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”?