Eight Days of Gdansk, October 30: Gdańsk raises the flag (again) against a wave of populism sweeping Poland.


I’ve wanted to visit Gdansk for a very long time, since at least the mid-1980s when Solidarity faced off against the Polish communist regime. For various reasons, I never made it to Gdansk until now.

When it comes to the lengthy history of a place like Gdansk, it can be exhausting just reading the Wikipedia article. However, we need to begin somewhere.

Gdańsk (formerly Danzig) is a Polish city on the Baltic coast. It is the capital of the Pomeranian Voivodeship and the capital of Kashubia, Poland’s principal seaport and the centre of the country’s fourth-largest metropolitan area.

The city lies on the southern edge of Gdańsk Bay (of the Baltic Sea), in a conurbation with the city of Gdynia, spa town of Sopot, and suburban communities, which together form a metropolitan area called the Tricity (Trójmiasto), with a population approaching 1.4 million. Gdańsk itself has a population of 460,427 (December 2012), making it the largest city in the Pomerania region of Northern Poland.

During the coming week, as we’re on the ground, there’ll be pre-written daily posts highlighting a few interesting aspects of Gdansk.

As an introduction, a pertinent question: Does the emergence of the reactionary, xenophobic and authoritarian Law and Justice party in Poland imply an opposite and equal reaction — or, something like a Solidarity Mach II, with the city of Gdansk again leading the resistance?

The answer goes beyond the merely academic. After all, this troubled planet is the real world, not the Disney variety.

Free City of Gdańsk – How Poland’s window to the world rises against populism, by Wojciech Ciesla (Investigate-Europe)

Gdańsk, Poland’s window to the world and cradle of the Solidarity democracy movement, raises the flag again against a wave of populism sweeping the country.

In an icy chill, residents of Gdańsk, never before connected to any movement, are protesting outside a local court against a new law of the Law and Justice party (PiS) that seeks to subordinate the judiciary and local elections to government authority. Around 400 people have gathered in the cold. They carry lit candles, their symbol of defiance. Across Poland tens of thousands more have taken to the streets to protest against a wholesale power grab by the governing PiS.

Two years of democratic backsliding have already passed in Poland under the leadership of the PiS. Step by step the party has stripped the judiciary of its independence. The latest law has provoked protests in more than 40 cities. In Gdańsk the few hundred protestors risk easy identification by the police, who, according to Roman Daszczyński, journalist and editor-in-chief of the www.gdansk.pl portal, record the protest from beginning to end. People are well aware of this but still come out despite the fear among those who work in state-controlled enterprises or institutions of reprisals. Gdańsk city is controlled by the liberal Civic Platform, but the voivodship, the next level up of regional administration which employs thousands of people, is controlled by Law and Justice. It’s much easier to find anonymity among the tens of thousands of people protesting in Warsaw, says Daszczyński.

A familiar figure emerges

From within the crowd, candles flickering in the cold breeze, a corpulent figure with a familiar grey walrus mustache steps out on to the stairs. Lech Wałęsa, the legendary Gdańsk shipyard electrician who in 1980 led the march to freedom of a 38 million-strong nation. Wałęsa, the first President of independent Poland after 1990 and still a resident of Gdańsk, stands with the protesters.

“You have probably noticed that things are going badly with Poland,” he says. “PiS are destroying everything we have gained so far. We are fighting it with the whole world behind us. I had thought I would be able to take a rest. I’ve already worked a bit in my life. But from what I see we have to wake up and get back to work. I do not agree with the destruction of Poland. We must do everything to reject this group from power as soon as possible!” says Wałęsa to huge applause …