Wednesday, June 16, 2010

“Don’t burn existing committees – build your own ones”: The Legacy of the Solidarity Movement

By Anna Szramkowska

Back then, they wanted to resist. They took actions at the grassroots level and contributed to formulating a free and independent Poland. Today, they serve on the Programming Board of Humanity in Action Poland. Wujec, Wielowiejski, Bujak—representatives of different groups within the Solidarity movement, names known from newspapers and textbooks—came to give 19 Humanity in Action Fellows a unique chance to turn back time to the 1960s.

By meeting with former members of the Club of Catholic Intellectuals (Klub Inteligencji Katolickiej) and the Workers’ Defense Committee (Komitet Obrony Robotników), we could imagine illegal printing houses and feel the atmosphere of up-coming change: real solidarity in different groups of Polish society, hopes and dreams later destroyed (but not defeated) by General Jaruzelski. Countless facts and emotions were shared with passion. The spirit of Solidarity was back.

Mr Bujak conveyed his fears and temptations to act in a different way. They all claimed that “Robotnik,” the illegal newspaper, was a source of information about changes in the world and about what Human Rights documents meant at that time. The fruitful discussions with these members of the Solidarity movement continued over lunch.

Despite the fact that I have studied Polish history for many years, I was given a new impression that was absolutely unique. Discovering this new picture with my fellow activists and friends from Poland, Germany, Ukraine, the United States and Thailand made it even more amazing. Based on our experiences, we are certainly familiar with Jacek Kuroń’s words: “Don’t burn existing committees – build your own ones.” But it is worth it to say this sentence again today. 

Later, professor Andrzej Rychard from the Graduate School for Social Research told us about the social transformations of Solidarity from a perspective of a sociologist. We got to know something about winners and losers of the transformation (keeping in mind that in many cases it is still too early to judge) and this helped us get a more complete picture. In addition, Mr Olaszek presented the work and achievements of Institute of National Remembrance (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej), which concerned not only Solidarity, but other important periods from Polish history as well.

Last but not least, our group tackled certain issues connected to the activism of grassroots movements and Solidarity in particular. The discussion was facilitated by our colleagues, Kasia Wrzesińska and Seth Packrone.

Even after the official activities of the day were over, many questions remained. We could not help continuing the discussions about the role of solidarity and its legacy that is still visible today.

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