On August 31st, 24 years ago in Gdansk the Polish authorities signed an accord with striking shipyard workers which became known as the "August Agreement" and in effect signalled the beginning of the end of communism. The day also became symbolic in Poland for united effort which could topple walls - which brought forth the first free trade union in the eastern bloc, Solidarity - and which did change the world:
Robert Szewczyk belongs to the young generation of Gdansk Solidarity:
I was 9 years old then, and what I remember from this hot summer was that my Dad was not coming home from his work. He was striking in the Gdynia shipyard, actually.
Legendary leader of Solidarity and the man to sign the August Accords on behalf of the strikers, Lech Walesa, remembers that not until the second day of the strike did he realize the historic portent of what was happening - and how dangerous it was, when he told journalists that Poland would be a new Japan.
That was a signal to the West to take a look at the situation in Poland and at the shipyard in Gdansk because this was the beginning of the end of communism. I couldn't say it outright because I wouldn't have lived long.
Miroslaw Glinski from the Gdansk History Museum agrees that there is a special spirit of liberty to Gdansk:
This has an ancient genesis. It's a sort of particular Gdansk identity, one could say. It's evident as early as 1308 when locals rose against the Teutonic knights, through to the early 18th century when they supported the Polish king against the Russian and Saxon armies; and later attached hopes of freedom to Napoleon, although he dealt with the city very roughly and emptied its coffers.
The boards with the famous 21 Demands that included fundamental human and civic rights are now on show at the Roads to Freedom exhibition at the Gdansk shipyard in the very same hall where the accords were signed. What do they mean now? Solidarity's Robert Szewczyk again:
Actually when you see the 21 postulates that were placed by the striking workers there's just very few that could be called really political ones. Most of them were economic demands. They wanted food generally, that as funny as that may sound, the economy in the old times in Poland during the communist times was a disaster. It was something unbelievable for people growing and living in a normal world. And now as we have our bellies full, now there is something more to be done.
Miroslaw Glinski from the Gdansk History Museum:
Now, when we look at the events of the 20th century, again we see it's Gdansk which led the field in the struggles for liberty - the strikes in 1970, then in 1980 and 1988 which led to the round table a year later and the democratic changes in Poland.
And not only there. Robert Szewczyk:
This is the place that changed the history of the world twice. As you remember the first of September, 1939, the outbreak of the Second World War was one of the huge shifts and then August 1980 when the communists actually started the communist regime to fall right here. It was not the fall of the Berlin wall that was just the effects of what started here.
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