The core of the great Solidarity movement was the dream of freedom and democracy, understood as an innate right of every human being to decide his or her own fate and to share responsibility for the fate of the nation.

Home » News » Debate „13th XII 1981 through the eyes of Poles and the French. There is no freedom without Solidarność (solidarity movement in Poland)”

Debate „13th XII 1981 through the eyes of Poles and the French. There is no freedom without Solidarność (solidarity movement in Poland)”

- As the old proverb says: “A friend in need is a friend indeed” – 30 years ago, when my husband was interned and I was left with two children, I received help from my friends from France. To the most well known French revolution phrases  - „liberté, égalité, fraternité” – there should be added a fourth one: „solidarité” said Anna Komorowska, Wife of the President of Poland to the participants of the meeting in the assembly hall of the Library of the Warsaw University.

Full video record in multimedia library.

Difficult love, beautiful friendship

                A debate which was co-organized by the Bronisław Geremek Foundation,  Centre Civilisation Française and the Institut for French Studies at the Warsaw University took place on 14th December 2011 in the assembly hall of the Old UW Library. The meeting – which was meant to be a kind of celebration of the 30th anniversary of the introduction of martial law in Poland – was devoted to voluntary engagement of the French into a broadly defined help for Poles strangled by the communist regime. Honorary patronage of the debate was assumed by: Mrs. Anna Komorowska, the Wife of the President of Poland, and Chancellor of Warsaw University, Professor Katarzyna Chałasińska-Macukow.

          The discussion was attended by:

Marcel Grignard – Deputy General Secretary of Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT), since 1993 r. National Secretary, and since 2000 General Mines and Metal industry Federation General Secretary.

Bernard Guetta – journalist, commentator of international affairs at radio France Inter and „Libération” and „La Repubblica” journals. Between 1979-1983 correspondent of „Le Monde” journal in Poland. Albert Londres prize winner in 1981.

Adam Michnik – historian, journalist, editor in chief of "Gazeta Wyborcza". Former member of the Workers' Defense Committee, participant in the "Round Table" talks between the communist authorities and the democratic opposition.

               The meeting was chaired by Konstanty Gebert - oppositionist, journalist of "Gazeta Wyborcza", the director of the office of the European Council of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw.

               Mrs. Anna Komorowska, wife of the President, Rector of the University, prof. Katarzyna Chałasińska-Macukow and the Ambassador of the Republic of France in Poland, Mr. François Barry Delongchamps addressed the participants in the debate and the audience in a short introductory speeches.
Next there was a screening of a documentary about humanitarian aid organized in France which  through the efforts of thousands of people quickly reached Poland.

Debate-opening speech was delivered by Tadeusz Mazowiecki - the first non-communist Prime Minister in the Central and Eastern Europe. A participant of the August strikes, an adviser to the "Solidarity", participant at the "Round Table", one of the main architects of the agreement that led to democratic changes in Poland, an adviser to the President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski.


               Prime Minister Mazowiecki recalled the period prior to December 1981, a period known as first "Solidarity", although - as he himself pointed out - it's hard to talk about those events at a time when "after hours -veterans multiplied ". Memory, however,  cannot be simply taken away from us. At that time, all that the democratic opposition activists wanted was freedom - with the full awareness that it was impossible to change the political system, they tried to protect this lasting " freedom area " and to gain time. Actually, since the registration crisis the communist authorities were unable to accept the failure. After August 1980 the entire nation could breathe clean air in all areas of social life.  Tendency to create full and conscious partnership must be noticed in the harmonious interaction of the intelligentsia and the workers - a lesson from the events of March 1968, then 1970 has been well learned. There could be no more talk about own business only.

                The Communists attempted various ways, to cut this "ulcer in the healthy body of socialism" - the majority of those activities had a provoking character. Provocation was after all  brutal beating by the militia of "Solidarity" activists who participated in the meeting of Provincial Council in Bydgoszcz (19th March 1981); another provocation was the indefinite prolongation by the USSR authorities of the Soviet Warsaw Pact maneuvers "Soyuz 81" in Poland (March 24th, 1981). At the time "Solidarity" fought for the “post-august” hope to survive until better times, when international-position changes. However,  the conflict between communists and the democratic opposition resembled the Greek tragedy... The authorities acted under the Soviet political, economic and military pressure. The threat of military intervention meant that the Communists could not "jump over their own shadow" of their own formation, they could not even accept horizontal structures within their  own ranks, which called for major changes. However, the "Solidarity" could not to give up the achievements of August 1980 - the authenticity and freedom. This complicated situation was described by Bernard Guetta in his great texts which not only informed the world, and French public opinion about what was happening in Poland, but also captured the very essence and meaning of the events.

                Prime Minister Mazowiecki stressed that inner wisdom of the Polish reaction to martial law, no attempts of armed struggle, of what after all, "Solidarity" was suspected by the communist propaganda - rational wisdom of civil resistance - led to victory in 1989. Nevertheless, before that happened, the Polish society experienced solidarity of friends from abroad: on the one hand isolation of communist authorities, on the other hand the ordinary-extraordinary, human help. France was the leading country here: this assistance, this solidarity must not be forgotten.

