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Pioneer Underground Publishing House Marks 10th Anniversary

January 11, 1988

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ The publicity flyer is printed on high-quality paper with images of medieval printers and a logo that proudly proclaims, ″The biggest underground publishing house in the communist bloc.″

Nowa, a Polish acronym standing for ″Independent Publishing House,″ is marking its 10th anniversary, having won the admiration of writers and readers and even an implicit acknowledgement from Poland’s minister of culture.

The pioneer clandestine publisher has hundreds of titles to its credit and press runs of as many as 15,000 copies.

″By its very existence, the underground publications exert great influence,″ said the longtime opposition activist Jan-Jozef Lipski, who has published two books with Nowa. ″An author who writes something that does not pass censorship has another choice. It creates a certain pressure on the official organs.″

″I think it’s very good that the second circulation exists,″ Minister of Culture Aleksander Krawczuk, a former classics professor, told startled reporters last February.

″It’s good that it’s functioning, that different things can be published ... because then there is a situation of a certain freedom.″

Although its roots are in the opposition movement, Nowa says it represents no particular political view and ″wishes to serve all creative initiative.″

It was started in late 1977 by KOR, the Committee for the Defense of Workers, a group of intellectuals formed to aid workers facing reprisals following strikes against price increases in 1976.

Its first publications, according to the publishing house’s own history, were KOR bulletins written on typewriters and its first book was a collection of speeches by lawyers defending arrested workers.

″The first documents were printed on a copier produced from a washing machine,″ said Adam Michnik, an anti-government essayist and historian who has long been associated with Nowa. Though the print was violet and runny, ″today we look back on them with affection,″ he said.

″It was difficult to predict that it was going to last so long,″ said Lipski, a KOR co-founder. ″However, I remember thinking that an institution of considerable durability was being formed.″

Today Nowa publishes fiction, non-fiction, drama and poetry by Polish and foreign authors. It also prints Poland’s largest underground newspaper and produces uncensored tape recordings (one containing songs from prison) and videocassettes with movies and newsreels.

And Nowa is also the keeper of the archives of the banned Solidarity trade union, including printed documents, microfiche and computer disks.

It was Nowa that first published in Poland, beginning in 1978, the post- Stalinist poetry of Czeslaw Milosz, who left the country in 1951 and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Like several other writers pioneered by Nowa, his works eventually also became published officially.

Tadeusz Konwicki, arguably Poland’s leading living author, helped establish the fledgling Nowa’s credibility among writers when he dared to publish his novels ″The Polish Complex″ and ″A Minor Apocolypse″ in a Nowa literary quarterly in the late 1970s, bypassing the censor’s office. (In 1986 he returned to an official publishing house.)

Among foreign authors Nowa published first in Poland are Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (″Mother Night″), Guenter Grass (″The Tin Drum″) and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (″One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich″). An edition of William Styron’s ″Sophie’s Choice″ is in the planning stages.

A Nowa editor, who was imprisoned for his activities during the 1981-83 martial-law period and agreed to talk about the publishing house only on condition of anonymity, said Nowa has gone through ″periods of very different attitudes.″

″The first two or three years was the kind of heroic period,″ he said, referring to the times its leaders were harassed and frequently jailed. But after 1980 and the sudden rise of Solidarity, ″we were practically overground,″ he said.

″The directors were in the open, most everything was printed in Solidarity workshops and people began thinking about becoming a legal organization,″ he said.

Martial law in December 1981 brought a swift end to the ebullient mood, with about 90 percent of Nowa’s workers immediately sent to prison or internment camps, the editor said. Nevertheless, he added, those remaining were able to bring out the first post-martial-law book by March 1982.

″And we had leaflets out even earlier.″

The revival was difficult, with the constant threat of capture and imprisonment, he said. But since 1985 authorities have been ″relatively mild,″ reflecting lessened internal tensions, and any sanctions are mainly economic.

Workers caught are fined and printing equipment is confiscated, he said.

″It is harmful because it’s very difficult to get a machine. ... For every quarter-inch of material we have to fight.″

Nevertheless output has continued to grow, he said, and, ″I wouldn’t be surprised if this year is our biggest yet.″

But a growing problem is rising costs and Poles’ limited means, leading to loss of some readers due to high prices, Lipski said.

Nowa hopes to advance into desktop publishing, using home computers and laser printers: ″Much more police-proof than the old technologies,″ said the Nowa editor who wanted to remain unidentified.

Escaping police notice means printing in runs of perhaps 3,000 copies at a time, he added. Nowa does not aim for high volume as much as for putting out as many titles as possible. ″We assume that one book is read by many people,″ he said.

The bulk of printing is of contemporary Polish authors.

″Quite a few have decided to publish with Nowa whether their books are prone to censorship or not,″ the editor said.

Although censorship is less strict now, Nowa loyalists say it will continue as a clandestine organization as long as there’s a need.

″It’s very simple,″ said Michnik. ″End censorship ... then we immediately become legal.″

End Adv for Monday AMs Jan 11

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