Above: RFE letterhead of the 1960s
Marek Latynski (Łatyński) worked for Radio Free Europe’s (RFE’s) Polish broadcast service for nearly two decades and was its director during the final three years of communist Poland, 1987–89. His papers are a significant complement to the extensive documentation of RFE and its Polish service available at Hoover.
Latynski was born in Warsaw in 1930 into a middle-class family. Much of his childhood and youth coincided with periods of Nazi and Stalinist terror in Poland. During the German occupation of the country, he attended classes in an underground gymnasium. After the war, the communists imprisoned his father for six years on trumped-up charges of “economic sabotage.” Latynski’s university studies were in English language and literature at the universities of Cracow and Warsaw. He was also very interested in twentieth-century Polish history but had to study it on his own, as this was a subject under the rigid control of the Communist Party. Although still a student, Latynski found employment in the Polish Radio’s foreign-language programming. He worked there until his defection from Polish People’s Republic in 1967. During a few months’ stay in Paris, Latynski was noticed by two key Polish émigré leaders, Jerzy Giedroyc, the Paris publisher, and Jan Nowak-Jezioranski, the director of the Polish service of RFE. Nowak offered Latynski a job with RFE in Munich. His association with RFE, first in charge of daily news and later as director of the Polish service, lasted until the end of 1989, with a two-year hiatus in the 1980s when he served as Voice of America’s commentator on East Central Europe in Washington, DC. Latynski returned to Munich as director of RFE’s Polish broadcast service. His tenure, from March 1987 through November 1989, coincided with the momentous changes taking place in Poland and within the Soviet bloc, now led by the aspiring reformer of the unreformable system, the last Soviet Communist Party general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev. In January 1988, the communists stopped jamming RFE programming and the Munich radio greatly increased its daily presence in Poland. Live telephone interviews with Solidarity opposition leaders and prominent cultural and religious figures, combined with in-depth uncensored international and domestic news, helped solidify national consensus for a peaceful political change. Under Latynski’s direction, Radio Free Europe Polish broadcasting became an important medium for the anticommunist opposition during the Round Table Talks with the communist regime and the semi-free elections of June 1989, which opened the way for a democratic Poland. In July 1989 Marek Latynski made his first trip to his homeland in more than two decades, as a member of George H. Bush’s press entourage during the president’s official visit to Poland.
Latynski’s mission was over. He briefly worked as the Paris commentator for the Polish radio and, during 1991−94, as Poland’s ambassador to Switzerland. He also continued to write and publish, first his RFE memoirs, titled The English Garden (the Munich street address of RFE), and later a greatly expanded and revised edition of his study on Stalinist terror in Poland of the 1940s and early 1950s. He died in Warsaw in 2003.
Latynski’s sixteen-box collection consists of his RFE papers, the archives connected with his ambassadorial tenure in Bern, and his historical manuscripts. The Hoover Archives is home to both broadcast and corporate archives of Radio Free Europe. It also includes the individual papers of a dozen other staff members of its Polish service, including the papers of another director, Zdzisław Najder (1983−87), and the manuscript autobiography and photographs of Colonel Andrzej Czechowicz, the communist security service agent who infiltrated RFE during 1965−71.
Maciej Siekierski siekierski [at] stanford [dot] edu