PAWEŁ FĄFARA “The Age Of Solidarity”


Paweł Fąfara Editor in chief of “Polska–The Times” There are events and situations that still provoke strong emotions, as their participants and witnesses continue to argue about them, as do the pages of books and, more recently, the screens of plasma TVs. In decades to come, these events will be full of the monumental heroes and traitors of our 20th century epic. Contemporary narration love to tell stories of the past through heroes. Leaders are always in the foreground. Not without reason – it is, however, impossible to understand history without learning what brought people together and what divided them; without an attempt to distill the spirit of time that drives societies and nations to act when they are faced with challenges greater than their daily lives. When we look from this perspective at the two dates in the 20th century so crucial for Poland and Polishness, namely 1939 and 1989, we no longer see merely heroes but also something more, the lack of which costs us our freedom, and the explosion of which let us reclaim our freedom years later. As we were losing our independence in 1939 the resources we lacked most were not weapons, plans nor wise tactics. We most sorely missed this essence of humanity, this cement which bonds people when they are threatened. The same value that brought Poland and vast territories of Europe back into the free world 50 years later. Therefore, when asked about the true driving force behind 20th century history, I do not hesitate to say that it was treason, and later its refutation. It was an age when the weakest were left to their fate, when political calculations, cynicism and common villainy triumphed, even though the lives of millions of people were at stake. And then came an epoch when evil was vanquished, not by an army, not through bloody battles, but by returning to the sources of humanity: to solidarity – human solidarity. Poland was not the only country to have been betrayed in such a manner. In the 20th century many nations in Europe and the world experienced their own year 1939: the Holocaust, the brunt of which was suffered by our citizens, Polish Jews, and earlier the extermination of the Armenians or the famine caused by Stalin in the Ukraine. These are all examples of incredible cruelty, even in the perspective of human history as a whole. But would such terrible deeds have been possible, if it had not been for the consent given to evil on a smaller scale? This lack of solidarity with the small and helpless, the hurt and persecuted, that we witnessed from the beginning of the century, paved the way to the totalitarianisms of the 20th century. When you do not oppose a small evil, when you do not protest and stand up for the persecuted, you allow the greater evil to grow. When we treat an event such as the Munich Agreement as a peaceful victory, we allow impunity in major issues. When German planes bombed Poland in September 1939, the careless summer continued at the French-German border. And although France, Poland’s ally, had committed itself to supporting us in the event of war with Germany, it betrayed us. In the same way, Great Britain also abandoned us in need. Two great countries gave up solidarity for the sake of convenience, peace and cold political calculations. France would later on pay a high price for this treason. Great Britain would have probably suffered the same fate if it had not been for the support and solidarity of many other nations, including Poland, that fought with dedication for their freedom. Despite the suffering of war, this lesson on solidarity and betrayal was not learned well enough by Europeans. Although the effort put into defeating the 3rd Reich by Poles was second only to the input of the Soviet Union, Americans and British, after the war Poland was once more abandoned. Once again there was not enough solidarity. Realpolitik turned out to be more important than politics based on values. Part of the opinion-shaping elite was aware of the short-sightedness of the West actions. However, such initiatives as the appeal of the former US ambassador in Warsaw Arthur Bliss Lane, who in protest resigned from his post in the American diplomacy, and in 1948 published his famous book “I Saw Poland Betrayed”, did not lead to any change in the policies of western superpowers. That is why Polish politicians are right when they make use of every opportunity, just like Prime Minister Donald Tusk in Munich, to remind the western leaders that “solidarity means courage, but if selfishness triumphs instead of solidarity, it means that cowardice has triumphed, and that our dreams of peace and a safe world will have been a mirage.” Lack of solidarity was the cause of most of the evil of the 20th century. But solidarity, born as the refutation of pure, cold political calculations and cynicism which helped the crazed dictators realize the sick fruit of their depraved imaginations, slowly brought back hope into the world. By restoring human dignity, brotherhood and justice, it began to reclaim from the darkness that part of humankind which was unfortunate enough to be caught on wrong side of the Iron Curtain. The beginning of this new way of thinking was marked by the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by seven countries. For the first time, democratic countries decided to jointly defend their freedom (“an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”). The politics of strength forced Poland to wait fifty years to become a member of this community of free nations. Poland’s journey to join European economic institutions lasted almost as long. The selfishness and cowardice of one generation of politicians doomed almost three generations of Poles and other citizens of Central Europe to a life in darkness. In Europe and Poland the price paid for the fight for ideals such as freedom and equality was the blood of hundreds of victims of workers’ riots and the persecution of independence activists. However, when Poles brought all their rebellion, desires and dreams under one word describing the sense of all human achievements, namely Solidarity, nothing could remain as before. The 80s were thus a time of the return of solidarity. At every level. Poland awoke solidarity, but at the same time the leaders of free countries began to return to their roots of solidarity. In September 1981, during the first convention of the Solidarity trade union, the delegates – in a display of exceptional intuition – issued an “Appeal to the working people of Eastern Europe”. The representatives of a Polish initiative counting 10 million members expressed their support for the aspirations for independence of nations behind the Iron Curtain. Ideas and words were what terrified communist authorities the most. They tried to stop the spirit of the times but even the attack on Solidarity during Martial Law could no longer save a system based on the betrayal at Yalta. During his Third Pilgrimage to Poland in June 1987, John Paul II had to avoid any official use of the name of the banned trade union Solidarity. He nevertheless managed to infuse Poles with the belief in the strength of solidarity. He preached then that “solidarity also triggers fighting, but it is never a fight against others. (…) It is a fight for man, his rights and his real advancement: a fight for a more mature form of human life”. The Pope’s message contributed to the great transformation of 1989. All the nations that sought to cast off Soviet domination experienced fortune, the likes of which is rarely seen in history. Indeed, apart from the Pope's support, they could also count on the authority of Ronald Reagan. The American president was not a cynical leader ready to sacrifice others for his own interests. He knew that ‘freedom would triumph”. For this reason, in his 1987 speech in Berlin, which has become a symbol of his determination to fight for a return to freedom and unity in Europe, he appealed with such deep conviction to Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Just like the Polish Pope, he believed that the key to dismantling the communist system was the rebirth of solidarity. The American president was confident that the way to unite Europe had to lead through the unification of Germany. When celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Revolutions of ‘89 in Europe, one should remember those two great figures of history without whom the hopes of millions could have faded for a long time. The events of 1989 showed Europeans how greatly their fates were intertwined. It is true that the transformation took “nine years in Poland, ten months in Hungary and nine days in Czechoslovakia,” but ultimately, in all of Central Europe, the finale was similar. This time, all attempts to divide and intimidate were of no avail. Twenty years ago it turned out that one could win by acting together and not against each other. This community of values and interests made it possible for these countries to jointly enter NATO and the European Union. Therefore, especially in such times as today, when the financial crisis spreads across the world, we should not delude ourselves that some may gain at the expense of others. Just like in 1939 and in 1989, today solidarity is also the only way for all to maximize their benefits. This is how it will always be when hard times come. And history has never spared us hardships. So, woe to us lest we ever forget it. This article is one of four essays inspired by the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and the 20th anniversary of the collapse of communism in Central Europe, part of a special commemorative edition of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s 3rd Symphony, “The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, published in Blu-Ray format by the National Centre for Culture in Poland.

Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa NarodowegoNarodowe Centrum Kultury