Thursday, August 11, 2005

Solidarity, 25 years after

Lots of celebrations in Poland going on at the moment remembering the birth of the Solidarity trade union.

Standing by the gates of what was then called the Lenin Shipyard, Lech Welasa - the electrician who was sacked from the yard years before - triumphantly announced on that day, 1980: “We now have free and independent trade unions.”

Walesa had just signed the Gdansk Agreement with a massive pen with the face of John Paul II depicted on it. The agreement meant that, for the first time anywhere in the eastern bloc, communist authorities had formally agreed to free trade unions and freedom of speech. Alongside these concessions, Prime Minister, Mieczysław Jagielski, also guaranteed the release of all political prisoners.

Polish Euro-deputy for Civic Platform, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, remembers the day well. He told the beatroot: “I was a Solidarity activist in Lodz at the time, setting up an inter-departmental, regional chapter of the union there. I remember feeling great joy at the news. It was simply unbelievable.”

August 31 will now be a national holiday in Poland – although this year there will be no day off work as it falls on a Sunday. Historian Wojciech Roszkowski says, “As a symbol it’s a good idea to promote the idea of solidarity in Polish society and abroad.”

Speaker of the House and presidential candidate of the ex-communist SLD, Wlodzimirz Cimoszewicz told Radio Polonia that the lessons of 25 years ago should not be forgotten. “It is in the interest of Poland and historical truth to remind the world what happened then. It was the first element in a chain of events in central Europe that had geo-political consequences which affected a whole continent.”

American historian, David Morgan thinks that what happened in Gdansk in 1980 will not be easily forgotten by anyone. “The more I study the Solidarity movement the more in awe of it I become. When you look at its discipline and its liberal goals, it’s an inspiration.”

Dancing cranes
Twenty-five years later, a whole host of events are scheduled to mark the occasion. Jean Michel Jarre will be the star of a sell-out concert at the Gdansk shipyard on August 26. He will be playing his old hits like Oxygen, of course, but has also composed a piece especially for the occasion. Lasers will blast across the night sky and the industrial cranes that are so characteristic of the yard will ‘dance’ in front of assorted heads of state, other VIPs, and 125.000 people in the audience. The show, which will cost around 1.5 million Euros to put on, will be shown live on TV and streamed on the Internet.

And in Warsaw on August 29, at Plac Teatralna in front of the National Theatre, there will be a concert featuring the songs of the period. Artists from Poland and abroad will sing the songs of the ‘Bard of Solidarity’, Jacek Kaczmarek, and many others. Huge screens in the square will show events commemorating the birth of Solidarity in Poland and around the world,

Apart from concerts, some have found other ways to mark the day. Many teenagers in Poland are not aware that Solidarity helped changed, not only Polish society, but also had an influence far beyond the nation’s borders. To fill the vacuum in these kids’ heads, Gdansk artist, Maciej Jaszynski has come up with the idea of presenting the historical events of 1980 in the form of a comic strip. Maciej says the idea was inspired by something a teacher said to him: “Teachers say that students absorb facts if they are presented in a simple and direct way. I think the Solidarity comic book does this.”

Read on: describes, in six languages, the coarse of events that led to Lech Welesa signing the agreements.

This article originally appeared in the New Warsaw Express

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