Scars of communism have been a recurring theme on our visits to Eastern Europe (see Bucharest: A City in Transition and A Venture into Former East Germany). But while the fall of communism in Romania was characterized by chaos and violence, Poland led the way in the Eastern Bloc with an organized labor movement known as Solidarity (Solidarność in Polish).
A series of strikes in the Gdańsk shipyards led by Lech Wałęsa, who later won a Nobel Peace Prize and became Poland’s first post-communist era president, eventually resulted in an agreement in 1980 that granted workers the 21 rights they demanded. Throughout the 80s, the people continued to struggle for their freedom as prices rose, goods were ever in short supply, and martial law was enacted to censor the media and prevent organized opposition. Further peaceful protests included simple actions such as taking walks when the censored evening news came on TV and spontaneous politically-themed chanting during concerts and sporting events. Solidarity prevailed in June 1989, sending waves of revolution through East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
In honor of the workers’ 21 demands, here are 21 images I find capture the oppression of communism, the rise of Solidarity, and the transformation of Gdańsk.
If you’re interested in learning more about this inspiring period of Polish history, visit the European Solidarity Center website (the About ECS: History tab in particular has more detailed information). Located at the Gdańsk Shipyard, this education/research center and interactive museum is well worth a visit if you’re ever in Gdańsk (formerly the German city of Danzig). In addition, the Solidarity Tour takes visitors on a free guided walking tour through the city with an overview of historical events and sites, ending next to the European Solidarity Center.