Master Reporter Signs Off

Autor:Marcin Mierzejewski
Źródło:Warsaw Voice

Ryszard Kapuściński, one of the best known Polish journalists and
writers, died in Warsaw after a long illness Jan. 23. He was active
until the last days of his life, meeting his readers and planning work
on new books. He would have been 75 on March 4.

Kapuściński made his first trip as a reporter to China in 1956, sent by
the Warsaw-based newspaper Sztandar Młodych. Later, he made trips to
Africa, South America and Asia, which resulted in a number of highly
regarded works. His books are read across the world and Kapuściński is
considered one of the most important literary witnesses of his times.

As early as the 1950s, Kapuściński gained a reputation as a talented
and ambitious reporter in Poland. At the beginning of his career, he
received the Golden Cross of Merit of People’s Poland, a high state
distinction, for his reports from Nowa Huta, which served as an example
of „building socialism” in Poland at the time. Soon the young journalist
proved he was destined to become more than just a humble reporter. When
riots and demonstrations broke out in Poland in 1956, preceding a thaw
after a period of brutal Stalinism, Kapuściński interrupted his stay in
China in order to demonstrate solidarity with his Sztandar Młodych
colleagues who took part in anti-government protests. He was fired from
the paper as a result.

Soon, new, more liberal authorities took power in Poland and
Kapuściński was offered the job of domestic news editor for Polityka
weekly. This allowed him to develop his reporting skills. He traveled
around Poland, and his insightful stories won him great popularity, not
just among Polityka readers.

Kapuściński gained real fame after his reports from war-torn Congo in
1958. His first trip to Africa strengthened his passion for reporting.

Later, he wrote that the source of his creativity was „a fascination
with countries that are waking up to life, new continents where things
are only just beginning, where poverty and hunger intertwine with hope
for a better tomorrow.”

Passion and poetry

He retained this fascination to the end, though his interests
broadened, as did the genres he took up in later periods. In 1990, he
published the first volume from the Lapidarium series-a collection of
reflections and notes from reading and from his journeys. These differ
from his earlier work, bordering between essay and diary, with elements
of reporting. The next volumes (Lapidarium II-1995, III-1997, IV-2000)
evolved, and included fewer and fewer personal experiences, giving room
for more reflection on the nature of the world. As well as the writer’s
own opinions, the Lapidarium series includes collections of quotes, with
comments by Kapuściński.

In 1986 Kapuściński unveiled a different, artistic side of himself and
published a book of poetry. The readers of Notes are given the chance to
get to know an interesting, mature poet. „In prose, the best part of
his work, Kapuściński is somewhat in the shade of the subject he
observes, reflects on and analyzes; he hides behind the subject,” wrote
Krzysztof Karasek in a review. „Whether it is The Emperor, or Shah of
Shahs, it seems that the writer is not present in his works… In
poetry, an important part of Kapuściński’s personality is revealed. The
undiscovered, sometimes hidden, human part.”

Global view

Kapuściński gained immense experience as a roving correspondent who got
to know the world and its problems during his long professional career.
This allowed him to speak about global problems with great insight.
„The conflict of civilizations may turn out enriching or destructive,”
he said in March last year at a meeting with readers in Cracow. „We may
discover a means of communicating, for the exchange of goods and values,
or we may kill one another because the world is full of terrifying
amounts of arms that are easily accessible and cheap. Each year, 80
million more people come into our world-a world without a central
government, without a common language or religion, without shared
mechanisms that the entire world population could follow.”

Despite many pessimistic reflections, he also saw the brighter side of
contemporary times. At the same meeting in Cracow, Kapuściński spoke
about „the great triumph of humanity” that is able to live more
peacefully today than ever before. „After all, let us remember that all
the armed conflicts taking place on our planet now-and there are
41-affect only one percent of the human population. A vast majority of
people live in peace.”

Kapuściński always stood up for the poor, devoting most of his books
and reports to developing countries. Neither was he afraid of directing
harsh words at Western countries.

Modest authority

In his later books Kapuściński called for joint responsibility for the
world and its problems. Despite the respect and authority he enjoyed, on
a personal level he was a modest and selfless man.

A colleague from The Warsaw Voice office, who met him in the 1970s,
recalls: „I met Ryszard Kapuściński by accident, at my friends’ home in
Milanówek near Warsaw. At first, I didn’t know who that slightly
withdrawn man was. Later, the host told me and my father that he was the
famous reporter who writes reports from the world’s most dangerous
places, risking his life.”

With Kapuściński’s help, our colleague and her family managed to get in
touch with her uncle, who was in Britain. She said, „After the war, my
uncle could not return to Poland, because he would have been imprisoned
[by the communists]. We only knew that he worked as a miner in Wales. My
father told Kapuściński this story. Next year we met Kapuściński again,
at the same friends’ home. It turned out that while in Britain, he had
found my uncle and met him. He brought us letters from him and a tale
about his postwar life. He did that selflessly, just to help us.” The
severed family links were reestablished. Our colleague still maintains
contacts with her late uncle’s daughter who lives in Wales.

Kapuściński used to say that you need special physical and mental
qualities to become a foreign correspondent. „There are eight conditions
you have to meet in order to succeed in this profession: you have to be
physically fit, be resilient and curious about the world, have language
and traveling skills, and be open to other people and cultures,” he
said. As well as all that, a true reporter „must act with passion, and,
in the first place, think.”

Kapuściński was recently mentioned as one of the most serious
contenders for the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. His books are
studied by journalism students around the world. The news of his death
was reported worldwide, often on the front pages of newspapers.

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