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An American in Warsaw/Dreams of Field



An American in Warsaw

Jane Dobija came of age in the 60s and took the era a little more to heart than she might have. Then a budding feminist studying in Ann Arbor, today she's an expatriate journalist gone to Poland.

"I never felt comfortable here"--"here" being the United States--"after the revolution, the cultural revolution of the 60s," Dobija told us. "I guess it wasn't just cultural. But I certainly experienced it as much less the street celebration it was portrayed as in the history books and much more a time of challenge to all the values I had grown up with. People seemed to be saying, 'We're not satisfied with the way this country has evolved.'"

Even if much of that dissatisfaction has survived the past 20 years of American history, it's hard to make out through the flag-waving. Dobija believes her generation failed. "I thought we were all interested in trying to make some adjustments to make the country more satisfying and less alienating. I can't speak for everybody, but it seems it became very hard to do as we became older. One by one, people gave up. The texture of life changed a little bit, but the desire to question and search was gone."

Gone from America, at any rate. The emergence of Solidarity in Poland made it clear that the same desire burned brightly in other places. By 1983, which is when Dobija managed to get to Poland, that country was under martial law. She spent a year learning the language and doing research into the women of Solidarity, and she left reluctantly. She returned in 1986 and has lived in Poland since.

"It was very clear there was an unfinished revolution there, and that was very attractive to me," she explained. But wasn't there one in America? we said. "Yes," she replied, "but there's such inertia and apathy. I don't feel the same hope coming home here that I felt going to Poland during martial law."

Dobija reported from Poland as a National Public Radio stringer for a couple of years, but the better she understood the country the more frustrated she became with the Western media, NPR included. "When the story became subtler, no longer a revolution of sensations but a revolution of people searching their souls for a new way of doing things, I found it was very hard to find an editor who was interested in that story."

There's a point some journalists get to when the artifice of their own reports screams at them. Dobija may have reached that point; what she concluded, at any rate, was that the most authentic journalism she could send west from Poland would be written by the Poles themselves. She is now editor in chief of Gazeta International, the weekly English-language edition of Gazeta Wyborcza ("Electoral Gazette"), Poland's largest daily. (To inquire about subscribing, write PO Box 348, New York, NY 10040.) Gazeta Wyborcza, 13 months old, is a product of the Solidarity movement and carries the Solidarity logo on its front page. Its editor is Adam Michnik, one of the most prominent of Poland's former dissident intellectuals.

When Gazeta International first appeared early this year, everything in it was translated from Gazeta Wyborcza. But Dobija isn't settling for that. She began hiring the occasional Polish writer to contribute directly to her paper, and now she's forming alliances with papers in neighboring countries. "My vision is to make it an international newspaper focusing on the Eastern bloc."

Circulation is up to 10,000, she said. She came to Chicago to search for underwriters and subscribers, and she told us that one of the more helpful Poles she'd met here was Jaroslaw Cholodecki, president of the Polish American Economic Forum. After Dobija returned to Warsaw we got in touch with Cholodecki, and discovered that he admires Dobija but thinks she might be headed for trouble.

He's afraid there's something illusory to her idea of creating a common sounding board for the East. "I think the era of Eastern European journalism which is able to unite itself and present Czechoslovak journalism and Hungarian journalism and Polish journalism is already fading," Cholodecki told us. "All these countries are looking for their own agents of expression.

"I predict, rather, divisions now among the elites. It's happening already--I saw a Hungarian delegation to a congress in Gdansk not very satisfied by the way the delegation was treated by Polish leaders. It will be a time of disillusion."

Even within Poland, alliances have been shattered. The Solidarity logo carried by Gazeta Wyborcza (and Gazeta International) is now in dispute: Lech Walesa, who accuses Adam Michnik of opposing him politically through the paper, wants the logo removed and Michnik fired.

Is Dobija one of the disillusioned? we asked Cholodecki.

"I didn't talk to her about it," he said. "I think she's too idealistic."

But even if Eastern Europeans wouldn't buy Dobija's newspaper, what of it? we argued; she's publishing it for a Western audience.

