We know it from anecdotes, family keepsakes, and politicised stories. Wondering what it used to be, why our parents joined the cause, what it was that they criticised and why.
On our TV sets, we have seen colourful crowds – standing out in the grey reality of the Polish People’s Republic – protesting and urging for changes and demanding dignity. We are familiar with the famous demands of the Interfactory Strike Committee in Gdańsk, we know the price that some people had to pay for it, such as the late Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko. We know the animosities that happened later within the “Solidarity” camp. After all, we know the Poland of today, which came out of that history.
For our generation, “Solidarity” means more than just history. It is embedded in the DNA of a part of our generation. Seemingly unknown, supposedly a thing of the long-lost past, but still present, still ready to be discovered and referred to. Because the Polish revolution of dignity, which began then with an opposition of 10 million voices of resistance and objection to a world of contempt, a world where one was stripped of dignity, to external forces imposing their view about what our country should be like, has never left.
“Solidarity” is a myth. It is a story about a postulate that we still aspire to implement. When we protest today, we appeal to the contestants from the Independent Students’ Association (Niezależne Zrzeszenie Studentów), the younger sibling of the “Solidarity” movement and the largest Polish student organisation. When we discuss, we do it along the lines of the intellectual dialogue of the Paris-based “Kultura” (a Polish émigré literary-political magazine) and Radio Free Europe. At the same time, we shape the environment of Polish debate, we engage in conscious opposition activities that laid the foundations of the Third Republic of Poland. Referring to Polish intellectuals of the 1970s and 1980s, who in spite of party divisions exchanged their views about the shape of the country and its economic model, we choose them as role models, aspiring to participate in the contemporary debate.
“Solidarity” is also the last bastion of authorities who are increasingly in insufficient supply. The largest opposition movement in the history of Poland had its representative in almost every Polish home and developed a sense of pride in successive generations. We were proud of our mothers who did not sleep at night in order to record a Radio Free Europe broadcast and songs by The Beatles and “Je t’aime… moi non plus” (people went crazy about this song back in the 70s) that we played in the morning at school, only to meet again face to face with the hateful communist school headmaster and listen to him threaten us with being expelled from school; proud of our mom who demonstrated and fought for the future of their children. Proud of our fathers who have been building Poland for decades with humility. It was solidarity that became the foundation of the greatest movement to contest injustice. That is why today, when we see the suffering in Lebanon, the needy in Algeria, and fighting for freedom in Belarus, we know that they are right. By filling the word “solidarity” with meaning, in line with the idea of motto “For our freedom and yours”, we cultivate selfless help. The help we have in our genes.
We have stayed here. In Poland. And maybe it is because of meaning this word carries? Due to the fact that it is a story still to be discovered, that it is a mix of modernity with the best Polish traditions of parliamentarism and freedom? Of negotiating positions and fighting for a better future: in our view, in the way which is right for both Poland and Poles? We have stayed in Poland, even though we finished our studies abroad and have seen a better half of the world. Maybe it is a matter of duty? Cultivating what we have been taught. Perhaps we also stayed out of respect. For those who sacrificed their health and life for Poland, in which we have a chance to live.
After all, solidarity is a task that, even 40 years later, calls for part two.