Obituaries: Ryszard Kapuscinski, a chronicler of conflict

Autor:Michael T. Kaufman
Źródło:The International Herald Tribune

ANKARA: Ryszard Kapuscinski, a globe-trotting journalist from Poland
whose writing, often tinged with magical realism, brought him critical
acclaim and a wide international readership, died Tuesday in Warsaw. He
was 74.

His death, in a hospital, was reported by PAP, the Polish news agency
for which he had worked. No cause was given, but he was known to have
had cancer. Kapuscinski spent four decades observing and writing about
conflict throughout the developing world.

He witnessed 27 coups and revolutions. He spent his working days
gathering information for the terse dispatches he sent to PAP, often
from places like Ouagadougou or Zanzibar. At night, he worked on longer,
descriptive essays with phantasmagoric touches that went far beyond the
details of the day’s events, using allegory and metaphor to convey what
was happening.

„It’s not that the story is not getting expressed” in ordinary news
reports, he said in an interview. „It’s what surrounds the story. The
climate, the atmosphere of the street, the feeling of the people, the
gossip of the town; the smell; the thousands and thousands of elements
that are part of the events you read about in 600 words of your morning

From the 1970s on, these articles appeared in a series of books that
quickly made Kapuscinski Poland’s best-known foreign correspondent. They
later drew international attention in translation.

The books included „The Soccer War,” which dealt with Latin American
conflicts; „Another Day of Life,” about Angola’s civil war; „Shah of
Shahs,” about the rise and fall of Iran’s last monarch; and „Imperium,”
an account of his travels through Russia and its neighbors after the
collapse of the Soviet Union.

The book that introduced Kapuscinski to readers and critics beyond
Poland was a slim one, ostensibly about Ethiopia, which he wrote in 1978
and which appeared in English five years later under the title „The
Emperor.” Subtitled „Downfall of an Autocrat,” the book on one level
portrayed the lapsed life of Haile Selassie’s imperial court by citing
the recollections of palace servants, like the man responsible for
cleaning the shoes of visiting dignitaries.

A number of critics noted that despite the book’s documentary form, it
provided an allegory of absolutist power everywhere. Writing in The New
Yorker, John Updike said the book emphasized „the inevitable tendency of
a despot, be he king, ward boss or dictator, to prefer loyalty to
ability in his subordinates, and to seek safety in stagnation.”

His fame growing, Kapuscinski began writing for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and the British journal Granta.

Though each of Kapuscinski’s books was distinct, they all shared a
sense of shimmering reality. There was, for instance, his account of the
departure of Portuguese settlers from Angola as independence and civil
war settled on the country. He described how everything of value, from
cars to refrigerators, was leaping into boxes and floating off to

In preparing these articles he never took notes and used memory to
stimulate his poetic imagination. In „Imperium,” he evoked the wintry
cold of the old Soviet penal colonies by quoting a schoolgirl who said
she could tell who had passed by her house by the shape of the tunnels
they had left in the crystallized air.

Kapuscinski, the son of schoolteachers, was born March 4, 1932, in
Pinsk, a city now in Belarus. His family eventually made its way to
Warsaw, where Kapuscinski’s father fought with resistance groups. In
1962, PAP, the news agency, appointed Kapuscinski its only correspondent
in the Third World. He came to know Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, Ben
Bella in Algeria, Che Guevara in Cuba and Idi Amin in Uganda.

He covered the bloody uprising on Zanzibar in 1964 and the war between
El Salvador and Honduras in 1970. He was in southern Angola in 1975 when
South African forces invaded.

He would travel for months at a time and then return to the two-room
apartment in Warsaw that he shared with his wife, Alicja Mielczarek, a

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

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, he traveled to Moscow, Siberia,
Georgia and Armenia, observing life there and recording the ravages of
the Soviet era. Those travels yielded „Imperium,” published in the
United States by Knopf in 1994.

Ismail Cem, a former Turkish foreign minister who together with his
Greek counterpart was the driving force behind the thawing relations
between the two archrivals, died of lung cancer Wednesday, an Istanbul
hospital and his family said. He was 67.

Cem served as foreign minister under three successive governments
between 1997 and 2003, becoming one of the longest-serving Turkish
foreign minister in recent years. His greatest achievement was forging
close ties with Greece, largely due to his friendship with Greece’s
former foreign minister, George Papandreou.

The thaw had followed a mutual outpouring of aid and sympathy following
deadly earthquakes that struck both countries in 1999. $@(AP)

Leopoldo Pirelli, headed tire firm

ROME: Leopoldo Pirelli, former chairman of the Italian tire and real
estate company that was founded by his family, died Tuesday, the company
said. He was 81. The Pirelli company did not release a cause of death,
but said Pirelli died at his home at the northern seaside resort of

Pirelli stepped down in 1996 from the leadership of the company that
was founded by his grandfather Giovanni Battista Pirelli. He joined the
board of Pirelli in 1954 and was appointed deputy chairman in 1956 and
chairman in 1965, according to the company and „Who’s Who in Italy.”