Summer,  Travel

Solidarity Movement in Gdansk, Poland

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august is an extremely historic month to be visiting poland. the warsaw uprising, ghetto uprising, and solidarity movement all occurred in this month, and everywhere i went, i felt like i was visiting a sight on the exact anniversary of an important event.

besides taking in the beauty of the city center, the solidarity sights were by far the most interesting and powerful of my stay in poland’s most northern metropolis. there is so much to see and lots of information to soak-up about this historic movement that got it’s start here in gdańsk.

while walking away from the city center towards the harbor, you eventually come across the solidarity museum (go towards the glass skyscraper pictured below, follow the signs, the entrance is underground! closed mondays, open 10:00-16:00) and this display: a piece of the berlin wall juxtaposed with a piece of the fence that political hell-raiser (and later first post-communist president of poland) lech wałęsa jumped over in 1980 when he helped incite the first of the major riots and protests.

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eventually, you come upon loads of terribly moving memorials and monuments. of all the memorials i have studied or visited, i would place the solidarity memorials in the top in terms of how moved they made me feel and the sad, solemn tone they set, especially of the tragedy of dozens of protesters being shot to death by machine-gun fire in 1970 by the hard-line regime.

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i went through the main gates to the shipyard (pictured in the first photo) and wandered along the path where there were many pieces by different artists interpreting the solidarity movement.

into some kind of community hall i went, only to realize it was the very meeting hall that the union (which was the only non-communist labor union in poland) held its meetings. the hall looked the same as it did over thirty years ago; rows and rows of chairs still in place.

there is also a wonderful photography exhibit of the other room in the center. of all of the key figures i learned about that day, i was particularly inspired by learning about the story of a woman named anna walentynowicz who was fired from her job at the shipyard in 1980, only days before she was to retire (and receive retirement benefits). the shipyard exploded with anger, striking began, and she (along with lech wałęsa of course) became a key figure in the movement which eventually brought an end to communism in poland, which set in place the domino effect in action for eventually eradicating communism in the rest of europe.

below is a wall with 21 x tak, which means twenty one “yes” votes: a list of terms put forth, including demands like right to strike, relaxation of censorship, and freeing political prisoners.

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if you visit the gdańsk area, do not miss the solidarity museum and the historic, still-functioning shipyard. it illustrates how large poland’s role was in the slow but steady toppling of the communist regime and just how fiery and spirited the poles are. i can’t imagine living and working under a regime like this and the strength of the polish people continues to surprise and amaze me. what was the most powerful memorial you’ve ever seen on your travels?

more on poland’s baltic coast coming soon, including one of the most famous beaches in the country. happy sunday!

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