This week Poland marks the 25th anniversary of the strike at the Gdansk shipyard where the Solidarity movement was born. Solidarity served as a beacon of hope to dissidents in the region, and there was close co-operation between Czechoslovak and Polish anti-Communist activists.
The relationship between Solidarity and Czechoslovak dissidents dates back to October 1981, and the foundation of the Polish Czech-Slovak Solidarity Foundation. The Foundation brought together Solidarity activists and members of Czechoslovakia's Charter 77 human rights organisation, which was co-founded by Vaclav Havel. It was created with the aim of exchanging information about democratic ideas in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and also Communist repression against dissidents.
In 1983 and 1984 the Foundation concentrated on creating a network of covert meeting points where banned publications and even printing equipment could be exchanged. Most of these meeting places were in the mountains along the Czech-Polish border. A network of couriers was established, and those couriers ran the risky task of ferreting illegal literature and printing equipment to meeting points deep in the forests of the Krkonose mountains.
Czechoslovak and Polish dissidents also gave each mutual support during difficult times. In January 1987, for example, the Czech dissident Petr Pospisil was arrested for having links with Solidarity. Polish dissidents began gathering signatures demanding his release, and held a public demonstration in Wroclaw.
Later that year, the Polish Czech-Slovak Solidarity Foundation released a set of postage stamps to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Charter 77, and managed to sneak some of the stamps into circulation. One letter was even sent to Petr Pospisil in prison. The move led Czechoslovakia's Post and Telecommunications Minister to forbid delivering letters bearing the stamps.
Many former dissidents say Solidarity played a significant role in the downfall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. Vaclav Havel, writing last week, said what immediately drew him to Solidarity was that it wasn't a narrow party political movement, but a movement which called in very uncompromising terms for civic freedoms and openness. It was a call which reached Mr Havel even though he was sitting in prison at the time.
Vaclav Havel will be among the former dissidents attending the celebrations in Gdansk this week, though his successor as president Vaclav Klaus won't be, a fact which hasn't gone unnoticed in the Czech press. A commentator in Lidove Noviny notes sourly that it's a pity Mr Klaus won't be there. The paper says will probably suffice if Vaclav Klaus repeats his theory that the silent majority of law-abiding citizens did more to bring about the collapse of Communism than Solidarity or Charter 77.
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