No freedom without Solidarity
June 4, 2009 9:12 AM   Subscribe

June 4, 2009 marks 20 years since Poland's first semi-free election under Communism. The election marked the beginning of the end for Polish Communism with its overwhelming mandate for the pro-democracy movement, Solidarity. Today, the world recognizes Poland's accomplishment.
posted by orrnyereg (15 comments total)
I read that twice and read 'Portland' each time, and was very very confused.
posted by Barking Frog at 9:25 AM on June 4, 2009

One summer in the early 90s, I worked on the maintenance crew at the small college in the town where I grew up.... another full-time guy on the crew was a Pole who had left the country in the mid-80s after getting in trouble for political activites. He was by far the oldest guy on the crew (mid 50s, maybe?), and generally looked weathered and beaten down and you could just tell the dude had stories to tell.

So one day on break I asked him what it was like in Poland under Communism, and if he'd been been involved with Solidarity. His reply (and this is of course a 15-years-later-paraphrase-from-memory, but it's pretty damn close) was, "you want to know about Solidarity? I tell you about Solidarity. You have man, you have woman, they have sex. Come, orgasm together. Same time. That's Solidarity." And he tangled his fingers together like legs and brandished them at me.

So that's the first think I think of whenever I hear about Solidarity.

Follow up: a couple of years later, the same dude created some local scandal by knocking up the valedictorian at the college. I was happy to see that Solidarity was spreading to Nebraska.
posted by COBRA! at 9:30 AM on June 4, 2009 [6 favorites]

I like how Premier Tusk doesn't want the commemoration ceremonies in Gdansk, where Solidarity started with protests in the shipyards, lest the present day shipyard workers start demonstrations. That's some fine irony there.
As a pleasing diversion, the posters from the Solidarity movement are gripping, and well analyzed in Lawrence Weschler's Everything That Rises.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:48 AM on June 4, 2009

I would like to congratulate the people of Poland for this accomplishment, and also state that I share their pain over that tragic "scratch-and-sniff at the bottom of a pool" incident that I remember claimed so many of their lives back when I was in grade school.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:56 AM on June 4, 2009 [4 favorites]

It would be an even greater accomplishment, if Poland and Poles could free their minds. At present, the Catholic Church in Poland has an outsize political influence (and a very bad influence it is). The CC is a power unto itself. It has resulted in laws being passed which outlaw abortion - something that was freely available under communism. Two steps forward, one step back. And of course, the CC is responsible for the rise of anti-gay sentiment, and has done little to abate the endemic anti-Semitism. Radio Maryja is just one symptom of the hate speech that finds full expression in Poland. In general, Poland has often played a pretty negative role in the EC.

So while congratulations are in order wrt. Solidarity, there's not nearly enough freedom and tolerance in that country.
posted by VikingSword at 11:07 AM on June 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

Anybody else remember an article in Spin magazine from the late '80s about how the kids of Gdansk forming death metal bands? While their fathers were busy in the Solidarity movement, their kids were rockin out. The article was titled Let's Gdnask. Or at least I think it was titled that. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
posted by NoMich at 11:29 AM on June 4, 2009

I'm reading Robert Michener's Poland. He paints a picture of Poland's history as being stubbornly semi-democratic.
posted by sswiller at 11:41 AM on June 4, 2009

They had reproductions of that Solidarity poster featuring the Gary Cooper pic from High Noon here in Berlin to celebrate the anniversary! I was wondering what the back story was and didn't realize that there were other examples of Solidarity's use of the amazing (and largely underrated, it seems, in W. Europe and the US) Polish graphic arts tradition.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:21 PM on June 4, 2009

"At present, the Catholic Church in Poland has an outsize political influence (and a very bad influence it is)."

Bit of a catch-22. Yeah, two steps forward, one back. But the Catholic church (and the CIA) did help in taking down communism (Jerzy Popieluszko, et. al.). And it seems like corruption and xenophobic nationalism is the big problem of late.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:08 PM on June 4, 2009

My great-grandparents proudly instructed their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to be American while constantly reminding us that we're Polish. (Whether the word Poland was on the map or not.) I wish they'd lived a few years longer to see Solidarity; I wish even more than that they knew that it would have a 20th anniversary.
posted by desuetude at 4:01 PM on June 4, 2009

But the Catholic church (and the CIA) did help in taking down communism (Jerzy Popieluszko, et. al.).

And that's why Poland is so unlucky. It makes taking on the CC such a non-starter, "why, they helped us become freeeee!!!". Even worse, the pope at the time was Polish - "how can you not love the church, when a great, nay, saintly Pole led it?!". Good luck taking on the CC in those circumstances. They're doomed for a long, long time when it comes to freeing themselves from that baleful influence. Of course, the fact that the next pope is an ex-Nazi and a German, goes some way in taking the bloom off the rose. Still, what a mess. Look at Ireland, how long it's taking there. At least Spain is making progress - but there, the CC was not on the side of the angels, but the devil (Franco), and that history is hard to erase, so they have an easier time throwing off the influence.
posted by VikingSword at 5:51 PM on June 4, 2009

I have a lot of respect for Polish culture, but I have to say the Polish political leaders are as bad as any I've seen in a European democracy. Leaders like Kaczynski come to power thanks to a right-wing yellow press that courts the EU while pandering to anti Western sentiments. Anti-Semitism, xenophobia and homophobia still have great currency in Poland.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:24 PM on June 4, 2009

"It makes taking on the CC such a non-starter"
Yeah, good point. Tough to get out from under something like that. They're kind of looking for something to define themselves as well. You struggle against communism for years and years. Then communism is gone - so who are you now?

Reading the piece they were saying they have no leaders. Defense minister Radek Sikorsky has always been an interesting person to me. (Disc: I know some Applebaums).
Not that I'm in love with his politics, although I think he's quite skilled in strategic thinking, but he's definitely a leader. Didn't strike me as crooked. Certainly ideologically focused. Bent, dunno. Saw him on CNN, interviewer was completely thrown. Love him, hate him or indifferent, the guy is no lightweight.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:12 PM on June 4, 2009

Gah. Minister of Foreign Affairs.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:13 PM on June 4, 2009

Why Lech Walesa isn't joining in.
posted by waraw at 10:54 AM on June 5, 2009

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