Linked with about the European Civil Society.
She is one of the 1000 women women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “It is imperative there should be kindness towards truths other than ours”.
She says also: ““We have founded the club (Don Quixote) because we say ‘no’ to conformism. We want to encourage people who live differently, who are in minority To exist fully is to exist according to one’s values, often against those of others”.
Maria Szyszkowska – Poland
She works for the Internationale Gesellschaft ‘System der Philosophie’, for the , and for the Don Quixote Club.
Maria Szyszkowska, is a senator, professor, philosopher, lecturer, and writer. She lives according to Kant’s philosophy that law should guarantee freedom for everyone.
She has proposed the first bill in Poland on registered partnerships for homosexual couples and a bill on euthanasia. In her busy life she has written 25 books on philosophy, politics, and law. She has edited over 30. Tolerance and empathy are the most important values she tries to implement in society. She is always in hurry, always swimming against the current.
Maria Szyszkowska was born in 1937 in Warsaw. In 1961 she graduated from the Faculty of Law at Warsaw University, a year later from the Faculty of Christian Philosophy at the Academy of Catholic Theology where she also studied law. “There was a priest, Professor Piotr Chojnacki, who was an expert in Kant. At the end of my studies I had no doubts that Kantianism is my philosophical way. I have been faithful to that since then,” she says. It is freedom that is the most basic value in Kantianism and, according to that, law should guarantee freedom to every citizen.
She had a friend then a close one. He used to confide to her that he suffered because his male friend was visiting women. “I did not understand it at first. Then he was talking about his unrequited love, that his family had rejected him. That he was going to one of the male monasteries to put a posy of violets on the door handle of one of the monks. He was homosexual. A few years after he had graduated, he committed a suicide. I decided I would do something to promote tolerance. I did not know then what exactly.”
After she defended her PhD thesis in law, she was asked to leave the university. Until 1989 she was forbidden to give lectures an public universities because the philosophy of law was banned from universities in 1950. It was also because of Kantianism. It was perceived as “revisionism in the workers’ movement,” something that the Polish People’s Republic could not allow. So she was expelled from the university.
She qualified as Assistant Professor in 1973 at the Catholic University of Lublin. However, she was not granted a position there because of her Kantianism. “I felt the burden of philosophical difference. I realized then how difficult it is for people who have the courage to think differently than the majority.” Finally the Ministry of Education sent her to work in Kielce, in southern Poland. “I could give lectures on history of philosophy but only on Hegel.”
Kantianism, however, was not the only theory that absorbed her. At the end of 1970s she passionately read Kazimierz Dabrowski’s psychic hygiene. “He wrote that the way to self-realization leads to being a positive outsider. I agreed with that a lot. The history of culture often shows that it is not the majority that is right. That is why I have always listened to minorities,” Szyszkowska says.
Over the years she constructed what she called an everyday philosophy. “It is a philosophy that, without moralizing, gives simple answers. Tolerance is understood as empathy. We all have limited cognitive abilities, so no one can say they represent the only true point of view. Freedom and empathy for each other is needed. There is only one boundary of freedom and it is intolerance.”
After 1989, a historical year for Poland, the beginning of transformation from communism to democracy, from the Polish People’s Republic to the Republic of Poland, Maria Szyszkowska was finally able to go back to the capital. In 1992 she established a chair in philosophy of politics at the Polish Academy of Science. A year later she was appointed a Professor at Warsaw University. She gave lectures on contemporary philosophy, philosophy of culture, philosophy of law and, of course, everyday philosophy.
From 1994 to 1997 she was a judge of the State Tribunal. However, she did not cease to be an outsider. She started to gather outsiders from around Poland and founded the one and only society for outsiders called the Don Quixote Club. Members were people who, as Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century hero, were fighting against the whole world for their ideals. To the first meeting in November 1998 more than a hundred people came. “We have founded the club because we say ‘no’ to conformism. We want to encourage people who live differently, who are in minority To exist fully is to exist according to one’s values, often against those of others,” Szyszkowska believes.
In 1999 she was honored by state authorities with the Krzyz Komandorski Orderu Odrodzenia Polski (Commander’s Cross).
In 2000, she won a seat in the Senate as a member the Alliance of Democratic Left (SLD) and went into politics. She joined the Commission of Culture and Mass Media. In 2003, she started her work on a bill on registered partnerships for homosexual couples. According to the draft bill, they would have the right to inherit from each other and have civil and economic rights like married couples. The relationship could not be called a “marriage” because the Polish Constitution states that a marriage is a partnership of a man and a woman. Homosexual partners would not be allowed to adopt a child together. “I personally think it should be allowed. Even now there are mothers who bring up their children on their own or with help of their mothers. Representatives of one gender bring up a child and nothing harmful happens. But I am aware that other senators would not even talk to me if in the proposed bill there was a suggestion that homosexual couples could adopt children. It proves how deep the prejudices are,” she says.
She won the trust of Polish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual (LGBT) organizations. They began to cooperate with her and later she was awarded the Rainbow Wreath for spreading tolerance.
In November 2003, she opened an envelope with her own obituary. “It was the first death threat since I took a seat in the Senate,” she says. Then she received a series of typed letters, litanies to Christ, with handwriting on them: “Kill Szyszkowska” or “Die, Szyszkowska.” For three months she was safeguarded by police. She suspects that right-wing youth, supporters of a populist party, are responsible for the threats.
Finally, in January 2004, senators debated the proposed bill. Szyszkowska argued: “This is an act of justice for the most numerous minority in Poland. The situation of people rejected by their families, made to live double lives, hiding their partnerships must be resolved. Law is the only way to change social consciousness.” “It is an attack on the family! AIDS will spread if the bill is accepted,”– responded one of the right-wing senators. Finally the Senate accepted the bill for further work.
In January 2005 she resigned from SLD. “The party ceased to be a left-wing party and they accepted the domination of the Catholic point of view,” she explains. Shortly after she proposed the first Polish bill on euthanasia. She proposes that someone with a fatal illness or in enormous physical or mental pain should have a right to ask for help to end his or her life. Ten anesthesiologists would need to sign to let it happen. The patient would have to sign a declaration. Euthanasia could be then done after four weeks. In her busy life, Prof. Maria Szyszkowska has written 25 books on philosophy and politics, and has edited over thirty. She has written hundreds of newspaper articles published in Trybuna, Fakty i Mity, Res Humana and Medycyna dla Ciebie. She is a member of the Internationale Gesellschaft “System der Philosophie” and Vice President of the Polish branch of the Societe Europeene de Culture, based in Venice. (Read all on 1000peacewomen).
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