Tag Archives: Solidarity

I'm with Lech – "Solidarity" needs an overhaul

This week marked the 30th anniversary of the “Gdansk Agreement”, a social contract between the people of Poland and the Communist government. This agreement was reached largely thanks to the actions of the workers at the then named “Lenin” shipyards in Gdansk. As a result of the agreement the worlds first non-communist party controlled, self governing, independent trade union in a Warsaw Pact country was born – Solidarity (Solidarność). It went on to reach far beyond the shipyard workers and at one time embraced more than 10 million members, 1/4 of the entire population. (today it has about 1 million) As we all know it went on to play a large part in the downfall of communism in Poland, if not further afield. As we also know, its first and most prominent leader was electrician, Lech Wałęsa, who went on to become the first democratically elected President of Poland. As is the way of life, Lech has lost ground since those days partly thanks to those closest to him having sharper political skills (and deeper personal ambition) and by others finding he was perhaps a little too much of an electrician to be running the country. The question is what has happened to Solidarity since those heady days of revolution?

To a bystander like myself, the main events celebrating this anniversary were the Solidarity Congress held on Monday and then on following days some concerts held in the dockyards. Watching the news on Monday evening I couldn’t help noticing how miserable everyone was looking at the congress. The President, Prime Minister and others were trying to speak while being jeered and whistled at by the bulk of the attendees while Kaczyński got a rousing reception as he waddled up to rant a little from the podium, a performance that brought to mind other historical figures skilled at persuading the great unwashed to blindly support them no matter what their real agenda might be. A sort of 40ish lady got up and gave everyone a piece of her mind about the whistling – good for her.

But I was taken aback by all this. You see, to us foreigners, Solidarity – that being the name, the ideals, the logo and Lech – is a symbol of something very special, of David beating Goliath, of the little people beating the establishment, of power to the people, something quite romantic, Europe’s own Fidel & Che. So, to see it having degenerated into a political pit-bull apparently under the control of Kaczyński is rather sad. Like turning positive energy into negative. Like Luke Skywalker giving in to the dark side, slipping on a black helmet and wheezing a lot.

“So where’s Lech?”, I asked. “He’s not there”, I was told. Lech not at the 30th birthday bash of Solidarność?! That’s like Prince Charles giving the Queen’s Christmas message – i.e. just plain wrong. So I read some articles and I find that Lech is saying, in effect, that he’s had it with Solidarity:

Speaking to Polish Radio Tuesday morning, Walesa said that Solidarity should “pack up its banners,” criticising that the trade union has become far too politicised.  “Poland needs Solidarity […] as a social movement, not as a trade union,” Walesa underlined.  In an interview with Polska The Times, the former Solidarity leader added that “the role of the [Solidarity] trade unions is not to my liking! […] I don’t feel like celebrating…”

Now, I understand there might be other motivations behind his absence but I find that his sentiments as expressed above are in harmony with my own feelings and so I say “Good for you Lech!”. As far as I, and Lech, can see, the Solidarity of today is a shadow of its former self, actually that’s being kind because it’s nothing like its former self it’s a completely different species and not one that we particularly like.

It’s a shame to see Macy Gray and all the other talent that keeps being shipped in every year to shout “I love you Poland!” and pretend to know anything about Poland or Solidarity in the hope it might be seen as cool or that the association with such a well known “brand” will bless them with a little street-cred. All those people know is the Solidarity whose anniversary we are celebrating but that Solidarity is long gone and all you’ve got now is another slimy political organisation with, apparently, no plans to do anything particularly “Robin Hoodish” anytime soon. I wonder if U2 and the like would bother if they really knew what was going on?

So yes, a “social movement” gets my vote. The name, the logo and the ideals are powerful and belong to the nation. They should have been taken care of and used to do good things, not for supporting idiot politicians of any persuasion. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, but it’s not too late. Please rescue what remains of the original Solidarność before it is beyond hope. The commies may be gone but there are plenty of other things that a properly managed Solidarity could be helping with both in Poland and outside. Let the politicians find themselves a different name and a different logo – how about “New Solidarity”?

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Poland 20 years later

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s domestic-scale epic Dekalog (The Decalogue) showed life in Poland in the simultaneously dull and precarious late 1980s*. The series provides a fascinating window on Polish culture and everyday life on the eve of the fall of communism. An in-depth analysis of shifts in social patterns and ways of life between 1988 and today would have been fascinating and, well, hard – so instead we’ve just grabbed some screen shots from the films and taken photos of what these locations look like today (all photos taken by Scatts).

