“We must not ever forget about those who died and were subject to repression as they were demanding dignity, freedom and justice,” wrote the Polish President Andrzej Duda in a letter read out on Friday to the participants of morning ceremonies commemorating taking part in Gdynia to mark the 51st anniversary of the communist regime’s brutal clampdown on workers protesting rising prices.
“Today we stand in the place where 51 years ago a dreadful tragedy played out. On this day, in December 1970, at 6 am, sounds of gunfire pierced the air. In retaliation for the protests of shipyard workers and Tricity’s inhabitants, the military opened fire at the workers who heeded the authorities’ call to return to work. Innocent people died who in goodwill found themselves so tragically in the crosshairs of the communist regime,” the President wrote.
The head of state wrote that among the 18 people who died from the communist military’s fire in Gdynia were “18 young Poles, out of whom the oldest was 34, whereas six of them were teenage pupils. Looking at the size and cruelty of this crime we ask ourselves how one could ever allow it to happen. How could it be allowed that the military opened fire at unarmed citizens.”
“Today, we pay homage to the victims of the Gdynia massacre, seized by pain, we recur to the days when Poland was oppressed by its own compatriots when Poles threw themselves on the mercy of those, who were ready to sacrifice our sovereignty and surrender themselves to the Soviet dictatorship only to stay in power and enjoy privileges. Those people have never been trailed, they have not borne the consequences of their crimes, nor have they been punished by independent courts, albeit many lived till the fall of the [communist] system, in the creation which they partook,” the President wrote.
“We remember the death of innocent people, we remember over a thousand wounded, the persecutions, tortures. We remember funerals under the cover of the night, the families who were bereft of their husbands, fathers and sons. We must never forget about those who died and were subject to repression as they were demanding dignity, freedom and justice. They fought for it not just for themselves but for us as well. We do owe free Poland to them and the fact that we can fulfil our dreams today unhampered, that we can grow and express our views freely,” the President wrote.
For his part, the head of the Intercompany Commission of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity of the Gdynia Shipyard Roman Kuzimski said during the ceremony that “the unsettled communist crimes are bringing forth bad fruit today. It dilutes ideas, upsets the natural order of things. Criminals and executioners are dubbed ‘heroes, patriots and people of honour.’ Their victims, meanwhile, are stripped of their right to justice and the feeling of pride of their achievements.” He added that “it is impossible to build a healthy society on such a foundation.”
The ceremony took place before the Victims of December 1970 Memorial near the Fast Urban Railway station “Gdynia Stocznia – Uniwersytet Morski”. It is exactly where the first shots were fired at the workers at 6 am, December 17, 1970. The roll call of the fallen was performed followed by a prayer conducted by Archbishop of Gdańsk Tadeusz Wojda. The Navy honour guard fired three honourary salvos. The ceremony was concluded with a wreath- and flower-laying at the feet of the memorial.
In December 1970, a bloody confrontation between the protesting workers and the authorities of the Polish People’s Republic emerged on the streets of Gdańsk, Gdynia, Szczecin and Elbląg, northern Poland. The communist government used militia and army troops to suppress the protests. The direct cause of the outbreak of social discontent and strikes at the Gdańsk and Gdynia Shipyards was an increase in the prices of food, most notably, meat.
The first day of the protests began with the bloodshed of innocent workers at the Gdynia Shipyard — a date that came down in history as the Black Thursday of December 17, 1970. Although protesters set fire to the Provincial Committees of the communist monoparty Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) in Gdańsk and Szczecin on December 15, the protests in Gdynia were peaceful.
In his televised speech on the evening of 16 December, the then Deputy PM Stanisław Kociołek condemned the protesters but also called for the workers to get back to work. The Gdynia Shipyard employees heeded the call and returned to work in the morning of December 17, despite the fact that the shipyard was surrounded by the militia and the military, including tanks, during the night of December 16 and 17. Moreover, the soldiers had orders to actually stop workers returning to work. The soldiers fired at the crowd of workers emerging from their trains, killing 11 of them.
More people were killed in other parts of Gdynia while protesting against the increase in food prices. As a result, the death toll in Gdynia soared to 18. The number of the wounded in Gdynia is far from certain but is estimated to be in the hundreds.