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Jasiński, Mirosław: From the Underground to Diplomacy: The History of Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity

Cooperation between those Poles, Czechs and Slovaks who opposed communism began towards the end of the Second World War and was reborn at the beginning of the 1980s. The first of the big meetings between Polish and Czech opposition activists took place in the summer of 1987 on the Borowkowa Mountain in the Klodzko Valley. Precisely 40 years earlier, activists with the Polish People's Party of Stanislaw Mikolajczyk (PSL) and the Czech National Socialist Party had met secretly in exactly the same place. That meeting had taken place in the context of approaching Stalinisation, while the 1980s contact was made as communism was in decline. The decades between those two meetings saw various examples of cooperation and mutual sympathy, such as the work of the "Tatra Climbers" in smuggling émigré publications from the West through Slovakia's Tatra Mountains to Poland; the regular participation of young Czechs and Slovaks in the Jazz Jamboree or in the pilgrimages to Jasna Góra, the cooperation between the secret monasteries, and the help given to the Catholic Church in Slovakia, Moravia, and the Czech Republic. The Kraków Catholic circles around Cardinal Karol Wojtyla - the future Pope John Paul II - were especially active on the latter score, with secret ordinations of Czech and Slovak priests in Poland, smuggling religious publications, and so on.

The breakthrough, however, came after the signing of the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference. The establishment in 1976 of the Polish KOR (Committee for the Defence of Workers) and the Charter 77 Declaration on 1 January, 1977 resulted in the idea of holding meetings between the activists of the two organizations on the border. There used to be a road on the border in the Giant Mountains whose official name was the Polish-Czechoslovak Friendship Road. These meetings yielded fruit in Czechoslovakia in the form of the first sentences issued for cooperating with the opposition of a neighbouring country. In protest against this repression the Polish opposition groups organized hunger strikes in the Warsaw Church of St. Martin and in Podkowa Leśna. The emergence of an organized opposition in the second half of the 1970s also meant the development of independent publications. The work of Václav Havel, Jan Patočka, Milan šimečka, Miroslav Kusý, Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuroń Leszek Kolkowski and many other authors was slowly becoming part of the mutual legacy and was entering the intellectual biographies of young people on both sides of the border. Slowly, more and more texts and pamphlets began crossing the border, although not yet in an organised way. A big wave of repression aimed at the Charter 77 activists, and especially the arrest and trials of the members of the VONS (Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Persecuted) in 1979 and 1980 occurred at the same time as the outbreak of strikes in 1980 and the establishment of Solidarność. To understand what happened later it is worth stressing the broad contacts between "alternative culture" circles in underground music, especially among young people. Even publicly sold Polish rock albums sounded revolutionary compared to everything else that was available. The Polish Institute in Prague and Bratislava in the 1970s and 1980s was thus almost a centre of cultural and ideological subversion.

The message of the First Congress of NSZZ (Independent Self-Govering Trade Union) Solidarity to Working People of Eastern Europe in September1981 was a signal that the nearly 10 million-strong Solidarność had matured to become aware of its size, and was beginning to cross Polish borders. Soon afterwards, a discussion took place on the board of the Solidarność NSZZ in the Lower Silesia Region in Wroclaw regarding the possibility of supporting the opposition Charter 77 and expanding their cooperation. (Unfortunately, as a result of the "revolutionary" developments in Poland that engaged the entire opposition, as well as the political repression in Czechoslovakia at the time, the cooperation almost completely died out). In October 1981 an envoy from the Wroclaw Solidarity, Aleksander Gleichgewicht, visited Prague for a few days. The meetings he held yielded the idea of establishing a Polish-Czech Solidarity. But soon afterwards the martial law was imposed and Gleichgewicht was detained.

The link was re-established in March 1982. On the Polish side, a group of unknown 20-year-olds (who had experience in the students' conspiracy after 13 December) appeared, while the other side was represented by Anna šabatová and the future bishop, Václav Malý.

In 1984, Petr Uhl, one of the key people in the development of the cooperation, left prison. Due to their unmasking, the entire Polish group had been replaced by other people. A courier network began to operate, as well as an exchange of materials. A joint statement was issued and signed by the Charter 77 activists and the Solidarity and ex-KOR members in hiding. The enduring strength of the damaged but not destroyed Solidarity underground was the reason that most activities were initiated by the Polish side, although the arrest of Petr Pospíchal in the spring of 1987 (another key person behind our cooperation) made us realize that the risks were not all on one side.

The public activities of the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity in 1987, and the first big meeting of opposition activists from both sides (among them Václav Havel, Zbigniew Bujak, Jacek Kuroń, Jan Čarnogurský, Adam Michnik, Petr Uhl, Jaroslav šabata, Jozef Pinior, Jan Lityńki) had a moral significance not only for the Czechoslovak side. During that difficult year for the Solidarity underground it was essential that the spirit of resistance be bolstered in Poland as well.

