Germany: Memories of a Nation

Germany: Memories of a Nation

This week Neil MacGregor’s superb series for BBC Radio 4, Germany: Memories of a Nation, reaches its conclusion – fittingly timed to coincide with Germany’s Schicksalstag, or Fateful Day, the ninth of November. In our lifetime it’s the opening of the Berlin wall on 9 November 1989 that we all remember. But, strangely, a succession of significant events in German history have occurred on 9 November. In 1938, in the Kristallnacht, synagogues and Jewish property were burned and destroyed on a large scale; in 1923 it was Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch, marking the early emergence of his Nazi Party on Germany’s political landscape; in Berlin on 9 November 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and two German republics were proclaimed – the social democratic one that was eventually known as the Weimar Republic, and Karl Liebknecht’s Free Socialist Republic; further back, in 1848, the year of revolutions, on 9 November Robert Blum, the democratic left liberal leader was executed by Austrian troops, leading to hopes for a united, democratic Germany being extinguished for another half century. Continue reading “Germany: Memories of a Nation”


Visiting Berlin on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Wall

Brandenburg Gate - 10th anniversary celebration clear-up

Clearing up at the Brandenburg Gate after the 10th anniversary celebration

Ten years ago today I flew into Berlin on the inaugural flight of Virgin’s budget route from Manchester, landing at Schonefeld Airport. I wanted to be in Berlin on the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Wall, and arrived just as they were clearing up after the previous night’s festivities. So today I thought I’d post a few photos I took on that visit, supplemented by one or two others. Continue reading “Visiting Berlin on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Wall”

9 November 1989: ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’

Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall

And the shame was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day
We can be heroes
We can be heroes just for one day

– Heroes, David Bowie

On 9 November 1989, three days before this iconic photograph was taken, the East German government – amid some confusion – announced that anyone wishing to visit the West would be granted a visa. Ecstatic crowds surged at the Berlin Wall and guards were left with no choice but to open the various gates and checkpoints. That night ended  forty years of division between East and West Berlin. I was born three months into the Berlin blockade and airlift; on the night of 9 November 1989 I watched as Newsnight broadcast the amazing scenes from Berlin, a five-year old daughter asleep upstairs, dreaming, perhaps, of a brave new world. Continue reading “9 November 1989: ‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’”

A kiss seals Honecker’s fate

A kiss seals Honecker’s fate

Twenty years ago today, massive demonstrations in East Germany finally bore fruit when Erich Honecker was forced to step down as party leader. Tension had been building in East Germany for weeks. In August Hungary had removed its physical border defences with Austria, and in September more than 13,000 East German tourists in Hungary escaped to Austria.  This set began chain of events.  East Germans flooded the West German embassy in Budapest and refused to leave. This triggered  similar events in Czechoslovakia. The East German authorities allowed the East Germans in the Prague embassy  to leave for West Germany, providing that they used a train which crossed East Germany on the way. Continue reading “A kiss seals Honecker’s fate”

Plastic People

The Second Festival of the Second Culture, organised by the Plastic People of the Universe (most of whom are on the far right) in Bojanovice on 21 February 1976. Within a month, 27 of the musicians pictured here had been arrested.

An interesting feature in today’s Observer in which Ed Vulliamy tells the story of Plastic People and the part they played in the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia. A few extracts here from a long and detailed article:

Many rock musicians have preached revolution, although few can claim to have sparked one – but Brabenec, saxophonist and clarinettist for the Plastic People of the Universe, did. Indeed, of all the revolutions against communism that felled the Iron Curtain and transformed Europe 20 years ago, only one could claim rock’n’roll as its catalyst: that in Czechoslovakia, called the “Velvet Revolution”, partly because it was peaceful – the clenched fist wearing a velvet glove – but also because the band that unwittingly lit the fuse, the Plastic People, were heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground…

“We were not political,” says Josef Janicek, whose keyboard and synthesiser playing gave the Plastics a direct link to bands like Hawkwind and the early Pink Floyd. “But we insisted on playing a certain kind of music, dressing and performing in a certain way.” And in Prague in 1968 and 1969, if you wanted to tell your own story, and play your own music, you became political, whether you intended it or not, because the authorities deemed you a threat to their “official” culture…

“They feared us,” says Brabenec, “because it wasn’t an organisation we were part of, more like a circus of a few thousand people, and they could not manage us. They could lock students out of school, but what could they do to us? The worst part was in ’77, the never-ending interrogations, the constant battering, just making our daily lives hell. We would sometimes sit for two or three interrogations a day. They would carry on from three to 10 hours. They wanted to wear us down.”

