Nobody could have envisaged that the thirtieth anniversary of the birth of Solidarność (in August 1980) would turn into a farce and sound the death knell for Poland’s first trade union. It is fair to say that the anniversary celebrations symbolically, yet unintentionally, brought about the end of the heroic Solidarność of August 1980. The Janusz Śniadek-led politically-distorted Solidarity of 2010 has absolutely nothing in common with the Solidarity of 1980 that brought together people of varying views, opinions and political allegiances. Lech Wałęsa’s refusal to attend the celebrations was a clear cutting of the umbilical cord and demonstration of the fact that the legacy of Solidarity 1980 is to be found elsewhere, not in Solidarity 2010.
What was shocking about the celebrations was the reception that Prime Minister Donald Tusk got from the trade union members. Tusk, a former Solidarity member and activist, was hissed and jeered at when he asked the audience what had happened to the old Solidarity which brought together religious people, atheists, opposition activists and communists alike all for the good of the country. There was no room for hate. To this the hall erupted in a chorus of whistles and boos. Likewise, President Komorowski was greeted with hostility. It was only when PiS head Jarosław Kaczyński took the stage that the hecklers finally settled down giving him rapturous round of applause.
Why was Jarosław Kaczyński giving a speech in the first place? He neither espouses to the ideals of tolerance and solidarity nor was he an integral member of the original movement. His place at the anniversary celebrations was misplaced, misconceived and misguided. He had neither the authority not the right to stand up and talk about ‘solidarity’ with the views he holds. In his speech he talked about manipulation and lies whilst looking straight at PM Tusk. Unsurprisingly, he talked about his patriotic brother Lech Kaczyński who, he alleged, had struggled with Tadeusz Mazowiecki (Poland’s first non-communist post-war Prime Minister) and Bronisław Geremek (Minister of Foreign Affairs) who were ready to give up the fight.
A hurt and shell-shocked Mazowiecki confronted Kaczyński afterwards telling him that what he had said was a complete pack of lies to which Kaczyński replied that he had a different view of what had happened. Mazowiecki retorted: “This has nothing to do with anyone’s views. It is about the facts and what happened. Gemerek’s no longer with us. How could you?! The facts are completely different”. However, what really rocked the celebrations was Henryka Krzywonos’ impromptu speech.
The former Solidarity heroine and tram driver hit the headlines when she brought traffic to a standstill and initiated a Solidarity-led strike in August 1980 when she stopped her tram. After hearing Kaczyński and the jeers at Tusk, she ploughed into the audience and Jarosław Kaczyński claiming that the members of Solidarity had worked for the good of everyone and to boo at PM Tusk was simply out of order. As for Kaczyński, she said she did not know what had happened to him but he should stop stirring things up and let people get on with their lives. “It is you,” she said to Jarosław Kaczyński, “who is destroying Lech’s [Kaczyński] dignity”.
Solidarność began life as a movement fighting for the rights of workers. Sadly, this non-violent and tolerant institution, open for all, became embroiled in politics and has since become the lapdog of Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS). As Henryka Krzywonos, one of the original signatories of the Solidarity Gdańsk Agreement (pol. Porozumienie Sierpniowe) said, “The name ‘Solidarity’ binds and obligates us”. It certainly does; solidarity obligates us to work together, in tolerance and openness with one another.