On 11 May the “Ognisko 27 Rejtans” articulated the defiance of thousands in protest against the heinously proposed sale of Ognisko. With their white new membership forms – like Neville Chamberlain’s infamous “Peace in our Time” white letter – are their new Ognisko memberships worth the paper they are written on?
“This just cannot go on like this”, complains one reader. ”At this rate, mine will be THE ONLY POLISH HOUSE LEFT IN GREAT BRITAIN!”.
By any standards, Friday 11 May 2012, was the most extraordinary of evenings in the history of Ognisko, The Polish Hearth Club, at 55 Princes Gate, Exhibition Road, London, SW7. This historic house, home for almost seventy two years (since 1940!) first to exiled Polish Governments and Military, and later a social and cultural centre par excellence, has – as with Fawley Court – been willfully run down and ripened for an asset stripping sale! But, it appears, this mischievous little plot involving a disparate dramatis personae – plotters and rebels – is well and truly hitting the buffers…
It all started with an innocent soiree at 6.45pm at 62 Stanhope Gardens, SW7, home and studio of painter and portraitist Barbara Kaczmarowska-Hamilton. Thanks to her splendid initiative some ninety determined, angry Anglo-Poles turned up with a view to executing a coup d’etat to oust Chairman Andrzej Morawicz, the controversial, but indomitable head of Ognisko. In effect the wholesale resignation was being demanded not only of Morawicz, but his ineffective Ognisko Club Committee. How could they even contemplate, let alone entertain a proposal to sell Ognisko!? Heinous.
Surrounded by Basia Hamilton’s distinctive pastels and paintings the assembled rebels, elegant to a tee, were fuming, to put it mildly. There was a strong whiff of cordite in the air. The guest of honour, Andrzej Morawicz, Ognisko’s Chairman for near twenty one years (!), was the last to arrive.
Morawicz was not expecting such a crowd, all supposedly there to acknowledge those twenty plus years of fine, at times erratic, even despotic service to Ognisko. He was offered a glass of wine, and placed centrally on a black throne of honour by the hostess, Basia Hamilton. Followed hawkishly by everyone, his every move, utterance and gesture – as Chairman of Ognisko – was being seen as his last. Morawicz however, took things in his stride, and saw things differently. He was not going down without a fight.
Basia Hamilton warmed to her task. On behalf of the small throng she sweetly thanked Morawicz for having steered Ognisko through both calm and choppy waters, his splendid twenty one years. To this Morawicz quickly riposted with precise dates – not quite yet twenty one years, (clearly he’s counting). Questions were taken from the floor. The first was from Lady Rose Cholmondeley, president of the Chopin Society. Inexplicably, and to some insultingly, Morawicz refused Lady Cholmondeley’s plea to reschedule the Ognisko club’s EGM (Extraordinary General Meeting), of 27 May, which was to vote on the sale. Lady Cholmondeley even accused Morawicz and his cohorts of carefully engineering the EGM date which collided not only with the Chopin concert of that date, meaning many members of the Chopin Society could not vote, but was embarrassing as Princess Alexandra was also specially invited.
The mood intensified. Questions rained down on Morawicz. Philip Bujak (COE Montessori Schools) took exception to Morawicz’s inept handling of Ognisko’s commercial arm, and missing appointments.
Tadeusz Dembinski on behalf of Gessler restaurants offered generous upfront rent funds to help steady the club through it current sticky patch. Various cries from the gathered, bayed for blood. It was not a pleasant sight.
Then to ease the tension Basia Zarzycka, fashion designer, stepped in courteously and emphatically asking all to let Morawicz have his say. Sadly, there was more beating about the bush. In stepped Irena Delmar-Czarnecka, the actress, (still running ZASP – Zwiazek Artystow Scen Polskich – her husband a onetime Chairman of Ognisko). Resplendent in black oufit and silver Hermes scarf, she diplomatically told Morawicz his time was up, but equally stressed all the good he had done for Ognisko, but that the proposal to sell Ognisko was appalling.
Jurek Scibor-Kaminski highlighted the pitfalls of the proposed Ognisko sale which was largely prompted by poor husbandry, and secretive ulterior motives. Running through this debacle was an ongoing feud between Mirek Malevski, (Chairman, Fawley Court Old Boys), and Morawicz. The two had never met. At one stage Malevski’s insistence on answers was met with a rebuff to “Shut up” (!).
Basia Hamilton again took the floor: ”Andrzej, please, it is now time, please
resign with dignity”. In support of this motion a resignation declaration as Ognisko Chairman, ready for Morawicz’s signature was put under his nose. He was having none of it.
However, soon a wonder came to light. Earlier Morawicz had indicated, but was now promising, that with an extra two hundred new members, their subscription fees coupled to raising funds would help repair the tired building, and there would be: ”No need to sell”(!). ”Indeed”, he said. He was glad of Basia Hamilton’s timely meeting; ”Nie wywołujcie wilka z lasu” (Let sleeping dogs lie, talk of the devil – and the devil appears). At last young, interested Anglo-Poles were taking an interest in Ognisko, wanted things to work, were being galvanized, wanted to secure its long term future. Morawicz, though, was still being slippery, evasive. Those present were also adamantly opposed to any sale.
Morawicz reiterated for all to hear; ”Jak najbardziej przyjmę nowe członkowstwa do klubu (Ogniska)…” (I will happily accept new club memberships). This was too good an opportunity to miss. Malevski suggested why not start the new membership ball rolling here and now, (as opposed to the stonewalling, blackballing Morawicz and his ‘club’ had clearly practiced hitherto).
The cry was unanimous. Where were the membership forms? At Ognisko, of course. Let’s go to Ognisko then! Let’s sign up! It was reminiscent of a scene at the House of Commons with pockets of lobbying MPs, or indeed of Poland’s old Sejm. And so everyone amidst the hustle and bustle excitedly exited Basia Hamilton’s studio, and made for Ognisko, 55 Prince Gate, Exhibiton Road.
Andrzej Morawicz, whilst not trussed up, was ensured a safe journey to Ognisko in a sleek, but aged Alfa Romeo, with Jolanta Pelczynska at the wheel, Teresa Potocka, Bozena Karol, and Malevski.
Outside Ognisko Andrzej Morawicz helpfully pointed out the repairs needed to the façade and chimney stacks. Inside the club, the first port of call was the bar. Malevski at Morawicz’s request agreed to a Bruderszaft (drink to friendship) – so there it was, no longer „panie ten… panie tamten”, but Andrzej, and Mirek…
Ah! The membership forms. Jolanta Pelczynska – just in case he might escape – accompanies Morawicz, and they return with a batchful of pristine, blank Ognisko Club membership forms.
Tucked away in all parts of Ognisko’s bar and restaurant areas, pockets of rebels are busily filling in their Ognisko Club Membership forms. All in the hope that they can vote at the EGM on 27 May against the unacceptable proposal to sell Ognisko – OUR building!
The forms are signed by Ognisko Chairman Andrzej Morawicz, and countersigned by Honorary club member Basia Hamilton or Arek Marczewski, also aclub member. The battle lines are drawn. I know we are going to WIN this one…!
Chairman, Fawley Court Old Boys, FCOB Ltd