people to help. As far as about the authors I am not complaining – since today I could publish a monthly magazine with the same volume, ie. 160 pages. People write willingly and often for free, so in thanks I put their names to the imprit: cooperation. Among them are the great scientists and writers, but also distributors of the heart. The current edition – 800 is completely “consumed”. “Consumed” because it’s more appropriate word than subscription for that occasion. But on this issue you have to work hard. The quarterly can be bought in RUCH and other distribution networks in Poland, in some bookstores, more and more copies are sent via emails. Returned copies we use for the promotion, they are sent to the libraries The plus of it is that it can stand on shelves.
You mentioned the subscription. I do not think any magazine can be proud that it is subscribed for example by the Library of Congress.
“From above the Wilia’ is also available in the libraries of the universities of Harvard, Stanford, Toronto, in the National Library of the United Kingdom, the Public Library in Berlin, the Bavarian Library, in the University Library of Greifswald, the Herder’s Institute in Marburg, and the institutions of the Polish community abroad in many countries. The list of Polish and Lithuanian recipients is much longer. It obliges.
What are you, as a publisher, the most pleased about?
It is the fact that “From above the Wilia” is read by more and more younger readers – students, graduate students, researchers of Polish-Lithuanian relations – and not only them, also those looking for their roots (and sometimes identity) already in the third generation. I am also glad that the magazine appears in a “normal”, though small distribution in Poland, because the knowledge about us starts to be insufficient there. It is nice that from individual cycles later are created books, that the literary magazine debuts take place in our magazine, that there are placed reproductions of young artists who after years are becoming famous and reviews of our creative achievements. On the other hand, it is sad that the extensive section on “Poland-Lithuania from month to month” contains so many problematic issues. This department is widely known among students, because they have a “nutshell” chronicle about events that recently happened with the given sources. The chronicle is properly sorted, comprising, fortunately, successes on the domain – information on economic cooperation, cultural events, awards and elevations, publications.
Speaking of awards, your large collection of them was enriched in this April with the Award of Maciej Płażyński, which you received for the highest level of journalism, objectivity and professionalism, for interesting accounts of the life of Poles in Lithuania and the development of the Polish-Lithuanian dialogue. How did you accept this message?
I did not think that I would get it. I thought it would better suit me at a time when I was intensive, “fighting” and incuring my wrath columnist. Now just in “From above the Wilia” I am writing less, because it is a quarterly, rather “old-fashioned”, and I even pick up subjects less popular, away from any combat. That’s why I was glad that the writing on the “long run” makes sense. And even more, that someone notices and appreciates it. Well we know that today, such rewards are given mostly to people of Internet, television and radio. It gives us hope that the readership is still alive.
Is there a place for dreams in this busy schedule?
“From above the Wilia” is the passion with which I cannot give up even for a day, as well as with some other things like organizing the next “May above the Wilia”. It constantly takes time, sometimes it is even troublesome. The older I get, the more I chase time. I’m curious about the world and I am interested in many things, I tend to be a speaker, a photographer, a participant in exhibitions, I even come into contact with the film. I was even a member of the prestigious Association of Polish Filmmakers, and I work as the coordinator of the exhibition projects in the Mazowiecki Institute of Culture. This is all important, but distracting, it distracts things I would like to devote more time and attention. I dream of completing at least two more books – fiction and poetry. To a large extent they were created during travels. I have more ideas for the scenarios, I think to write the book about … the service in the Red Army. It gives you a lot to think about, it also helps to understand why the system collapsed. In our everyday life, we cannot close eyes to what is happening around us nowadays. Involuntarily, I recollect the words of my great-uncle, Władyslaw Mieczkowski, settled in Szczecin, who knowing the miseries of a Soviet concentration camp used to say: “In the camp you could remain human, but after leaving the camp you should be very careful in order not to debase oneself”.
Translated by Katarzyna Ratajek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.