In the wake of these events, Jirous wrote a manifesto entitled A Report on the Third Czech Musical Revival – an intentional reference to the 19th-century Czech nationalist romantic movement led by Dvorak, entwining music and underground politics. He wrote: “One of the highest aims of art has been the creation of unrest. The aim of the underground here in Bohemia is the creation of a second culture, a culture that will not be dependent on the official channels of communication, social recognition, and the hierarchy of values laid down by the establishment.”

At almost exactly the same time, another document – an open letter to the general secretary of the Czech Communist party, Gustav Husak – was published by the samizdat playwright, Vaclav Havel. Havel considered what he called “the hidden intentions of life” that cannot be stopped by neutralising the creative riptides that cut beneath society…

The outcome was, thanks to Havel’s seizure of the band’s cause, the celebrated Charter 77 of signatories demanding their freedom, which sowed the seeds for the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The trial of the musical underground, wrote Havel, “was something that aroused me, a challenge that was all the more urgent for being unintentional. It was the challenge of example”…

“Everyone understands,” wrote Havel, “that an attack on the Czech musical underground was an attack on the most elementary and important thing, something that bound everyone together… The freedom to play rock music was understood as a human freedom and thus as essentially the same as the freedom to engage in philosophical and political reflection, the freedom to write, to express and defend the social and political interests of society.”…

Brabenec insists two decades later, as the world prepares to salute the heroes of 1989: “I hate it when people talk about that year as a ‘revolution’ in Czechoslovakia. A revolution is supposed to change things. But what has changed? I don’t consider myself any less subversive now than I was back then. I am no less a dissident in a society of shopping, shopping and shopping than I was in a society of socialism, socialism and socialism. It’s all still shit, only different shit. Communist party, Nokia mobile phone party – what’s the fucking difference? It doesn’t matter whether the system is communist, fascist or capitalist: the creative people are the creative people and the shits are the shits. The poets remain the poets, and the politicians are fucking politicians. So you see: the Plastic People are still the Plastic People.

1989: The Baltic Way

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way, a peaceful political protest on 23 August 1989 in which two million people joined hands to form a human chain nearly 400 miles long across the three Baltic republics of the Soviet Union to mark the 50th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 which handed the Baltic states to the Soviet Union and destroyed their independence.  The chain connected the three Baltic capitals – Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn – and perhaps a quarter of the entire Baltic population joined it.

The Baltic Way was part of the larger struggle known as the ‘Singing Revolution’, a group of protests between 1987 and 1990, which helped regain independence for the Baltic states in August 1991. It got its name because, during many of the peaceful protests that took place during those years, protestors would gather in town squares to sing national songs that had been banned during Soviet rule.

In December 1989, the Congress of People’s Deputies accepted and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the report of a commission condemning the secret protocols of the 1939 Pact. In February 1990, the first free democratic elections to the Supreme Soviets took place in all three Baltic states and pro-independence candidates won majorities. On March 11, 1990, within six months of the Baltic Way, Lithuania became the first Soviet state to declare independence. The independence of all three Baltic states was recognized by most western countries by the end of 1991.

Footage of the human chain was this year inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, a list of 193 moments of global significance.

1989: the PanEuropean Picnic

Today marks the 20th anniversary of an event that symbolises the hopes of that European year of miracles, 1989 – the Pan-European Picnic at the Austro-Hungarian border.  “It was in Hungary that the first stone was removed from the Berlin Wall,” said the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. On Wednesday, Angela Merkel went to the Hungarian town of Sopron to thank the country for opening its border 20 years ago. That decision led to the fall of the Wall three months later.

After Hungary had begun dismantling its border installations on the Austrian side on May 2, 1989, the Pan-European Union, a European unity movement founded in 1922, organized the Pan-European Picnic at the Austro-Hungarian border near Sopron on August 19, 1989. The idea was to spread the notion of a common Europe without borders.