So she is, Cholodecki answered wryly; and conceded that there might be a market for a paper "that will present a spectrum of issues that relate to a region that from this distance looks like one region, one rediscovered part of the world. The fragmentation of Eastern Europe is unknown for most of the people in the West."

But, he went on, "I am also an idealist. I was a man who started a paper." A year ago, Cholodecki said, he began faxing out a bulletin called "News From Poland and East European News." The bulletin, with circulation in the Chicago area of about 300, lasted eight months.

"I know how difficult it is to find an audience for this kind of stuff," Cholodecki said.

Dobija told us she is not the only Western do-gooder in Warsaw. "It seems to me there is the beginning of an aggregation of people like myself in the Eastern bloc," she reflected. "A few Brits but primarily Americans, and primarily my generation or much younger."

What brings the young? we said.

"That's interesting, isn't it? You have to remember you're talking about very few people, so it's not at all a movement. Perhaps it's just the excitement that draws them, and perhaps the time of their lives to develop careers comes at a time when developments in Eastern Europe open up tremendous possibilities if you have the guts to do it and if you can find a place for yourself. Look at it as a practical thing. A lot of businesses are setting up. Everything is needed."

We asked Dobija if she expects to make money hand over fist. "When I told people at Gazeta Wyborcza that I was willing to do this, they thought I was crazy," she said. "Financially, it puts me back several years because I'm being paid in zloty."

Dreams of Field

All season long, the White Sox organization has been milking Comiskey Park for every ounce of history in it. The 1990 program is called "Field of Memories," and inside there's a nostalgic three-page spread that begins, "And soon it will be no more."

But there's not a trace of sentiment in their plans for their home of these last 80 years. Comiskey will be smashed to smithereens once the season's over, and the ground it stood on will be sown with asphalt.

Is there an alternative? A department of the Chicago Park District called the Office of Research and Planning thinks so. It proposes hanging on to Comiskey's playing field and making it an extension of Armour Park, immediately north of Comiskey.

In addition to the diamond and outfield grass, a portion of Comiskey's original brick arcade behind home plate would be preserved, and one row of seats. There might also be a small building put up to house memorabilia. "It's better than a brass plaque screwed down into asphalt in a car park," observed John Mac Manus, a Park District planning supervisor. "It's going to be hard for someone to come along in a couple of years and point to a car park and say 'That's where Shoeless Joe played.'"

"Remember," says the proposal now being considered by the Department of Planning, the White Sox, and other interested parties, "Comiskey is the real 'Field of Dreams'; 'Shoeless Joe' Jackson, whose character was revived in the recent movie, played for the Sox, at Comiskey. Future generations of Chicagoans could thus play on the actual Major League diamond (their moms and dads could, too)!"

Mac Manus said the idea grew out of "general conversation about the loss of such a historic monument. Even as a gol-darned foreigner," continued Mac Manus, a native of Ireland, "I know of Babe Ruth and Shoeless Joe Jackson. It's impossible to be in Chicago and not know about Comiskey Park. I think it would be just a great loss. Our idea was to create almost a museum and turn it into a tourist attraction."

"Historic monument" is not hyperbole. The oldest ballpark in the major leagues, Comiskey was studied by the National Park Service a few years ago and found worthy of designation as a national landmark. The only reason Comiskey isn't one is that its owners refused to accept the designation; they wanted their hands free to tear it down. (The same thing happened with Wrigley Field.)

The price this lovely project would exact, according to the Park District planners, would be 600 of the 7,000 parking spaces that are supposed to surround the new ballpark. They propose recovering this parking by running a shuttle bus to the lots of the nearby Illinois Institute of Technology.

"This plan can happen," the proposal written by Mac Manus's group concludes. "Mayor Daley can save Comiskey; he can keep it a park, not a parking lot. The Thompson and Washington administrations kept the Sox organization and its team in Chicago, but they left our past behind in the rush to give away a free $150,000,000 stadium. A bit of action now will have great effect for the future."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Sundlof.

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