Democracy “foot soldier” craves Solidarity ethos 20 years on
Unlike millions of Poles who have flocked to Western Europe in the past few years in search of jobs, Jan Malachowski came to Norway in 1986 seeking political asylum and safety from Poland’s communist regime.
But like many of his compatriots, Malachowski will not celebrate the 20th anniversary of Poland’s June 4, 1989 election, which ushered in democracy in the Soviet Union’s backyard and helped pave the way for the collapse of the Berlin Wall five months later.
Now a computer engineer who has settled near Oslo with his family, Malachowski says he was a “mere foot-soldier” in the Solidarity freedom movement in the 1980s. But he nonetheless suffered repeated interrogations and beatings from communist security forces. The mass-movement survived a communist crackdown and by the end of the 1980s brokered and won the first free elections held behind the Iron Curtain.
“We had hope and faith and faced huge uncertainty,” said Malachowski, 55, of his days in Solidarity. “In those times it seemed we were floating half a metre above the ground.”
Malachowski says the “Solidarity ethos”, complete with the charismatic leadership of Lech Walesa and blessing of late Polish-born Pope John Paul, has all but vanished.
Former activists, once united on the “right side” of street barricades, now stand divided and bicker over issues large and small. Even the 1989 anniversary celebrations had to be staged in two different cities because of infighting, leaving a sour aftertaste for many on what should have been a reminder of their moment of glory — a turning point in Europe’s post-war history.
But the fact the anniversary appears to have inspired only scant dewy-eyed nostalgia among Poles in Poland and abroad, even those who once manning the front lines of the democratic revolution, can also be seen as a sign of normalcy.
Driven to leave Poland by his “refusal to die under communism”, Malachowski now says his motivation has “normalised” and revolves around his family. Many Poles, including Malachowski, have proved remarkably adaptable abroad, building new lives in great numbers after European Union membership in 2004 opened job markets in Britain, Scandinavia and many other western states.
Perhaps knowing that Poland’s future appears secure inside the EU and NATO, Poles are simply too busy getting on with their lives. That would only be normal.