Communism to Solidarity in 21 Pictures: Birth of a Revolution in Gdańsk, Poland

 

21 demands
1) 21 demands for workers’ rights, written in pencil and red paint
21 demands translated to English
21 demands translated

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.

Butcher shop
2) Butcher shop during the communist era: nothing to buy
Gdańsk Shipyard gate
3) Gdańsk Shipyard gate, site of the strikes leading up to the 1980 Gdańsk agreement (replica of the 21 demands posted under the sign)
Strike supporters bringing supplies
4) Strike supporters bringing supplies to the workers
Anna Walentynowicz
5) Anna Walentynowicz, political activist and shipyard worker fired for participating in a strike, sparking action among other workers
Shipyard worker helmets
6) Shipyard worker helmets – many workers scratched off their identification numbers as protection during the strikes
Gdańsk Shipyard
7) Gdańsk Shipyard
Solidarność logo, Polish flag and Catholic cross
8) Solidarność logo, Polish flag and Catholic cross
Solidarity stamps
9) Solidarity stamps
Solidarity banners
10) Solidarity banners
Martial law declared
11) Martial law declared in Poland – tank outside a movie theater showing Apocalypse Now
Militia
12) Militia helped to enforce martial law
Solidarność facing military
13) Solidarność facing military
Monument to fallen shipyard workers next to ESC
14) Monument to fallen shipyard workers of 1970 next to the European Solidarity Center
Ripples of revolution
15) Ripples of revolution spreading outward and the quote “The lord will give strength to his people, the lord will give his people the blessing of peace”
IMG_6053
16) Polish pope and Solidarity supporter John Paul II
Henryk Jankowski
17) Henryk Jankowski, Catholic priest and member of the Solidarity movement
Building in need of reconstruction
18) One of many buildings still in need of reconstruction outside of the main town area
Old and new buildings
19) A mix of old and new buildings
Modern day downtown Gdańsk
20) Modern day downtown Gdańsk
No To Cyk
21) Kitsch communist-themed bar No To Cyk
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2 thoughts on “Communism to Solidarity in 21 Pictures: Birth of a Revolution in Gdańsk, Poland

    1. Former communist areas are definitely recognizable – many still have some of the very basic and functional, uniform apartment buildings and are visibly rebuilding. Gdańsk seems to be much further along than some of the other eastern cities we’ve been to, especially the main downtown area. Much more modern, nice buildings, busy city crowd and even lots of tourists, which was pretty (positively) surprising to me.

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