Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Polish democracy activist recalls the daily horrors of life under communist rule

By Rebecca Black

A Polish democracy campaigner who made her home in Northern Ireland has made the emotional journey home to celebrate her country's liberation from communism.

Eva Grosman – the founder of Polish Cultural Week in Northern Ireland and an anti-racism activist – attended the opening of the European Solidarity Centre in Poland on Saturday.

It is located on the site of the former Lenin shipyard in Gdansk where the strikes which eventually led to the overthrowing of communism started.

It was on August 31, 1980 that the then unemployed shipyard worker Lech Walesa jumped over the gates of the shipyard to lead the Solidarity Union's strike.

Walesa later went on to become president of Poland and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Eva, who grew up in a regime where travel was strictly controlled, recalled how even buying a chicken was seen as a crime because all produce was supposed to be sold to the state.

And she told how she vividly remembers how on December 13, 1981 the televisions went blank before a sinister message appeared on the screen declaring that Poland was at war.

The Polish authorities, terrified at the prospect of Soviet tanks rolling in, introduced martial law to quell the strikes.

"I was young, but I remember Wojciech Jaruzelski (the last Communist leader of the Polish People's Republic) appeared and said martial law was being introduced," Eva said.

"We were at war but didn't know against who. I was aware of uneasiness among my parents. We didn't go to school that day, then a curfew was introduced.

"You went to the shops but the shelves were empty – except for mustard and vinegar.

"For some reason, even when there was nothing else, there was always mustard and vinegar."

Walesa returned to the site of the shipyard strikes along with the current Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski to officially open the European Solidarity Centre .

His actions had once inspired a young Jeffrey Donaldson, who was also at present at the opening.

"Lech Walesa inspired me then as a young person entering politics for the first time as he and his people struck a blow for their freedom using peaceful means," said the DUP MP.

"Today, I am still inspired by what the Polish people have achieved and to be here on such an occasion is an honour."

Eva described her country of birth as "resilient". "The Polish nation is adaptable," she said. "But it was worse for older people who remember the Germans in the Second World War.

"However, Poland has always been resilient and most importantly never lost hope."

Eva said the Solidarity Centrewas important for all of Europe.

"The centre will play a very important role in capturing the history of solidarity as well as being educational and an attraction for tourists," she said. "It deals with an important part of Polish history both in terms of the shipyards and politics of not only Gdansk and Poland, but also Europe."

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson: Poles need our support 

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