From Fri Aug 19 07:30:41 2005
Date: Thu, 18 Aug 2005 06:47:54 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: [NYTr] Poland: Solidarity's Legacy
Article: 219953
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Solidarity's legacy

The Irish Times, Wednesday 17 August 2005

The Solidarity movement in Poland laid the ground for the end of the Cold War in Europe 25 years ago this month. It is well worth marking its anniversary, as was begun with ceremonies in Gdansk yesterday, if only to underline the extent of historical change within such a short space of time. This should alert a younger generation—and older ones—to the potential significance of current events for the shape of the world in 2030.

Solidarity's distinctive contribution was to unite a workers' movement with an intellectual, religious and national one in protest against state repression in Poland. Yesterday's anniversary marked the day Lech Walesa scaled the walls of the Gdansk shipyards and founded a trade union after a strike over poor conditions. Its agenda rapidly expanded over the following year to embrace a mass movement involving many layers of Polish society united by a call for bread and freedom. It was inspired by a previous strike movement suppressed in 1970 and rapidly benefited from links made with the committee to defend workers, involving intellectual critics such as Jacek Kuron, the historian Bronislaw Geremek and the writer and journalist Adam Michnik, which was set up in 1975.

The Solidarity movement was immensely stimulated by the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978 and by his visit the following year to Krakow when he told a huge crowd: “Do not be defeated. Do not be discouraged.” The intimate connection between religion and nationhood in Poland was reinforced during these years. When martial law was proclaimed against a mass strike movement involving nine million people in December 1981, to pre-empt Soviet intervention, the Solidarity movement went underground but was not destroyed. It resurfaced during 1988, when a round table on national reform was initiated by a government desperate to find a way out of political impasse.

Solidarity fragmente[d], after the Berlin Wall fell, into the diverse elements of a new party system which has yet to crystallise fully—and which includes post-communists who have shared political power since then. The shipyard and other workers it represented have seen jobs disappear and unemployment rise during the radical cycles of privatisation and economic restructuring which alternated with renewed programmes of social protection during the 1990s. Lech Walesa combined authoritarianism with populism as president of the country. Despite Poland's successful accession to the European Union last year, its party system remains ill-adapted to its political needs in this autumn's presidential and general elections.