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Solidarnosc: Crafting a Free Society

Class: Violence and Nonviolence

Instructor: Muvingi
By Carsten Kaefert (3012875)
Table of Contents
Solidarnosc: Crafting a Free Society...............................................................................................1
Solidarność – Starting a Revolution............................................................................................3
Changing Society........................................................................................................................7
Der Spiegel: The Class Enemy Covers Solidarność...................................................................9

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The names of the union Solidarność and its leader Lech Walesa are inseparably connected

in many people's minds. This paper will show how many much broader the movement that

brought Poland freedom was: It will give an overview into the rise of Solidarność from an

outlawed trade union and strike organizing body to one of the central pillars of Poland's

democratic development. A focus will be on the union's strategy of not mainly confronting the

Polish regime head on, but creating free spaces for the Polish society, thus undermining the

party's total grip and finally preparing the country's transition to democracy. Dealing with the

woes of the 1980s cold war, it is necessary to analyze western reactions to the events in Poland

as well. Being separated by the iron curtain and thus the western country closest to Poland, West

Germany played a special role in this. As an example, the coverage from West Germany's weekly

news magazine of record, Der Spiegel, will be reviewed.

Solidarność – Starting a Revolution

Focusing on just one organization in context with the democratization movements in

Central Eastern Europe during the 1980s always means omitting important, perhaps the most

important, actors and historical backgrounds, as the incidents within the Soviet Union, the

Warsaw Pact and the west influenced each other rather heavily. Nevertheless, a comprehensive

history of Eastern European liberation is by far out of the scope of this paper and could quite

likely fill whole libraries. However, some background has to be given and some actors to be

introduced for understanding of the whole process:

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–KOR: Polish acronym for Workers' Defense Committee. KOR was founded in 1976 in the

wake of workers rising against high prices to “sustain the drive to aid workers.”1 It was the fist

time the Polish activists went into the open, intending to gain more prominent support and

publicity. Its demands were “amnesty for arrested workers and reinstatement of those fired.”2 It

was a first try to organize society by itself.3 It provided services to workers mistreated by the

system and was able to attract the support of intellectuals. 4 It also attracted foreign support,

mainly by writers and unions.5

–PZPR: The communist party of Poland by its Polish initials

Suffering from the economic effects of the inadequate reaction to 1976's uprising, Poland

had amassed huge amounts of debt by 1980 and the PZPR was forced to announce price hikes by

July.6 Immediately strikes spread from Warsaw all over the country, which the regime tried to

suffocate by cutting local deals with workers.7 Wage hikes seemed to have done the trick by end

of July, when Anna Walentynowicz was fired from Lenin shipyard in Gdansk. Walentynowicz

had worked at the shipyard for almost thirty years and gained respect from her fellow workers by

advocating for them. She also functioned as a link between the workers and the political

opposition outside of the shipyard.8 Her firing was taken up as an issue worthwhile striking for

by free trade union activists, and they began motivating people at the shipyard to put down their

work, eventually seeking help from Lech Walesa.9 On the morning of August 14 the strike
1 Peter Ackermann, Jack Duvall, A Force More Powerful. A Century of Nonviolent Conflict (New York: Palgrave,
2000), 126.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid. 127.
4 Cf. ibid.
5 Cf. ibid.
6 Cf. ibid. 134.
7 Cf. ibid. 135.
8 Cf. ibid. 136.
9 Cf. ibid. 138.

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actually began with people gathering peacefully on the shipyard's premises.10 With Walesa and

Walentynowicz joining the strike committee, the strikers gained considerable momentum and

extended their initial demands.11 They introduced a list of twenty-one demands that should gain

immense importance for the struggle of the Polish people for freedom and democracy:

1)Recognition of free and independent trade unions

2)The right to strike and a guarantee of safety for strikers and their families
3)Provision of all the liberties guaranteed by the Polish constitution
4)Restitution of withdrawn rights for
–Strikers fired after the '71 and '76 uprises and students who were removed from university
for their political views
–Release of all political prisoners
–Deletion of the law allowing prosecution for political views
5)Coverage of the inter-company strike committee MKS
6)Taking measures to end the economic crisis, such as:
–Factual and appropriate information on the economic situation
–Participation of delegates from all parts of society in talk about solutions
7)Continuing wage payment during strikes
8)a wage raise of 2000 Zloty per month
9)Guarantee of wages rising with inflation
10)Full supply with foodstuff, just excess production for export
11)Special prices and stores for party members and currency stores have to be abolished
12)Leading jobs to be given by qualification, not party affiliation and end of the priviliges
for militia, police and party members
13)Meat and meat products to be sold for stamps
14)Lowering the retirement age
15)Improvement of working conditions in the medical sector to improve healthcare
16)Raise of pensions for older retirees
17)More Kindergarten spots

