The Women Of Solidarność


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“Women in Solidarność”
on the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law in Poland

A 90 minute hybrid event with up to 100 live guests in both citys Gdańsk and Bremen and live streaming on this website

Date and time:
December 13, 2021
between 16:00 and 20:00
While its leadership was mostly male, women made up more than half of the membership of Solidarność from its earliest days, and a woman activist, Anna Walentynowicz (or her dismissal by the shipyard) was actually at the centre of the first strike that began on August 15, 1979. During the strike, not only were women crucial in maintaining it – most definitely by participating in the strike as well as by supporting it from the outside (e.g. by providing food for the strikers in the shipyard. Far beyond that, women like Ewa Ossowska, Alina Pieńkowska and Henryka Krzywonos were instrumental in ensuring that the strike continued beyond the three days it was planned for.

The declaration of martial law on December 13, 1980, was a watershed moment for Solidarność: most of the male activists and some of the females (e.g. Ewa Maria Slaska) were arrested in order to decapitate the movement. At that crucial moment, women stepped in, and not just by continuing to feed their families and visit their husbands in prison. Their activities went far beyond that, and it can reasonably be claimed that they saved the movement. They did so, most notably, by courageously organizing - basically out of nowhere - an exclusively female editorial team (led by Helena Łucywo, and with participants like Anna Bikont, Anna Dodziuk, Joanna Szczęsna and others). This team, the Damska Grupa Operacijna (“Ladies’ Operational Group”) which twice per month would publish and distribute the underground newspaper Tygodnik Masowsze, which would be instrumental in keeping the spirit of Solidarność alive and the movement in operation in the years between 1980 and 1989.
These women have not been given the recognition they deserve, so the purpose of this event is to shine a light on their role and give them their due regards, and see what their actions can mean for today’s Poland, women as well as men.
December 13, 2021, the 40th year anniversary of the declaration of martial law, seems like the appropriate moment to do so.

2021 also marks the 45th anniversary of the city twinning between Gdańsk and Bremen, the oldest city twinning between a West German and a Polish city. In fact, on December 13, 1981, five years into the city twinning, a delegation from Solidarność was actually on its way to Bremen, and got stranded there, due to the political situation. In the following months, the group members founded the first office of Solidarność abroad, with the support of the Bremen government.
So civil society interest in Solidarność as a vital part of Gdańsk’s past and present has always run high in Bremen.

The project can thus also serve to enhance mutual contact and understanding about a vital part of Polish and European history, as well as the European values underpinning and supporting our societies.
What was the role of women in Solidarność, before and after the declaration of martial law?
●        What were their contributions, and how do they relate to the role of women in Polish society, then and now?
●        Would Solidarność have survived martial law without Tygodnik Mazowsze and the activism of the “Damska Grupa Operacijna”
●        What was the role of women in Polish society after 1989, and what happened to the female activists at the time?
●        Why did women get no credit for their activism in Solidarność, and what did this mean for the role of women in Polish politics after 1989? Let’s take a look at a few examples. The purpose is not in any way to belittle the amazing achievements of the men, but:
o   Helena Łucywo, who founded and ran Tygodnik Mazowsze between 1981 and 1989, went on to found Gazeta Wyborcza – but the person most well known as figurehead and alleged founder of Gazeta Wyborcza continues to be Adam Michnik, who was essentially in jail as a political prisoner between 1981 and 1986. The Wikipedia page of Adam Michnik is almost 100 lines long (without memberships, honours or sources), and exists in 24 languages. The Wikipedia page of Helena Łucywo is 18 lines long and exists only in Polish.

What is the situation now? How do Polish women and girls see their past, present and future?
       What can the new generation of Polish women (and men!) learn from this past?
       What were the ethics guiding Solidarność’s early actions?
       Whose interests stood behind the MKS’s Twenty-One Demands, and to what extent were they informed by the interests of the female members of Solidarność, or even, which of the results turned out to be relevant for women)?
       Was this ever discussed, or seen as a feminist issue?
       Would it be seen as a feminist issue today?
o   If so, what has changed?
o   If not, why not?
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