The Emperor, R.I.P.

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The great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski died last night at age 74. It's a big loss; Kapuscinski hadn't lost any of his skills, and had just wrapped a book that will come out later this year. As Michael Kaufman's obiturary reminds us, he was more than an indespensible historian of the Shah of Iran, Haile Selassi, and Idi Amin. He was also, as anyone who saw so many wrecked societies must be, an anti-Communist.

In 1981, after he had committed himself to the Solidarity trade union movement, the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski stripped him of his journalistic credentials. He then began working with underground publishers, contributing poems and supporting the dissident culture.

Eventually, as his reputation abroad grew, foreign royalties and commissions enabled him to move to his own house in central Warsaw.

Most of Kapuscinski's books are in print and inexpensive. It's a little harder to find his Soviet Union epitaph Imperium, but it's worth it.

NEXT: Virtual Nazis. I Hate Virtual Nazis.

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  1. Wow, that’s pretty impressive. RIP.

    Why are European anti-communists so much better than our anti-communists?

    They get Lech Walesa, we get Joe McCarthy.

    They get George Orwell, we get Ayn Rand.

    They get “My eyes were opened by their strong-arm tactics taking over the union,” we get “My eyes were opened by how the race agitators tried to destroy our traditional way of life.”

    They get this guy, we get Richard Nixon. No fair!

  2. Well, over here, what does a writer of subtle prose need with anti-communism? There’s no need to cloak your ideas in allegory or metaphor. You can say what you mean here, and not worry too much about getting tossed in the pokey.

  3. Here it’s pro-communists who hone their skills of saying what they mean without making it too obvious.

  4. You mean like the pro-communists under your bed?

    They’re coming for you, lunchstealer. They’re all around you!

  5. Joe’s bathroom is breeding Bolsheviks.

    I have never seen joe and Joseph Stalin in the same place at the same time. Coincidence? I THINK NOT!

  6. I always hold my hand beneath my nose like this.

    Huh? Oh, no reason.

  7. This is a shock. I kind of got the impression the guy was immortal. I believe at least four governments had sentenced him to death for his activities. He will be sorely missed.

  8. Why are European anti-communists so much better than our anti-communists?

    I dunno, you’ll have to detail your dismay with the failings of anti-communists like, oh, Truman and Kennedy…

    They get George Orwell, we get Ayn Rand.

    Not to criticize or defend Rand, but “we got” her after she left the Soviet Union.

  9. Actually, what I meant was more that political repression (in Kapuscinski’s case) may have led him to greater eloquence than if he’d been free to criticise his government outright. He had to write something that could be considered politically neutral, or even anti-imperialist, before he could get published. So The Emperor becomes an eloquent indictment of communist authoritarianism, but is couched in terms of a failing monarchist.

    My point about pro-communists is that in this country, being anti-communist is about as risky as being anti-child-molestor. In this country it was pro-communists who suffered persecution (although arguably less than anti-communists behind the Iron Curtain), and so they are likely to be the more literary.

    My theory doesn’t explain Orwell, but I’ve always found him a bit obvious and didactic, myself. Perhaps it was the insanely anti-communist 7th grade history teacher who made everyone read Animal Farm, but I’ve never really felt that he was more than one or two steps above Rand in subtlety and readability.

  10. This is a shock. I kind of got the impression the guy was immortal. I believe at least four governments had sentenced him to death for his activities. He will be sorely missed.

    Why did reading that immediately trigger “I’ve got the death sentence in twelve systems!”

    Oh, yeah. Because I’m a dork.

  11. “I dunno, you’ll have to detail your dismay with the failings of anti-communists like, oh, Truman and Kennedy…”

    OK, let’s say those are the very cream of the American anti-communist crop. They were politicians who were hawkish towards the Soviets, but still supportive of civil liberties. George Orwell, man! Vaclev Havel!

    “Not to criticize or defend Rand, but “we got” her after she left the Soviet Union.” Exactly. We couldn’t have gotten Orwell. We couldn’t have gotten this Kapuscinski fellow. But oh, no, we get loony-toons hatemonger Ayn Rand. Great.

  12. Yeah, joe …
    That Ayn Rand was sure an intellectual lightweight. I’m disappointed she didn’t come to America to become a bureaucrat or left-wing welfare recipient in some public university school of philosophy, instead of spreading the intellectual poison of rational self-interest, capitalism, human freedom and individual rights. And she had the balls to defend them philosophically, too. How terrible and treasonous.
    Oh, forgot to mention: You’re a fucking idiot.

  13. “Oh, forgot to mention: You’re a fucking idiot.”

    Spoken like a true Randian. And here I’d thought that Joe had gone overboard. Thanks for at least giving his characterization credibility. Rand had balls…or Thatcher’s even? Christ, she couldn’t carry Kapuscinski’s balls with a wheelbarrow. You might crack one of his books sometime. It contains stuff about “rational self-interest, capitalism, human freedom, and individual rights,” oh, and he had something called empathy too, which seems to be wanting among so many of the Randians who post here.

  14. Kapuscinski was a great man, but being an anti-Communist does not by itself merit praise. Some real creeps have been anti-Communists. Not everybody whom the commies persecuted were wonderful people. Some of them were Nazi sympathizers. The real world has more shades of grey than most zealous ideologues would like or are able to see. Far be it from libertarians to engage in such zealotry, of course.

  15. “Some real creeps have been anti-Communists.”

    Good call, Edward. While the last sentence dilutes your good point in that posting, you make a very important point.

    You missed some arguments here from a few years back where some people seemingly were (defending?) minimizing (?) right wing dictatorships when compared with left wing ones. (also – the latest pope, George Ringo or something like that, is a perfect example, IMO, of that sort of anti communist.)

  16. OK, let’s say those are the very cream of the American anti-communist crop. They were politicians who were hawkish towards the Soviets, but still supportive of civil liberties. George Orwell, man! Vaclev Havel!

    Thatcher? 🙂

    “Not to criticize or defend Rand, but “we got” her after she left the Soviet Union.” Exactly. We couldn’t have gotten Orwell. We couldn’t have gotten this Kapuscinski fellow. But oh, no, we get loony-toons hatemonger Ayn Rand. Great.

    I’m not a huge fan of Rand, but that is a bit overboard, joe. Further, my point was that contra “They get ‘My eyes were opened by their strong-arm tactics taking over the union,’ we get ‘My eyes were opened by how the race agitators tried to destroy our traditional way of life'”, Rand grew up in just that sort of system and escaped it.

    Nor do I generally buy the argument you’re implicitly making, that Team Blue folks generally failed to be anti-communist, leaving it to the Team Red blowhards…

    Of course, I may just be wrong to argue this point. As great as some anti-communists who had to deal with communist regimes or far-leftist influence in their societies were and are, it’s simply better to live in a country where communism was safely marginalized. If having asshole anti-communists instead of eloquent, oppressed anti-communist heroes is some part of the price we paid for not having to live under communism, it seems worth it…

    But, just as a final note about Europe…Germany, Italy, France, and some other places had quite a run of anti-communists who were far, far worse that America got. 😉

  17. Sorry, I inexplicable put “France” when I meant “Spain”. Though, I suppose they work as well…

  18. And typing ability abandons me.

  19. When The Bolsheviks took over in Russia they didn’t wreck the economy because there was only a semi feudal economy that was there

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