During the event, one of the frontier barriers was symbolically opened. About 600 GDR citizens who had traveled to Hungary availed themselves of this opportunity to cross the border into Austria unhindered and thus reach the West. The photo above shows two Hungarian frontier officials opening the barrier.

Originally the organisers thought the event would be a small-scale affair. But on 19 August, 1989 truly enormous crowds appeared at the site (according to contemporary estimates 15-20,000) and took part with enthusiasm in  pulling down a section of the Iron Curtain. Disguised as holidaymakers, hundreds of East Germans made their way to the town.  Several hundred East-Germans broke through the barrier and streamed into Austria. This unforeseen event made the Pan-European Picnic an event of world history; newspapers around the world covered the story.

Dietmar Poguntke was 26 years old at the time. He learnt about the protest in Budapest and came in the hope of making it across the border into Austria. “I crossed through this hole and there is this Austrian who says: “Welcome to Freedom”, holding a piece of barbed wire like a rose. I couldn’t believe it,” he says.

Bela Arpad was the border guard in charge. He had received a vaguely worded warning about the possibility of East German refugees arriving, but had no instructions as to how to deal with them. His decision led to the first mass exodus towards the West since the Wall went up. “What I saw on the other side was amazing. There were people who in their panic kept running further even though they were on Austrian land. There were people who just sat down on the other side of the border and just cried or laughed.. So there was an incredible range of emotions bursting out.”

By autumn 1989 there were about 60,000 GDR citizens in Hungary according to official estimates. Several thousand people were housed in temporary refugee camps. Although the mass border-breakthrough at the Pan-European Picnic was an isolated case, East-German citizens tried to get over the  border several hundred times in smaller groups or on their own – mostly with success.

By the end of the summer, thousands of East German ‘tourists’ were living in tents on the grounds of the West German embassy in Budapest and in several other locations around the city, including church yards and the site of a communist youth camp. After allowing some East Germans to leave for West Germany via Austria in August and then some more a few weeks later, Hungary finally decided to let all East Germans out from September 11, 1989.

Within two months, on Nov. 9, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany’s reunification was formalized in October 1990.

The place where the Iron Curtain first fell: Hungarian video 2009


1989: When hope replaced repression

Hungary began dismantling its frontier barriers to Austria on May 2, 1989. This allowed East German citizens an unexpected escape route; the Iron Curtain had suffered its first tear. This picture shows numerous East German Trabants and Wartburgs parked on a Budapest street. East German refugees had driven to Hungary in these cars but abandoned them when they fled to the West.

This is the opening of an excellent article by Neal Ascherson in today’s special issue of the Observer Review, celebrating the events of 1989:

Twenty years ago, a landscape began to tremble. At first, nobody noticed anything special. In January 1989, business was much as usual in the Soviet half of Europe. Strikes in Poland, harassment of East German dissidents, a Czech playwright called Vaclav Havel arrested yet again after a small demonstration. The west had more important stories to think about. George Bush Sr was being inaugurated as president of the United States, and Salman Rushdie was in hiding after the Iranian fatwa. In Moscow, that wonderful Mikhail Gorbachev was pushing ahead with his perestroika and glasnost.

Then the trembling increased. The mountains around the cold war horizon began to wobble and fall over. Polish communism went first. Next, Hungary’s rulers published an abdication plan. In August, the Baltic republics of the Soviet Union began to demand independence. In November, Erich Honecker of East Germany was overthrown, and on 9 November the Berlin Wall was breached.

Next day, a palace coup in Bulgaria brought down Todor Zhivkov, the party leader. On 28 November, the Czechoslovak communist regime surrendered to the people. In December, Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania was chased from office and shot. And just three days before the end of the year, on 29 December 1989, Vaclav Havel became president of the Czechoslovak Republic.

Links: Observer features

Red Dust by Ma Jian

Ma Jian

Ma Jian

After reading Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma earlier this month, I’ve just finished his earlier work, Red Dust, his account of three years of arduous travelling through China’s most remote provinces, adopting various identities to avoid police surveillance. It’s a wonderful book – possibly the best travel account I’ve read – that has some similarities with Soul Mountain by the 2000 Nobel Prize winner, Gao Xingjian.

