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Krzysztof Wyszkowski

Anna Walentynowicz and the Legacy ofSolidarity in Poland

Slawomir Cenckiewicz - Anna Solidarność: Życie i dzialalnoność Anny Walentynowicz na tle epoki (1929-2010). Warsaw: Zysk i S-ka, 2010. 758 pp.

In the early 1990s in Poland, one often heard the lament that the slogan of theAugust 1980 strikes-"There is no Freedom without Solidarity" (Nie maWolnoncibez Solidarnonci)-had been recast for the post-Communist era as"There is no Solidarity in Freedom" (Nie ma Solidarnonci w Wolnonci). Theoriginal slogan is indelibly linked with "the ªrst Solidarity," formed in the LeninShipyard in Gdañsk in 1980, the union that emerged from widespreadstrikes and came to eclipse Poland's Communist party before being crushedby martial law in December 1981. The formation of Solidarity was a breakthroughmoment in Poland that signaled how bankrupt Communism had becomeas a political ideology. The Polish workers' struggle held out the hopethat Cold War divisions in Europe could be overcome. The Solidarity of1980-1981 should be distinguished from its later manifestations, beginningwith the Solidarity leaders who took part in the "Round Table discussions in1989, which led to the formation of Tadeusz Mazowiecki's Solidarity-led governmentin August 1989. The original Solidarity should also be distinguishedfrom the various Solidarity splinter groups, from the trade union that bore thename after 1989, and from the parliamentary grouping known as Solidarityin post-Communist Poland. Without careful distinctions, the history of themovement can be confounded with political mythology that the Solidarity revoltopposed as a matter of principle.What is most valuable about Slawomir Cenckiewicz's Anna Solidarnonb, abook about Anna Walentynowicz, is its attempt to restore the history of themovement that has become an integral part of the modern political legend,like the tumbling of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the USSR. Cenckie-Journal of Cold War StudiesVol. 13, No. 1, Winter 2011, pp. 213-222© 2011 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Instituteof Technologywicz's book is not a biography in any traditional sense, nor is it a book onlyabout Walentynowicz. Cenckiewicz admits to a higher purpose for his book,which he regards as a portrait "not only against the background of a speciªcepoch but also as part of a working milieu, and a socio-political group"(p. 23). He wishes to inject dynamism into hisWalentynowicz biography andexplain why her life story is the life story of modern Poland. Such a narrativewould necessarily be incomplete even if it took an imaginary leap of faith, asother narratives based on Walentynowicz's life have done. The problem ofequating an individual with a movement, a milieu, or a nation, even as a dynamicschema, is that such an identiªcation is a form of restoration that VictorShklovskii, an early critic of Bolshevism, recognized as a ªction. It is impossibleto restore an individual or a social movement-or to bring back a setof values. This helps to explain why Cenckiewicz's Anna Solidarnonb seems tostruggle with its various equations-and with its ambitious task of returningto historical memory Solidarity such as it was in the 1980s.Walentynowicz was the spark for the Gdañsk strike, although she describedher role more modestly to John Darnton of The New York Times inearly reporting from the strike: "Many people say I was the cause, but I wasonly the bitter little drop that overºowed."1 The earliest Reuters reporting referredto her as "the catalyst" for the shipyard strike and did not mention LechWalesa until later. Western media, which from the beginning were welcomedinto the shipyard, are a good barometer of the progression of the Gdañskstrike. The reporting in Poland's ofªcial media, which had a well-deservedreputation for distorting or ignoring workers' concerns, was far less useful.2Unfortunately, Polish scholars, with few exceptions, have limited themselvesto Polish-language sources and have yet to reºect on modern Polish historyand politics in the wider global context of the Cold War.Despite the title and ostensible focus of the book, Cenckiewicz is still alsoworking to deºate the myth of Lech Walesa, a topic he addressed at length inhis earlier book about aspects ofWalesa's past, SB a LechWalesa Przyczynek dobiograªi (Warsaw: Instiytut Pamieci Narodowej, 2008).3 In part for this reason,Cenckiewicz's latest book at times misses Walentynowicz, the womanwho inspired the strike and who sought to make social injustices visible for