Poland's 'new consciousness'

From remarks by the former leader of the Polish trade union Solidarity read at the recent commencement exercises at Harvard University.m The August [1980] breakthrough demonstrated to the authorities in Poland the simple commonplace that ignoring reality, treating it as secondary to doctrine and underestimating the objective laws of economics, lead to an inevitable and dangerous crisis. It proved that the old methods, preventing influence of society on public affairs, could not be used to govern effectively.

After the strike at the shipyard and the establishment of Solidarity, everyone could take part in the social work for reform, could personally learn what free elections meant, what the hitherto mythical democracy meant in practice. Millions of people again became citizens. Those events also helped us to realize better that it is not only the authorities but all of us who are responsible for the fate of the country, its economy and political life.

The events initiated in Gdansk also showed to the world the extent of the true problems of a nation of 36 million in Europe. If realism has its foundation in objective knowledge about political and economic reality, then the establishment of Solidarity certainly enriched that knowledge.

A rejection of the world of fiction, that introduction of reality, was perhaps most evident in the system of communicating in Poland. People began expressing loudly and publicly their genuine thoughts, what was tormenting their minds and souls and not what they should be saying in accordance with offical instructions.

That pillar of the old system, the magic language of ''Newspeak'' stopped functioning since it referred to a world which still existed only in the textbooks of ideologists, propagandists, and censors. Someone who has not lived for many years hearing everywhere an Orwellian style of describing and evaluating the world cannot comprehend how beautiful and communicative can be the ordinary language of truth.

It was not only the society - through the movement of renewal - which realized the true scope of problems facing it, but also the authorities. Not only the governing team changed, but the style of government and of communicating with society changed in many important ways. Dialogue dominated until Dec. 13, 1981, despite numerous tensions and problems which could not be solved. It is too early yet to assess fully that short, eventful period.

Martial law slowed the process of reform but did not halt it. For the change in relations between people, between institutions and individuals is achieved not only through passage of new laws or cancellation of old ones, but to a greater extent through changes in awareness which bid one to either respect or ignore these laws.

The legal system in Poland did not change in a fundamental way, but in practice enormous changes have taken place. Until recently people working together in the same room feared to talk sincerely with each other; they feared each other, and today they constitute one underground Solidarity cell. They are not indifferent and apathetic as they once were. Through small, daily acts of courage, they implement the ideals of our union. They do not support undertakings promoted by the martial law authorities, but readily join in any initiative which may lead to reform.

Such people are everywhere, in every factory, steel mill, mine, and shipyard, everywhere - even in the prosecutor's offices, courts, the police and security service. Many of my interned and imprisoned colleagues experienced not only harassment and humiliation, but also humane gestures and true solidarity from their oppressors. Also - and perhaps most importantly of all - such people and their thousand-fold actions constitute what is known as the historic process. And the significance of these positive attitudes is greater as far as I am concerned, for - after all - violence is in a way inscribed in the doctrines being implemented in this part of the world.

The new consciousness evident in the young generation of Poles is the greatest capital of the 16 hot months after the strike at Gdansk Shipyard. The consciousness which I have mentioned is my great hope. It is a fact which truly exists and thus has great impact on reality. This is why we do not have to overthrow the system; it is weaker than the national self-awareness, it either shrinks before it or absorbs it. The process continues, and that is why I am an optimist.

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