Back in time: in 1980s a massive political opposition to the Communist government of Poland arises under the name Solidarność. It has its leaders and structure. It works under the spiritual leadership of the Pope of the Catholic Church and a fellow Pole John Paul II. Solidarność is popular: at the peak of its days there are some 10 million members. Externally it is taking the world by storm. U2 starts its career with a song “New Years Day” inspired by the Solidarność events. Lech Wałęsa receives the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. Every 4th person in the country is a Solidarność member or otherwise affiliate. Solidarność outnumbers the membership of the local communist party PZPR by 10:3.
Back to today: there is the European Solidarity Centre to remember the struggle of 1980s. Those days and those heroes. The ESC main HQ is opened in 2014. It serves as a museum and library. It runs educational programs and international cooperation. It’s main task: to promote the Solidarność heritage of social justice and contribute to the European identity.
Until 2018 the ESC annual budget is supported by a 7m zł (1.6m Euro) subvention from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Come October 2018 the PiS-ruled Ministry has a new idea for the ESC. The Centre’s board is managed jointly by the city of Gdańsk and other contributors, including the Ministry. Yet the Ministry does not have the majority votes, so PiS is unable to impose its own version of the history or culture. The city holds majority of votes. Since 2015 the Ministry is known for promoting its own version of history and culture. This happens, for example, when the World War II Museum (also in Gdańsk) opens in 2017, and the main exhibition is immediately changed and “polonised” by a new politically appointed director.
The blackmail backfires
PiS is ruling with a strong national narrative. The cultural and historical centres are expected to deliver the message. In October 2018 the Ministry comes with a new offer for the ESC: the governmental subvention is limited to 4m zł (930 thousand Euro) unless the Centre considers changes to its exhibitions and organisation.
In November Paweł Adamowicz is re-elected Gdańsk mayor. In the run-off Adamowicz wins against a PiS counter-candidate. Adamowicz is one of the ESC fathers. The centre is successful and internationally recognised. In 2016 it receives the Council of Europe Museum Prize.
In 2019 the European Solidarity Center subvention is cut.
The city mayor is assassinated in January. A debate takes place about the hate speech, pushing the controversial issues, like the ESC conflict, aside for a moment. Patrycja Krzymińska is moved by the Adamowicz association and organises an ad hoc fundraising for the WOŚP charity, the charity Adamowicz campaigned for on the day of his death. What is expected to bring 1000 zł brings 6m zł.
24 January 2019, culture minister Piotr Gliński is asked on a private radio about the cut of subsidies for the ESC. The minister walks away from the studio. He claims he will not respond to questions about Adamowicz out of respect for the family. Yet the question was about the ESC. The minister is massively criticised, also by conservative journalists.
February 2019, the Adamowicz mourning is no longer a matter for the state, it is a matter for the family. The nation returns to its old conflicts.
ESC finances are cut. The city of Gdańsk under new leadership of Aleksandra Dulkiewicz provides a moderate support to the ESC from the city budget. The Pomorskie regional council also donates to the ESC cause.
The PiS propaganda machine takes off, too. 2 February, a PiS Pomorskie region councillor: “ESC is in fact a party back structure of PO” and accuses the Centre of favouring the KOD (liberal protest groups organised since 2015), the LGBT community and former secret police agents.
5 February deputy culture minister Jarosław Sellin accused the ESC leadership and some ex-Solidarność leaders of “behaving like a Bolshevik party appropriating this institution” when they protested against the ministry blackmail.
By 6 February Patrycja Krzymińska runs a new fundraising. This time it is not for charity. This time it is a response to the ESC cry for support. Literally overnight ESC and Krzymińska raise over 6m zł for the ESC. What Ms Krzymińska touches turns into gold.
The ministry blackmail did not work. PiS has to accept yet another defeat.
I shall applaud if someone gives private money for cultureJarosław Sellin, 7 February 2019
Is PiS ready to concede? 6 February later in the afternoon the Solidarność trade union issues a statement in which it informs that its representatives will be temporarily suspended in their ESC activities. The historical trade union is a PiS ally today. “The dispute over the funding of the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk is part of the election campaign conducted by the opposition and another evidence for the politicisation of this institution,” stated the trade union.
PiS has a new idea. Could the country president Andrzej Duda mediate in a conflict between the government and the ESC?
Or, is there a problem to solve or… is the problem fake? From the ESC perspective there is no need to negotiate with the government. The 4m zł subsidy has been complemented with the fundraising. The governance is stable and provided by the city.
From the governmental side there is a problem. The ESC is not portraying the history the way PiS sees it. PiS officials like to say along those lines: “why should we pay for something we do not control”? Since when do they believe they own the institutions they have been elected to manage?
This is PiS classic core behaviour in action: a heavy hand. “We own, we control, we direct” everywhere: in state companies, in state media, in state cultural institutions. Yet they do not own those companies, media and cultural institutions.