Polish Road to Freedom in Erazm Ciołek’s Lens - Mémoire des Justes parmi les Nations
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And I cry – I, who am a son of the land of Poland and who am also Pope John Paul II. I cry from all the depths of this Millennium, I cry on the vigil of Pentecost, I cry with you all: Let your Spirit descend! Let your Spirit descend! And renew the face of the earth. The face of this land!
“In this scenery of growing chaos and disappointment, only a spark was needed to consolidate the mood of the people and to transform a little flame of disgruntlement into an open fire of demands for the reform of the system. In the opinion of many observers, that spark was provided by the visit of the Holy Father John Paul II to Poland in June 1979.”
At the end of the 1970s, the social mood was deteriorating along with the deepening economic depression. In August 1980, a wave of strikes that commenced in the Gdańsk Shipyard rolled through Poland. The workers demanded primarily the right to establish trade unions that would not depend on the authorities. Other demands included higher wages and an increased supply of food products to the market.
“I officially declare that if the authorities fail to stop arresting the activists of the Workers’ Defence Committee and other social organizations, there will be no negotiations whatsoever. They were cheating, are cheating, and want to continue cheating!”
“I would like to thank, once again, the Prime Minister and all the forces that have prevented a forceful solution to this conflict. I would like to thank you for allowing us to reach an agreement, like a Pole with a Pole. Without the use of force”
However, co-existence of the communist state and an independent trade union Solidarity was not possible. The tension in the country was mounting, and manifested itself in several serious incidents affecting the relations between Solidarity and the government of the People’s Republic of Poland.
The introduction of martial law in December 1981, saw many Solidarity activists arrested and imprisoned or interned. The public reacted by organizing itself to offer assistance to those in custody, and to their families. The Primate’s Committee was established to collect gifts, in churches, for those arrested and for their loved ones.
Every opportunity was taken to manifest public disapproval of the martial law and the communist system. Thousands of those who attended the funeral of Grzegorz Przemyk - a high school student beaten by the militia to death - formed one of the largest manifestations of the time. Holly mass celebrations often served as an opportunity to manifest opposition-supporting views as well. The Catholic church was one of the main sources of support for the opposition and provided it with locations for secret meetings. Many priests were threatened and repressed by the Secret Police. Jerzy Popiełuszko, a highly regarded chaplain of Solidarity, who had the ear of millions of Poles, was abducted and murdered by the Secret Police in 1984.
“I called for total silence, and that was the biggest and the most meaningful manifestation of the residents of Warsaw. God, provide this suffering mother with enough strength, for she has accepted the blow in a truly heroic manner”.
Although the authorities had delegalized Solidarity, they were incapable of putting an end to the ever expanding conspiracy. Opposition circles continued to meet and discuss their options to expand the margin of freedom. As free discussions were not allowed in the public space, the meetings of independent activists were often held in private apartments.
"It is easy to forget today how mighty the Soviet Union had been, how self-confident the communist regime seemed, when you threw down the gauntlet in front of the entire world. Through solidarity to freedom! It was an act of incredible historic courage. It was a great mass uprising!”
The subsequent visits of John Paul II to Poland that took place in 1983 and 1987 stirred the entire country. Papal masses were attended by hundreds of thousands of the faithful. The Pope restored the feeling of dignity and was lifting the spirit required to fight for freedom and independence.
“Struggle cannot be stronger than solidarity. (...) This is something I want to talk about, so let the Pope say it since he wants to speak about you and also in some sense speak for you.”
Perestroika in the Soviet Union, the deepening economic stagnation in Poland, the wave of strikes in 1988 and the adamant stance of the democratic opposition finally forced the authorities to commence talks with Solidarity. In preparation for the negotiations with the authorities, the opposition established the Citizens’ Committee made up of numerous Solidarity activists and long-term opposition leaders.
“Communism is facing a situation that is totally beyond its control. It is forced, under a strong social pressure or in the wake of economic disasters, to introduce changes, even if these are not voluntary, even if they are forced”
The primary objective of the Citizens' Committee was to convince the authorities to offer as many freedom- and democracy-oriented concessions as possible.
“The Round Table was a political event that took place in specific circumstances. (...) At that time, none of the parties was strong enough - a confrontation could have ended badly for either of them. Hence the decision about the attempt to reach a compromise. (...) At that time, at the turn of 1989, it was absolutely necessary to start talking. The only thing was that we were taking with usurpers. The only legitimacy of the communist authorities was many hundreds of kilometres to the east of Poland’s border. Should one talk with usurpers? In certain circumstances, yes. Sometimes it is necessary. And such a tactical agreement was necessary at that time.”
"We must not allow power to be taken over in Poland by reactionary forces. We have started a pioneering political experiment. The Party is willing to share its power, but in a wise manner.
“We went there to reach an agreement that will enable the Polish society to commence the process of establishing democratic institutions. It is obvious that we are aiming to hold free and democratic elections”.
"Whenever starting to read the thick book with the Round Table agreement, I always was laughing ironically, as the text is a combination of unthinkable political and economic nonsense; the only thing is that none of that really mattered at that time. The free elections, the parliament and the offensive that was awaiting us there were only things that really counted”
Under the Round Table agreement, the first, partially free parliamentary elections were held in Poland. Candidates that were not linked with the rulers, including Solidarity members, were allowed to take part as well. 65 per cent of the Sejm seats were reserved for the communists, but the Senate elections were completely free.
