Monday, August 15, 2005

The Polish August 

A quarter of a century ago, a small crack appeared on the facade of the Evil Empire, a crack that over the following years widened, despite some desperate efforts to plaster it over, and eventually became a giant fissure that brought the whole edifice down.

Ironically, it was one man's jump over a wall that nine years later led to the Wall coming down. On 14 August 1980, the discontent among the workers in shipyards of Gdansk, on the Polish Baltic coast, finally boiled over and a strike action commenced. A young electrician, who had been fired by the management for his political activity, has heard about the strike and climbed over the wall of the shipyard to join his friends and colleagues - and to quickly become their leader. His name was Lech Walesa, and the rest is history - or, as Francis Fukuyama would say - the end of history.

(here are some anniversary photos, courtesy of BBC, via Instapundit)

I was only eight at the time, but I remember that my family had cut short out holiday by the sea when things started heating up in Gdansk. Everyone was fearing the repeat of 1970, when striking shipyard workers were suppressed with much bloodshed by the communist security forces. It didn't quite turn out that way - thank God - and even the martial law a year and a half later proved not to be particularly violent. The long revolution, which culminated in the events of 1989, was relatively bloodless by history's standards. Whatever the injustice of the communist oppression, Poles - and others - never resorted to blowing themselves, and others, up to press their political point. Yet, in the end, the victory was ours.

It's a sign of the times - and a closure of sorts - that Lech Walesa, the wall jumper, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and one of the best known icons of the end of the twentieth century, has just announced that after the celebrations of the twenty fifth anniversary of the Polish August are over, he will be quitting "Solidarity". Walesa says that "his" "Solidarity" was a social movement, and now it has become simply a trade union run by a new generation of professional organizers (link in Polish).

Good, I'm thinking. There is no better testament to the overwhelming success of "Solidarity" that it can now be just a "normal" trade union.

More blogging on this topic later on in the month.


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