Communist Poland Poland's History Recommended

Bydgoszcz provocation, or why the communists beat up “Solidarity?”

Forty years ago, on March 19, 1981, in Bydgoszcz, the police (called the people’s militia at the time) and security service officers severely beat the activists of NSZZ “Solidarity.”

These events took place in the Provincial Office building in Bydgoszcz during the Provincial National Council session (WRN). The government side was represented by a delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Stanisław Mach. The Bydgoszcz “Solidarity” was represented by Jan Rulewski. The opposition side wanted to persuade the authorities to register the agricultural “Solidarity.” Trade unions from “S” intended to present the demands of farmers, who were conducting a sit-in strike at the United People’s Party’s office in Bydgoszcz. However, the Solidarity side could not raise this topic as the WRN session was abruptly interrupted.

The Pope’s reaction

The unionists, seeing that the activists of the PZPR (Poland’s ruling communist party) were leaving the meeting room, decided to stay there until the authorities were willing to talk about registering the trade union of individual farmers. Jan Rulewski called for “reinforcements” to the Provincial Office building to increase the pressure on the authorities.

These, however, did not cave into another occupation strike and sent in the people’s militia and the SB. The security forces began to force the protesters out onto the street. During this action, Jan Rulewski, Michał Bartoszcze and Mariusz Łabentowicz were beaten. Their condition was so severe that they had to be taken to hospital.

This event electrified public opinion in Poland and the world. Among those who spoke out against the brutal attack on the activists of “S” was Pope John Paul II. The opposition side decided to organize a demonstration of force. On March 27, there was a nationwide warning strike. It is estimated that about 62 percent of workers took part in it.

“The protest showed the authorities the scale of social support for Solidarity. It also showed strong support for trade unionists negotiating with the most important people in the government and the party, including Wojciech Jaruzelski, Mieczysław Rakowski, and Stanisław Ciosek. Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński was the negotiator, calling for a compromise,’ explains the Gdańsk Institute of National Remembrance.

The role of Wałęsa

The role of Lech Wałęsa, who made every effort to prevent a general strike, remains controversial to this day.

“These events were happening during the major Soviet military exercises taking place at that time. I believe that one of the factions in the PZPR was looking for an incident that would allow it to engage in full confrontation with the Solidarity side. It could have ended with an accelerated declaration of martial law. We should remember that the position of General Wojciech Jaruzelski was not very strong at that time. Ultimately, however, it turned out that this faction did not have enough clout,” says Krzysztof Wyszkowski, an anti-communist opposition activist in the People’s Republic of Poland.

“The result of the March days was a division within Solidarity and a further increase in social tension. It was extremely beneficial for the regime authorities due to the preparations for introducing martial law that was already underway at that time. Undoubtedly, however, the Bydgoszcz events paved the way for farmers’ agricultural registration ‘Solidarity,’ which took place on May 12, 1981,” explains the Institute of National Remembrance.

The original article, in Polish, appeared in 

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