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The Osiedle

Most of the main characters in the films live on this osiedle (estate) in Warsaw. In some of the films almost all the action takes place here, in others it is just glimpsed, and sometimes you only find out a character lives there when you see them in the background of another film.

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Marian the taxi driver from Dekalog 5 on his way to work – his last day of work as it turns out. A longer version of Dekalog 5 was released as A Short Film About Killing, which may give you a clue as to why this is his last day of work.

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The Dekalog osiedle, on ul. Inflancka, as it is today. Unfortunately our intrepid photographer Scatts was unable to get inside to find exactly the same scenes because the estate now has a fence around it and guards who have orders to keep deadbeats out. I don’t know if means the place has become significantly more exclusive than it was in 1989, or if this is just an example of a growing trend towards ‘gated communities.’ Oddly enough this is the second time Scatts has fallen foul of security on this estate while on active duty for Polandian. In his series of posts about the Warsaw Ghetto you can see the same estate in the background of an attempted photo of the Umschlagplatz.

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The Old Town

A significant portion of the first half of Dekalog 5 (or A Short Film About Killing) is set in Warsaw’s Old Town and surrounding streets as we follow the wanderings of angry-young-man Jacek. Since the Old Town is the most famous part of present-day Warsaw we thought it would be interesting to compare it then and now.

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Looking towards the Royal Castle on Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square) from the parapet over the tunnel that carries Aleja Solidarności (Solidarity Avenue) under the Old Town. Jacek pauses here and drops a rock on the traffic below. Presumably Aleja Solidarności was called something else then. Nice piece of prescience on the part of Kieślowski, or an unusually cunning piece of road renaming on the part of whoever renames roads.

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The same scene today. Unusually the castle isn’t plastered with advertising. History does not record if Scatts played the same trick with a rock and only time will tell if the street below will one day be renamed Aleja Polandian.

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Looking towards the Royal Castle from the steps of Zygmunt’s Column. Jacek can be seen in this shot annoying an old lady by scaring her pigeons away.

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Twenty years later the castle is looking smart but there are significantly less old ladies and pigeons, the absence of one possibly accounting for the absence of the other.

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A taxi stand on the corner of Krakowskie Przedmieście.

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The corner of Krakowskie Przedmieście today, pedestrianized, revamped and generally made pretty as part of the recent renovations to the street.

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A young girl has her portrait drawn on a corner of Warsaw’s Old Town Square. In the film we learn that Jacek’s young sister was killed in an accident.

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The same corner today. I love the way that little window in the building behind her is still open 20 years later.

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The artist drawing the little girl. Most of the Old Town Square is visible in the background.

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The same view of the Old Town Square today.

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Around Town

There are not a huge number of identifiable outside location shots in the series, and many of these are set at night. Kieślowski does, however, give us a few other glimpses of daytime Warsaw c. 1988.

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In this scene from Dekalog 7 we see the train carrying Majka and her daughter away from Warsaw crossing the Most Średnicowy (Średnicowy Bridge).

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Most Średnicowy today from exactly the same position. Vegetation on the far side of the river has encroached on the fourth pillar and it looks like there is now a sand bank that was not there in 1988 – not to mention some graffiti on the third pillar.

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Most Średnicowy again, but with a train on it… for those of you who like trains.

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Another scene from Dekalog 7. Ewa searches frantically for her lost daughter who is, in fact, her granddaughter and who has been kidnapped by her real daughter, who is pretending to be her granddaughter’s sister – it’s all terribly confusing. Fortunately the location is easy enough to identify – the steps at the front of the Palace of Culture and Science looking towards the central rail station.

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The same location today. The most obvious additions to the skyline are the Millennium Plaza tower behind the station and the Zlote Tarasy shopping center (and associated Skylight Tower) peeking out from behind the Palace itself. As Scatts points out, the only buildings that haven’t changed, the Palace and train station, are arguably the ones that would have benefited most from some work in the past 20 years.

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A random shot of ul. Nowy Świat from Dekalog 10 (also known as ‘the funny one’).

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The same random shot of Nowy Świat today.

*Interestingly (or not) I can’t figure out exactly when Dekalog was released. Some sources say 1987, some 1988, and some 1989.

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Mystery Location Challenge!

A really cynical person might say “I see what they’re doing here. They couldn’t find these locations so they’re getting us to do all the work.” Fortunately none of our fine readers are that cynical, so we’ll probably get away with it.

