When the Polish authorities declared martial law in 1981, one third of the members of the Communist Party resigned. Members of the Artists’ Union, Writers’ Union, Journalists’ Union, and Architects’ Union were also faced with a simple choice: stay in and support the government, or quit. Most quit. Most, in fact, immediately joined boycotts of state-funded museums, galleries, newspapers, periodicals, and cultural institutions. Parallel institutions sprang up: art exhibitions in churches, underground newspapers, alternative theaters. A friend of mine, an art critic, remembers the immediate post-Solidarity era as one of clarity. “It was all very easy then. The lines were drawn, you knew who was who,” he says, not without a certain nostalgia.

Seven years later, the political blacks and whites have turned disturbingly grey. Intellectuals of all types have drifted, not always gracefully, across the...


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