Solidarity Movement anniversary Spectacle at Gdansk Shipyards

August 29

I just attended a new play, “Kantene,” dubbed a “spectacle”—written by a Dutch theater company based on interviews with Solidarity trade union activists. This is one event in the Festival of Solidarity events. It was held in one of the old Gdansk shipyard buildings that is no longer in use. It is a shell of a building, with high ceilings sporting peeling paint. We are individually greeted at the door warmly by three people who turn out to be the actors of the play. We are escorted to seats with other audience members at long tables, set with dinnerware and bread.

There is a broad age range in the audience with a heavy concentration of young adults, and given the fashionable eyeglasses, a strong representation from the arts fields.

Using three actors, the play presents a nonsentimentalized history of the Solidarity strikes, but sandwiched between two scenes set in the present day. In a classic Brechtian distancing technique, the actors circulate between the tables, and wheel out carts of food to feed the audience between scenes.

A band with three (male) musicians plays experimental jazz pieces on a small stage; the name of the band is “The Worker,” and their set-up includes industrial-looking objects such as a rusty washboard and a long slinky-like metal coil; each of these objects are played across the evening, either as percussion instruments or by scraping a violin bow across them. At one point in the play they wear jackets with the words “Robotnik (Worker) 80” on them—the year of the first Solidarity strikes. The band punctuates the action with musical accompaniment and sound effects, and accompanies the full audience singing of two solidarity anthems.

We become participant observers of back-room conversations between close friends as they discuss the events largely happening offstage: the process of the strikes and negotiations, leading to the August 31 Gdansk agreements. Returning to the present, they relate the history to the present-day context.

 “The government should take care of the economy and not worry about General Jaruzelski,” referring to ongoing transitional justice activities targeting former communists. It seems that the current economic crisis is getting woven into the larger transition/transformation narrative –

The young man seated next to me is the son of a former Solidarity activist. He is told that as a four-year-old, he would shout “Solidarnosc!” and flash the victory sign. Now an architect, his firm has not had work for 6 months. We discuss the current shipyard workers who have established a protest camp outside the Prime Minister’s house in Gdansk. The shipyard, now owned by a Ukrainian company, must lay off 300 workers to receive an EU investment to restore profitability. The young man says, “I don’t agree with that. They are a private company now.” Ironically, the workers, protesting as members of the Solidarity Trade Union, are making their claims against a former Solidarity activist from the original movement, Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Link to event description


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