UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Gdansk Shipyards

We all know the slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” The exact opposite is true of Gdansk.

Their slogan is: ‘What happens here moves the world.’

solidarity gate-gdansk
The Solidarity Gate

The selfie is mine, but this iconic location belongs to the people of Gdansk, (until 1939, known as Danzig, Poland). This particular spot holds a significant place in history as the birthplace of a movement that changed the world.

People Power

Known to many people the world over, via their television sets, the gates to the Gdansk shipyards was where a group of disgruntled shipyard workers formed an illegal, freedom-oriented, trade union, named Solidarity.

Photo credit : inyourpocket.com

Not so significant in itself, you might think.

The Rise of Solidarity

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, this site was a hotbed of protest. The illegal Solidarity Union, led by the charismatic electrician, Lech Walesa, demanded the immediate adoption of (21) reforms to working conditions, including the right to strike and better wages, in total defiance of the Soviet regime and puppet Polish Government. Not only that – they went further demanding the abolition of censorship and the release of political prisoners. From there, Solidarity developed rapidly into a populist, political movement that gained support the world over, but never more so, than in Poland, itself.

The 21 Reforms at the Gates

It had been a sacking of a female crane operator, just months before her retirement, that initially galvanised Walesa and the workers to strike. Risking imprisonment and perhaps execution by the hardline authorities, these protests are considered to be a pivotal moment in history.

One that eventually triggered a reverse domino effect – the eventual collapse of the old Soviet political order in Eastern Europe and an end to Cold War hostilities.

The shipyards in Gdansk today

Lech Walesa

Rumour-mongers later discredited the motives behind Walesa’s actions, suggesting he had, at one time, co-operated with the Soviets when threatened with the loss of his job. However, the authenticity of these documents is disputed and may have been politically motivated, for, in 1989, Lech Walesa became the first President of the newly independent Poland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

He later retired from politics to lead a quieter life, living in a house that overlooks the same shipyards where he was began his activist journey.

Despite the negative claims, as a high school student in the 70’s whose head was filled with Marxist ideals, seeing Walesa and Solidarity protesting on the TV, was inspirational. Standing up for the powerless, Walesa became an instant hero of mine. Here was an underdog fighting against injustice, and moreover, against the biggest power in Eastern Europe. What guts!

Me in front of the 21 reforms

Walesa’s words maintain potency even today:

“We showed that the biggest problems should be solved at the negotiating table. They should be solved in an intelligent way… using argument rather than force. “

Lech Walesa

Right there – Lech had me on his side.

A Tribute to Workers

Tribute to the shipyard workers

An imposing monument to the fallen workers stands at the shipyard gates. It was a poignant moment reading thepoetic words I found engraved on one of the plaques. It carried a solemn warning:

You who have wronged a simple man…

Burst into laughter over his suffering…

DO NOT FEEL SAFE

Gdansk Shipyard Plaque

The Price of Freedom

For the Polish people, the new political order was both an incredibly exciting and an exceedingly difficult time. I learnt of a Grandmother, who had worked extremely hard for many years under Polish Soviet rule, saving to buy a house. When she had finally saved enough money and was close to her financial goal, independence from the old communist order arrived in Poland.

Unfortunately, along with economic independence came a massive devaluation of Polish currency and a huge financial shock. After independence, I was told the only thing the Polish Grandmother’s savings could buy was a pair of shoes!!

Can you imagine?

Such was the price of freedom!

UNESCO World Heritage

Together with the adjacent European Solidarity Centre – a museum documenting the workers’ struggles, the Gdansk Shipyard Gates are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and have become a place of pilgrimage for intelligent, peaceful protest against oppression.

Ironicially, it is believed in some circles that some Poles think workers are not so much better off today, than they were under Soviet rule.

I will leave that for others to judge.

Photo Cred: inyourpocket

Inspired to Visit Gdansk?

Poland has duly honoured the contribution of Lech Walesa by naming the city’s Airport after him.

Lying 12 km Northwest of the city, Lech Walesa airport is well served by both budget and major airlines such as Ryanair, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines and Polish LOT and is the gateway to beach resorts, such as Sopot and Gydnia on the Baltic Coast.

You can also arrive in Gdansk by Train and Bus from mainland Europe, or Ferries from Sweden.

A pilgrimage to the shipyards can be combined with a delightful day visiting the Old Town of Gdansk – where the 18th Century comes alives and more UNESCO sites await you.

But more of that next time, at Something to Ponder About.