allto see. Cenckiewicz tends to obscure her biography as an inspiring woman,but fortunately the more than 300 densely printed pages of valuable docu-214Szporer1. John Darnton, "Catalyst of Poland's Crisis: She Doesn'tMinceWords; AWorker Tied to DissidentsDismissed for Her Activities," The New York Times, 21 August 1980, p. A12.2. For example, Zycie Warszawy and other Communist-dominated newspapers delayed and twisted accountsfrom Poland's northern coast during the December 1970 strikes.3. An abridged version appeared as Sprawa LechaWalesy (Warsaw: Instytut Pamieci Narodowej, 2008).ments he includes as appendices speak for themselves and make the bookworthwhile.Equating Walentynowicz with Solidarnonb-the movement, the values,the milieu-is both the book's strength and its weakness. Cenckiewicz believeshe is restoring Walentynowicz to historical memory, copiously documentingher activities using Security Service (SB) ªles. Even if some of thechapters do not belong in this biography, the book includes a wealth of documentationshowing that the SB perceived Walentynowicz as a grave threat tothe Communist regime and assigned dozens of agents to cover her. She is describedin the documents as a hardliner and a sworn enemy of "the [Communist]authorities and the socialist system" (p. 666). The SB takes credit forsowing conºicts between her and her colleagues and for turning Lech Walesaagainst her. How much of the conºict resulted from a personality clash, andhow much the agents instigated it, is impossible to determine. The SB providedWalentynowicz with compromising documents on the paid informantcodenamed Bolek (widely presumed to be Walesa) who gave information tothe SB from 1970 to 1976. The SB gave her the document when she was internedin Goldap after the imposition of martial law, hoping to discredit theunion leader in her eyes. The SB was clearly playing on existing suspicions tobreak the tightly knit network based on personal contacts.The SB was fully aware of the details of the Solidarity leaders' private livesand used this knowledge to manipulate their personalities. As historianAndrzej Paczkowski observed in discussing the Bolek ªle, it would been impossibleto avoid being affected by a nuanced disinformation campaignworked out by a large network of agents and specialists, targeted at a speciªcperson, and based on highly detailed knowledge of the target's life and psychology.4 Even if "the mark" (ªgurant, as both Walentynowicz and Walesa aredescribed in SB documents) thought he or she could outwit the agents or wasplaying into their game, the chances were almost nil. The behavior of someonegrasping for self-respect who was threatened or broken is very difªcult toassess in an entirely different context many years later, especially when recordsmay not be fully reliable. For this reason both Walesa and Walentynowiczshould be seen as victims of a psychological war. Which of them came outstronger in the end may be beside the point from the historical perspective.Character ºaws should be considered separately from accomplishments andput in their context. The context involved tangible threats, ªrings, violence(threatened or actual), and even assassination attempts. Only much later in215Anna Walentynowicz and the Legacy of Solidarity in Poland4. Bolek, Fragmenty materialów TVN, broadcast 17 September 2010, archived video available from her police ªles did Walentynowicz discover that her friend fromthe opposition, Ewa Soból (given the code name Karol by the SB) attemptedto poison her. Even in post-Communist Poland, during Walesa's presidency,Walentynowicz was unable to hold accountable her handling ofªcer, CaptainZbigniew Kiewlen, for his thefts or for his role in the repression of her and herson. The court ruled against her because of the statute of limitations (p. 412).If Walentynowicz could not receive justice, who could? In view of whathappened to Walentynowicz and to masses of people like her after 1989, onehas to question the moral values of individuals, especially those who emergedfrom the ranks of the opposition in a corrupt system that never quite reformeditself. Solidarity's promises, especially with regard to justice, have notbeen adequately met. Solidarity had the obligation to right past wrongs, butdespite the economic achievements and successes of post-Communist Polandthe effort to rectify past misdeeds has made almost no headway. One couldreasonably conclude from the documents that the sidelining of Solidarity irreconcilableslike Anna Walentynowicz and the elevation of Walesa beneªtedthe Communist regime not only when it was