March '68 symbolises road to freedom and democracy - Prime Minister

For me the events of March 1968 symbolise the path to freedom and solidarity. For Poles who fought for freedom they should be a cause of pride, not shame, PM Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday. The 50th anniversary of the March '68 events falls on Thursday.

Speaking at a Warsaw University debate on the March 1968 student protests and ensuing anti-Semitic campaign which forced many of Poland's Jews to leave the country, Morawiecki observed that at the time Poland was not an independent state. He added that the common narrative about the events as a shameful incident was not appropriate and today had "found itself at a crossroads."

"The narrative about March '68 has found itself at a crossroads, or has perhaps even left the beaten track. We still often hear, that March '68 should be a reason for us to be ashamed. I believe that for Poland, for Poles who fought for freedom, it should be a cause of pride, not shame" Morawiecki stated.

He added that the protests and ensuing anti-Semitic campaign by Poland's then communist authorities should be viewed through the prism of the political, social and geo-political situation at the time, notably the fact that Poland was not a sovereign country but dependent on the Soviet Union.

"Quite evidently (...) that state was not an independent, sovereign state. It was a state whose political moves (...) were (dictated - PAP) by someone else, a foreign power - Moscow, the Soviet Union," Morawiecki pointed out.

Morawiecki recalled that the March '68 narrative consisted of elements that were "beautiful, right and true," and others that were "ugly but true,", and stressed that the latter "had nothing to do with free Poles and a Poland that desired freedom."

"For me March '68 symbolises the path to freedom and solidarity. Without March, (...) there would probably have been no Solidarity Union," Morawiecki said.

Observing that the 1968 events initiated "a huge surge for freedom," Morawiecki reminded that the authorities retaliated with an anti-Semitic campaign which resulted in the expulsion from Poland of many Jewish-descended Poles.

Morawiecki called the events of March '68 Poland's path to freedom, and recalled that the protests, initially launched in defence of two relegated Warsaw University students, were a sign of solidarity.

The March 1968 events embrace a series of major protests against the government of the Polish People's Republic launched by students, intellectuals and other social groups. The countrywide student protests, initially called out against the authorities' ban on an anti-Russian drama by Poland's national bard Adam Mickiewicz and the expulsion of two Jewish-Polish students - one of them later anti-communist opposition leader Adam Michnik - from Warsaw University, were suppressed by security forces in all major academic centres across the country. The government responded with a mass anti-Jewish campaign branded as "anti-Zionist," which resulted in the mass emigration of Jews from Poland.

The 1968 events caused a heavy rift in Poland's communist party and were a prelude to the 1970 worker protests in north Poland which toppled Poland's communist party leader Wladyslaw Gomulka. The protests coincided with the so-called Prague Spring in neighbouring Czechoslovakia, which culminated in the Warsaw Pact's invasion of the country on August 20 1968.