“Memorize the names of the opposition candidates to the Sejm and the Senate, or write them down. Locate them on the voting sheets. Do not cross those names out. Cross out, one by one, all other names on all voting sheets. Deposit the sheets in the box. Remember: a good communist is one that has been crossed out”
“The election fever is gaining in strength. Solidarity is extremely active. (...) If we manage to survive these elections in one piece, it will be a true miracle”
The election results came as a surprise both for the government and for the opposition. The opposition won all of the Sejm seats it had been awarded, and 99 out of 100 Senate seats.
“I spent the night of June 4th in Kraków. With two of my friends we were visiting the polling stations in the middle of the night, convincing the “Solidarity” representatives to provide us - in breach of the procedures - with information about the results. At about 2 am I knew we had taken it all. I called Krzysztof Kozłowski in the middle of the night, woke him up and said, in a semi-joking manner, that I would not be feeling safe to sleep at home if I were in his shoes. As there were only two options - either the communists would lose power in a cowardly and absurd manner, or - if they had the last traces of reason and courage - they would not publish the results of the election and would lock us up again. It was obvious that publication of such results would mean the end for them.”
“In 1989 we, the people of Solidarity, were marching to power with numerous, specific postulates. We wanted freedom, human rights, independence, democracy, a healthy economy, decent salaries, well provisioned shops, better healthcare and education, abandonment of censorship, a civic state, access to the media, the feeling of security and truth in the public life. But there was one word that described all of those collective dreams. The word “subjectivity”. We wanted Poles to be able to decide about themselves”
On 24 August 1989, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was appointed the first non-communist Prime Minister of Poland.
In December 1989, the
Sejm renamed the country the “Republic of Poland” from the “People's Republic
In 1990 Lech Wałęsa was elected President of the 3rd Republic of Poland in the general presidential elections.
1 - Erazm Ciołek, in an interview for the “Na poważnie” magazine, July 2012
2 - Ewa Krasińska of the Primate's Committee in Aid of People Deprived of Freedom and their Families,, 13 December 2013, Gazeta Wyborcza, “We wanted to help the interned and their families right away”
3 - prof. Zbigniew Brzeziński, the former national security advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the international “From Solidarity to Freedom” conference in Gdańsk, 31 August 2005
4 - Leszek Kołakowski at a meeting of the Citizens’ Committee at the Head of NSZZ “Solidarity” Lech Wałęsa, 18 December 1988
5 - Wojciech Jaruzelski at the meeting of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, 9 February 1989, explaining the reasons for which he decided to reach an agreement with the Solidarity opposition
6 - Jacek Kuroń in an interview for Radio Free Europe, 28 February 1989
7 - Jan Maria Rokita, “Jan Rokita. Anatomia przypadku”, Czerwone i Czarne 2013
8 - Mieczysław F. Rakowski, “Dzienniki”, 26 May 1989
9 - Jacek Kuroń, “Siedmiolatka, czyli kto ukradł Polskę?”, Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie 1997
ERAZM CIOŁEK – born in 1937 in Łódź, died on 13 November 2012 in Warsaw. Photographic artist, member of the Polish Association of Photographic Artists. Journalist, photo reporter, member of the Polish Journalists Association. Between 1965 and 1970, he worked for the Polish Press Agency and the Central Photographic Agency, and between 1971 and 1973, he was an employee of the “Polityka” weekly. In 1970 he established lasting ties with the artistic circles. In March 1968, he photographed students protesting in the Krakowskie Przedmieście street, in the vicinity of the University of Warsaw. Between 1980 and 1992, he completely devoted his professional career to documenting the activities of Solidarity. In August 1980, along with Stefan Starczewski, an opposition activist, he went to the striking Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk. They were allowed to enter the shipyard’s premises thanks to a guarantee offered by Jacek Kuroń. Ciołek was free to document the course of the strike and the signing of the August Agreement. Following the end of the strike, in September 1980, his photographs from the Shipyard strike were displayed publically for the first time (inter alia, in the Warsaw headquarters of the Polish Journalists Association). Ciołek was also the first Polish photographer to depict the murky world of drug addicts. He spent some time living with them, and in November 1981 his “Narkomani” (Drug Addicts) exhibition was presented in Warsaw, drawing attention to the existence of this phenomenon in the Peoples Republic of Poland. Between 1981 and 1989, he photographed and participated in the struggle of the people of Solidarity’s underground. He won the trust of Solidarity and participated, very often as the only photographer, in the meetings at which the Polish statehood was being forged. He was an active member of the Independent Culture Movement, displayed his works in illegal exhibitions and published them in underground press. Ciołek photographed numerous events, concerts and uncensored exhibitions of independent artists of the 1980s. Between 1984 and 1989, he was a member of the editorial team of the underground “Przegląd Wiadomości Agencyjnych” magazine. Erazm Ciołek was the co-founder of the photography service of Niezależna Oficyna Wydawnicza NOWA. Appointed by rev. Jerzy Popiełuszko his personal photographer, he participated, without any restrictions, in the rich religious, and, in particular, social life of the parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Warsaw. He photographed the Round Table talks (6 February - 4 April 1989) as a reporter of the Citizens’ Committee to Leach Wałęsa. Prior to the parliamentary elections of 4 June 1989, Erazm Ciołek (along with Maciej Goliszewski) took a famous series of election poster shots. The shots presented Solidarity’s MP candidates standing next to Lech Wałęsa. In the 1990s, Ciołek returned to artistic photography.
Contributor: Authors—Jerzy Morawski, Dorota Szkodzińska
Contributor: Photos—Erazm Ciołek