So at midday my dental adventure finished. I was a free man.
What to do?
Gdansk is a very appealing city visually – at least in the old town where I am residing. It resembles Amsterdam in fact, with the narrow buildings and streets, very reminiscent of the canal streets of the Dutch capital. Perhaps this is because of the German influence (Gdansk was a large German speaking enclave, called Danzig until the War).
It’s Baltic here however – the sea is only a few miles away – so I wanted to stay indoors.
Seeing as this city is the birthplace of post-communist Polish democracy, I decided that a visit to the Solidarity (Solidarność) Museum was a wise idea.
I went walking. And promptly got lost. After about an hour wandering around in circles I saw a sign for The Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970. Not what I was looking for, but it had the smell of culture off its name. It would meet my needs. Built in 1980, It commemorates the 42 shipyard workers of the Lenin Shipyard killed during the Strike in December 1970. It was the first monument to the victims of communist oppression to be erected in a communist country. They were killed after the shipyard went on strike in opposition to food price hikes in 1970. It consists of three massive crucifixes, upon which sit statues of the murdered. Vast and eerie.
Behind it stood a massive, rusting metal building. What could that be. Upon closer inspection I realised that it was in fact my intended destination – the Solidarity Museum. The rusty look was deliberate. It was made from old steel ship plates.
In 1980, the communist party decided to raise prices. Life in communist Poland was already not very pleasant. Further shortages and privations were not appreciated.
So the shipyard workers – led by Lech Walesa (who is still alive and has an airport named after him) – decided to down tools. News of the strike spread like wildfire (despite the press censorship) and between August and September, the country pretty much ground to a standstill, as workers in their millions joined the uprising. The regime reached an agreement with the Solidarity movement, recognising it as a union and a social movement, that was allowed to campaign on behalf of its members. Within a short space of time, Solidarity had a membership of 10,000,000 people.
Unhappy with the uppity proles, the government declared a state of martial law in December 1981, banned the movement and jailed Walesa. He remained resolute.
I am not a fan of the homophobic Pope John Paul II (I think he’s been promoted to Saint now?), but his support for Solidarity while the movement was banned, was a massive source of comfort to the Polish nation, during these horrible times of oppression and poverty. He paid three visits to his country between 1979 and 1987, drawing crowds of millions, and declaring his support for the people and the Solidarity movement. His declaration that a trip would be cancelled unless he met with Walesa, forced the regime to backtrack.
No wonder he is loved so massively in this country (although I expect the gays have a slightly more nuanced opinion of the old bigot).
Eventually when faced with another national strike, negotiations were held with the movement again. Poland became the first country in Eastern Europe to reject communism and re-embrace democracy. It did this by peaceful means (Solidarity never raised a gun). Walesa became the President.
It was a profoundly moving exhibition showing how loyalty and solidarity can overcome the most horrendous of odds.
I could swear that the museum was spraying onion essence into the air by the end of it. How else can you explain the moistness of my eyes.
Absolutely unmissable if you ever visit Gdansk.