07 February, 2009
Professor Bronisław Geremek, born Benjamin Lewertow on March 6, 1932 in Warsaw, was a Polish social historian and politician.
Geremek was born in Warsaw, Poland on March 6, 1932. His father, a fur merchant, was murdered in Auschwitz. His mother and he were smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 and were sheltered by Stefan Geremek. Geremek later married Bronisław’s mother and Bronisław was further raised in a Roman Catholic tradition. In his adult life he considered himself neither a Jew nor a Catholic. His grandfather was a maggid, his brother Jerry, living in New York is a Jew and his sons living in Poland are Roman Catholics. In 1954 Bronisław Geremek graduated from the Faculty of History at the Warsaw University, and in 1956-1958 he completed postgraduate studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris. He completed his PhD in 1960 and in 1972 he was granted a postdoctoral degree at the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN). In 1989 he was appointed associate professor.
The chief domain of Geremek’s scholarly work was research on the history of culture and medieval society. His scholarly achievements included numerous articles and lectures, as well as ten books, which have been translated into ten languages. His doctoral thesis (1960) concerned the labor market in medieval Paris, including prostitution. His postdoctoral thesis (1972) concerned underworld groups in medieval Paris.
Almost the whole of Geremek's scholarly career was connected with the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences, where he worked from 1955 to 1985. However, from 1960 to 1965 he was a lecturer at the Sorbonne in Paris and the manager of the Polish Culture Centre of that university. Geremek was given honorary degrees by the University of Bologna, Utrecht University, the Sorbonne, Columbia University and Jagiellonian University in Krakow. In 1992 he was designated visiting professor at the College de France. He was a member of Academia Europea, the PEN Club, the Societe Europeenne de Culture, and numerous other societies and associations.
In 1950 Geremek joined the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR). He was the second secretary of the Basic Party Organization (POP) of the PZPR at Warsaw University. In 1968, however, he withdrew from the party in protest against the Warsaw Pact's invasion of Czechoslovakia.
In the 1970s Geremek was considered one of the leading figures in the Polish democratic opposition. In 1978 he co-founded the Society for Educational Courses, for which he gave lectures. In August 1980 he joined the Gdańsk workers' protest movement and became one of the advisers of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarność (Polish for "Solidarity") - NSZZ. In 1981 he chaired the Program Commission of the First National Convention of Solidarity. After martial law was declared in December 1981 he was interned until December 1982, when he once again became an adviser to the then-illegal Solidarity, working closely with Lech Wałęsa. In 1983 he was arrested by the Polish authorities.
Between 1987 and 1989 Geremek was the leader of the Commission for Political Reforms of the Civic Committee, which prepared proposals for peaceful democratic transformation in Poland. In 1989 he played a crucial role during the debates between Solidarity and the authorities that led to free parliamentary elections and the establishment of the ‘Contract Sejm’.
Geremek then became one of the founders of the The Democratic Union (later merged into the The Freedom Union) and was the leader of the Democratic Union’s parliamentary group from 1990 to 1997. After the elections in 1991 President Lech Wałęsa asked him to form a new government, but Geremek failed to do so and Jan Olszewski was appointed Prime Minister instead.
From 1989 to 2001 Geremek was a member of the lower house of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, and chairman of the Political Council of the Freedom Union. He chaired the Sejm's Committee on Foreign Affairs from 1989 to 1997, its Constitutional Committee from 1989 to 1991 and its European Law Committee from 2000 to 2001.
After a coalition government was formed in October 1997 by the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union Geremek served as Minister of Foreign Affairs under Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek until 2000. In March 1999 he signed the treaty under which Poland joined NATO.
In the election to the European Parliament in June 2004 Geremek was elected as a candidate of the Freedom Union, winning the largest number of votes in Warsaw. In the European Parliament he was a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
In April 2007 Geremek refused to declare that he had never collaborated with the Communist secret service, which he was being asked to do under a new vetting law. In May 2007 the Constitutional Tribunal of the Republic of Poland) rejected most of the new vetting law, including the clause that would have made it mandatory for nearly 700,000 Poles to sign declarations certifying that they had never collaborated with the secret services under the old regime.
Geremek was a Member of the Global Leadership Foundation, an organization which works to promote good governance around the world.
Geremek received many decorations and distinctions, such as the Großes Verdienstkreuz mit Stern - the Grand Cross with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Pour le Mérite, and, in 1998, the Karlspreis (Charlemagne Award) of the city of Aachen . He was an Officer of the French Légion d’honneur. In 2002 President Aleksander Kwaśniewski honoured him with the most important Polish decoration, the Order of the White Eagle.
Geremek died in a car accident near Nowy Tomyśl, Poland while driving his car. He was granted a state funeral, held in Warsaw in the Cathedral of St John. His funeral was attended by the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and former President Lech Wałęsa among others.