On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the events in Poland in March 1968, Blinken OSA is presenting a unique selection of documents from the records of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute. The collection contains materials on the Polish political crisis and focuses on the student rebellion and its aftermath.
Protests broke out on March 8 in Warsaw as a reaction to the expulsion of two students from the university, Adam Michnik and Henryk Szlajfer, who had earlier opposed the censoring of Kazimierz Dejmek’s adaptation of Dziady (Forefathers' Eve), a play written by Adam Mickiewicz. The students were attacked by agents of the secret police and paramilitary units, and in the following weeks the protests spread to the entire country. The largest student demonstrations outside Warsaw took place in Wrocław, Łódź, Poznań, and Gdańsk.
The anti-Zionist campaign started after the Six-Day War (June 1967) escalated during the crisis due to the internal conflict within the communist party, between First Secretary Władysław Gomułka and hardline nationalist Minister of the Interior, Mieczysław Moczar. When the student revolt began, both parties tried to exploit the nationalist rhetoric, denouncing the student activists as “Zionist agents”. Official state propaganda blamed the protests on the “Israeli 5th Column”, on “political bankrupts”, “revisionists”, and “imperialists”, aiming at dividing society and turning the workers against students and intellectual circles. Propaganda in the state-controlled media accompanied the wave of official rallies in support of Gomułka and the Party’s policy.
Numerous protestors were detained and expelled from universities. These expulsions also involved professors such as Zygmunt Bauman and Leszek Kołakowski. The “anti-Zionist” media campaign had an even graver aftermath: it led to a massive purge and resulted in the exiling of approximately 13,000 Poles of Jewish origin.
The materials presented here draw a consistent picture of how the events developed, from the first disturbances, students’ protests (in Warsaw and other cities) and the state propaganda, to the political trials carried out in subsequent months. The documents include the Monitoring of the Polish Radio and Television, Polish and foreign press clippings, as well as Radio Free Europe documents including telegrams, situation reports and press surveys.
The Chronicle of Events drafted by Antoni Kuczmierczyk provides the backbone of this collection. It covers the period from the end of January to May 1969 and it includes detailed information about the student protests all over Poland and the arrests and trials that followed. The Chronicle, as well as the index of names attached to it, greatly help navigating through these complex, multi-layered events, which occupy a prominent position in the Cold War history of Central Europe.