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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Bronislaw Wildstein

Interviewed December 10, 2023

It is difficult for me to describe the situation in the period of the 1980s, because after all I was outside. [During the period of martial law, December 1981- July 1983, Mr. Wildstein was traveling Western Europe building support for Poland’s freedom movement. Martial law in Poland was declared by the military government of General Wojciech Jaruzelski in an attempt to crush political opposition. Thousands of opposition activists were jailed without being charged.] But I was watching things very carefully, yes. I was in ongoing contact; I collected information; I was publishing periodicals all the time, I was receiving materials which were published in the underground press in Poland, so yes I did have some overview of Poland´s reality. At the beginning we were all grimly shocked at how relatively easy it seemed to have been to introduce martial law.  After all, the Poles were worn down by this year and a half of uncertainty, this pressure from the authorities, poverty, etc. etc.

But what transpired very soon was that the opposition movement which had been created was very strong. And again, even on a worldwide scale, this type of opposition movement, of this size, was unique. [02:06:54] So that demonstrated that Solidarity [a labor union formed by Gdansk ship builders that transformed into a nationwide resistance movement], could be beaten but not broken. So thereby, the Polish nation could not be broken.

If we take a look, for instance, at the end of the 1980s, when the authorities made a decision to negotiate with the opposition, then what was said was, “Bah, the strikes are meager, this opposition is weak.” [In 1989, Poland’s communist government entered into negotiations with Solidarity known as the Round Table Talks. This resulted in semi-free elections on June 4, 1989 in which Solidarity scored a significant victory and led to the formation of the first non-communist government in the Soviet bloc.] But if you look into the documents of the security service, which was the best informed agency in the land, then what they were writing about is a swelling up of, no a wave of rebellion among the youngest, among the young workers and the college students, which brings to mind the wave of 1980 but possibly more powerful [1980 was the year of the Lenin Shipyard strike that led to the formation of Solidarity]. [02:08:48] So the security services were frightened and they demanded that something be done. And all this is reflected in the documents.

In a communist system, any totalitarian system, the logic is very simple. Of course, those in power are afraid of their society. So they respond by causing fear. And so this is a cycle which grows on itself. So this is a rather typical paradigm for a totalitarian system. On the other hand, in Poland, martial law actually did cause, in some major way, and as far as people from Solidarity were concerned, a large segment of them were deprived of hope. They sunk into a type of pessimism. The younger ones did not remember martial law all that well because they were children at the time. They were free from that trauma of martial law.