negotiating the transfer ofpower in 1989 but also subsequently. The regime carefully selected its negotiationpartners, essentially going with Walesa because it could not do withouthim. This approach was also convenient for those in various political camps,including a signiªcant segment of the opposition, who pressed for speciªc solutionsthat directly beneªted them in post-Communist Poland. Personal ambitionsoften triumphed over morals. Walesa was relatively more accommodatingand therefore more acceptable, and he was willing to shift alliances,eventually even reconciling with Alexander Kwanniewski, which once wouldhave seemed implausible. After the Bolek ªle became public, Walesa evenasked General Wojciech Jaruzelski to testify about the allegations in whatmust have been an act of desperation. Walesa is not a person who looks backon his past mistakes but looks forward to his successes, leaving the past, as heonce said, to others.Some of the chapters of Anna Solidarnonb are beside the point, even in abiography that also seeks to capture its subject's milieu. The chapter "KuroñWas the Master of My House" is about a critical moment in the Solidarityunion's history shortly after the strike. It details the internal struggles overcontrol of the union, including the effort to replace Walesa with AndrzejGwiazda and the clash between the Committee of Workers' Defense (KOR)experts and the workers themselves. Although the chapter is of interest toscholars, the only rationale for including it in a book about Walentynowicz isthat Jacek Kuroñ lived in her apartment in Gdañsk at the time of his conºictwith Walesa. Walentynowicz witnessed the power struggle and even nominatedKuroñ for the union leadership position, but the chapter offers no in-216Szporersight into her role as a historical ªgure. Cenckiewicz himself concedes thatWalentynowicz did not concern herself with internal power struggles. She wasnot a political person and instead based her opinions on certain core values.For some readers, the conºicts detailed in these sections of the book may seemlike "food ªghts" over minutiae, but Cenckiewicz is evidently trying here tojustify his appraisal of Walesa. One of Cenckiewicz's goals is to depict theanti-Communist opposition as the catalyst in the emergence of democracy.Another is to highlight the internal struggles inside the movement that presagedfuture conºicts in the Solidarity camp and even the current impasse inPolish politics with two post-Solidarity parties, Law and Justice and CivicPlatform, struggling over their historical legitimacy.Cenckiewicz is hardly the ªrst to notice that the Communist regime inPoland, like regimes elsewhere in the former Soviet bloc, manipulated events,opting for the most favorable outcomes when forced to negotiate with the opposition.The regime did negotiate with individuals whom they perceived asmore willing to compromise or who were unavoidable. A more serious questionis whether these individuals compromised too much, or governed ineffectively,squandering their moral capital and losing public trust. In the ªrstseven years after the imposition of martial law, the Communist regime exiled,neutralized, crushed, and fragmented the opposition, sifting through its ranksand eventually settling on the partners who would be best to negotiate thetransfer of power and who enjoyed the most authority with the public. In1989 Anna Walentynowicz, Andrzej Gwiazda, Krzysztof Wyszkowski, andBogdan Borusewicz were not deemed suitable partners. That Walentynowicz,like many industrial workers, was left mostly on the sidelines during Poland'sgreat leap forward is a legacy of Poland's Communist past. Who these days remembersAndrzej Kolodziej, who at 21 and on his ªrst day at work becamethe leader of the Gdynia shipyard strike, which was nearly as large as the onein Gdañsk? Anna Solidarnonb goes a step further to suggest a coordinated mediablackout of those who were outspoken, likeWalentynowicz, Gwiazda, andWyszkowski, along with an effort to minimize or completely distort theirachievements.After the tragic Smolensk plane crash in April 2010 that killed Walentynowiczand 95 others, many of the tributes to her equated her with Solidarity,and some even accused Walesa of stealing from her a place in history.Cenckiewicz claims that prior to the Smolensk disaster, the liberal press in Polanddismissed Walentynowicz as a moralizing retiree and a right-winger. Butin fact she mostly stayed outside politics and was never afªliated with a politicalparty. She may have been provocative and dramatized facts, but there is littlevalidity to the wilder