Thursday, December 06, 2012

Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson: The Świdnik Stroller Rebellion

Strollers and Tanks

The rise of Solidarity, a popular movement created in August 1980 by striking workers in the shipyards of Gdansk and across Poland, caused panic in the regime that had ruled the country since the Second World War. On December 13, 1981, the Communist authorities put tanks on the streets to stop Solidarity once and for all. Hundreds were arrested, dozens were killed.

Despite the tanks and arrests. Poles organized protests against the ban on Solidarity, including a boycott of the fiction-filled television news. But a boycott of the TV news could not by itself embarrass the government. After all, who could tell how many were obeying the boycott call?

In one small town they found a way. Every evening, beginning on February 5, 1982, the inhabitants of Świdnik in eastern Poland went on a walkabout. As the half-hour evening news began, the streets would fill with Świdnikians, who chatted, walked, and loafed. Before going out, some placed their switched-off television set in the window, facing uselessly onto the street. Others went a step further. They placed their disconnected set in a stroller or a builder's wheelbarrow, and took the television itself for a nightly outing.

"If resistance is done by underground activists, it's not you or me," one Solidarity supporter later noted. "But if you see your neighbors taking their TV for a walk, it makes you feel part of something. An aim of dictatorship is to make you feel isolated. Świdnik broke the isolation and built confidence."

The TV-goes-for-a-walk tactics, which spread to other towns and cities, infuriated the government. But the authorities felt powerless to retaliate. Going for a walk was not, after all, an official crime under the criminal code.

Eventually, the curfew was brought forward from 10 p.m. to 7 p.m., thus forcing Świdnikians to stay at home during the 7:30 news, or risk being arrested or shot.

The citizens of Świdnik responded by going for a walk during the earlier edition of the news at 5pm instead. (5-6)

Crawshaw, Steve and John Jackson. Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World. NY: Union Square Press, 2010.

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