Kerstens' Foundation

Fundacja Kerstenów

Adam Kersten

Fundacja Kerstenów została założona w 2011 roku, aby uczcić i upamiętnić życie oraz dokonania Krystyny i Adama Kerstenów.

We are responsible for the good and the evil

 Ireneusz J. Kaminski talks with Prof.  Adam Kersten
  Translated by M.J. Kersten

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Ireneusz J. Kaminski: Prof. Kersten, towards the end of October you initiated a series of open lectures under a general title “History of Poland for the Poles of the 21st century”.  The lectures take place in the “Chatka Zaka” (“Students’ Hut”) theatre of Maria Curie-Sklodowska University (Uniwesytet Marii Curie-Sklodowskiej: UMSC). The title is surprising if not teasing.

Adam Kersten: Last year, I finished writing a structurally complex, tiring and voluminous work (40 in-folio sheets) based on Hieronim Radziejowki’s biography, which aims at revealing the mechanisms of power in the 17th century Polish Republic. I spent almost eight years writing the book and I promised myself to write something lighter.  For quite some time I have had an idea related to my conviction that the historical tradition in which we have all been raised is the tradition of the sword, whereas I would like it to be the tradition of the thought. I wrote a few chapters and drafted a few more. When it is finished it will be a book that represents my view on what should remain in the historical awareness of society. Thus the 21st century in the title of the above mentioned series is no longer megalomaniac or, in your words, a teaser; it is the first signal of my intensions.

IK.:  But it does not explain what led to the lectures in the “Students’ Hut”.

AK:  Simply put, I responded to the request made by the Independent Students’ Association of Maria Curie-Sklodowska University. One cannot refuse a social call of this nature.  Please understand that I have a very low opinion of the Polish people’s knowledge of history, including the intelligentsia, if I may use this imprecise term. We have great love for the past, unsupported by any deeper understanding.  In the public perception, everything is of the same value, i.e. a historical movie, a novel, an essay, journalistic writing, monographs and university textbooks. 

An average member of the intelligentsia does not understand the concept of literary fiction. During heated discussions about the movie version of Potop, they were trying to convince me that the movie should reflect historical truth – an impossible task. A movie must strike a balance between the realities of the past and the capacity of the people of the second half the 20th century to adapt facts, ideas and historical perspectives.  Had I shown in Potop a magnate’s castle as it really looked, the audience would have thrown at me and at the movie director all the dirt that they could find in the chambers and in other spaces.  Had I presented an incredibly fierce 17th century artillery attack, when the ball from one cannon was fired once in every 45 minutes, it would have proven to be excruciatingly boring for today’s audiences, who know the rhythm of high caliber automatic weapons.

Furthermore, we are attached to some isolated facts, selected from the entirety of historical mechanisms, in other words, we can't see the forest for the trees.

However, the main reason for my poor opinion about the Poles’ understanding of history is the realization that an average person sees history as a set of once and forever strictly established facts and notions that can never be changed. Science becomes a holy scripture and each change in interpretation borders on political bias, if not falsification. I am not a dedicated relativist in my approach to historical sciences.  I do not think that every generation recreates history. However, I am convinced that we are able to reconstruct the past only approximately and only to some degree. Such thinking, however, does not convince many people; it raises suspicions. This is obviously related to teaching, to forcing specific political agendas by the school. Many “established facts” presented in textbooks evoke my unrelenting resistance. I am totally indifferent to religion, but I think, that when presenting Kuźnicę Kołłątajowską, one can and should mention the spirituality of these patriots, activists and writers.  However, not all the textbooks are bad. There are some bad ones but there are many quite good. 

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Polish source: Interview conducted by Ireneusz J. Kaminski and published in Kameny, Nr 25 (719), Lublin, 7.12.1980.