Identifying a street / locations wins points. Taking a photo of said street or location wins BIG points.*

Five scenes from Dekalog 5

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1. A street scene during Jacek’s wanderings, but what it that building?

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2. Jacek witnesses a fight in a back alley, but where is the alley?

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3. Jacek chooses Marian’s taxi, but where was this taxi stand?

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4. Marian drives Jacek past this monument, but where is it now?

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5. A Militiaman on the street outside the cafe where Jacek spits in his coffee, but which street?

Scenes from Dekalog 7, 9, and 10

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6. From Dekalog 7. Majka’s leaving, but from which station (not in Warsaw)?

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7. From Dekalog 9. Roman takes his last bike ride. What’s the name of that church?

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8. From Dekalog 10. A secret meeting on a street corner, but which street corner?

*Polandian points may be exchanged for super, super prizes! But only in the afterlife.

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Lech Wałęsa: a hero / a lesser hero / a traitor. Choose your title.

[edited June 20th, 3pm]

This is a follow up from Ian’s post just below. Read his post first, and then come back to mine.

Done? Ok. The book in qustion was not published yet. However it has already become the subject of a heated debate. Fragments were published in one of the dailies. Television presenters parade around their studios carrying massive files containing this book photocopied before publication. News channels and front pages are not talking about anything else for at least three days.

The book came as a special gift for the 25th anniversary of Wałęsa’s Nobel Peace Prize and Wałęsa’s nameday – which he is celebrating this Saturday.

Those, who criticise he book, say it is based only on Secret Service paperwork, and not cross-examined with other possible sources (like party files, interviews with communist figures, former oppositionists, diaries, etc…. and impossible sources like the vast archives in Moscow, to which there is no access). They also say that where proves cannot be found, authors make guesses and assumptions that prove their theory.

The book authors are educated historians, however some people claim their clear political agenda allows to call them politicians. They are employees of the IPN, the Institute of National Remembrance. It is an institution that was created to educate about the history of Poland, investigate unknown facts, and prosecute perpetrators of crimes against the Polish nation. Many of its employees have a clear opinion about the recent Polish history, that is corresponding with the ideas of the Kaczynski brothers (see below).

Notice that when talking about Secret Service inkjob, I am deliberately  not using the word “documents”, as in my vocabulary this word only applies to paperwork produced legitimately.

How did the Secret Service work?

Lets try to have a look at how were they getting their their paperwork. They had their own people lets call them secret servicemen. The secret servicemen were trying, among other things, to infiltrate the opposition and do all sorts of things to disturb them. And give information about what is going on to those who were holding political power. What were the ways of disturbing? First that come your mind are probably arrests, beating, threatening, detention – yes that of course was there. But also trying to make some oppositions distrust others (giving for instance false evidence of some of them conspiring with secret services), to make them quarrel, to strengthen personal dislikes among them, to make the opposition look bad in the eyes of the general public (once for instance fake recordings of Lech Wałęsa discussing how to fraud Solidarity money was broadcast in tv). Using various methods they tried to gain their agents (“tajny współpracownik”) among the oppositionists. Agents were (mostly, but not always) those who were aware that they were talking to the Secret Services. Sometimes they were worked on, someties they wanted to co-operate, sometimes they were forced to. They could be threatened, given money in exchange for information or “favour”. Agents had code names, and could also be given tasks – in order for instance to orchestrate some situation, or gain information from someone else. Apart from agents, there were also “sources of information” (who were also given codenames). People labeled in  such way in the papers may or may not have known that they have supplied Secret Services with information. They could be thinking they were talking to a friend or a co-worker. Or someone might have installed a bug in their flat. Etc.
Apart from that Secret Services are known for creating fake “agents” and “sources of information” in their paperwork, to use these papers later somehow. Information for such fake papers could come from person A, while attributed to person B. It could come from recorded telephone calls, from anecdotal knowledge, from serviceman’s imagination etc. etc. Why? For producing good and interesting results, Secret Servicemen were, for instance given more money, or promoted. Alternatively such papers could be shown to one oppositionist to make them think someone else was a traitor. Et caetera.. Secret Services were very creative. For instance special actions could be organized, like kidnapping of agents-oppositionists, just to make them more credible in the eyes of their opposition colleagues.

Apart from that some people could have been registered as candidates for agent (“tajny współpracownik”), there could be their signed pledge for cooperation in files, while they did not take any action whatsoever.