                Konstanty Gebert said that, with support from French friends, Poles could confirm themselves in the belief that the right to liberty is a natural right of every society and nation, and not mad dreams. This help should be thanked for and every opportunity should be used to express it. Those who lived and thought the lesson of 13th December 1981 over, which finally ended in 1989, cannot be a pessimist. How to understand the attitude of the French, where did their involvement come from?

               Marcel Grignard mentioned that as a union activist in a small factory in the south of France, he experienced the events of December 13th  1981 and all its consequences very personally. Internment of Polish authorities independent unions was a blow to the right of society to freedom, which is why thousands of people of the stamps wore the logo of "Solidarity" in support. In order to understand these natural reactions, to comprehend why the day of 13th XII 1981 remained "forever in the hearts of members and local activists CFDT", one would probably have to go back to August 1980 and this wonderful explosion of freedom and civil independence. In December 1981, French trade unionists, already knew that was not enough to condemn the military coup in Poland – it was rather essential to join the active struggle for the restoration of freedom which had been brutally taken away. Therefore proclamations in defence of civil liberties and workers in Poland were published, support rallies were organized, which directly expressed the spirit of fidelity to the "Solidarity". On one of them, held on December 19th, Edmond Maire said that "the CFDT carried" Solidarity "in his heart."    

                Marcel Grignard underlined that in times of current crisis Europe, he still draws its inspiration from these experiences. Contact with activists from Central and Eastern Europe who survived the hard consequences of the dictatorship of the communist regime, revealed the importance of the trade union movement in building a civil society. With this beautiful friendship, in a country like France, which never experienced the same thing as Poland, hope and solidarity could meet.
And with you should never give up this interaction, especially today, when looking at the December Moscow ...      

                On the other hand Bernard Guetta said that French support for the Polish public opinion, which actually began in August 1980 was related to the unanimity of France towards the "Polish matter". It is after all a phenomenon of historical nature - almost all circles recognized political fulfilment of dreams in the "Solidarity". French far left had always been deeply anti-communist and was overjoyed to see that the working class in Poland walks against communism. However, the traditional right wing was delighted by the fact that the rebellious nation is united against the government under the sign of the cross. France with all the experience is still genetically a revolutionary country and bloodless Polish revolution, which toppled the whole existing order in the world upside down was something that one must have enjoyed.                 

                Editors of "Le Monde" for which Bernard Guetta worked at that times, were also happy – especially due to the fact that their Warsaw correspondent was equally crazy as the rest of the Poles. This madness must be identified with a deep faith in the wisdom and sustainability of the achievements of "Solidarity". This however had its source in the changes of generations after the end of World War II. Bernard Guetta belonged to a generation that has become a visible sign of the end of the war horror, optimistic generation, raised in some existential sense of harmony, but also deeply trusting in the necessity to change. It is the people of this generation - Adam Michnik peers – who in May 1968 demanded in the streets of Paris something "impossible" and it was the expression of political realism. The sense of community with the communist youth of Eastern Europe was obvious back then. When Bernard Guetta began his famous "tapeworms" correspondences in August 1980 from Poland which possessed by revolutionary fever – he perfectly knew the intelligence movement of the opposition and its political strength.

                Love for Poland and its affairs after 1989, underwent a hard test. The problem lies in the fact that the two nations - as stated by Bernard Guetta - are also equally megalomaniac and consider themselves the centre of the world. Thinking about the other country and its relations with the homeland first caused much pain. The problem of mutual lack of understanding of the prospects of development, political interest, the selection of strategic alliances has led to a series of disputes and challenging discussions with my closest friends, for example, Professor Bronislaw Geremek. Love proved to be challenging. Fortunately, the last speech of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Radoslaw Sikorski in Berlin proves that 30 years after the announcement of the introduction of martial law, both homelands of Bernard Guetta are reconciled with each other.  

                Adam Michnik who was asked among others about the lost heritage of social solidarity reminded the figure of Jacek Kuroń, who was the first to formulate the thesis of the necessity of cooperation between workers and the intelligentsia. The state of public debate about martial law in Poland is extremely complicated, if you can talk openly about the fact that he betrayed the ideas of Bronislaw Geremek of "Solidarity", and Wojciech Jaruzelski simply begged the Russians for military intervention, and they would not fulfil the request. The memory of Jacek Kuroń, Bronisław Geremek, defence of values ​​that they represented and fought for is the answer to the question of wasted inheritance of the so called first "Solidarity". These ideas are still alive.  

                For the author Prison Extracts  the French support for democratic opposition in Poland is also a fur cap, which Bernard Guetta sent him to jail in Białołęka. To put it briefly: "Solidarity" was not a great confederation in favour of capitalism, but the great confederation for freedom and truth in which the liberation of the working world was discussed through repeating the words of Scripture, "Bear one another's burdens." In fact - said Adam Michnik - a kind of madness is the top-level political realism. Catchphrase of May 1968 "Be realistic, ask for the impossible" might be slogan of "Solidarity".       

                At the end of the meeting participants in the debate responded to questions from
the audience about the Polish-French solidarity in the current crisis, the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, the traditional divisions of the political scene in the right and left.

 Jacek Głażewski