assertions voiced about her, especially her dismissal ofWalesa as having come to the shipyard strike in a motorboat. As Cenckiewicz217Anna Walentynowicz and the Legacy of Solidarity in Polandclariªes, Aleksander Kopeb, the Communist minister of mechanical industrywho served as a negotiator, was the one who made this foolish statementwhen questioning Walesa's leap over the shipyard wall (p. 417).Even though Cenckiewicz cites rude remarks by former KOR activistsand other accomplished individuals, he overstates the reaction to Walentynowiczin Poland. Most Poles-to my knowledge, Jacek Kuroñ and BronislawGeremek among them-thought highly of Walentynowicz. Some who attackedher were those for whom Walentynowicz had risked her life, which isdifªcult to explain. Perhaps they were so insulated from ordinary workingpeople that they read her "telling it like it is" as the accusatory ªnger pointingdirectly at them, as if they were being heckled by the mob. Walentynowiczhad high standards, which she tried to meet and expected others, especiallythose whom she thought of as her betters, to meet. She may have been overlysensitive and argumentative at times, having lived through many hardshipsand been shaped by an impersonal social reality in which she had to take drasticaction to dramatize people's plight in order to make them visible. But herextraordinary concern for people was simply a cry for justice and for leaders tokeep their promises.Parts of the book lack balance, mainly because Cenckiewicz limits himselfto materials available in Polish. Some of his speculation based on circumstantialevidence is unconvincing. Strong on Polish documentation but weakon small details, which should have been corrected by the book's many editors,his account nonetheless is valuable for its attempt to chart the history ofthe struggle for Solidarity ideals and for bringing up uncomfortable truths tokeep alive a debate that might make Poland more transparent. The problemof Anna Solidarnonb is that it makes her into a competing legend to Walesa.What Walentynowicz did not like about Walesa was what she saw as his takingcredit for a group effort-and making himself into more than he was. Sheprobably would have forgiven him if he had admitted his ºaws and perhapstried to be a little more understanding of her and others.Walentynowicz's concern about others is meticulously documented inAnna Solidarnonb in numerous personal acts of kindness and standing up forthe wronged and the forgotten. This was the main reason for her popularityin the shipyard. She earned the respect of those who knew her, as became evidentwhen 17,000 shipyard workers, mostly men, struck over a pint-sizewoman. What was done to her was an example of the injustice she foughtagainst.Walentynowicz was not just an inspiration for the big strike. She tooknumerous stands throughout her life, including after 1989. Before theSmolensk tragedy, she attempted to honor the Kowalczyk brothers who inOctober 1971 bombed the reception hall at the Opole Pedagogical Instituteat night to prevent ceremonies honoring the SB and Communist militia218Szporerforces who took part in the bloody quelling of the December 1970 revolt onthe Baltic Coast. The brothers received 25-year prison sentences (Jerzy's initialdeath sentence was commuted after protests) and have not been rehabilitatedto this day.Cenckiewicz's claim thatWalentynowicz was forgotten after 1989 is inaccuratein the case of the United States. On 13 December 2005, during hersecond and ªnal visit to the United States, Walentynowicz was awarded theTruman-ReaganMedal of Freedom by the Victims of CommunismMemorialFoundation, an educational organization established by the U.S. Congress in1993. She also accepted theMedal of Freedom on behalf of the Solidarity FreeTrade Union, along with John Paul II (for whom the award was acceptedposthumously by the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop GabrielMontalvo) and General Edward Rowny, the former chief U.S. negotiator instrategic arms reduction talks with the Soviet Union. Initially the medal onbehalf of Solidarity was to be accepted by three individuals-Walentynowicz,Walesa, and Gwiazda. Gwiazda attempted to use the occasion as a forum forprotest, andWalesa accepted the medal at a separate ceremony at the Institutefor Polish Culture in Florida. Walentynowicz met with leaders of the AFLCIOtrade union in one of the ªrst such visits by a Solidarity representativesince the death of Lane Kirkland in 1999.Walentynowicz also presented a giftto the people of the United States, a relief of John Paul II, which was