ROME, AUG. 31, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The Solidarity labor union sparked a “revolution” the consequences of which are yet to be completely understood, says journalist Gian Franco Svidercoschi.
An Italian of Polish descent, Svidercoschi was one of the Western journalists who followed closely the Solidarity events that unfolded in the Gdansk shipyards.
Already before he became Pope, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla had thanked Svidercoschi for his research on Poland.
Later Svidercoschi would become an assistant editor of L’Osservatore Romano. He is also the author of the script of the recent television film “Stories of Karol: The Unknown Life of John Paul II.”
In this interview with ZENIT, Svidercoschi explains how those events of Aug. 30 and 31, 1980, took place, which changed the course of humanity.
Q: Why do you call it a revolution?
Svidercoschi: Because it was the revolution of a whole people. For many years, there had been “small revolutions,” as Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski called them: in 1956, the workers; in 1968, the students and intellectuals; in 1970, again the workers in the Baltic; until 1976, when a labor protest took place which effected the union of the whole society.
The workers protested and paid the consequences with imprisonment but, for the first time, students and other social groups joined them in one way or another. What was created, we call the subjectivity of the Polish nation. Solidarity arose from there.
On July 1, 1980, a strike was organized. The Communist regime tried to calm the waters, offering salary increases, but later, as a chain reaction, the strike of another factory followed, and then that of another close by. So the house of cards went tumbling all over the country.
The Baltic shipyards began to strike on Aug. 15. There was a real protest there, the strongest in the whole of Poland.
The Polish Communist regime, in the face of Leonid Brezhnev, who from Moscow feared that the Polish wound would spread everywhere, decided to sign the famous Gdansk agreements between Aug. 30-31.
Q: Why did they go into history?
Svidercoschi: Because not only were they a social platform, but also an ethical one. Among other things, demands were made for Church programs in the media. This ethical-religious aspect was already present in the protests: There were images of the Black Madonna and of John Paul II on the gates of the Gdansk shipyards.
Q: To what degree did the Church influence those workers?
Svidercoschi: Even those who were of the left, or Communist dissidents, found support in the Church.
For too long it was thought that the Polish Church was a conservative Church. However, it was renewed after the Second Vatican Council and, therefore, it was not defending its own freedom, but the freedom of man, regardless of his party or religion.
In addition to all this commitment of the Church in Poland — Stalin always said: How nice it would be if Cardinal Wyszynski were on our side — two years earlier the election of a Polish Pope had taken place. He was like a sort of protecting umbrella for the revolution being born in Poland, but which would have the force to spread to the whole of Eastern Europe.
Q: Why was the Polish Pope so important?
Svidercoschi: He was important not for having been the “author” of the fall of the Berlin Wall, […] but because of the very fact that there was a Polish Pope in Rome, a Pope of the nation in which the great Catholic majority of the population created this popular movement which led precisely to the birth of Solidarity and the transformation of Poland.
Q: What was the West’s attitude in the face of the transformations taking place in Poland?
Svidercoschi: I think that the West had great culpability in that period. First, because it did not understand what was happening in Poland.
I went to do research in Poland in January 1977, after the agreement with the workers, intellectuals, students and other dissidents had been reached.
Well, there was not even one Western journalist there to witness what was happening. When the chain of protests began that I mentioned earlier, for one month not a single news item was published about it in Western newspapers. It was thought that the Communist world was a closed world, a spent world and that the separation of the rest of Europe was definitive.
But there was a person in Rome, perhaps the only person in the whole world, who believed in the possibility that the world could change, that Europe could again breathe with two lungs, the Western and Eastern. It was John Paul II. That is why I think that in that period the presence of a Polish Pope, not a Western one, was fundamental.
Q: What remains today of Solidarity?
Svidercoschi: Things have changed much. Let’s say that the Pope was right when he went to Poland and delivered a sermon on the creed: He understood that, once the doors of Poland and of the rest of the Eastern countries were opened, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, another great danger would come: consumerism, a de-Christianized, secularized form of society, which later involved Poland and the other countries.
In any case, Solidarity was the push that led to the fall of the Wall, of Communism. On secret, mysterious paths, all what was born between Aug. 30-31, 1980, in the Baltic led later to the transformation of Europe.
Perhaps not everyone today is happy with the present Europe, but there is something fundamental in Europe, freedom, as the Pope said when he arrived in Prague, declaring in a certain sense the end of Communism.
Before, these nations had no freedom, now they have it. Perhaps not all have made good use of the conquered freedom, beginning precisely with the Poles. But at least the men and women of Eastern Europe now live with the freedom of Europeans of the other half of the Continent.