Poland marks 25th anniversary of Solidarity movement

Celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the creation of Solidarity are underway in Poland. Exhibitions, concerts, conferences, book presentations - even the publication of anniversary coins and stamps are planned. And there'll be a crowd of local and foreign VIP's lining up to attend the major events.

The Solidarity movement started in August 1980 when workers of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk refused to start work. Within a couple of days other shipyards and ports in the north, coal mines in the south as well as many factories across Poland joined the strike. After 2 weeks of negotiations between the communist authorities and strike leaders an agreement was signed. Lech Walesa, who 3 years later won the Nobel Peace prize and 10 years later became Poland's president, announced the end of the strike.

An independent trade union was created, which soon had 10 million members. For prominent historian Wojciech Roszkowski it is obvious that the events of August 1980 are an important date in the history of Poland and the whole Central Europe.

"Solidarity became a symbol of communist oppression, largely contributed to the gradual collapse of communism. 1980 is an equally important date as 1989. Some Polish authors claim that in 1980 Poland gained a consciousness of independence and democracy. Independence and democracy came later in 1989, but people were ready."

Solidarity's struggle against the communist authorities continued throughout the 1980s. On June 4th 1989 the first free parliamentary elections were held, which ended with an overwhelming victory of the opposition forces. In 1990 Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was elected president. Then in 1996 the Solidarity Election Action was formed, grouping most rightist parties. One year later it won parliamentary election. Today's Solidarity is no longer a political power but a chain of trade unions and a legend. At present, as many as 7 out of 10 Poles claim that the August 1980 rise against the communist regime was a right decision. Yet, according to Oskar Chomicki of the Poland in Europe Foundation Poles' feelings about Solidarity are complex and, by no means, unanimous.

"I wouldn't say that trade unions and Solidarity, as a trade union, plays a very important part in present-day life in Poland. The symbol of Solidarity is still vital and half of the population is still living in the Solidarity legend and half of the people are more indifferent. But still the division between those who opted for Solidarity 25 years ago, and those who are either indifferent or opted for the communist system, it's still very much alive."

Solidarity's 25th anniversary is being celebrated with lots of events starting from concerts, including the one by Jean Michel Jarre, through conferences, panel discussions and anniversary publications. Political commentator Marek Matraszek notes that there has been a change in the world's perception of Solidarity's contribution to the systemic transformations in Central Europe.

"I think it was the revival in Poland whereby, and for many years, as you know, Solidarity was very much identified just a trade union. During the 1990s it was a very controversial period of time for the trade union. I think over time, over 25 years, people in Poland are seeing Solidarity very much in much more symbolic terms and appreciating the role that it played in the overturn of communism.

"However, and also I think, there's a change in the foreign approach. More and more people are recognizing that Solidarity had a very important part to play in the overthrow of communism throughout central Europe. And I think that's reflecting the level of the foreign guests who are going to be coming to Gdansk next week."

Human rights activist and former Czech president Vaclav Havel is among the invited guests. He'll attend a two-day conference in Gdansk - 'Solidarity for the Future'.