acceptedby Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky on behalf of President GeorgeW. Bush.Walentynowicz's ªnal visit made the Solidarity narrative more inclusive,with Poland subsequently honoring her along with other forgotten Solidarityactivists.5Cenckiewicz was not the ªrst to call Anna Walentynowicz "Solidarity'smother." Solidarity's ªrst mother was the Holy Mother of Jasna Góra, whoseicon LechWalesa wore on his lapel, a point worth recalling because the role ofthe Roman Catholic Church is at times underappreciated. Poland is notunique to historical allegory and symbolism as means of asserting its nationalcharacter. However, the struggles against foreign domination over many yearswere so often waged symbolically that they have become second nature to thenational psychology and persist to this day in political conºicts over interpretationsof history. The Gdañsk shipyard gates were adorned with the portraitof John Paul II and blue and white banners of the Virgin. That the workers219Anna Walentynowicz and the Legacy of Solidarity in Poland5. The visit was sponsored by Foundation for Free Speech, with ªnancial support from BogdanLodyga and Zbigniew Cymerman, and included presentations inWashington, DC, and Chicago. Thedecision of the Victims of CommunismMemorial Foundation board of directors and its chairman LeeEdwards to honor Walentynowicz and the ªrst free trade union in the Communist bloc marked the25th anniversary of the formation of the nearly 10 million-strong Solidarity. (The ceremony, however,was held on the 24th anniversary of the declaration of martial law in Poland in 1981.)abandoned the Communist saints, including the leaders of the proletarianparty, as well as Marxist-Leninist ideology, was clear from slogans throughoutthe country, as George Weigel explained in The Final Revolution: The ResistanceChurch and the Collapse of Communism (New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 1992). The religious icons contested the authority of the Communistsecular state and the "guiding" role of the party that justiªed its grip on powerby "egalitarian" ideals even as it dehumanized people and scorned the workers.Arguably, Solidarity was a moral revolution, an early manifestation of thepost-ideological era.Workers, women among them, led Poland's struggle against Soviet dominationshortly after the Communist takeover, most visibly in Lódv, the heartof the textile industry. The most memorable example of women speciªcallytaking the lead was the strike in 1971 after the bloody paciªcation of the Balticcoast in December 1970.Working-class women activists were not just somesecret weapon of last resort, as one might think from reading Shana Penn'sbook about Tygodnik Mazowsze, a major Solidarity underground publicationthat was one of more than 400 titles published during the ªrst year of martiallaw.6 The clandestine weekly took over from KOR's Robotnik and reached acirculation of nearly 80,000 under difªcult conditions in 290 issues publishedover seven years of General Jaruzelski's rule. The publication's editor, HelenaLuczywo, went on to establish one of Central Europe's largest newspapers,Gazeta Wyborcza, which started out as a Solidarity newspaper. One can speakbroadly of Solidarity as the movement that brought everyone together. At thesame, it is historically inaccurate to equate Solidarity solely with liberal reformists,who represented a small but vocal component of a diverse dissidentmovement that opposed Communism. Cenckiewicz deserves credit for makingcareful distinctions and navigating between slogans and myths.The documents transcribed in Cenckiewicz's book support his view thatWalentynowicz took Solidarity values more seriously than other Solidarityleaders did. She may have been the most passionate and at the same time leastpolitical anti-Communist, probably because she was unabashedly a workingclasswoman and, in a most damning paradox forMarxist-Leninist ideology, arelentless defender of social justice. A quick review of reporting from the initialdays of the strike in the Lenin Shipyard debunks claims about subservientwomen and other politicized attempts to minimize workers in the strike. Almostevery eyewitness from the early days credits Walentynowicz and AlinaPieñkowska with turning the strike. Pieñkowska was the one who ªrst in-220Szporer6. Shana Penn, Solidarity's Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland (Ann Arbor: Universityof Michigan Press, 2005).formed Kuroñ of the strike, and the news then quickly spread, precipitatingstrikes all around Poland and drawing worldwide attention to