Linked to Trent’s Coffee Share

54 thoughts on “UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Gdansk Shipyards

  1. Something to ponder about, indeed….one day I will get to Gdańsk… I have always regretted not keeping the Solidarity leaflet I was handed on a train from Vienna in 1982…. only later did I understand how historical that was

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely commend you to visit Gdansk. It is a beautiful city and I will share more of it soon. I am definitely going back one day. And Wow. You had a Solidarity leaflet in your hand! I am impressed! It is a shame that the leaflet is gone, but the memory remains, Sue! And great to know that Solidarity reached Vienna! How wonderful. Do you remember its message? Or was it in Polish.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Poland has had it rough pretty much from the time there was a name “Poland” up to today… I think people today forget what a huge sea change it was when Lech Walesa and Solidarity were in the news every day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right in what you say about Poland having it rough, Trent. That country and its people have really been through the wringer time and time again up til Independence. I saw a timelapse video on the border changes since pre- medieval times and the country shrunk considerably, disappeared completely and finally rose again. A long struggle for self-determination for those folks, for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So pleased to read that you have also visited Gdańsk Amanda. We spent a few days there three years ago and loved the city. Did you manage to visit Malbork Castle.? It was very impressive and just 45 minutes outside the city by train. Hope you’re having a good weekend. It’s rain, rain, and more rain here!

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      • It has NOT been forty years! Has it? 🙂

        It seems to me that world and time stood still when I was waiting to grow up. Then suddenly, everything sped up and the world order changed over & over again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You are so right. Time seems to speed up when we reach adulthood and we fill our times with all the possiblities. Even though it is a cliche that time passes in a blur, and children grow up so fast, I feel like my child-rearing years were a blur and my memory of them is dimming year by year, (even though I worked really hard to be aware that time was passing ), whereas childhood memories appear stronger! So Lech is quite prominent in the frontal lobe!

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    • I do hope you will go one day, as I feel sure no one could be disappointed with what it has to offer the visitor. Where are you situated at present? I am in Australia, so it is a long haul flight plus a second flight for me to reach Poland.

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  4. Uuu, I like this:

    You who have wronged a simple man…
    Burst into laughter over his suffering…
    DO NOT FEEL SAFE

    I like the fact that you went there, took those selfies, felt the meaningfulness of it. Sometimes a simple man is all it takes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Somehow in our short stay in Gdansk, we missed the European Heritage Centre. However, later when in Krakow, we spent the day in Nowa Huta, the Socialst Realist housing estate there. Its museum focuses a lot on Walesa and Solidarity, and the ideas that spread through Poland, then Eastern Europe generally: it was a fascinating day.

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    • Interesting that the shipyards still function for all kinds of works. The towering cranes looked pretty idle when I was there in summer, however it may have been summer holidays. It was pretty warm.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Me too. I am not a fan of the whole Vegas thing. Not for any reason in particular, just not my scene. It seems artificial and a town that never sleeps. I like my sleep, lol! I guess it is a somewhere different to visit, but I would rather visit Gdansk anyday over Vegas. Where are you situated?

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  6. The architecture is beautiful in the street. What a motto to have “What happens hear moves the world” I don’t understand a lot about politics, but what a resilient history to say the least. The monument looks as grand as the hearts of the people of that time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed – the Polish people are so resilient when you hear what sort of hoops they have metaphorically jumped through to achieve nationhood, Workinginacresnothours – sorry I don’t know your name. (I am Amanda).
      I found the younger Polish people much more westernized, open and friendly. The older people are still suspicious of everyone else. This is a phenomenon in much of Eastern Europe where in the Cold War, a neighbour could report another neighbour to the secret police. Noone trusted anyone else. A difficult society to live in, that thankfully has passed now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • sorry, Hi Amanda, My name is Linda, nice to meet you. I must redo my profile eventually. Its so nice to hear that the suspicion hasn’t been passed onto the next generation. I look forward to having read of your other blogs.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Helloooo Linda! And Welcome to my blog/s. The young folk are so very different to their parents, keen to chat. Poland is a great destination and really has so much to offer the tourist especially if you like history – and it is really affordable too. They welcome tourists with open arms.

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  7. Hi Amanda. Thanks for creating and sharing this essay. I was just thinking about this topic and Mr. Walesa in the past few months, recalling what I’d heard and read from the US, but mostly things I was told by a co-worker who kept me as things happened, to inform us beyond what the news told us because she still had family there. Her words made the whole event much more personal.

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