In August 1983 Ma Jian, dissident poet and painter turns 30. His ex-wife has just pronounced him a political criminal and forbidden him to see his daughter. His girlfriend has taken up with a convict and betrayed him to the police. His painting is no good: ‘Not one of his paintings,’ notes a colleague, ‘conveys the joy and excitement of life under the Four Modernisations.’ He has long hair and wears denim. The director of his work unit condemns him in front of his fellows: ‘His lax, free-wheeling lifestyle… shows all the signs of the Spiritual Pollution the central authorities have been telling us about.’

Ma Jian takes to the road. He packs his camera, some rice coupons, a little money and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and for three years wanders the distant provinces of China. Red Dust is the account of these travels. It’s an extraordinary journey: Ma Jian walks great distances, sleeps rough in the most primitive circumstances, suffers illness, extreme cold and extreme heat, hunger and exhaustion. He is pursued by the police. He is robbed. He is attacked by dogs. In the wastes of the Chaidam Basin he is forced to drink his own urine to survive. Three days lost in the Gobi drives him to the brink of madness. At one point, on the very edge of China, he narrowly escapes being washed down the Salween river to the border with Burma and certain death at the hands of Burmese or Chinese border guards, escaping the river only to find he has to climb a sheer cliff face in the dark, certain that at any moment he could lose his grip and fall to his death.

From the deserts and villages of China’s northwest he walks his way to Deng Xiaoping’s booming capitalist enclaves in the south. He travels back towards the east coast, finds himself in the rainforests near the Burmese border, and finally ends up in Tibet.

Along the way, Ma Jian mixes descriptions of the local landmarks and behaviour of the people he meets, with encounters with dissident contacts and friends aacross China. He provides a vivid description of the rapidity of the changes in China after Mao’s death.

This is a spiritual quest. Before he left Beijing, Ma Jian took Buddhist vows. His goal are places of Buddhist pillgrimage and, above all,  Tibet. But all he finds is a land and a people despoiled and corrupted by totalitarian rule and the rush to ‘market socialism’. In each town people are buying or selling something – rope, cats, last year’s calendars, next week’s brides. By the end he is weary of the road:

The further I walk, the less I know why. I have become a marching machine. As long as I have a bag on my back I will walk, until I drop. The path takes control. I follow it blindly.  I have lost all sense of direction. Why did I choose to live this way?  I am not a dog, after all.

Red Dust has been described in the Independent as ‘a tour de force…a powerful picaresque cross between the sort of travel book any Western author would give his eye-teeth to write, and a disturbing confession…it stands out among the many literary offerings of the Cultural Revolution`s ‘lost generation.’  This is a travel book that is as much an account of an internal journey of the mind as the traverse of a physical landscape:

This stinking body no longer belongs to me, my mind is as empty as a plastic bag caught in the high wind. Suddenly, I think of Beijing, and realise that although it is crammed with police, at least there is a bed and pillow waiting for me there. I came to Tibet hoping to find answers to all my unasked questions, but I have discovered that even when the questions are clear, there are no clear answers. I am sick of travelling. I need to hold onto something familiar, even if it is just a tea cup. I cannot survive in the wilds — nature is infinite but my life has bounds. I need to live in big cities that have hospitals, bookshops and women. I left Beijing because I wanted to be alone and to forge my own path, but I know now that no path is solitary, we all tread across other people’s beginnings and ends. I have stopped here, not because the Himalayas stand in the way,  but because my inward journey has reached its end. In fact, we all tread a path — the gold-digger, the coil-remover, Myima who left her turquoise behind and rose to the sky. We are just travelling in different directions, that’s all. This path has ended, but from now on, my journey will he much harder…

Writing in the Guardian in July 2008, Ma Jian stated:

I am a writer. Being critical is a writer’s responsibility. In China, however, writers are encouraged to sing the praises of the government. Since being too critical may lead to the banning of their work, many exercise self-censorship or write books to please the market.

I left Beijing in the late 1980s to live in Hong Kong because, having been blacklisted by the government, I couldn’t publish my works on the mainland. My novella Stick out Your Tongue, which draws on my experience of travelling in Tibet, had been denounced as ‘filthy and shameful’ and banned. In spring 1989 I returned to witness the student-led democratic movement. As the government brutally cracked down on the protest, my brother went into a coma after an accident. I just couldn’t find the words to describe the sense of shock and despair I felt then; it forced me to see the evil face of the regime.

