Accessibility links

Breaking News

Prominent Polish Writer, Journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski Dies

One of Poland's most renowned writers and journalists who was among the favorites to win the 2005 Nobel Literature prize has died. Ryszard Kapuscinski passed away following a heart attack while recovering from surgery. He was 74. Stefan Bos reports from Budapest.

Writing history in the making was his passion. For foreign correspondent and writer Ryszard Kapuscinski there was nothing more important than bringing to his Polish readers news articles packed with information.

He feasted on analysis and character portrayals, especially from African countries where he had covered most of the 27 revolutions he lived through. Born in Pinsk, a once-Polish town that is now part of Belarus, Kapuscinski started out as an author when was in school writing poetry.

He went on to write articles as a history student in Warsaw and was eventually hired by the Polish news agency in 1962 as a foreign correspondent. One of his first assignments was in Africa, a region with which he seemed to have a special relationship. He stayed for several years, until becoming ill with malarial meningitis.

When Kapuscinski recovered, the globetrotter set off for the outer reaches of the then-Soviet Union, before returning to Africa.

He wrote about his journalistic experiences in several books. One of his most famous appeared in 1978. It was called "The Emperor" and described the atmosphere at the court of Haile Selassie and the last days of the Ethiopian leader's reign.

Kapuscinski also traveled across South America, Asia and the Middle East. In 1979, he wrote "Shah of Shahs," depicting Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the revolution that led to his overthrow and the creation of the Islamic Republic.

Later, in 1993, Kapuscinski penned "Imperium," about the terror, the poverty and the fall of the Soviet Union. Sociologist and writer Jadwiga Staniszkis knew him well. She told the external service of Polish Radio that Kapuscinski died before he could write a book about Poland.

"I think Kapuscinski was planning eventually to write a book on Poland, in a sense waiting to find a key, because usually he worked by finding some concrete event which was at the same time a sort of symbolic moment," said Jadwiga Staniszkis. "Kapuscinski was looking for something like that in Poland. He was enthusiastic about Solidarity. For him it was not solidarity of intelligentsia. He was conscious of the deep moral transition inside the common people."

Kapuscinski's writings did not remain unnoticed internationally. His work was translated into more than 20 languages. And, in 2005, he was nominated for the Nobel Literature prize.

Staniszkis says she is not surprised.

"He was an excellent writer, able to prepare pictures of very complicated events without being a judge," she said. "He was not taking sides. He was not a moralist in any way. He was trying to find solutions and was able to write about deep structures of the problems, not just about people."

Kapuscinski himself felt the world is growing less and less just.

"The most important problem is that we're living in the world in which the fruits of progress and development are very unjustly divided, and people, thanks to the TV and the media, the poor people, who are the majority, are feeling very strongly, very deeply this injustice, this situation to be marginalized," said Ryszard Kapuscinski.

Despite the conflicts and bloodshed he witnessed, throughout his life, Kapuscinski did not give up his hope of a better and more peaceful world. "Can writing change anything?," asked Kapuscinski at an international literature festival in New York two years ago. "Yes," he said, "I deeply believe it can. Without this belief, I wouldn't be able to write."

Kapuscinski died Wednesday, just two months short of what would have been his 75th birthday.