I should mention a few more people. First of all, Zbigniew Janas together with Petr Pospíchal in 1986 started the "rno-Warsaw"cooperation thread. His abilities, contacts and ideas resulted in such actions as the issuing of a special edition for stamp collectors for the 10th anniversary of the establishment of Charter 77, which was successfully distributed within the official stamp circulation of the Czechoslovak post office. Jacek Kuroń and Václav Havel were mentors and invaluable "spiritual fathers" of numerous activities of the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity. It is hard to say what it all would have looked like without their support. Another important person was Ivan Lamper, who created the first effective and regular group for smuggling materials across the border. In 1987, Lamper, at the time the editor of the underground samizdat magazine Revolver Revue, gathered a group of young people together to shoulder the burden of daily chores (Jan Ruml, Jáchym Topol, Alexander Vondra, Markéta Fialková, and others). Ivan Lamper established an unusually effective group from Zlín, directed by Stanislav Devátý.

Mieczyslaw "Duczin" Piotrowski deserves special mention. He organized the Wroclaw network for smuggling various materials, which in 1989 reached the frequency of two a month.

As time passed, further groups appeared in Cieszyn, Ostrava, Bielsko Biala, and Opava. In December 1987, on the Polish side, the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity Bulletin, a samizdat monthly, began to be issued regularly (the editors included JarosΠaw Broda, Tadeusz Kuranda, and others). The Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity "served" the samizdat Polish periodicals dedicated to international issues - ABC, Obóz (Camp), and Nowa Koalicja (New Coalition). It also sent information on the opposition in Czechoslovakia to the Mazovia Weekly (Tygodnik Mazowsze) and the Agency News Review (Przeglàd WiadomoÊci Agencyjnych), and transported printing equipment for the opposition in Czechoslovakia. In 1988 a hunger strike was organized in Wroclaw of political prisoners and the "Patronage" (Patronat) organization, under which various people, independent organizations and parishes took care of Czechoslovak political prisoners and their families. This care also had a practical dimension, including letters, interventions, parcels, etc. At that time as well, due to the great dedication of two men who had been colleagues for many years, Jan Stachowski and Andrzej Jagodziński, the "Independent Collection of Czech and Slovak Literature" series was started. The pragmatic attitude of the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity, an organization that associated people from the radical left to far right, that set out to accomplish defined tasks and focused on rational collaboration, eventually became a model of cooperation for various groups, not only in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

In 1985, a separate section was formed called the Polish-Ukrainian Group, which dealt with the smuggling of materials to Ukraine, and lasted until the end of 1987. In 1988, the "daughter organization" Polish-Hungarian Solidarity was established in Podkowa Leśna. This international experience resulted in the formation in 1988 of the VIA-WAI, the first independent international news agency in Central and Eastern Europe, whose main motors initially were Petr Uhl, Wojciech Maziarski, Anna Morawiecka, and the Podrabinek brothers from Russia. The year 1989 was a time of change, which in Poland started with preparations for the Round Table, and which in Czechoslovakia brought the January "Palachiáda," the dispersal of a demonstration organized on the anniversary of Jan Palach's self-immolation, and the arrest of Václav Havel, Alexander Vondra and other opposition activists. Soon afterwards in Warsaw, after many years of having been banned, three one-act plays by Václav Havel, entitled Audience, Private View, and Protest, were staged. The premiere showed how much the situation in both countries was beginning to differ. The then Prime Minister of the communist government of the Polish People's Republic, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, attended the premiere, while after the performance Adam Michnik gave a speech in defence of the imprisoned playwright.
On 4 November, 1989, two weeks before the Velvet Revolution, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic closed the border with Poland for two days. The move was caused by the staging of the Czech and Slovak Independent Culture Festival in Wroclaw from 3-5 November. The festival accompanied the "Culture at the Crossroads" International Central Europe Seminar. It attracted many Czech participants such as Karel Kryl, Jaroslav Hutka, and Vlastimil Třešňák. Several thousand Czech and Slovak participants were invited by the inhabitants of Wroclaw to their homes in a spontaneous act of generosity that included the provision of room and board. The Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity had gone beyond its opposition-dissident framework and established the foundations of something completely new. The new mood encouraged a decision on the formation of the Visegrad Group. It was no accident that a considerable number of the people who had participated in the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity also took part in the founding of Visegrad.

After 1989, the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity on the Czech and Slovak sides died out. However, the Polish structures of the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity, together with their Czech partners, have been carrying out great cross-border projects for the past several years. The Polish-Czech Days of Christian Culture in the Klodzko Valley and its Czech surroundings draw thousands of participants, while festivals such as "Theatre on the Border" and "Cinema on the Border" in Cieszyn and the Czech Těšín are also a continuation of these activities. The Polish-Czech-Slovak Solidarity Fund based in Warsaw is now turning its attention to the East.

Mirosław Jasiński
Art historian, documentary film director. Former opposition activist, member and co-founder of the Polish-Czechoslovak Solidarity. Former political counsellor with the Polish Embassy in Prague, former governor in Wroclaw. Director of the Polish Institute in Prague (since 2001).

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