March 1, 2010 / 5:06 PM / in 8 years

Jibes fly over biography of Poland's Kapuscinski

WARSAW (Reuters Life!) - A court injunction and a heated public debate have heralded the upcoming release of a new biography about the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski.

Kapuscinski, who died in 2007 at the age of 74, covered the globe’s poorest and most dangerous places as a correspondent for Poland’s PAP state news agency from 1959 to 1981 and his subsequent books have been translated into 30 languages.

“Kapuscinski Non-fiction” by Artur Domoslawski has been the focus of a legal injunction by Kapuscinski’s widow, earned the ire of a government minister and the enmity of an Archbishop in the powerful Roman Catholic Church for daring to trifle with the reputation of an author who is lionized in Poland.

Kapuscinski won international recognition for his reports on Africa’s emergence from colonialism and his coverage of its subsequent descent into turmoil and war.

He wrote a number of books that have been widely hailed around the world such as “The Emperor,” which focused on the downfall of Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie; “Shah of Shahs” describing the overthrow of the Iran’s Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, “Imperium” on the break-up of the Soviet Union and “The Soccer War,” a set of dispatches from the developing world.

Domoslawski’s book delves into Kapuscinski’s personal relationships, accuses him of collaborating with Poland’s communist government and of making factual errors.

A government minister and a survivor of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, condemned Domoslawski, saying his book had violated journalistic ethics by applying a tabloid approach to Kapuscinski’s private life.

“There are also publishing houses to present a ranking of brothels (...), but I don’t think I’d like to publish my book in such a place,” Bartoszewski said referring to Kapuscinski’s affairs described in the book, to be released on Wednesday.

Those comments were echoed by many other commentators as well as several top members of Poland’s Roman Catholic church, including Archbishop Jozef Zycinski.

A MYTH ENDS

But others said Kapuscinski deserved a biography which looked into the more controversial parts of his life.

“I don’t think I have harmed the good memory of Kapuscinski. The truth just proved to be more complicated than the myth we have created,” Domoslawski said. “I still consider Kapuscinski my master.”

Kapuscinki’s widow Alicja Kapuscinska, unsuccessfully sought a court order to block the publication, saying it was damaging to her reputation and Kapuscinski’s memory. A publishing house, which was originally to release the book, also pulled out.

Though much respected in Poland, Kapuscinski has already been accused of spying for the communists on his travels to the world’s trouble spots at a time when it was nearly impossible to leave Poland without signing a cooperation declaration.

In an interview for Reuters in 2007 Alicja Kapuscinska said her husband was not a spy, but that contracts with the regime were the “price he had to pay” for traveling the world under communism, which was toppled in Poland in 1989.

Kapuscinski is the latest in a long line of public figures whose reputations have been tarnished by allegations of collaboration with Poland’s communist regime, an indication of the country’s continuing struggle to come to terms with a communist past that is now more than two decades old.

Kapuscinski was born into poverty in the town of Pinsk, now in Belarus, in 1932. He used to say he felt at home in Africa as “food was scarce there too and everyone was also barefoot.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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