LIKE EVERYONE applying for U.S. citizenship, Michal Rozbicki
had to take an oral exam. In his case, the examiner asked him to
explain the significance of the First Amendment and its relevance
to freedom of speech.
He hesitated, and tried to compose his thoughts. Rozbicki was
born in Poland 49 years ago. He grew up in the rubble of Warsaw,
which had been devastated in the second World War.
One day, while playing in a friend's attic, he came across an
old issue of Life magazine. The lifestyle revealed therein seemed
glamorous, and what's more, when he examined the date of the
issue, he saw that it was from 1944. It was wartime, and yet the
people seemed so happy and prosperous! Rozbicki was 9 or 10 years
old when he saw that Life magazine, but it created an image he
His father had been educated before the war, before the coming
of the Russians, and in the privacy of the family's apartment, he
taught his son a version of history that was forbidden in the
Stalinist schools. This was not unusual. All over Eastern Europe,
the young intelligentsia learned on two parallel tracks that never
intersected. What you learned at home you were not allowed to
repeat in schools.
Eventually, Rozbicki went to the university, and he majored in
English and American literature. What he was really studying,
though, was American culture. That old copy of Life magazine was
still, more or less, his guiding star.
In fact, the impression it had created was only reinforced as
he grew older.
"When you live in a totalitarian state, everything is
censored," he told me. "When we wanted to find out the truth, we
used to listen to Radio Free Europe."
And where did this voice of truth come from? The United States
Rozbicki was an excellent student. Only once did he fail an
exam, and that exam was administered by a member of the Communist
"We all had to have military training. At the end, we took an
exam. The question was about NATO, and I answered it at some
length. `You know a lot,' the instructor said, `but you didn't
sufficiently condemn NATO's hostile plans.' "
Although his military career was checkered, his academic career
was not. Rozbicki earned two doctorates, one in English history
and one in American colonial history.
When Solidarity rose out of the shipyards of Gansk in 1981,
Rozbicki was teaching at the university, and he was one of the
first at the school to join the movement. After the union was
crushed and martial law was imposed, Rozbicki, like the other
dissidents, opted for patience.
"We never suspected that the government would suddenly
collapse," he said. "Instead, we were hoping for a gradual
liberalization. You see, you cannot preserve a totalitarian regime
in partial form. …