10 Cf. ibid. 139.

11 Cf. ibid. 140.

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18)Introduction of maternity leave at full pay
19)Shorter wait periods for accomodation
20)Raise of extra pay for far commuters
21)Introduction of work-free Saturdays (all:12)

Soon, more shipyards and other enterprises joined the strike, spreading all over the region

in close to no time.13 Although the strike almost collapsed due to some urgent demands being

fulfilled, Walesa was able to keep it going by appealing to the worker's solidarity. 14 As the strike

spread, first along the Baltic coast, then deeper into the country, the regime had to react. After

assessing other options, it had to give in to the pressure and start negotiating directly with the

MKS.15 Deputy prime minister was sent to negotiate with Walesa and fellow strike instigators.16

The MKS was able to strike a quite favorable deal, although they had to trade in the right to

freely found independent trade unions all over Poland, this right was only granted for Gdansk.

Nevertheless, the strike was ended. MKS became the founding cell for the Gdansk/Gdynia

region's independent union: Solidarność.17

Despite having made a deal, Solidarność had to fight to get what it bargained for. As the

regime did not fulfill its commitments, “a rhythm of crisis, relaxation, and renewed crisis took

hold in Poland.”18 In the following sixteen months the strain on the Polish political system grew

from two sides: The Soviet regime in Moscow raised the pressure to quell the uppity union,19

12 Cf. Verein zur Förderung der Deutsch-Polnischen Literatur/Polsko-Niemieckie Towarzystwo Literackie,

“21Forderungen,” (retrieved 2008-11-18).
13 Cf. Ackermann, A Force... 142.
14 Cf. ibid. 144.
15 Cf. ibid. 149.
16 Cf. ibid.
17 Cf. ibid. 151-152.
18 Ibid. 154.
19 Cf. ibid. 160.

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whilst the unions demands grew as well, more and more posing a risk to the PZPR's

predominance.20 Finally, by the end of November 1981, the government was given emergency

powers.21 Police, including special unit ZOMO, started crushing down on strikers. On December

12th Solidarność was effectively decapitated, thousands of its leaders were imprisoned. “State of

war” was declared, martial law put into effect.22

Changing Society
The activists from Solidarność and KOR were used to work in the open, protected by

international media coverage and Polands dependence on support from the west.23 That came to

an end with the announcement of the state of war. With the right (and possibility) to strike and

have rallies gone, they had to go back to a strategy which Jacek Kuron described already in the


Each independent initiative by citizens, each example of self-organization by people

acting outside of party control, Kuron declared, “challenges the monopoly of the state
and thereby challenges the basis upon which it exercises power.”24

This created a parallel society in Poland, a society out of the party's control – but this is a

process that began way earlier. It started during the first half of the 1970s, following the 1970

protests, the trust in the parties competence and capacity to overcome economic hardship was

shattered.25 Further new elements of self-organization within the Polish society came to be in the
20 Cf. ibid. 161.
21 Cf. ibid. 162.
22 Cf. ibid. 163.
23 Cf. ibid. 130.
24 Ibid. 123, quoting: David Ost, Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition and Reform in Poland
since 1968 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), 69
25 Cf. Grzegorz Bakuniak, Krzysztof Nowak, “The creation of a collective identity in a social movement. The case

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course of the 1976 protests.26 The most important result of the regimes actions confronted with

the protests was creation of a common identity among workers.27 Ironically, class awareness of

workers is an important pillar of socialism, just that it was turned against the socialist

government in this case. This “us” created through shared experience among the workers was

only a beginning. It was defined negatively, the “us” being determined in opposition to “them”

(the regime).28 KOR was one step towards changing this,29 another one was the papal visit in

June 1979. Pope John Paul II was born in Poland as Karol Wojtyla and served as the archbishop

of Krakow before being appointed as pope. It helped creating the identity in two different ways.

Firstly it was a giant organizational challenge. Millions of people would attend a mass by the

Polish pope and the authorities would offer very little support to the event, as socialist

governments are by principle atheistic.30 The large event went smoothly without as much as a

uniform in sight, thus a “new order was created spontaneously by people taking part in the

celebrations just as the sphere of common experience and feeling was created spontaneously.”31

The second part of the pope's effect was the mission he gave to people by predicting that Poland's

future would “depend on how many people are mature enough to be nonconformists.”32 Now the

rift between the regime and the people was complete: The people had an identity, common

experiences and common goals.33

of 'Solidarność' in Poland,” Theory and Society 16, no. 3 (May 1987), 407.
26 Cf. ibid. 409.
27 Cf. ibid. 410.
28 Cf. ibid. 411.
29 Cf. ibid. 412.
30 Cf. ibid.
31 Ibid. 413.
32 Ackermann, A force... 132.
33 Cf. Bakuniak, The creation... 416.

