Address by the President of the Republic of Poland at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of March 1968 at the University of Warsaw
Honourable Prime Minister,
Your Magnificence, the Rector,
Excellencies, Heads of Diplomatic Missions,
Honourable Members of Parliament and Senators,
All Distinguished Guests!
This year we celebrate unique occasions: the centenary of regaining independence and the 50th anniversary of the March Events of 1968. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight of those 50 years, we could say that sweet-bitter days and months are to be commemorated. This is how we could try to define them in my generation: of the people who do not recall those days, not being born yet. Some of us were already born - they were but young children. These experiences belong to my, to our parents, grandparents.
See also: President: March 1968 a struggle for independence Ladies and Gentlemen, it is not for me to say whether those students’ protests of 1968 were fuelled by the fact that this was the semicentennial of regaining independence. I do not know that. Even historians or authors of memoires of those days and months, do not say so nor make such implications. Was there a realization back then that in 1918 Poland regained independence and that 1968 was the 50th anniversary of that event?
But undoubtedly, 1968 was about fighting for independence, freedom from censorship. Those days, with no full independence, with censorship in place, were completely unlike today. Nowadays, Poland is independent, with no censorship, there is bread and there is freedom, and all the things which the generation of my parents and grandparents stood up for. And this is the reason why we are meeting today right here, this is why I am here today as President who represents a younger generation: we want to bow to and to pay tribute to all of them who fought for a free and independent Poland, first in the dynamic upheaval of 1956, and then in 1968.
Nowadays historians prove that there was no division between students and workers those days, it was not so that workers were reluctant to come to the aid of students. Obviously, as we do all recall, communist party activists in factories were mobilised and here, at the University of Warsaw, and also in other places, there were workers beating students with clubs. One cannot claim, however, that it was the whole workers’ community: people back then knew better and realized that there was no freedom and there is no independence at home and that young people stood up to claim them. And they did claim them, shouting out the same way, as you do right now.
Independence without censorship, this is what they stood for then, demanding it from the communists. Obviously, this could not be palatable to the communists – that is why they ruthlessly crushed students’ protests. For some of them, as it was the case with the personages famous in our history: Karol Modzelewski and Adam Michnik both of whom were imprisoned, the repercussions were atrocious.
Thank you very much for your presence here, Ladies and Gentlemen. We always need to remember what happened: all these acts of courage, like the one of 1968, independence struggle, pursuit of sovereignty, as the ones of 1980-1981, and the whole decade of 1980’s independence conspiracy, the Solidarity underground, and then the break-through of 1989; all of them have added together to our freedom and independence. All of them who distinguished themselves with their great courage, indeed, emphatically, in 1968, they are the persons of monumental merit to our Polish freedom. I wish to emphasize that point.
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to emphatically dwell on the sweet aspect of those events. Even if some of them had to suffer, some were sentenced to prison, some forced to work in coalmines, some expelled from their universities, today – looking through the prism of history – we can say: “Yes, they were the heroes of our freedom. And this is the sweet aspect of it: there were people who had courage to oppose the communists”.
In that sense, the grounds of the University of Warsaw and this very place are sanctified by the heroism and courage of the Polish youth of those days. As President, I bow to them today and I pay them my respects. You are the heroes of our freedom. As much as Solidarity of 1980’s, as much as Indomitable Soldiers, like the heroes of 1956, you are the same way the heroes of our freedom, you are the heroes of our today’s independence in Poland. No matter what you think today, what kind of views you have and profess. For Polish freedom, for Polish independence, you are monumental characters.
There is another aspect of those days to it: the bitter one, the unspeakably sad one, the one to be grieved over today and in the future. There are people who say that today’s Poland should apologise for the act of anti-Semitism back then, committed by the authorities then in power. Also, for the complicity of those Poles who joined in. For having expelled, for expulsion it must be called, several thousand people!
Ladies and Gentlemen, the free Poland of today, and my generation, do not to bear responsibility and do not have to apologize, as much as they do not have to apologize for December 1970, nor for the shooting at people in Gdansk, Gdynia, nor for developments in Radom, Płock, Ursus of 1976, nor for the action in the coalmine “Wujek” of 1981, nor for what was done to Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, nor for the people who were murdered by the communists.
That being said, I want to stress that it is with profound grief that we bow our heads, that I, as President, bow my head before those who were then expelled, before the families of those who were killed then. I want to tell them: please forgive, please forgive the Republic of Poland, please forgive the Poles, please forgive Poland of the time, for having perpetrated such a shameful act.
Nowadays, as I look at my contemporary Poland, at our Poland of the 21st-century, I think to myself: what a pity, what a loss was inflicted on the present-day Republic of Poland, now that you are gone, and some may have lost their lives because of 1968, now that you are no longer here with us today. You are the elite of the intelligentsia but in other countries, you are people of remarkable success, respected, but in other countries, your creative powers, your scientific output, your splendid achievements have not done credit to the Republic of Poland. What a shame! I am so sorry!
Today, just a moment ago, I have been to the Dworzec Gdański railway station to bow my head and to lay a bunch of flowers at the commemorative plaque. From there you were leaving, your parents were leaving. I spoke to Gołda Tencer, and she told me: “You know, I myself have not left, but the biggest sorrow that there is in our hearts, is the sorrow we feel because of our parents”. And then I have realized: “my goodness, the very people were also then expelled, of whom I have spoken: the ones who fought for independent Poland one hundred years ago, who fixed bayonets as Legionaries of the Republic of Poland. Their friends with the Stars of David are buried in the tombs of Polish soldiers, the defenders of Poland from 1920 and 1939”.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask their forgiveness for Poland, for the Republic of Poland, for those who perpetrated it. And I ask them to pass on this request for forgiveness also to their parents, any way they can: in their thought, in their prayers. Poland with my lips is asking forgiveness of the people back then. May they forget, may they accept that Poland is grieved not to have them on her soil right now.
Honour and glory to the heroes of 1968!