Solidarity movement caused 'butterfly effect' says PM at anniversary

Grzegorz Momot/PAP

The firing of a Gdansk shipyard worker in 1980 triggered a “butterfly effect” that led to the collapse of the Soviet empire, the prime minister said on Thursday.

Mateusz Morawiecki was speaking at the 30th-anniversary congress of Solidarity, the trade union that played a pivotal role in the collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s.

A worker, Anna Walentynowicz, was fired on August 8, 1980, five months before retirement, for her involvement in the union movement. Her sacking sparked a massive strike a week later, eventually leading to the establishment of the Solidarity movement.

"Sometimes people speak about 'the butterfly effect', meaning that the butterfly's wings in one place in the world can cause a sandstorm in another place," said Morawiecki.

"I believe the firing of Anna Walentynowicz, the mother of Solidarity, at the beginning of August, and the later demand to return her back to work was such a butterfly effect," Morawiecki added. "It was her firing that later caused the collapse of the empire in Moscow."

However, the prime minister criticised the decades that followed the collapse of communism in Poland.

"After 1989, it soon turned out that the ideals of Solidarity had been locked away in a drawer," he said. "For the political class of that time, which was driven by the then fashion for liberalism and neo-liberalism, Solidarity and its ideas not needed. One can say that they were an obstacle, a hindrance in the creation of an economic and social order of that time."

Morawiecki was referring to the hardships of the 1990s when the Polish economy was transformed from an inefficient communist, centrally-planned model into a market one. The transformation proved to be an internationally-recognised economic success for Poland, but involved a period of mass unemployment, rising prices, intensive privatisation and bankruptcies.

Poland's ruling party, the conservative but socially-oriented Law and Justice (PiS) party, has often criticised the way the Polish economy was rebuilt, blaming the transformation's mastermind, Leszek Balcerowicz, for the sell-off of Polish state assets and unemployment.

PiS has also refused to recognise the role played by the Solidarity leader in the 1980s, Lech Walesa, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, accusing him of being a communist spy who alienated the true Solidarity leaders and helped communists find their roles in the new democratic system.