The Warsaw Voice » Polish Voice » Monthly - August 2, 2010
The Polish Voice: Special Issue
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From the Editor
Anniversaries always get me thinking about the amazing properties of time—its expandability, shrinkability and subjectivity...

To people born after World War II, the two interwar decades in Poland were a time of rebuilding a modern state after 120 of nonexistence—a time of stitching together a nation from three different parts that were once controlled by Russia, Austria and Germany; a time of building institutions, laws, and business centers; and a time of teaching young people patriotism and reviving culture. This was also a time of difficulties, political mistakes, coexistence of many ethnic groups; a long 20 years that ended in a dramatic finale.

Thirty years ago, Solidarity, a social movement unprecedented in the history of Poland and the world, was born. It was unprecedented in terms of its achievements. Those 30 years flashed by in less than no time—at least for someone who is aged 50 or over today. They were packed with events like few other three-decade periods in modern history. The events of August 1980 in Poland led to the historic watershed of 1989 and the Autumn of the Peoples that put an end to decades of Soviet domination in Europe after WW II. The Soviet Union disintegrated, the Eastern bloc broke up, and the Iron Curtain fell apart. The Warsaw Pact and Comecon were relegated to history books, and the Cold War ended in a victory for the West.

It’s been 30 years since the historic strikes of August 1980, but for those who were part of those events, it all seems like it was yesterday. I can still remember the long tables in the Occupational Safety Room of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, with a crowd of feverish people gathered around them. There was a tape recorder in front of everyone; the tapes were shipped out in a continual stream—to keep the public informed. At the head of the room was one more table, for the presidium, covered with a green cloth, if I remember correctly. Once in a while, Lech Wałęsa would appear there with other strike leaders and advisers, with the latest news—who has been arrested, who has been released, how negotiations were progressing with Deputy Prime Minister Mieczysław Jagielski. There was also news arriving from other striking factories. And then came the final day—the theatrical, oversized pen in Wałęsa’s hand and the Virgin Mary badge in his lapel; a moved Jagielski; speeches… “like a Pole talking with a Pole.”

We remember all that after 30 years because it’s important that we should. Because there are interesting lessons to be learnt. And for those who took part in those events, it’s moving to recall that momentous period of history.

We also recall one specific document that was proclaimed by Solidarity in those days, raising the ire of the communist authorities at the time. The document—The Message to the Working People of Eastern Europe—is part of the union’s legacy and an inspiration for Polish foreign policy makers today.