Richard Kapuscinski (1932-2007) - The Most Celebrated Polish Reporter

Richard Kapuscinski (1932-2007) - Polish most celebrated reporter died at the end of January after the unsuccessful heart operation.

young Kapuscinski Kapuscinski was nominated for the Nobel award unfortunately he died too soon. He would fully deserve the Nobel since his reporting contributed greatly to a better understanding of many parts of the world. But he did nor really care for awards or recognition. He treated his life as a mission. He was sent to countries scourged by conflicts. He tried to understand the life of average peoples there. He never simplified the reality of politics or classified the sides of conflict as black or white.

Kapuscinski Kapuscinski was always prepared for his trips. He read tons of books about the history and problems of the region he was going to visit. It is said that in order to write one page of his book he had to read about a hundred pages written by others. He risked his health and life many times. He was trying to understand the mentality of the natives of the country he was in. When he was there, he lived the life of the peoples of country he visited, he tried to think the way they did.

He tried to understand and to explain the sources and nature of the conflicts in the world. Kapuscinski wrote widely and deeply on wars and dictators. His first worldwide known book is about infamous Ehiopia's dictator Haile Selassie called The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat first published in 1978. Then he wrote about Shah of Iran Shah of Shahs (1982) and finally after the collapse of the Soviet Union a book called Imperium.

Kapuscinski's Imperium about Soviet Union starts with the chapter about his own childhood. Pinsk, the town where he was born, was invaded by Soviets in 1939. He remembers a terrible hunger there as well as the massive and senseless deportations to Siberia. Kapuscinski's father was taken to Katyn, but he escaped from the transport. When they learned that his father is safe, Kapuscinski's mother sold everything in Pinsk, rented a horse cart and went towards Warsaw to look for her husband. They found him unexpectedly while passing through one of the villages.

Kapuscinski-funeralKapuscinski studied history at Warsaw University. After graduating in 1951 he went back to journalism. In 1955, he was sent to Nowa Huta - a big steelwork next to Krakow. Since this was the end of the Stalin epoch he was allowed to describe the hard, primitive conditions of work there. His report was highly prized. Then Kapuscinski was sent abroad "so that he would stop being interested in uncomfortable subjects". He went first to India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, then to China and Japan. Kapuscinski later admitted that he was not prepared for these first trips, he barely knew English. He admitted that the old cultures of the East intimidated him.

Kapuscinski-funeralIn the 60-es he was the only foreign correspondent of the Polish Press Agency responsible for about fifty countries. In that time he traveled through developing countries of Africa, Asia and the Americas. Since 1969 he became a foreign correspondent in South America for the next 5 years. In that time he lived through twenty-seven revolutions and coups.

Kapuscinski made his books freely and legally available through the internet. This is how I was able to read his reports about Africa in the book entitled "Heban" (known also under English title: The Shadow of the Sun) and also fragments of his books about South and Central America, among them Why Karl Von Spreti Died (1970) - about Guatemala in 1960s and 1970s, The Soccer War (1970) and Christ With a Rifle on His Shoulder (1975) - about partisan movements in Africa, Latin America and Middle East. Kapuscinski did not hide his criticism towards the world corporations as well as the main world powers - like the US, Germany, Great Britain or Soviet Union. He explains how their actions meddle with the interest of regular people in small countries which are often run by corrupted governments supported by big international corporations. We need more people like him to understand and improve the world around us!

Copyrights Baba Jaga Corner
May 2007

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here
Photographs of Kapuscinski and his funeral are thanks to the authors of the website:
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Several Kapuscinski's books are available in English. Some of them are listed below:

Travels with Herodotus

The Shadow of the Sun


The Emperor

Shah of Shahs

The Soccer War


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