Poland remembers 1956 revolt that set it on road to freedom
by Stanislaw Waszak
ATTENTION - RECASTS, ADDS quotes ///
POZNAN, Poland, June 28, 2006 (AFP) - European leaders joined thousands of
Poles here Wednesday to mark the 50th anniversary of one of the forgotten
uprisings in post-World War II Europe -- the brutally crushed workers¹
revolt in Poznan.
The presidents of Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and
Poland, all countries which tried to stand up to communism in the 1950s,
only to see their revolts crushed, were among those in this western Polish
city to mark the events of June 28, 1956.
On that day 50 years ago, workers at an engine factory began a strike in
protest at low wages and food shortages under the communists.
Their numbers swelled by people from around Poznan, some 100,000 protesters
rallied outside the regional government¹s headquarters to demand ³bread and
Their revolt was the first large-scale action against the communist
authorities in Poland, and is hailed as having inspired the opposition
movements that brought about the birth of Poland¹s Solidarity trade union in
1980, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the eventual collapse of
communism in much of eastern and central Europe.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus said at a ceremony in front of a stark
monument to the victims of the uprising that their revolt had "dealt a fatal
blow to the totalitarian system of Stalinism".
German President Hoerst Koehler praised the Poznan protesters for taking
one of the first steps towards bringing down the Iron Curtain.
The Poznan revolt showed ³it was no longer possible to suppress the Poles¹
strong desire for freedom,² Koehler said.
³It was eventually in Poland, in 1980, that the movement that brought an
end to communism began, when Solidarity set in motion a process that
reverberated around the world,² he added.
His Slovak counterpart Ivan Gaszparovicz thanked the Poznan protesters ³for
teaching us how not to be afraid".
Among those remembering the events of June 28, 1956 was Aleksandra
Banasiak, a former nurse who gave first aid to the injured on both sides of
the barricades in Poznan during the unrest.
³I¹ll never forget the chanting crowd, the euphoria when the huge red
communist flag fell from the roof of the building,² recalled Banasiak.
A first deployment of troops and police sent in by the authorities to put
down the protest after the striking workers had laid siege to the
headquarters of the hated secret police, set fire to courthouses and sprung
around 250 inmates from prison, was disarmed by the crowd.
Marian Joachimiak, 73, was also in Poznan on the historic day. In 1956, he
had just been discharged from the army, where he was an elite marksman.
With a firearm he got from soldiers who refused to heed the authorities¹
orders to crush the revolt, he tried to hold off policemen who were shooting
at the protesters.
The communist authorities then brought in 10,000 soldiers backed up by
assault tanks and armoured vehicles to put down the protest.
Over the following days, hundreds of people were arrested as the
authorities regained control of the city.
At least 58 people died in the revolt, according to historians, while the
Catholic Church has put the death toll at around 100.
Hundreds more -- some say around 1,000 -- were injured, and official
figures show that 135 protesters were convicted and sent to jail, including
³I was subjected to the most brutal interrogation. I was beaten and abused
until I couldn¹t stand up any more. I still suffer the consequences today of
the cruel treatment I endured,² said Joachimiak as tears trickled down his
face, lined by years spent as a proletarian worker and by ineffaceable
memories of suffering.
President Laszlo Solyom of Hungary, where a better-known workers¹ uprising
was crushed amid bloodshed a few months after Poznan, said Hungarians had
taken a leaf out of the Polish protesters¹ book.
³We Hungarians treated Poznan as a forerunner to our uprising in Budapest,²
³We will never forget the assistance provided to us by Poland in 1956,²
President Lech Kaczynski of Poland said the uprising in Poznan was ³of
special significance² to Poles.
The revolt ³showed that the Polish nation had never accepted the imposed
political system² of communism, he said.
AFP 281344 GMT 06 06