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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Andrzej Gwiazda and Joanna Duda-Gwiazda

Interviewed December 10, 2023

JOANNA DUDA-GWIAZDA: This is something that you can never positively separate, I mean the economic versus the political reasons. And, you know, if the reasons are purely economic, then the people would know anyway that the reason for that is your dependence on the Soviet Union. So very quickly, or really simultaneously, these freedom demands would parallel [the economic side]. And so in 1970, which for the inhabitants of the rest of the world might not be as obvious, but 1970 was the year of the great rebellion, which was quashed in a bloody way.

In December of 1970 they shot workers initially in Gdansk, and then there was, nearly, a massacre in Gdynia [Poland]. And you can say that this was the event which put an end to a relative period of a truce between the authorities and society at large. [In December 1970, a series of protests erupted in northern Poland that were sparked by sudden price increases in food and other commodities. The uprisings were crushed by the regime.] And so in 1970, after the Communist Party Committee [building] was burnt down in Gdansk, a very young man planted a red and white national flag on that committee building.

ANDRZEJ GWIAZDA: In 1970 this was a reaction to another price hike which was contrary to the promises made by the system, and perhaps the principles that underpinned the social compact, and the – well, mutual consensus, in a manner of speaking, between the [Communist] Party and society at large. So the shipyard went on strike; and incidentally, so did the other plants, and a Strike Committee was formed. So the Strike Committee went over for negotiations, for talks, to the Provincial Party Committee, and there it was arrested. The delegates of the striking shipbuilders did not return to the shipyard, they were all arrested, so in the morning, the shipyard workers went out primarily to the prison to bust them out. So, to liberate them.

And then when this failed, they returned to the [Communist Party] Committee [building], and they torched it. So then, the telling thing is that the few dozen, 30 or 20 national police who were guarding that committee building surrendered. They surrendered, because we were being attacked from helicopters with grenades, stun grenades, as well as those tear gas grenades, roman candles, and then very rapidly the tactic developed that the people would grab objects and throw them toward the [Communist Party] Committee building, and others would throw them in through the windows, and so – inside through the windows – the panes were broken already.

Then, I guess inside it was impossible to bear, so these policemen came out onto the balcony with a white flag, and at that time this young man, wearing worker’s overalls, climbed up the grating on the Committee’s wall, and planted this white and red flag [of Poland] on it. And then the whole square, I don’t know, 6,000 or 12,000 people, everyone took off their hats or helmets, stood at attention and sang the national anthem.