Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Poland meets Solidarity observance with a show of force

A tight security net ordered by Polish authorities helped dampen public protests on Aug. 31, the third anniversary of the government accord that led to the formation of Solidarity.

At the union stronghold in Gdansk, where workers filing out of the Lenin shipyard were blocked by police, Lech Walesa was followed by several hundred cheering people, mostly youngsters.

About these ads

The former Solidarity leader hurried a short distance to St. Brigid's Church. The people bunched at the gate chanted, ''Walesa . . . long live! Long live! Lechu . . . Lechu . . .'' until Walesa came back to thank them for their support and urge them to disperse.

He told the crowd, ''I understand your anger and the feeling of tension. . . . But today we must keep silent so that we may win tomorrow. The fact that we are gathered is all the same our victory!''

Walesa, not permitted to make the speech he had planned, was allowed to lay flowers at the Gdansk monument to a 1970 workers' uprising.

By midafternoon there were signs that the call for a boycott of public transport by remaining underground Solidarity activists was having some effect. Most of the trams were chockablock as usual. With so many roads and sidewalks blocked to traffic and pedestrians alike, this was the only means of getting through the controls. But many buses were empty or had only a few passengers even though it was the afternoon rush hour.

The result of the call for a ''press boycott'' was less clear. In the morning papers seemed to be selling normally. Later kiosks were sold out, but it was unclear whether press runs had been reduced to obviate the sight of unsold copies.

(Reuters reports from Warsaw: Police used tear gas to break up Solidarity demonstrations in Krakow and Wroclaw. Official sources said clashes erupted in both industrial cities as police across the country deployed massive forces to counter calls by the underground opposition for protests just over a month after the lifting of martial law.

(Official sources in Krakow said huge forces of riot police moved in to disperse a march of about 10,000 Solidarity demonstrators from the Nowa Huta steel mill, the country's biggest industrial plant.

About these ads

(Wednesday's disturbances were the first major incidents reported in Poland since May Day, when some of the worst trouble was also in Nowa Huta. One man was found dead in an area where police and protesters clashed.

(Eyewitnesses in the western industrial city of Wroclaw said the city, which saw some of the worst violence under martial law and whose work force has been staunchly pro-Solidarity, appeared calm.)

Sept. 1 marks another anniversary, and the authorities have sought to make full use of it. They are using the anniversary of Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland not only as a reminder of the horrors of war but also as a lesson in the political realities - above all Poland's alliance with the Soviet Union - that were at the heart of its conflict with Solidarity.

All that the authorities in Gdansk allowed in observance of the Solidarity anniversary was a limited laying of flowers at the monument to the victims of the 1970 conflict between the workers and the workers' government.

Severe ordinances issued by the local government and the defense council of the Gdansk military region forbade any kind of public ''manifestation'' or gathering Wednesday, with tough penalties for any who broke the rules.

Free access to the monument for the laying of flowers was allowed, officials had stated Tuesday. But women hurried to deposit bunches of roses and carnations early Wednesday for fear they might be barred later if the crowds became too big for police comfort.

Events proved them right. Wednesday afternoon this reporter spoke to a number of persons carrying flowers for the monument who had been turned back.

A front-page headline in the local daily Gloswybrzeza (Voice of the Coast) warned: ''Disturbance of normal work will not be tolerated.''

Through the morning there was a steady buildup of the forces of law and order - the police and the notorious ZOMO antiriot squads. It was said they had orders to ensure that the anniversary passed in ''peace, quiet, and dignity.''

The contrast with the scene three years ago was stark. In 1980, when the Gdansk shipyard gates opened after a 14-day occupation strike, the victorious Walesa announced the government's acceptance of workers' demands, including an independent trade union. The workers behind him and the crowds outside the gates cheered themselves hoarse.

This time, the gates stood open but there were no crowds.

The yard is said to be working normally, with a lot of orders for ships on hand. But director Stanislaw Zaczyk refused to talk to Western reporters about it as he hurried back into the yard, grim faced and tight lipped, after laying a wreath. ''Don't disturb me. Not one word,'' he snapped.

He was one of a forlorn group that laid flowers at the monument on behalf of the national conciliation front known as PRON. There were no speeches. The group's spokesman said it was ''a spontaneous manifestation.''

There were about 30 in the official delegation. They represented the Lenin and other shipyards as well as other local industries and unions. Almost the only others present were Western newsmen and a dozen ZOMOs.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.