People’s attitudes towards Secret Services were different. Some were afraid and talked “with caution” trying not to spill the beans, some wanted to play their game with them and trick them… Only when in late 1970s an instruction was issued by Komitet Obrony Robotników (Workers’ Defence Commitee – an intelligentsia opposition organization) people became aware they shouldn’t talk with Secret Services at all, and shouldn’t sign anything.

Credibility of Secret Service files is questionable, and it is difficult to say what is fake and what is based on facts. Many files were destroyed or hidden in various moments in time: some most likely during the times of transition in 1989-1990.

Basic claims in the book

The book reportedly claims that Lech Wałęsa was giving information to the Secret Services in the early 1970s, as “tajny współpracownik” – agent. He was not a known figure back then, he was an ordinary person, taking part in opposition demonstration in Gdańsk and engaging in the movement. The Secret serviceman whose report is in the file, writes that he has paid “Bolek” 13000 złotys. However there are no receipts. Nothing signed by Wałęsa, nothing hand-written at all.

And then, when Wałęsa became president he requested to view his file. When the files were reopened during the presidency of Aleksander Kwaśniewski, it turned out several hundred pages were missing.

However the index is still there, it is therefore known what is missing. And these are typed reports of this agent “Bolek” – of being whom Wałęsa is being accused. Among the missing papers there are no signed or handwritten papers or receipts. Therefore the material missing would only be handy for cross-examination with other sources.
It is not certain when the pages were taken away and who did it. Pages were not checked when the file was being delivered to Wałęsa, and Wałęsa reportedly did not check them either.

What does Wałęsa say?

Wałęsa says that if had done what thay say he did, he would have said long time ago. He denies any involvement with Secret Services. He claims he never gave them any information, never gave in his colleagues. He claims he was not important enough then for the Secret Services wanting him for an agent. He is very angry, and thretens to sue the authors of the book. He says he did view his file during his presidency, however he did no remove anything from there. He wanted to check whether the files contain any materials from his and his wives sexual lives.

What do others say?

Other oppositionsts are divided. Some of them, who believe in the vision 2, believe these accusatins are true. Other’s don’t, and are talking about how the reality of the time is difficult to explain.

What is the political context?

What the book does is to try and put Wałęsa in a certain context, of an alternative interpretation of Polish history and current Polish affairs.

The history most people know looks like this: Solidarność fought our freedom. And thanks to the Round Table Compromise between Solidarność and communist government Poland was able to enter the path to independence and democracy. It also opened the possibility for democratic change in other countries from the Eastern Bloc. And this was one of the greatest moments in Polish history.

The alternative version of history (let’s call it version 2) has it that Wałęsa and Solidarność were orchestrated by the Secret Services, the Round Table Talks were the moment when Polish nation was betrayed. That the elite of Solidarność betrayed the ideals of the workers, and, conspiring with the communists, sold Poland. Sold the companies and factories, the market, the people as work-force. To the foreign capital, to foreign banks… Arranging the new reality in such a way, that post-communists (incl. Secret Servicemen), intelligentsia and elites are well-off, while workers are poor and disrespeted. Elites did not care for them.
Ian in his previous post rightly points that Kaczynski brothers and their party, who also have a deep personal dislike for Wałęsa, strongly believe in the second version (although Lech Kaczynski took part in the Round Table Talks himself).
There is also a claim, that Wałęsa’s policies, which are interpreted as againt lustration, during his presidency, were because of his problems with his own past.

The book is a supporting the version 2, reportedly being such an interpretation of certain facts from Lech Wałęsa’s past (and assumptions of Wałęsas 1970s agentship) to make the version 2 work well together.Some of those who prefer this version believe that Wałęsa is controlled by ex-Secret Servicemen until this day.

What is the general context?

What I would like people to remember from this story is not the fate of Wałęsa, who EVEN IF was broken by the Secret Services was also a victim. A victim of Police state, a victim of Secret Services who imposed themselves on people’s lives, who destroyed people, whowere paid by the state to disorganise, to plant distrust…

Wałęsa is still a great figure in Polish history, he was chosen by workers as their representative. In the 1980s had the strength and courage to stand up. He was a real leader, he had the skills, he had the talk, he had the charisma.

Epilogue

So was Wałęsa or was he not an agent? Did he or did he not remove his papers from the file? That depends on what you want to believe. It can’t be proven that he is guilty. It can’t be proven he is not guilty. Do you prefer to assume innocence or guilt?

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See a Polish news report with Lech Wałęsa (youtube).
Have a look at other news from Poland.

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