From Solidarity to Freedom

Although the rise 25 years ago of Solidarity, the first independent civic movement in the former Soviet empire, had huge political consequences, Solidarity was, primarily, neither a political movement nor a labor union.

First and foremost, Solidarity was a cry of dignity. We simply had reached the end of our endurance with the omnipresent and all-powerful communist apparatchiks who ruled in our workplaces, neighborhoods, even places of rest. Writers, journalists, and artists could no longer stand the heavy-handed censorship and supervision. In factories as well, Party bureaucrats wanted to know everything and decide everything.

Every civic initiative, every activity of any kind was subject to ideological evaluation and control. All who were tempted to disobey were certain to be “taken care of” by the secret police.

Last winter, I saw a similar cry for dignity in Ukraine. Those hundreds of thousands of people who camped for weeks on the freezing streets of Kiev did so because they were demanding their dignity. Both the Polish and the Ukrainian experiences have convinced me that the will to live in dignity is the most powerful engine of human action, an engine that is capable of overcoming even the greatest fear.