Tag Archives: Solidarność

Martial Law: A Positive Trigger?

This week marks 30 years since the rule of martial law was imposed in Poland. It was enforced from December 13th 1981 to July 22nd 1983, and even with the passing of a few decades, it is still a subject evoking strong feelings and emotions. It also does not help that the primary player of that period, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, is still alive and is one of the remaining symbols of communism in Poland, having been the Polish Prime Minister from 1981 to 1985 and head of state from 1985 to 1990.

To summarise the martial law period in Poland for those that might be unfamiliar with it, it was as follows. Pro-democracy movements such as Solidarność were gaining momentum throughout 1980 and 1981. The communist leaders initially wanted to show leniency and be open to some discussion with the agitators; however as time went by, they began to realise that their authority was being challenged. Fear grew that the disruptions would develop into something more revolutionary such as had happened in Budapest in 1956 or in Prague in 1968. In both instances, Soviet military intervention had been used to quell efforts at democratising the countries. In both examples, the Warsaw Pact had been invoked to justify sending in the troops. In 1980 and 1981, the Polish leaders including General Jaruzelski began negotiations with Moscow to use the same option to force authority once more in Poland.

However, it turned out the Soviets were unwilling (for the first time) to step in and it meant the Polish leaders had to take their own action. A ‘state of war’ (stan wojenny) was declared. While there was no actual war or external threat, the authorities used the premise of escalating internal threats as a reason to implement martial rule. The following speech made by Jaruzelski on December 13th 1981 shows him trying to pull the patriotic heart-strings of the public:

“The atmosphere of conflicts, misunderstanding, hatred causes moral degradation, surpasses the limits of toleration. Strikes, the readiness to strike, actions of protest have become a norm of life. Even school youth are being drawn into this. Yesterday evening, many public buildings remained seized. The cries are voiced to physical reprisals with the ‘reds’, with people who have different opinions.
The cases of terror, threats and moral vvendetta, of even direct violence are on the rise. A wave of impudent crimes, robberies and burglaries is running across the country. The underground business sharks’ fortunes, already reaching millions, are growing. Chaos and demoralization have reached the magnitude of a catastrophe. People have reached the limit of psychological toleration. Many people are struck by despair. Not only days, but hours as well are bringing forth the all-national disaster.” He then finished by reciting the Polish national anthem.

Martial rule imposed tough times on the Polish people. Demonstrators were summarily arrested without charge, pro-democracy groups were banned, curfews imposed and communications disrupted by telephone lines being cut and post being censored. As some Polish people tried to rebel against the system, it caused further crackdowns. Estimates of over 100 deaths in the time of martial law have been suggested. Even for those that did not rebel and suffer directly, there were detrimental effects for all involved, through food rationing, forcing 6 day working weeks, military courts and a ‘verification’ system used to ensure people were not anti-authoritarian.

However, it seems that this could be seen as the nadir of the Communist period in Poland – a sort of ‘darkest moment just before the dawn’ leading to the sunlight of democracy. Surviving such a period would have given confirmation to those groups such as Solidarność that they were on the right path. The shadow of the Soviet Union was also lessening, so it could be seen that in the battle for Polands future, it would be ‘good’ Poles against ‘bad’ Poles in a battle for hearts and minds without waiting to see when the troops from Moscow would land to support the government. It’s also possible that the Polish people themselves would have had more belief in themselves to be the change they wanted to see. If this was the worst that the government could throw at them, then why can’t democracy be forced? The art of kombinować would have ensured that people survived (maybe even thrived) despite difficulties.

Thus, it should be a case that the 30th anniversary of martial rule should be celebrated as a trigger for something more for Poland, rather than as a symbol of the worst of communist times.

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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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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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A Guide To Songs About Poland, Heavily YouTube Loaded

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There was a time I envied Hungary a bit of a lot:

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Jethro Tull, my band #1 to take to an inhabited tropical island (or wherever my pension is going to take me) gave out a song “Budapest”. Before the ultimate tearing the Iron Curtain off and away, and today, too, to a certain extent, the national pride of Poland had longed for any honourable mentions in Western production. So that we’d know the civilised world knows we’re not a Russian colony with no history or ambitions.

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We would idolise people feeding our starving egos – like Marino Marini, a medium-popular Italian songster with a one-timer in heavily-accented Polish (but damn, the song is so sentimentally kitsch it’s beautiful):

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Or like Classix Nouveaux. (They’ll never never come out of my mobile). The problem with bands like CN was they would requite the love Poles felt for them — but were not recognised too worldly.