My brother finally woke up after six months. I went back to Hong Kong until the handover in 1997. Then I moved to London. When I make trips back to China I am often struck how people seem to have forgotten about ‘4 June’. The whole of society, increasingly money-oriented, seems to have slipped into a coma. I spent 10 years writing Beijing Coma, exploring the double tragedies that took place in 1989. I want to wake people up from this vegetative state.

I divide my time between London and Beijing. I am trying to persuade my family to spend more time in China. It’s no fun to be in exile. I can’t even figure out the basic 26 letters, let along operate in English. I often feel that although I’ve found the sky of freedom above my head, I’ve lost the soil I stand on. I need to be back in my motherland, where I can find inspirations.

I am concerned as to whether the government will let me back in after the publication of Beijing Coma in China later this year. But I have to speak the truth. My next book is a novel about the cost of the inhuman family-planning policy. But it is not just books. I openly criticise this dictatorial regime in my articles and interviews or whenever I can. If we don’t, it will never change. And I want to remind people; when a country forgets its past, it will have no future.

Cutting the Curtain

Today marks the 20th anniversary of an event that symbolised the beginning of the end of the Iron Curtain, leading within a few months to the end of communism in Eastern Europe. On June 27, 1989, an image made its way around the world. It showed Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn (right) and his Austrian counterpart Alois Mock using bolt cutters to nip holes in a barbed wire fence, putting a symbolic end to a physical and psychological boundary of which by then there was little left.

Hungary had begun to dismantle the Iron Curtain nearly two months earlier — partly because border guards said it was in such poor condition that even small animals were setting off false alarms along the electrified fence. With most of it already gone, officials had trouble finding even a small section of the Iron Curtain for Horn and Mock’s staged photo opportunity with wire cutters.

Pictures of the event were published around the world and inspired tens of thousands of East Germans to leave their country, find temporary refuge in Hungary, Poland or Czechoslovakia and wait for an opportunity to travel to West Germany.

Just a few weeks later, on August 19, hundreds of East Germans fled to Austria at the occasion of the ‘Pan-European Picnic’ near Sopron in Hungary.

By the end of the summer, thousands of East German ‘tourists’ were living in tents on the grounds of the West German embassy in Budapest and in several other locations around the city, including church yards and the site of a communist youth camp. After allowing some East Germans to leave for West Germany via Austria in August and then some more a few weeks later, Hungary finally decided to let all East Germans out from September 11, 1989.

Within two months, on Nov. 9, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany’s reunification was formalized in October 1990.

Beijing Coma

I’ve just finished reading Ma Jian’s monumental novel of the Tiananamen Square protest, Beijing Coma. ‘ History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’, said Stephen Daedelus in Ulysses. That could be the epigraph for this novel of which has its central character Dai Wei, lying in a coma, conscious but paralyzed, since he was shot in the head near Tiananmen Square on the terrible night of 4 June 1989. Trapped in Dai Wei’s mind, the novel alternates between his childhood in the cultural revolution and involvement in the 1989 student movement, and China’s transformation in the decade from 1989 to the millennium, as he overhears it from his bed in his mother’s apartment.

Beijing Coma appeared immediately before the 2008 Olympics and a year before the 20th anniversary of the June 4 massacre. As such, it is not only a powerful novel but also an important political statement. Ma Jian has made his intentions clear in a preface included in the Chinese edition, where he states that it is the Chinese people who are truly comatose: “Inside Dai Wei,” he writes, “there is a strong, resilient person who remembers, and only memory can help people regain the brightness of freedom.” As Ma Jian himself has said, for the Chinese ‘remembering has become a crime’.

The major part of the novel consists of drama-documentary style scenes from the weeks leading up to and the days during the occupation of Tiananmen Square. There’s a huge cast of characters (including at one point Ma Jian himself), and an enormous attention to details of the organisation and daily routines of life in the Square.What comes across from this account is the disorganisation of the student movement, conflicts over its aims and tactics and the emergence of opportunistic or extremist leaders. Nevertheless there’s always a sense of the immense weight of history that rests on this generation’s shoulders. who believe, against all odds, that some good can emerge from the wreckage of their childhoods during the cultural revolution and the terrible losses of their parents’ generation.

