'Undefeated'. Martial Law at the University of Gdańsk. Exhibition and meeting after 40 years


' "Undefeated" - this is the title I gave to the exhibition to honour those who persevered during the most difficult period of repression and continued their activities without resorting to violence,' - says Leszek Biernacki, the author of photographs at the exhibition on the 40th anniversary of the introduction of martial law at the University of Gdańsk. - 'That is why the exhibition is introduced by a photo of a tank with flowers stuck in its barrel - a symbol of peaceful struggle,' he adds. The exhibition will be accompanied by a meeting with the participants of the past events and the present members of the Independent Students' Association.

The exhibition entitled 'The Martial Law and the Students' Strike at the University of Gdańsk in the Eyes of Former Activists of the Independent Students' Association and Independent Self-Governing Trade Union "Solidarity" ' will be opened on February 19, at 3 p.m. at the Historical Faculty of the University of Gdańsk. - 'The idea behind the exhibition and the meeting with participants of strikes at the UG resonated for the first time on August 30, 2020, during celebrations related to the creation of the Independent Students' Association, which took place near the Gdańsk Shipyard,' explains Marta Szaszkiewicz, Director of the UG Museum.

The organisers of these celebrations rebuilt the symbolic bench on which 40 years ago a group of students wrote the Appeal to the Students of the Coast announcing the establishment of independent student organisations. - 'This was, in a way, the beginning of the Independent Students' Association. At that time Jarosław Słoma, Leszek Biernacki and Jacek Jancelewicz suggested organising a joint event for NZS UG and the UG Museum to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the introduction of martial law and the student strike at the UG,' - adds Marta Szaszkiewicz.

December 13-15, 1981.

- 'For many years I have been trying to commemorate people and events that should build the unique identity of the university I graduated from,' says Leszek Biernacki, a Polish Studies graduate and one of the NZS leaders in the 1980s. Thanks to him, together with the NZS UG, we have managed to present an exhibition about the students' strike in May 1988 and another one, together with the UG employees, about the tragic death of a student Marcin Antonowicz and the dismissal of the Rector Karol Taylor in 1985.

Let us recall that on December 13, 1981, students of the Faculty of Humanities UG joined dozens of Gdańsk institutions and workplaces in protest against the imposition of martial law in Poland. The exhibition recalls this event, recounting it primarily from the perspective of the participants in the strike and bringing closer the role of the Student's Association in the protest and its activities in the subsequent months of martial law.

- 'During the strike of 13-15 December 1981 and in the months that followed, the academic community was clearly visible. The introduction of martial law was met with opposition by scientific, technical and UG students,' - says Magdalena Jaszcza from the UG Museum. - 'A joint University Strike Committee was formed in which the voice of all these groups was represented. Among those repressed, who were arrested or interned, there were both students and employees of the University of Gdańsk,' she adds. She also stresses how important the exhibition and memory are for the academic community. - 'We want to talk about the martial law strike also because this event is somewhat overshadowed by other threads of the UG history of opposition. In the broader consciousness the strikes of May 1988 are more commonly associated,' she says.

Without them, we wouldn't be here.

- 'This exhibition is the fulfilment of a moral duty towards all those whom we called upon during martial law to protest, for which many suffered repression,' - Leszek Biernacki emphasises. Unfortunately, its importance was considerably reduced by the pandemic.

The exhibition will show the aftermath of the events, including stories of arrested and interned participants in the strikes. There will also be individual recollections of students who joined the strike in the Gdańsk Shipyard and the underground activity of the Independent Students' Association (NZS) at the University of Gdańsk.

The final shape of the exhibition was given by Marta Szaszkiewicz and Magda Jaszcza from the UG Museum. - 'I donated the necessary materials about the martial law strike at the UG and Gdańsk Shipyard,' says Leszek Biernacki. - 'A total of 410 members of the NZS were interned under martial law throughout Poland. Many students and academics from the Tricity universities passed through internment camps in Goldap, Iława, Kwidzyn and Strzebielinek. At the exhibition we present a list of former employees and students of the University of Gdańsk who were deprived of freedom,' adds Marta Szaszkiewicz.

The photographs and texts that will appear in the exhibition are written by Leszek Biernacki, who was a participant in those events. - The exhibition is therefore a story from the perspective of the participants. The photographs presented at the exhibition are absolutely unique and priceless," stresses Marta Szaszkiewicz.

The co-organisers of the exhibition are also the current members of the NZS at the UG, who emphasise the importance of commemorating those who studied during martial law and actively challenged the communist authorities. - 'We feel a bond with our older colleagues. These are the people who invented the NZS and without them, we wouldn't be here,' says Krystian Rubajczyk, the chairman of the NZS UG. - 'Even though so many years separate us, our common features, such as the will to act and do more, sometimes make the age difference unnoticeable,' he adds.

After 40 years

The exhibition will be accompanied by a meeting with the participants of past events. The opening of the exhibition will be attended by, among others, members of the former University Strike Committee, e.g. prof. Maciej Żylicz - the chairman of UKS on behalf of the university's 'Solidarity' and Marek Sadowski on behalf of NZS UG. There will also be present members of the NZS UG and the National Board of the NZS, so it will be an opportunity for two generations of the organisation to meet in one place.

- 'Many NZS and Solidarity activists, who are not remembered today, were very happy to receive the invitation. They stressed that it was something special, that thirty years after winning freedom they could finally meet at the Faculty of Humanities and exchange memories. It is a pity that many people did not live to see this day,' says Biernacki

The exhibition 'Undefeated' and the meeting with participants of the strikes, is particularly important for the UG Museum not only because of the need to commemorate those events but also in the context of work on the museum's permanent exhibition. - 'The meeting with participants and witnesses of the strikes at the UG is for us an excellent opportunity for individual conversations that will allow us to fill in the factual and biographical gaps,' - emphasises Marta Szaszkiewicz.

The exhibition and debate commemorating the attitudes of the academic community in the struggle for a free and democratic Poland are complemented by documentary work by Leszek Biernacki. - 'At the same time, I managed to finish work on a two-volume book entitled Reduta, in which I described the events of 1980-1985. I hope to publish it, but before I do I will supplement it with stories heard during the debate,' he announces.

The organisers of the event: The University of Gdańsk Museum, Independent Students' Union UG. Partners: Academic Cultural Centre 'Alternator', Neptun TV Academic Club

Honorary patronage over the exhibition:

Rector of the University of Gdansk prof. dr hab. Piotr Stepnowski

Due to the current epidemiological situation, the event is of a closed nature.

A report from the event will be available on the organisers' website.

The exhibition will be available in the hall of the Faculty of History of the University of Gdańsk from February 19 to March 30, 2020. After March 30 it is planned to exhibit in Sopot and Gdynia. Information: www.muzeum.ug.edu.pl and https://www.facebook.com/muzeumug

Interview with Leszek Biernacki, published on December 12, 2022, on the UG website: https://ug.edu.pl/news/pl/2382/wielu-was-bylo-gdyby-spytali-tak-coz-bym...


Fotografie: Leszek Biernacki
Ewa Cichocka/Press Office of University of Gdańsk