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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Lech Walesa

Interviewed December 10, 2023

The problem is that Gdansk is its own special city; even under those communist circumstances. This was a city to which all types of very active people came from all over the country who had found it constraining in their hometowns, so that is one thing. The second thing is that people who converged on Gdansk came from all over the world; they were merchant seamen, they were shipbuilders, et cetera. So that all those discussions, observations and comparisons which were made became all the more clear-cut, and these [realizations] would cause people to attempt to fight for an improvement in their living conditions.

I think you would have to add as well the circumstance that after the Second World War we were saddled with a system, a communist system, which we did not accept. So there was really not a single moment when the struggle had subsided for the overthrow of the yoke of the communist regime. And that is why any discontent was used, and led us in the direction of overthrowing the system of communism. But we fought from the very beginning – in the 1950s [1956 anti-communist uprising], 1940s [uprisings against Nazi and Soviet occupation], you know – brandishing arms in hand. In the 1960s and 1970s – the strikes and the street demonstrations.

So this was all about people clamoring for freedom. People wanting to overthrow Communism as a system. Now, the greatest struggle in many ways took place in 1970 [anti-government demonstrations in response to rising prices], and it was in fact at the Gdansk Shipyard where I was a leader and was involved in directing this fight at the time. But after the second day of our struggle, of that strike it became clear to me that we didn’t have so much as a prayer of victory; that we didn’t know what that victory might look like; that we weren’t organized at all. So it became my goal to conclude this battle as soon as possible and take as few losses as possible.

All that in order to start preparing for a serious and smarter struggle, which is what happened in 1980. Along the way we had 1976, the Workers Defense Committee [KOR]. So what you have here is a chain of subsequent events, which led us to August of 1980 [the strike organized by workers from the Lenin Shipyard that led to the formation of Solidarity].