Page 12, 11th June 1982

11th June 1982
Page 12
Page 12, 11th June 1982 — Remembering Solidarity in London

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Locations: Warsaw, London, Rome


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Remembering Solidarity in London

Norman St John-Stevas rallies to the defence of Solidarity and weighs up Poland's position under military rule

LAST SUNDAY, exactly six months since the imposition of martial law in Poland I found myself taking part in a rally of witness and protest in Trafalgar Square in London.

Speaking in Trafalgar Square is not exactly a preferred metier for me although I did originally learn my speaking on the Catholic Evidence Guild platform at Hyde Park but I found it an exhilarating and moving experience.

More than three thousand Britons and Poles had marched from Marble Arch carrying the red and white banners of Poland, singing Polish songs and chanting their support for Solidarity.

A great crowd was waiting in the Square to give them a welcome and speakers for all parties addressed the rally: Giles Radice for the Labour Party: Shirley Williams for the Alliance: and myself for the Tories. It was notable that the representation from British trade unions on the platform was thin.

The TUC has certainly not covered itself with glory in its attitude to the Polish crisis. In front of Landseer's lions a huge carpet of red and white carnations was spread out in honour of those deprived of their liberty in Polish prisons, and the concern and enthusiasm of tho crowd were intense.

I paid a visit to Poland last month with a team from the BBC to make part of my film on the Pope and we were in fact the first party of western journalists admitted to the country since the imposition of martial law.

That law, despite a few superficial relaxations, is still being strictly enforced. There are troops everywhere and if you are found on the streets after eleven you spend the night in gaol.

There are still 3,000 members of Solidarity, including Lech Walesa, under arrest, who have committed no crime other than being courageous enough to champion the cause of human rights.

I had heard it said before going to Poland that the army would be reluctant to enforce martial law against their own fellow citizens but I saw little sign of that.

The soldiers appeared to me to be rather glad that they were in control and lost few opportunities of throwing their weight around. Lord Acton was right: all power does corrupt. The rule of the army is likely to continue for the forseeable future not least because no acceptable alternative has emerged to replace it.

The Communist party has more or less collapsed under the tensions of its own internal

disputes: General Jaruselski is no Polish Tito and is more than willing to carry out the orders of his Russian masters: a Solidarity regime would certainly be viable but the Soviet Union would never allow it to be formed.

The present situation suits the Soviets well. Their troops are not exposed to the kind of guerilla attacks which they have to face in Afghanistan and the Polish army is in effect doing their dirty work for them. As so often in times of national tribulation the Poles have turned to the one institution that is strong enough to survive all attempts at repression the Church.

I was at Czestochowa on a bright Sunday morning: both the churches were packed to the doors and outside hundreds of people were filing forward to pay their respects to the Black Madonna, the Queen of Poland.

The Polish Church is certainly clerically dominated but it is a joyful institution with none of the fear which sometimes disfigures its Irish counterpart.

The bishops are united in their support for human rights and Solidarity but there are some differences of approach. Cardinal Macharski of Cracow is a strong personality in the tradition of the prince bishops of Poland such as Cardinal Sapieha and Cardinal Wyszynski, but Archbishop Glemp of Warsaw is more of a diplomat and temporiser. The Polish mood is undoubtedly gloomy and depressed after the euphoria of the Solidarity days of triumph and there is a lack of hope for the future.

In this sad situation the one bright portent is the presence in Rome of the Polish Pope. The Polish people look to their brother in Rome to keep the cause of Poland at the centre of world consciousness and he has not let them down.

Let us in Britain do our part to keep the sufferings and tribulations of the Polish nation present in the forum of the world's moral conscience.

We should take every opportunity to proclaim our support for our brave allies: we should help them with moral and economic support: we .should make 1982 the year in which Poland was remembered not forgotten.

The Polish nation will survive by their fidelity to their culture and their religion which has triumphed in the past over military might, but we in the free countries of the West must do all in our power to support this heroic nation and people.

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