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And Poles would probably remind an English or German foreigner some internationally famous tunes may be of Polish origin.

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Or that Polish Roman Polański directed a movie about Polish Władysław Szpilman playing Polish Fryderyk Szopen. If music should not be enough:

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Or that Gazebo would sing “I like Chopin” [but did he mean Chopin vodka?].

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Or that Midnight Oil sing about Kościuszko, though Aussies misspell and mispronounce him and often think he’s just a mount.

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Or we would speak of Charles Bronson, who was Polish (oh really?), and a harmonica virtuoso.

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Or we would be happy Maidens want us to play pray with them:

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Or that they visit our airports.

That they visit our cities.

That they play our football.

That they see our people.

That they attend our weddings.

So that they could say “Na zdrowie”:

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Or that U2 made a Solidarnosc-inspired song (for which Poles would pay back waving their shirts the other time).

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Or Kim Wilde? Long before she was covered in Cambodia by Apoptygma Berzerk, Polish “affectionate people” had covered her with flowers and kisses and kisses and improvised dancing, live, probably to thank her she came to us capable of saying “Cześć” or “Dziękuję”:

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Hey, we even liked strangers when their admiration came through imitation. For example: Vox, the first Polish boys-will-be-boys-band, singing about aloha-sunny-banana way of life when it was grey and communist outside. The song has been kicking arse, amen. And it still kicks, even if in a Czech remake meant for a TV commercial.

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Our hearts soar when someone such as Eddie Vedder speaks Polish (even if it’s read, and it’s B16 Polish more than Polish Polish).

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Yes, our depression could be low.

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So, what more?

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This premiere-league metal musician took Danzig for his alias. (And Danzig is German for Gdańsk. Hurrah!)

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And then there’s Christopher Poland. (What a nice surname!)

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Any common denominator? Considering Chris got himself into metal albums, and that I found heavy bands like these Danes, it seems the natural way you would musically relate to Poland would be loud and clearly hard.

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Type O Negative is a first class metal band, and its core-man is Peter Steele, born Ratajczyk. Just when one could boast his Polish surname, one would learn Peter sings about faeces, or women that cheat on him, that he posed for Playgirl, that he was clinically treated for depression, or that he converted from atheism to Catholicism. Let’s be confused: is it good PR, or not?

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There are exports, too (to boost up our pride aware of them admiring our guys).

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Vader – the best (selling) thing in music from Poland (*).
I still recall the thrill of the time I saw
the first Polish words on MTVfirst Polish words on MTV, a Polish ballet dancer, a Polish power plant, lots of first class loudness in their video. On the other hand, Vader is not a Polish name, the band IS good (while goodness is international) and singing in English. [And how! Uttering loud lines “We await the silent empire” and “We do believe in silence” is clear irony and wit, and they will discuss stuff like for-snobs-only Pynchonisms, with unprecedented speed (try to say “You’d better never antagonize the horn” in 0.8 second).]

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(*) Since that etude thing Chopin wrote. Yes, that borrowing from a prelude by Birkin. The lending to Beyond The Sea. Yes, the song in American…Or’s it English?…French?…Or Corsican French?…Or French-English on Japanese tv? — It’s all one, anyway.
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Anyway. Jethro Tull went on with “Budapest” for 10 minutes long and more. This could hurt the national pride of a non-Hungarian. Despite the fact Poles and Hungarians have been considered “brethren”. (We don’t speak our brother’s language, we don’t see one another too often, we hardly shared borders. Yes, warm feelings are feasible.)

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Granted, Jethro Tull mentions Poland alright (“the beat of distant Africa or a Polish factory town”) but that’s not quite what I’d expect. I mean — where’s a song entitled “Warsaw”?

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Well, I’ll tell you where.

Joy Division.
Porcupine Tree.
David Bowie (with Brian Eno).

Plus Tangerine Dream (with Poland) ?
Plus Niemen in French?

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Not often a place earns a Babylonian god’s song with German title, English words, Swedish voice.
Not always a madam’s cul in that place gets a mention in a French song, Belgian voice, first verse.
Not bad. Not bad at all.

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PS But now I am going to listen to Laibach. Whose “words are for you, Poland”, says the third sentence, and the beginning rings the bell in its unmistakenly Polish way.

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I can’t dance, I can’t sing.

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