Watergate author hits at 'censorship' by Poles

The Pope is going home to a row over his biography, Steve Crawshaw reports
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The Independent Online
The Poles fought hard for free speech during the Communist era, and played a key role in the collapse of communist regimes throughout the region. In a new era of freedom, however, some Poles seem ready to indulge in self-censorship to a startling degree.

The American journalist Carl Bernstein, famous for his part in uncovering the Watergate affair, has declared war on the Polish publisher of His Holiness, his biography of Pope John Paul II, for cuts it wanted to make - about anti-Semitism, about the Polish primate Jozef Glemp ("Comrade Glemp"), and about the Pope's health.

Mr Bernstein's American publisher, Doubleday, is suing the Polish publisher, Amber, for damages and demanding that the book be recalled. Bernstein himself complained: "The Polish publishing industry suffers from the same kind of mentality that characterised the communist era."

The Pope arrived yesterday for his seventh papal visit to his native Poland. The publication of the Polish edition of His Holiness ("impartial, revealing, fascinating") was timed to coincide with his arrival. But the Polish publisher seems less than eager to grasp historical nettles.

Thus, a rosy portrait of the relationship between the Pope's family and their Jewish neighbours is followed, in the English-language edition, by a note that this was "hardly the average Polish experience". Bernstein and his co-author, Marco Politi, quote from a pastoral letter by the then Catholic primate: "There will be a Jewish problem as long as the Jews remain ... The Jews are fighting against the Catholic Church, persisting in free thinking, and are the vanguard of godlessness, Bolshevism and subversion." This, and a string of similar quotations, were cut from the proposed Polish text.

When Doubleday became aware of the planned changes, it sent a letter expressing "shock and disbelief". The Polish publisher claimed last week that Doubleday had failed to respond to the proposed changes until it was too late. Doubleday insists, on the contrary, that it only became aware of the proposed changes when Amber repeatedly refused to give galley proofs to Politi.

"I've been in publishing for 25 years," said Eric Major, a Doubleday vice-president, "and I've never come across anything as cavalier as this." The cuts even included some that implicitly praised the new Polish honesty about anti-Semitism.

Paradoxically, Amber's attempted censorship is likely to give greater publicity to Bernstein and Politi's comments than they would otherwise have had. In the Polish edition, the cuts are grudgingly listed in a special appendix, which complains about the authors' "drastic, undocumented or over-subjective assessments and theories". This makes grim but almost comic reading, reminiscent of the famous Black Book of Censorship, which in the 1970s illegally printed the communist censor's instructions.

Ewa Malacinska, of Amber Publishing, said that the deleted references would be "offensive" to Polish readers. Doubleday hopes differently - another Polish publisher has expressed interest in producing the biography without cuts. Sales should be good.