The pandemic has changed us and the world. Confronting the coronavirus is a fight for life, but also a test for political and economic systems. The pandemic is a time of global emergency that brings both threats and a chance for renewal.
Forty years ago, Gdańsk was a centre for reflection on the fundamental transformation of Poland. In the Olivia Hall, in autumn 1981, the 1st National Congress of “Solidarność” Delegates took place. The multi-week event was a time for a collective practice of democracy in a dictatorship and the creation of a programme to open up Poland’s political and economic system. The democratisation of the state, economy and society, the introduction of a system to protect human rights, freedom of speech and solidarity with neighbouring nations – these were the main themes of the congress debates. The martial law halted the implementation of Solidarity’s first programme, but the creative energy of the congress persisted, and eight years later, it became a source of change for the Republic of Poland.

We live in a different world today, but it is worth drawing on the experience of the first “Solidarność” congress, returning to the fundamental questions about Poland’s democratisation and the transformation of its economic system, and transferring those questions into the 21st century. The Solidarity revolution changed Europe, and 30 years ago, it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which brought independence to neighbouring nations. Yet, there would have been no lasting success for Solidarity, no sovereignty for the Republic of Poland, without a pan-European revolution.

The democratic changes of 1989-1991 today are being depreciated by authoritarian Russia. Moscow openly questions its neighbours’ path to democracy and independence from Russia, and supports authoritarian, populist movements throughout Europe. The war in eastern Ukraine is a conflict over the entire political order in Europe. As residents of a city – symbol of freedom and solidarity, and as neighbours, we cannot remain silent and passive. Peace in Eastern Europe and further democratisation of post-Soviet states are also our responsibility. We cannot deal with these challenges on our own. Strong alliances with democratic countries are needed, to strengthen Polish independence and also to secure peace in Europe.

The European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk commemorates the freedom revolutions of 1989-1991 and tries to translate the values of solidarity and freedom into today’s language. Will the pandemic be a new time for the birth of a European community, or will it rather distance us Europeans? We do not know yet. The pandemic is certainly such a powerful civilisational experience that it will be a key common reference point for all Europeans in the years to come.

We invite you to the Freedom Days in Gdańsk for a joint reflection on the most important challenges for Europe!

Basil Kerski
Director of the European Solidarity Centre.