An exhibition entitled 'The Undefeated. Martial Law and the Students' Strike at the University of Gdańsk in the Eyes of Former NZS and NSZZ "Solidarity" Activists' was opened at the Faculty of History UG. It was accompanied by a meeting with the participants of past events, politicians, UG employees and students. There were memories, emotions and intergenerational bonding.
The exhibition is yet another one at UG whose documentation was prepared by Leszek Biernacki, a Polish Studies graduate and one of the leaders of NZS of the 80s. For years he has been recalling and documenting people and events connected with UG at exceptional moments and building an archive of those times. Together with NZS UG, he has already presented exhibitions about the students' strike in May 1988, and another one - together with UG employees - about the circumstances of the tragic death of Marcin Antonowicz, a UG chemistry student, and the dismissal in 1985 of the then Rector, prof. Karol Taylor.
The exhibition and the meeting were organised by students from NZS and the UG Museum. The guests included: Bogdan Borusewicz, Speaker of the Senate, Oleksandr Plodystyi, Consul General of Ukraine in Gdańsk, Piotr Adamowicz, MP, dr hab. Arnold Kłonczyński, prof. UG and Vice-Rector for Student Affairs and Education Quality of UG, Marta Szaszkiewicz, Director of the UG Museum and prof. Maciej Sobczak, Rector of the Music Academy in Gdańsk in the previous term (as a 2nd-year student of the violin class of the Academy he participated in the strike in the shipyard).
Once again in the historic hall
The meeting in the former Humanities auditorium was moving and full of emotion. It was attended primarily by former students from the Faculty of Humanities, who 40 years ago decided to protest and strike and founded the Strike Committee together with UG employees. Due to the pandemic, the meeting was closed. - 'It's good to see you in your hall,' - started dr hab. Arnold Kłonczyński, Vice-rector of UG. - 'Be the hosts of this meeting,' - he added. He also addressed his younger colleagues from NZS, emphasising their role as custodians of the memory of past events at UG.
- 'I am very happy that together with NZS UG we could co-organise such an important event and prepare an exhibition on this occasion,' said Marta Szaszkiewicz, director of the UG Museum. She emphasised how important it was for the young activists of the Union to hold a meeting with the participants of past events. - 'It was a great challenge for them, as two generations of the organisation met in the historic hall. It was an absolutely unique moment,' she added.
The meeting was organised by the members of NZS UG and the debate was moderated by Krystian Rubajczyk, the president of NZS at UG. The students were joined by Natalia Marciniak, NZS Vice-President for Image and Promotion.
Oleksandr Plodystyi, Consul General of Ukraine in Gdańsk, was present at this special time for Ukraine. His words referring to the fight for freedom sounded extremely suggestive. - 'We know what happened in 1981, although we were not taught this by our professors. We must remember this for ourselves and history. There is no freedom without Solidarity,' he concluded.
Among the first memories, the participants also reached back to the beginnings and the creation of the Independent Student's Association. Jacek Jancelewicz and Jacek Słoma recalled the establishment of NZS in Gdańsk in August 1980, stressing that it had been established before in Warsaw.
At the beginning of the meeting, we could hear hits from the repertoire of the strike bards. Songs from the barricades and protests were recalled by: Tomasz Olszewski, Mirek Brzana and Andrzej Radajewski with Zenon Głowienka.
Your winter, our spring
After the debate had started, the older colleagues from NZS did not allow themselves to be taken away from the microphone. They recalled individual events from those memorable days of December 1981, starting with the protest and then exactly day by day, almost hour by hour, from the moment when martial law was imposed. The three days from the 13th to the 15th of December 1981 turned out to be extremely important in their lives, and for many of them, with far-reaching consequences.
Let us remind you that on December 13, 1981, students of the then Faculty of Humanities of the University of Gdańsk joined several dozen institutions and workplaces in Gdańsk protesting against the introduction of martial law in Poland.
It was interesting to hear the accounts of witnesses of the events and to recall the circumstances of that reality. Recollections of students at that time, the first prison sentences, such as that of Andrzej Radajewski, sentenced to three years in prison for possession of 15 leaflets. Other sentences, such as six years in prison for Cezary Godziuk, and the 'record-breaker' Ewa Kubasiewicz, sentenced to as many as 10 years in prison.
The first people appeared on strike at the Faculty of Humanities as early as on the morning of December 13, 1981. In the afternoon, a joint strike committee was formed, consisting of five students and five employees, with Maciej Żylicz as chairman. A dramatic and difficult moment was the decision to suspend or continue the strike on December 15. The professors, feeling responsible for the students, feared an attack on the university and the intervention of the army and ZOMO, which was difficult to predict. - 'Rector Robert Głęboki wanted to save us from pacification. The building was not suitable for defence,' recalled Marek Sadowski, a participant in the strike.
Bogdan Borusewicz, Speaker of the Polish Senate, who was then in the Gdańsk Shipyard and responsible for its defence, also referred to that moment. - 'I was dragging you to a more dangerous place. I understand the professors who wanted to protect and save you,' he recalled. - 'I believed then that there was a chance for martial law to be reversed.'.
Over a hundred students, not only from the UG and PG but from all the universities, from the Academy of Music, the Academy of Fine Arts, from the WSM, were in the shipyard. It was 17 degrees centigrade and everyone was very scared. Marshal Borusewicz still remembers the dramatic conversation with his tutors - 'Dr Henryk Szabała and Dr Janusz Golichowski came with the UG students and asked if I would ensure their safety,' - he recalled. - 'I was surprised, I said no because I didn't know what would happen?' The only thing he could do at that time, he recalled, was to place the students at gate No. 1, which was a little off to the side, through which the attack should not occur.
An exhibition has opened in the lobby of the former Faculty of Humanities, full of Leszek Biernacki's photos and memories of three exceptional days at UG. It is available at the faculty until the end of March 2022. - 'This exhibition is the fulfilment of a moral duty towards all those whom we called for protests during martial law, for which many suffered repression,' - emphasised Leszek Biernacki, the author of the photographs. They document the aftermath of the events, including the stories of the arrested and interned participants in the strikes, as well as memories of the Gdańsk Shipyard strike and the underground activity of the NZS UG.
The participants of the 1981 strike at the UG who formed the first NZS were supportive of the creation of the exhibition. - 'Thanks to their involvement we have made many valuable contacts,' said Marta Szaszkiewicz, director of the UG Museum. - 'Already during this event, new ideas and projects were born, which we hope to implement with their participation,' - she added.
Several people also declared that they would donate memorabilia and photographs to the Gdańsk University Museum. And the participants received occasional graphics - a collage of photos and publications of NZS, presenting the activity of NZS in the years 1980-1989, also the underground activity. The founder of the collage is Jarosław Słoma, the author of the photos used is Leszek Biernacki, and the author of the project is Magdalena Jaszcza from the UG Museum.
Organisers of the event: University of Gdańsk Museum, Independent Students' Union UG. Partners: Alternator UG Academic Cultural Centre, Neptun TV Study Group
Honorary patronage over the exhibition: Rector of the University of Gdańsk prof. dr hab. Piotr Stepnowski
Due to the current epidemiological situation, the event is closed.
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, 2022. After March 30, it is planned to exhibit in Sopot and Gdynia.
More about the events of December 1981 at the UG in a conversation 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...
Photos: Marcel Jakubowski / Press Office UG