Europejski – The man who would be President of Poland has a past that is catching up with him. A literary novel set during and after the Cold War. The novel explores troubling questions of when it is right to withhold the truth, and when deception is justified by the greater good.
Tom is an Irish student spending the year in a Warsaw university. It is called ‘the Red Fortress’ because it is favoured by the sons and daughters of Poland’s Communist Party. Tom meets and gradually falls in love with Gosia, a doctor’s daughter from Gdansk. His other friends include Aleks (who prints an anti-government newspaper from the basement of their student house) and Michalski (the handsome, enigmatic leader of the banned students’ union). They bond over vodka and a guitar and together they protest for their rights. A demonstration outside a theatre is broken up by the brutal riot police, a favourite teacher is arrested, a riot is caught on BBC cameras and rumours are spread that a protestor has been killed. The friends take their protest to the office of their nemesis, the Vice-Rector Wilk, where they take him hostage for three days. Meanwhile, strikes have been taking place across the country and the television news carries reports that Soviet forces are exercising on the border. As their supplies run low, Michalski must negotiate for their demands. Their occupation is ended as the security service – the dreaded SB – storm the office and assault Michalski. To prevent further violence he calls off the strike.
The friends are expelled from the university. Michalski is sent into exile and Tom is deported home, but not before both are separately held in the Europejski, the swanky Warsaw hotel. There, his diplomatic handler Spiro arranges for Tom to have one final meeting with his girlfriend, Gosia. It is a meeting both have waited months for. She arrives late.
Eleven years on, it is the eve of the millennium. Tom is a BBC announcer in London. He receives a letter from Marek, a boy from Gdansk who says he is Tom’s son. Tom must return again to Poland. Michalski has also returned: he has made his fortune in the West and is now campaigning to become his country’s president. By law he must make a lustration – a full declaration of his past dealings with the Communist authorities. Aleks, now a leading journalist, is concerned that hidden aspects of his friend’s student past will surface. Ewa, a talented reporter on his paper, has been investigating and rapidly the story unravels. The reports of Soviet invasion were a hoax, engineered by rogue ministers in the Kremlin and Warsaw, intended to force an end to the strikes. While pretending to negotiate, Michalski had plotted with the SB to break the occupation; his injuries were accidental. Should Aleks hide the truth of this from voters if it means the better man can still win? But not all truths can be explained away. The lustration has already revealed that Gosia was a spy: she befriended Tom to get close to Michalski. Ewa discovers that she died mysteriously, shortly after giving birth to Marek, the boy who calls Tom his father. This revelation need not harm Michalski politically. But Tom alone knows a different truth: he is not the father; Michalski is. The future of the Polish presidency therefore lies in Tom’s hands. On the morning of the first day of the new millennium, Tom wanders lost in the unfamiliar streets of Warsaw, these truths come to light and finally he boards the train to Gdansk, where Marek is waiting for him.