Fighting for Freedom in Post-Communist Poland
Acclaimed New Zealand war correspondent John Borrell thought he’d left the big battles behind when, aged in his 40s, he established with his Polish wife an idyllic lakeside resort outside of Gdansk. But post-Communist Poland was awash with corruption and Borrell found himself fighting a cabal of former party apparatchiks to establish his new business.
At one stage he faced a prison sentence for criminal libel for exposing “corrupt and venal officials,” he recalls in his memoir, The White Lake: Fighting for a Free Press, Justice and a Place to Call Home in the New Poland, which will be published on 28 February.
Borrell was one of the first foreigners to settle in Poland after the collapse of Communism, quitting his job as a travelling war correspondent with TIME, then the world’s largest weekly news magazine, to start a business and a family on the shores of the pristine lake, Jezioro Biale. But the sheer scale of bribery for permits and approvals to found the luxury resort, Kania Lodge, drove the veteran journalist to establish a Polish newspaper, Express Kazsubski, to expose the corruption.
It is this battle that forms the heart and soul of The White Lake, which is interwoven with recollections of growing up in New Zealand and his work in some of the world’s most dangerous war zones, particularly Latin America and Africa. The dangers journalists face is what drove Borrell to Poland because, as he notes, there was an increasing chance “that my number might soon come up, as it had for friends and colleagues, shot or blown up in wars nobody now cares about”.
Borrell trained young Poles in the basics of investigative journalism and claims the newspaper’s work helped create a newly informed electorate that then voted the local mayor out of office.
CBS News foreign correspondent Allen Pizzey said ofThe White Lake: “Borrell’s account of the travails, drama and misadventures of creating a luxury lodge in post-Communist Poland reads like a novel – one that could only have been lived, and written, by a consummate foreign correspondent.
Tatler covered Borrell’s book launch on 6 February at the Groucho Club in London.