Speech for the Opening of the "Solidarity" Exhibition in the Edmonton City Hall.

by Piotr Rajski.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is hard for me to believe but it has been almost 20 years since I spent four months in the Uherce prison for my involvement with the "Solidarity." Although it meant an end to my academic career, I do not regret this experience. In fact, when I think about it, I would not exchange it for anything else. First, because I knew I was participating in something important. Second, on account of many interesting and brave people I met in the prison.

In my hand I hold a medal with the names and likenesses of nine miners who were killed shortly after the War State was imposed in 1981. I did not know these men myself, but in the prison I had a chance to talk to their friends and colleagues. I can still recall their faces. I can still recall their voices and their tremendous sense of loss. These were real people and real human tragedies.

They lost their lives so - as says inscription on this medal - "Poland could be Poland." So Poland could be a normal country. So Poles could enjoy basic human rights taken for granted in many other countries:

It is very difficult for those who did not have a first hand experience of living in a communistic country to imagine what "Solidarity" meant for Poland. It was like millions of people woke up one day and saw that they no longer were prisoners but free men and women in their own home. The ideological illusion collapsed, and with a great relief people realized they had to lie no more. Once it happened, once this taste and joy of freedom found its way to human hearts, it was unstoppable. Neither the War State, nor seven years of persecution and political suppression, could stop this enthusiasm which was born with the "Solidarity" in 1980, and which you can clearly see in many of the pictures of this exhibition. Once the spell of fear was broken, the ideological experiment, which went wrong, could not be rebuild.

Gorbathov seemed to understand this when he visited Poland in 1986. It is believed that it was Gorbatchov who encouraged the Polish ruling elite, when confronted by another wave of strikes in 1988, to undertake the talks of the Round Table with the "Solidarity" based opposition. It led to the formation in 1989 of the first non-communistic government in the whole East Bloc. This event had a tremendous psychological impact on all the neighboring countries. It was followed by the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, crumbling of the Berlin Wall, bloody overthrowing of Caucescu in Romania, and ultimately by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When we look carefully at these historical events we clearly see that they changed the whole world into a safer place. One of the opposing political blocs ceased to exist, and the "cold war" was over. It all happened, because people like Walesa, Jablonski, who is with us today, and many others found a courage to say "no" to the reality that was no longer tolerable. They spoke up on behalf of those who lost hope, and in the spirit of human solidarity created a union, or a movement, that triggered all these changes.

It is not possible to pay homage to all those countless, silent heroes, who through the "Solidarity" stormy years acted with courage and self-sacrifice. It is not even possible to list all those who, on the wave of political repression, fled the country and, among others, settled here, in this beautiful land of Alberta. Perhaps, with so many distinguished guests present, we will find resources to research the contribution of these people, of these people here, to this city and this province. Let me at least give you the names of those activists who helped in preparation of this exhibition and brought with themselves some of their own personal artifacts that are displayed here today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let us give a hand to:

On their behalf, I would like to thank all of you who helped to bring this exhibition to Edmonton and to display it in such beautiful surroundings. Please, accept our deepest gratitude for letting us:

Thank you very much.