Tuesday, February 1

Roads to Freedom- how a strike by workers in shipyard in Gdansk changed the history of the country

Tank at the entrance to
"Roads to Freedom " exhibition
I think inspiration is a crucial part of our daily lives. We need it for work, for studying, for traveling, for cooking, for looking good (why not?!) and for many other daily routines of our lives. Being a good person, democratic leader, knowledgeable teacher, loving parent or a caring child- and you might not agree with me on this but these too are in one way or another shaped by different inspirations.

I write each post inspired, wanting to contribute to something, change something, or simply let it out. This post, is about an inspiration that carried me away. It is about a city with a significant history. It is about inspirational city of Gdansk and its truly aspiring roads to freedom.

Gdansk voyage to freedom and democracy began in the 1970s. It was a tough road and many who fought for it either lost their lives, or family members, or were imprisoned, interrogated and murdered. In a book called "Gdansk According to Lech Walesa" by Piotr Adamowicz, Andrzej Drzycimski and Adam Kinazewski Gdansk is described as a city that was crucial in bringing liberation to Poland:
The two most important lessons which Gdansk gave to Poland were December 1970, with its bloody confrontation between the shipyard workers of the Coast, the "industrial working class" as it was known back then, with the communist authorities; and August 1980: a universal lesson, with global consequences- the victorious Solidarity revolution, which closed the chapter on Soviet dominance in Central and Eastern Europe. And which opened the chapter of Independent Polish Republic, unified Germany, the collapse of the USSR, the rise of the independent Baltic States and Ukrain, an entire chain of political changes.
And a key person in bringing these two important lessons was no other than Lech Walesa, a person who had an incredible drive for making Poland a better place not to mention set an example and of course all those who were supporting him and holding up together. Here is how Walesa is described at some point in the book mentioned above:
The only things that the people in Stogi knew about Lech was that he was guy who was a bit of a gadfly, got arrested by the police, that he was fighting for something, demanding something, but no one really knew exactly what it was.

The strike at the Shipyard
And this fight had many sides to it too- inspiration, motivation and drive and at times despair, and impunity. The thought that the authorities could go against the workers and the people just to stay in power was something many found hard to believe.


Walesa was one of the many thousand workers at the Shipyard and 1970 was a tragic year but also turning point in Poland's path towards change. The Shipyard became the base, workers didn't leave, slept there demanding for their rights and freedoms. And so it happened that on December 12th, 1970, the historical strike began. At the end of the strike, the workers presented their 21 demands- freedom of expression, freedom of workers union, independence to factories and others. Demands were written a wooden board and the legendary pen is still kept at the "Roads to Freedom" museum in the city of Gdansk.

21 demands
By the second half of 1977, workers' union grew and became stronger. However, not for too long. On the 8th anniversary to commemorate December 1970 events, there was a raid and many were arrested. House searches took place. But the people never gave up. The struggle continued, despite everything. Ironically, "hooliganism" was a popular charge there too.

Martial law was declared...


It was a year where "there was a revolution in the air in Gdansk".
The strike of 1980 was a masterpiece. It was the sum of the experience of the Polish people and of Walesa himself [...] the Gdansk opposition groups did their homework- they printed and distributed illegal newsletters and leaflets; the awareness about Polish history was growing- uprisings, partitions, the Constitution of the 3rd May, the Katyn massacre, the lack of independence and the political and economic dependence on the USSR [...] And then there was the Polish pope in the Vatican.
It was a significant role played by the Pope. Remembering those years Walesa says:
We fought for values. We fought for the whole world [...] When the whole world lacked a vision of how to change the world, hot to end communism, POland got a boon with the Pope [...] Pope came to Poland and spoke the famous words, "Do not be afraid, change the face of the Earth".
One of many underground
 printing press
A year later, Poles gathered in millions and did change the world. It was then that the Solidarity Independent Self- governing Trade Union was born. It was a "beacon of hope". It wasn't named Solidarity yet. It took few more years before the people and the government managed to sit down at a table and actually talk rather than fight. It was 1988 when the opposition and the government signed an agreement at the famous round table. In 1989, there were first free elections held in the country.  

Of course, it is really hard to tell such an inspiring story in just few words. Nevertheless, I wanted to share my personal reflections. As I was walking through the "Roads to Freedom" museum, and hearing the story of the movement and the people and the struggle it left me speechless... 

Things do change, it might take years, but if one really wants that change, then it will happen, sooner or later...

This video is a good summary of events taking place in Gdansk:

Solidarity Movement's home page can be accessed here and full info about the exhibition of Roads to Freedom here.

p.s: photos in this post are my personal shots from a visit to Gdansk in December 2010. 


Unknown said...

Great post Arzu! Im really happy that trip to Gdansk made such an impression on you. I have to invite you to Warsaw and Krakow then :)

Arzu Geybulla said...

Thanks! I have meaning to write it since I have been back from Gdansk but only now had a chance to put it together.

Please do, I will only happily accept the invitation :)

Ł. said...

Is it okay to invite You twice? :) I've only just read Your post in full, and like you said - it's hard to recollect and sum up such a story in a few sentences or even paragraphs. But thanks for this.

Anyway... if it's still possible, then I'd love to invite You to Kraków as well. It is actually (at least to me) the most wonderful city in the world, and I would love to show You around, let You see it through my eyes.

Hiena said...

It's nice to read about your city ;] Now it's your turn to overthrow a couple of governments and find your own road to freedom, which will be of course bumpy as hell.
The one thing I really like in my country is that it has been patient zero of the modern freedom virus.

Arzu Geybulla said...

HI Lukasz, thanks for the invitation :))
And Serewis, yea, when and if that happens, i will be there, blogging and tweeting and letting the world know of whats going on too :)

thanks for the comments gentlemen,