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During the state of war, people could (and did) build upon this framework of a new society.

Out of different nuclei in different parts of the country, a full-blown underground arose. 34 As this

and other tries for a centralized structure proved to be too susceptible to government

intervention, activists finally agreed to a decentralized, slower approach aiming at supporting all

those suffering from the crackdown.35 Underground press arose to circumvent censorship,

reaching a million readers by 1984, independent education was established through “Flying

Universities” and a new tool arose: boycott.36 Newly formed state-run unions were boycotted as

well as state media, which suffered a boycott from two sides: People would not consume it and

actors, writers or moderators not show up for work.37 The communist party lost control of the

society, although it seemingly had been successful in crushing Solidarność. The military regime

had to embrace its opponents, giving back liberties, releasing people from jail and overall

liberalizing the country.38 In 1988, further price hikes led to new strikes, which forced the regime

to the negotiation table, resulting in the first free elections and the end of autocracy in Poland.39

Der Spiegel: The Class Enemy Covers Solidarność

Der Spiegel has since its foundation after World War II til the early had a monopoly as the

only German weekly political news magazine. The self-proclaimed “assault gun of democracy”40

has traditionally been left-leaning (“in doubt leftist,” founder and long time editor-in-chief

Rudolf Augstein is frequently quoted, although this has shifted towards a more neo-liberal stance

lately) and always has had a strong interest in Ostpolitik.41 Accordingly, Der Spiegel has had
34 Cf. Ackerman, A Force... 167.
35 Cf. ibid. 168.
36 Cf. ibid.
37 Cf. ibid. 168-169.
38 Cf. ibid. 169.
39 Cf. ibid. 171.
40 Rudolf Augstein, “Lieber Spiegel-Leser!” Der Spiegel, January 16, 1963, 14.
41 West German policies towards the east bloc, especially the GDR, with the long term aim of a German

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tremendous influence on the public opinion about the situation in Poland and was an important

factor in maintaining the international pressure mentioned above.

Coverage of Solidarność's rise in Der Spiegel begins on July 18 1980 with a detailed eight-

page title story on the initial strikes addressing the firing of Anna Walentynovicz and the meat

price spike. Already this early in the process, Der Spiegel documents the parallel structures by

naming the strikers and the factory officials “bargaining parties,” declaring this a “first in the

communist bloc.”42 It goes on by describing the economic struggles the country is in, saying that

its supposedly classless society had turned into one of “currency-havenots and dollar princes.”43

In November of that year the magazine publishes an article by the Polish human rights-

activist and KOR member Jan Walc, showing further support for the cause of Solidarność by

offering him a platform. He describes Solidarność's regional centers as “socio-vacuum cleaners,”

which “suck up all the systems dirt.”44 With dirt he means the regime's human rights violations –

and goes on describing that in the hands of Solidarność they can become “powerful weapons.”45

Offering Polish activists and intellectuals a platform continues to be a practice through the

eighties, thus making sure every single move of the regime is followed by a worldwide audience

– with the effects stated above. Among others, progressive ZK member Mieczyslaw Rakowski,46

Solidarność-leader Wladyslaw Frasyniuk,47 dissidents/strike leaders Jacek Kuron48 and Adam

42 “Streiks in Polen – gegen die Partei,” Der Spiegel, August 18, 1980, 92.
43 Ibid. 93.
44 Jan Walc, “Staubsauger für den Schmutz des Systems,” Der Spiegel, November 24, 1980, 153.
45 Ibid.
46 Rakowski was interviewed on three occasions within the eighties altogether, with the following being the first
one: “Das war die schwerste Krise Polens,” Der Spiegel, September 8, 1980, 120.
47 “Freiheit kann ungeheuer stimulieren,” Der Spiegel, September 26, 1988, 168-169a.
48 Siegfried Kogelfranz, “Jetzt können wir alles erreichen,” Der Spiegel, September 8, 1980, 126.

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Michnik49 as well as Lech Walesa50 get to communicate their views on the Polish situation –

without restrictions from party censorship.

49 Adam Michnik, “Die letzte Chance,” Der Spiegel, December 29, 1980, 62.
50 “Wir müssen alle Fesseln lösen,” Der Spiegel, November 7, 1988, 174b-175.

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–Grzegorz Bakuniak, Krzysztof Nowak, “The creation of a collective identity in a social

movement. The case of 'Solidarność' in Poland,” Theory and Society 16, no. 3 (May 1987).

–Peter Ackermann, Jack Duvall, A Force More Powerful. A Century of Nonviolent Conflict

(New York: Palgrave, 2000).

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