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EU > Poland > Gdansk

Solidarity and Revolution

Gdansk, PL (View on map)

Every country in the former Eastern Block somehow participated in the overthrow of communism. Poland`s most influential anti-communism movement was formed in the early 1980s. Under the name of Solidarnosc, a group of shipyard workers founded the first non-communist labour union in the communist world. Initial strikes proved counterproductive on the short term. On the long term, Solidarnosc successfully undermined the communist system to finally overthrow it by the end of 1989.

Tomasz (25):

`Solidarnosc would not have been as powerful if they didn`t have so much support from the Church`
Rafal (24) was a small kid at the time of the 1989 revolution. He only remembers how people were not allowed to go outside in the evening. `If they did, they would be blown away by water canons. My father worked as a postman in the shipyeard area of Gdansk. He was happy about the revolution and told me that good things were happening. And indeed: when the revolution was over, there were no more police officers and the shops almost instantly started filling up. People were happy and most of them remained so for the next couple of years. Later on, more and more people started to realise that life under capitalism was not as pleasant as the dreams they had about it before 1989.`

Solidarnosc was co-organised by Lech Walesa: one of the workers at the shipyard. He first developed into a symbol of freedom and, shortly after 1989, became Poland`s president for two consecutive terms. Walesa is now under investigation for having collaborated with the system before engaging himself in Solidarnosc.

Tomasz (25, photo) thinks that the role of Walesa in Solidarnosc was more of a cosmetic than a functional one: `Obviously, Walesa was the face of the revolution, but he couldn`t have done this all by himself. Polish Pope John Paul II provided the Polish people with inspiration and the UK and USA probably supported Solidarnosc financially and politically.` Some people argue that it took until very late in the 1980s before people started to believe that communism would one day come to an end. Tomasz argues that a big wave of hope made its way to Poland during John Paul II`s first official visit to the country in 1979. `I believe that the KGB wanted to kill him, and representatives of the communist system may have wanted the same. But especially the Polish communist party knew that their days were counted if they touched the Pope with only one finger.`

Tomasz does not think that suspicions that Walesa ever served as a secret agent could be true: `Walesa is now retired, he has no more political power and he is old. He is one of Poland`s modern time heroes. I don`t see why we should change our view on this man. I think it`s a revenge attempt by his former political enemies. Maybe even by the communists themselves.`

Oliwia (20) wonders why some people are so keen about reproducing and reconstructing the past over and over again: `Our current president and previous prime minister, the Kaczynski twins, were very fanatic about pointing at people and disqualifying them for a political career by blaming them of collaboration with the communist regime. Their behaviour rises questions, because they are talking about a time when the whole population was forced to collaborate with the system. Not doing so would have made you an enemy of the state. It`s quite surprising that they have such strong opinions, while nobody knows how the two of them made it through the communist era.`

Today`s young Poles seem to be well-informed about the communist era. Konrad (24) thinks that the Polish education system is dealing with communism in a far way. `I think we learn the facts as they were. Unlike the situation in Russia, where half the information is probably still being covered up today.`

Konrad doesn`t have many direct memories of life under communism: `I was too young. What I remember most is that you could buy products with vouchers instead of money. In later years, my grandparents told me more about it. They lived before communism, during communism and after communism, so I think they have the most reliable view on what happened. While today`s young people mostly think of the negative sides of communism, my grandparents have also seen the other side of the coin: everybody having a job and a reasonable living for most people. They also know that life wasn`t as hectic back then as it is now: with so many choices to be made and so little time for life itself.`

Andrzej (24) thinks that communism now serves as an example how not to organise things. `Communism is a very suitable motive for jokes`, Andrzej (24) says. `If a shop owner tells you that he or she doesn`t have something in stuck, the first thing you may refer to in reply is `communism`. It also happens that people call each other `old communist` for being slow and unwilling to help.`

Hidden facts
While grand parents and school teachers serve as valuable information sources when it comes to communism, most of the parents of today`s Polish tweenagers do not. Many young Poles only have a vague impression of what profession their fathers had before 1989. Monika (24) knows that her father was working in the Stocznia part of town, but she doesn`t know which exact job he had. `It`s not such a popular topic of conversation`, Monika says.

Bartek (33) remembers that his mother used to work in university. `Intellectuals were always suspect under communism, but my mother only had a supportive job so she was safe. I don`t know what my father did. He had many different jobs at the time.` Although Bartek was 14 in 1989, he only remembers very few details of what happened during the revolution. `I don`t think there was much TV coverage of the events. Maybe some radio stuff, as my parents used to listen to Free Europe radio. I remember how they were talking about the events a lot, but only among themselves. They never really talked about it to me.`

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