Questions to the narrator
- 00:07What did Solidarity offer to people in Poland in 1980?
- 02:04Why did the party stop negotiating with Solidarity and imposed martial law?
- 07:05Has Solidarity as many people in the West believe, has now been crushed, defeated?
- 09:05What are the lasting benefits of Solidarity to Poland? Benefits that continue now.
- 10:33What has happened to the local party, taking Gdansk here, since martial law, has it recovered any support?
- 11:23The party now says it wants to consult the groups outside itself and democratise itself. How real is this?
- 12:15After the events of 1956, after 1968 and also in 1980 all the efforts were tried and nothing brought lasting effect.
- 13:12What did the Gorbachev reforms mean to the people here in the socialist block?
- 14:22Yet they have already tried in 1956, 1968, 1980 to achieve something and nothing has changed.
- 14:47Isn’t there a danger that Gorbachev reforms and rhetoric of reforms, which are also being imitated in the socialist block, will actually weaken and undermine the opposition?
- 16:37My last question. What happened to you during the martial law period?
TranscriptPlease note that this transcript is based on audio tracks and doesn't have to match exactly the video
What did Solidarity offer to people in Poland in 1980?
In 1980 Solidarity offered first of all the truth. We have to realise that the whole period before August 1980 was full of lies. The practise of so called “the propaganda of success” kept telling people that everything was fine while they could see that the situation was really bad. They had no access to materials, to documents, they were not able to learn about the real state of affairs. August 1980, Solidarity as a social movement, as a trade union suddenly enabled them to see the truth. Moreover, Solidarity not only enabled people to learn the truth but also enabled them to prevent further development in the revealed, wrong direction. They were able to act against the evil that as they have learned have brought Poland as a whole country to the brink of bankruptcy. Solidarity offered first of all a programme of change. The very fact of Solidarity emergence as a first democratic movement in a communist country gave hope for the future. Solidarity has activated Polish society. The authorities made a mistake – they did not try to use that social activity. Nevertheless, it was an offer not just for the society, it was an offer for the authorities as well.
Why did the party stop negotiating with Solidarity and imposed martial law?
The first point: the so called dialogue (although it was not real dialogue in the full sense of the word) that party has led with Solidarity since 1980 was a dialogue forced upon the party by the society. The whole period of Solidarity legal existence – as we now can tell boldly because we have documents to prove it – was used by the party to first of all prepare means and forms of destroying that independent movement, to destroy an organisation that was independent from the party. It was related to the fact that party leaders and party apparatus, people who ruled Poland were not able to act in any different way than before. I mean that they were long accustomed to decide in an authoritarian way without consulting society, without taking public opinion into account. In a way the very existence of Solidarity trade union meant that there were people who expressed their own views, represented certain groups of people, groups of opinion and the party had to confront with these groups and opinions. Party apparatus could not learn to accept it. They were still trying to act in the authoritarian way. That was the reason for the eruption of conflicts. Sometimes the conflicts were seemingly unimportant but for us Poles, form the perspective of those who live in a communist country, they were important. The party tried to act against Independent Solidarity trade union because party activists were not used work together with people. They were not used to cooperate, to treat others as partners, they were used to treating people either as their subordinates whom they would tell what to do or as their superiors who gave them orders. That was the main problem. The ideology, the ideological doctrines of course were the basis of party being able to act only in such and no other way but I am not talking about it here. Party activists were unable to cooperate – they simply never learned to cooperate. It goes without saying that the strategy of Solidarity was bound to change after December 13,1981. The martial law was introduced, later it was suspended and cancelled, yet the laws introduced during martial law period remained. So, the way we could be active after December 13 had to change. We have started to act in the underground. The majority of Solidarity leaders were imprisoned or in the internment camps so for us the most important part of our activity was first of all actions for the release of imprisoned Solidarity activist, to stop repressions that authorities used against Solidarity activists but also against anyone active in the independent way. The third step was to demand the return of Solidarity to legal existence. We have always said that we have not wanted to act in the clandestine way. We have always wanted to act legally and openly. Being faithful to our non-violence ideas we choose to shape social mind and to influence the authorities by expressing social protest. In the beginning we organised 15 minutes strikes at workplaces, also manifestations. We have always tried not to provoke police actions. Yet we have failed to avoid them not because of our actions but first of all because the authorities have always tried to break the moral spine of society. That provoked brutal police actions. But they had no luck: they have failed to supress us. Solidarity has survived and I hope that it would be able to act legally in the future.
Has Solidarity as many people in the West believe, has now been crushed, defeated?
For sure we lost the battle that started on December 13, 1981. But what we continue now is no longer one battle, there are many battles – it is a whole war, a so-called war between Poland and Jaruzelski. We have not lost the war yet, we have continued to fight it. The question whether Solidarity has been defeated could be answered simply – no. Solidarity still exists. That is Solidarity’s major success. That shows clearly, that there is no defeat. Why has Jaruzelski introduced martial law? He has meant to kill Solidarity, to squash and destroy it. And Solidarity exists. If we look from today’s perspective we can see that our strategy of peaceful revolution was really justified. One has to realise that the facts that Solidarity kept its international recognition and that people in Poland have not turned away from Solidarity – that facts prove that our peaceful, non-violent strategy was right. If we were fighting with the authorities in different way, if we used the element of force we would have lost. For the authorities have all the means of force, they had truncheons, rifles and tanks – we have not. And we would have also lost on moral grounds. We can say many things about Solidarity mistakes but not as far as the strategy is concerned. From moral perspective, we have won in confrontation with the authorities all that we could have possibly won. We keep winning. It is our success and a success of our strategy.
