16 October 2013 In Sweden, that is in Poland – a meeting with Maciej Zaremba Bielawski

On the 24th of October, the second edition of Maciej Zaremba Bielawski’s Polski hydraulik [Polish Plumber] will be released, enriched by four new pieces of reportage: about political correctness, mobbing, the crisis of Swedish education, and the marketisation of the health care services. On this occasion, together with Gazeta Wyborcza, we would like to invite you to a meeting with Maciej Zaremba Bielawski at the Conrad Festival on Saturday (the 26th of October). It will be hosted by Gazeta journalist Paweł Goźliński. The meeting begins at 12 p.m. at Pałac Pod Baranami.

Twenty-five years ago, education was Sweden’s pride. A high level and equal opportunities for everyone. But in the last twenty years, the students’ results have been gradually deteriorating. What happened? The schools were put under district administration. Why do Swedes get offended so easily, instead of, for example, getting rightly angry? When they are unsuccessful, why do so many people claim that they fell victim to discrimination? Are these real changes in the nation’s psyche or rather a reaction to the changed rules of the game? These are just some of the topics that Maciej Zaremba Bielawski deals with in his book. His pieces of reportage are at the same time insightful essays on something as intangible and hard to define as the mentality of the Swedes, i.e. a deeply traditional society of people who believe themselves to be the pioneers of modernity.

An engagé journalist writes about what bothers, terrifies or hurts him or her. Swedish readers treated these texts as criticism of social pathologies and did not usually pay attention to the fact that the author’s name is not typically Swedish. Only in the Polish translation do the same pieces of reportage become somewhat alienated, they seem to portray Sweden from a distance. Having said that, I cannot pretend that the author’s Polish roots have no significance. Maybe not because they are Polish, but rather because Sweden appears as a special country also to the inhabitants of France or Alabama. Here, everything that emanates progress, new ideas for life, technological innovations, and social reforms catch on earlier – and above all – on a large scale. Be it sexual emancipation, eugenics, or new methods of raising children. Italian fashion designers and British producers of television entertainment test their ideas in Sweden, because here, it is easiest to check whether some novelty will catch on well and on a large scale. It happens that after some time, these novelties are rejected – also on a large scale and without broader discussion.

Assar Lindbeck, probably the most influential Swedish economist, bemoans the fact that in his home country, all experiments are carried out on a full scale. When an education reform is being introduced – it is done everywhere, up to the last school desk. Lindbeck does not know where this Swedish penchant for uniformity (or aversion to exceptions) came from, but he sees quite a problem in it. After the reform has been introduced, there is nothing to compare its results to, because the things it was supposed to change disappeared without trace. I suspect that it is this quality of small Sweden that attract the foreigners’ attention. And rightly so. After all, we are the experimental pilot of modernity who barely remembers where we took off, so it is no wonder that we keep astonishing the world. One thing is for certain: all of the ills and benefits, trends and fashions described in this book sooner or later also arrive in other countries aspiring to modernity and progress, although probably in a milder form.

from the author’s foreword to the Polish edition

Awarding Maciej Zaremba the Dag Hammarskjöld prize in 2006, the Academy of Småland wrote: Zaremba criticises our most respected institutions, because in the fate of individual people, he discovers universal structures that we do not discern. He is one of the leading defenders of the law-governed state and he helps us understand our society, in which hypocrisy so easily masks oppression with the best intentions.


Maciej Bielawski left Poland after 1968. He was young enough to take Polish flavours and scents with him, along with several scars, but he also had enough time – already as Zaremba – to dig into the new language more deeply than those who were born into this language usually can. It is no wonder that he is praised so highly in Sweden for his unusual style and bold words.
He draws on the experiences of the Polish school of reportage, but also Swedish solidity that requires proof and iron argumentation.

Tomasz Jastrun

It’s been a long time since I have read such an interesting, well-written and intelligent book.
Juliusz Kurkiewicz

Maciej Zaremba is an outstanding writer, he combines a reporter’s talent with the perceptiveness of an essayist. This makes it possible for us to observe the Swedish variant of contemporary European civilisation through the eyes of a Polish plumber. So what that he is a pen plumber? This plumber notices what the natives, accustomed to their world, usually do not see.
For a Polish reader, this is an unusual book, it confronts Polish memory, the Polish present with a different, but somehow close and common world. After all, we are all potential Swedes.

Adam Michnik