The intensity of the intertwined narratives increases as their ends draw closer: the massacre itself, with Dai Wei shot in the head, and, lying in a waking coma 12 years later, as the heart is ripped out of his neighbourhood in Beijing to make way for the Bird’s Nest stadium and other Olympic developments.

Dai Wei has discovered that most of his friends who survived the aftermath of Tiananmen Square have fully embraced the motto of the Deng Xiaoping era: ‘To get rich is glorious’. His first girlfriend, now in property development, has bought his mother’s building so that it can be torn down as part of Beijing’s redevelopment in preparation for the Olympics. Driven insane by her own imprisonment after a brief flirtation with Falun Gong, Dai Wei’s mother refuses to budge.

You will no longer have to rely on your memories to get through the day. This is not a momentary flash of life before death. This is a new beginning. But once you’ve climbed out of this fleshy tomb, where is there left for you to go?’


Remembering Poland June 4, 1989

Tadeusz Mazowiecki: first speech as Prime Minister, 24 August 1989.

Today also marks the 20th anniversary of the nearly-free elections that broke communist power in Poland and which triggered political revolution across east-central Europe in 1989.  I think it’s worth quoting this passage from Timothy Garton-Ash, writing in 1990 in We The People: The Revolution of ’89 As Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague: written when the events of 1989 were fresh in the mind, and by someone who was there and with a deep understanding of eastern Europe.

By the afternoon, Solidarity leaders knew that they had swept the board: winning outright, on the first round, all but a handful of the seats for which they were competing. Three things happened at once: the communists lost an election; Solidarity won; the communists acknowledged that Solidarity won. That might sound like a syllogism. Yet until almost the day before, anyone who had predicted these events would have been universally considered not a logician but a lunatic. Moreover, the three things, while logically related, were also separate and distinct.

First, and above all, the communists lost. They did not lose power. They still had the army, the police, the Party apparatus and the nomenklatura. But they lost the vote. While virtually all the Solidarity candidates got through on the first round, most of the Party coalition candidates had to go through to a run-off in the second round on 18 June…

Secondly, Solidarity won. Solidarity won not against the Party, but also against many quite well-known, even distinguished counter-candidates: successful managers, television personalities, representatives of more radical opposition groups, and, most formidably Christian Democrats enjoying the explicit support of senior churchmen…

The third thing that happened was, in its way, almost as remarkable. The Party told the truth. On the Monday evening, when the first results were known, the spokesman for the Central Committee, Jan Bisztyga, appeared on the television evening news, sitting side by side with Solidarity’s Janusz Onyzszkiewicz, and Mr Bisztyga said: ‘The elections had a plebiscitary character and Solidarity won a clear majority.’…

Sunday, 4 June 1989 was a landmark not only in the post-war history of Poland, not merely in the history of Eastern Europe, but in the history of the communist world. Yet as they plunged into fevered discussions, negotiations and late-night cabals, the reaction of Solidarity leaders was a curious mixture of exaltation, incredulity and alarm. Alarm at the new responsibilities that now faced them — the problems of success — but also a sneaking fear that things could not continue to go so well. That fear was heightened by the news from China, for the massacre of students demonstrating for democracy on Tiananmen Square occurred on the same day. It was an uncanny experience to watch, with a group of Polish opposition journalists, on the very afternoon of the election, the television pictures from Peking. Martial law. The tanks. The tear-gas. Corpses carried shoulder-high. We had been here before: in Gdañsk, in Warsaw.

As Solidarity leaders began to engage in real politics, with all its evasions, compromises and half-truths, many had mixed feelings. There was more than a touch of nostalgia for the simple truths and moral clarities of the martial law period. One might passionately wish Poland to have ‘normal’ politics. But it was quite another thing to watch your own friends starting to behave like normal politicians. Yet what is the alternative? Came the answer: ‘Tiananmen Square.’

One of the most famous and powerful images of the Solidarity campaign was the combination of this iconic American figure (Gary Cooper in the western movie, “High Noon”) with Solidarity text and images. This poster hammered home the message that the June 4 elections offered a stark choice between two opponents and would have momentous consequences for Poland. Source: Thomas Sarnecki, “Solidarity Poster – “High Noon 4 June 1989”, Making the History of 1989