What are the lasting benefits of Solidarity to Poland? Benefits that continue now.
In order to point out benefits for people in general – the lasting benefits are free Saturdays. This is a lasting achievement of the August Agreements, of the legal period of Solidarity. The position of the church in Poland, although the church has always high position, but the holy mass broadcast on TV and radio, the fact that more churches are being built – the point included in Rzeszow Agreement. Moreover, the authorities had to react, they could not just forget about previous sixteen months. They had to change their language of dialogue with the society – even if they wanted to lie. So due to that, the authorities have to learn something, to go forward. What remained from Solidarity – first of all social mind, social attitude that cannot be changed even by the strongest dictatorship. That’s why Jaruzelski could not go back to the previous situation after December 13 not because he did not want to but because he just could not.
What has happened to the local party, taking Gdansk here, since martial law, has it recovered any support?
I think that people have not believed in the party for the long time and they have not trusted party for a long time. If we can talk about any trust in the party it would be associated with Gomulka coming to power in 1956 and it was a very short period of trust. Now the party is so discredited that I have often heard ordinary people, no activists or dissidents, who say that in the future free Poland the party should be considered a criminal organisation.
The party now says it wants to consult the groups outside itself and democratise itself. How real is this?
Of course they would like to talk but what for? They are not doing that to listen what other people would like to say but in order to draw them away from Solidarity orbit. In fact their idea is to try to take out from the Solidarity sphere of influence people who are respected, who have social position and who support Solidarity. They want to do this in order to weaken Solidarity. People who are mobilised to government authorised activity are automatically mobilised not to support Solidarity as such…
After the events of 1956, after 1968 and also in 1980 all the efforts were tried and nothing brought lasting effect.
Yet there are some lasting effects that remained after 1980. Solidarity still exists and does not intend to resign from its existence. I think that these three dates show that different events may happen in a communist country. After all of these something new will happen that we might call a next model. I do not know how that next step would be called in the future: an attempt number 4 or 5, but it would be a next attempt to change that system. We shall see if that attempt is successful. One of these attempts would be successful – for sure.
What did the Gorbachev reforms mean to the people here in the socialist block?
Certainly they are looking at them with mixed feelings. There are people who believe that nothing could be changed in Russia because they are convinced that this is a totalitarian country. The country capable of killing a lot of their own citizens. I am speaking here about Stalin. There are people who believe that democratisation process in Russia is authentic and lead towards changes in the whole system. Regardless what one would think about Russia, looking now towards the East and seeing the elements of changes – here in Poland, I am speaking only abut Poland now, not about other countries - they are all mobilised by what they see to take more decisive steps in Poland, because it looks like the time may be suitable for a change and we should do it now.
Yet they have already tried in 1956, 1968, 1980 to achieve something and nothing has changed.
So there were just three times and there is going to be the fourth time.
Isn’t there a danger that Gorbachev reforms and rhetoric of reforms, which are also being imitated in the socialist block, will actually weaken and undermine the opposition?
I did not understand the question. Are you talking about what is going on in the Soviet Union, about the opposition in the Soviet Union?
No, the question is if the reforms of Grobachev in Soviet Union and official reforms in Jaruzelski’s Poland will not marginalise the opposition?
The opposition in Poland is strong not because the authorities agree but because it has got a strong social support and intellectual and ideological backup. We have developed forms of action. We have survived a period of strong terror, we have developed forms of action. No matter how they would try to marginalise us, we would continue with our activity up to the moment when we would be able to act legally. Gorbachev reforms, whatever they are going to be, will not marginalise us. I think that these reforms are beginning slowly to marginalise some people from the party apparatus.
My last question. What happened to you during the martial law period?
That is a very broad question. It depends on which part of the martial law we take into account. The whole martial law period is long that it is not possible to describe it here. I can tell you how I survived the first day. Of course I was deeply moved and anxious, my first thought was about possible bloodshed. I have experienced 1970 massacre in Gdansk. I knew what is at stake, how it may end. So my first speech that I recorded and later published, encouraged people to participate in such actions that would not lead to bloodshed. My advice for people was “not to expose to danger, to avoid bullets of our opponent.” So I was not shocked, I tried to think logically. Later, after building my new contact network, my actions became more structured, achieving more organised form.
Bogdan Lis (1952)
Bogdan Lis (born November 10, 1952) is a Polish politician, industrial equipment mechanic, Inter-factory Striking Committee member, Solidarity activist, an organiser of Polish underground during the martial law period, Round Table Talks participant, in free Poland - Senator of Polish Republic and Member of Parliament. One of the leading figures in Solidarity Trade Union and after the martial law was introduced he became an important figure in the Polish opposition against the totalitarian communist power. As a member of Lech Wałęsa Citizens’ Committee and participant of Round Table Talks in 1989 he played an important part in Poland's successful transition from communism into a free-market liberal democracy. He was awarded many prizes and honors.