the PolishBaltic Coast. Along with Joanna Duda Gwiazda and Henryka Krzywonos,Walentynowicz was one of three women on the strike committee that initiallyrepresented mostly male blue-collar workers from the various shipyards, communicationsoutlets, and port facilities in the Gdañsk region. The strike mobilizedthe entire country, and half the adult population joined Solidarity.Mothers-women-were in the forefront of the strike wave that engulfedthe entire country. Maria Chmielewska and Lucyna Plaugo were membersof the strike committee at the mostly male Warski Shipyard in Szczecin.Zoªa Bartkiewicz headed the strike at the airplane factory WSK Nwidnik.This strike marked the start of the "Lublin July" in which about 50,000 workersparticipated, leading up to the August 1980 workers' rebellion. As Walentynowiczpointed out in rejecting stereotypical misreadings of Solidaritywomen, "more women than men were involved in the Coastal WZZ [FreeTrade Union]," adding that her friend Ewa Kubasiewicz, a librarian at theGdynia marine academy, received the longest sentence during martial law.Both before and after 1989, women along with other industrial workers andnumerous members of the anti-Communist opposition were often marginalizedin Western and Polish histories of Solidarity, which portrayed the movementas the work of liberal dissidents, thus distorting the very essence of therevolt and portraying it all as the work of liberal dissidents. This is not toslight Poland's liberal establishment or to diminish the contributions of thedissidents from March 1968, but the reality is that Solidarity was ªrst andforemost a working-class movement. Unfortunately, history in Poland hasbeen played politically and has regressed into conºicting myths about thepast.An orphan from Volynia (in what is now western Ukraine), Walentynowiczprayed to the "eastern" Madonna, Our Lady of Ostra Brama ("Gate ofDawn" in Vilnius), perhaps to ªll in the blank pages of her childhood. Althoughsome of her Ukrainian relatives have suggested that she struggled withher ethic identity, her sentiments on this issue were not unlike Poland's as awhole. As Czeslaw Milosz observed, coming from "the borderlands," and especiallyfrom a country that was moved 200 kilometers westward after WorldWar II, was a national trauma that took a psychological toll. Being an orphanherself, Walentynowicz experienced the people around her-her country-asorphaned from its past, which must have been the reason for her ªnal voyageto honor the victims of the Katyñ massacre. For people like her, Gwiazda bornin the Gulag among them, the struggle for human rights was not a question ofcaptivity or subjugation, but of survival. For Walentynowicz, who struggled221Anna Walentynowicz and the Legacy of Solidarity in Polandwith her own feelings of self-worth, the struggle became a mission to makethe world livable for others, especially for women and common working peoplelike her. She never asked much for herself, and whatever she had shewould give away.Walentynowicz is a ªtting historical role model for anyone who wants tomake a better life for others. In her resolute commitment to justice she earnedher namesake as "mother of independent Poland," always recognizing that shewas one of many. Perhaps for this reason she is difªcult to write about bysomeone who has been raised not to believe in icons taking on a human form.Living at the end of an era of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin,and Iosif Stalin-and all the other Communist saints, Mao Zedong and FidelCastro included-we no longer ªnd cults of personality appealing, particularlythose that have blood on their hands. Perhaps the post-ideological milieubest explains the shortcomings of Cenckiewicz's attempt to restore Walentynowicznée Lubczyk. Anna Lubczyk was once made larger than life by theCommunist system when named a "Hero of Socialist Labor," but even thenshe was a small, devout woman doing small human things. Later, as a dissident,she inspired others to do the same. These small acts accumulated into astorm. Walentynowicz was hardly perfect; nor did she ever aspire to be rememberedas someone other than her small self. The legacy of Solidarity isthat its leaders were ordinary people who rose to the occasion at unexpectedhistorical moments to articulate uncomfortable truths that others felt.Walentynowiczwas just such a hero-not a perfect human being, but someone whoremained true to herself until her death in April 2010.

Michael Szporer

Ostatnia aktualizacja: niedziela, 03 kwietnia 2011 09:54


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