Grand Opening: European Solidarity Centre
#photography & visual arts
small, Grand Opening: European Solidarity Centre, European Solidarity Centre, photo: Grzegorz Mehring, budynek_ecs_grzegorz_mehring_archiwum_ecs.jpg
Soon, the European Solidarity Centre will welcome its first guests. At its core is a permanent multimedia exhibition that tells the story of Solidarity and other opposition movements. They were the spark that in no time turned into an communist-bashing inferno.
The European Solidarity Centre (ESC) will be a unique attraction. Dotted with indoor trees and connected by small bridges, the museum is equipped with an authentic truck manufactured by FSC Star and a shipyard crane (also authentic).
The ESC has a double agenda. It will tell the story of the Solidarity trade union movement which was ignited in Gdańsk, the museum's host city and show how it helped topple the communist government. Its second goal is to spread the ideals that Solidarity stands for - democracy, open society, dialogue, values which will never be out of date.
The project that won the competition for the design of the ESC in 2007 stood out for its uncommon use of cor-ten steel for the siding. Thanks to its rusty colours, which keep changing shades, the building resembles the hull of a boat, one of many which could have docked at the neighbouring shipyard. One of the project designers on the case explains,
- The raw, industrial terrain was once strewn with similar rusty metal sheets. Figuratively speaking, the metal also alludes to the simple and raw ideas put forward by Solidarity, a movement which took shape in this shipyard landscape.
The building was built next to the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970, not far from the famous gate number two of the Vladimir Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, as it was then called. For years, the gate, now a tourist attraction, was the focus of strike. It was there that on August 31st, 1980, the striking workers signed an agreement with the leaders of the People's Republic of Poland.
Construction of the ESC commenced in the autumn of 2010, with a budget of 229 million złoty. Half of the funding came from the European Union, the other half from the budget of the city of Gdańsk.
Michał Szlaga has been taking photos of the Gdańsk Shipyard for 13 years.
europejskie centrum solidarności
european solidarity centre
the fall of communism
Located in the centre of the building is the permanent multimedia exhibition. It presents the story of the Solidarity trade union and other opposition movements which helped free Central and Eastern European countries from communism. "The exhibition goes beyond the borders of Poland. It shows the political transitions of Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Albania, Estonia," Polish Minister of Culture Małgorzata Omilanowska commented after her visit to the premises, "and Poland played a crucial part in this transition". Spread out on two floors, the ESC has seven thematically arranged rooms:
- "The birth of Solidarity" presents the strikes of August 1980. The room is dominated by a shipyard crane which Anna Walentynowicz adapted so that sitting inside the machine's cabin feels like being in the shoes of shipyard workers.
- The second room, "The Strength of the Helpless", is dedicated to ordinary people and their everyday lives in the People's Republic of Poland as well as the birth of opposition towards the totalitarian regime.
- The next room, "Solidarity and Hope", reveals the events that unfolded between August 1980 and the introduction of Martial Law in December 1981. Only for those 16 months was the first trade union of the communist block a legal entity.
- The fourth room, "War with Society", divulges the drama of martial law.
- The fifth room "Room to Democracy" captures the slow implosion of the communist system which was crowner with the Round Table talsk and partially free elections in June 1989
- The penultimate room "Triumph of Freedom" allows visitors to revise their knowledge of the political changes that took place throughout Central and Eastern Europe in the late 80s and early 90s.
- The last room, dedicated and named after John Paul II is a place of contemplation. Its windows face the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970.
The ESC complex also houses an archive, an auditorium for 430 people, a science research centre, a library with over 100 thousand books and a multimedia exhibition for children.
The European Solidarity Centre will open on August 30th and 31st 2014. On the first day the building is open to all visitors for free. There will be guided tours led by members of the Solidarity movement: Bogdan Borusewicz, Zbigniew Bujak, Henryka Krzywonos-Strycharska, Ludwika and Henryk Wujcowie. Several other events are planned for the day, among others, a search for participants and witnesses of the events of 1970-1989. The grand opening takes place on August 31st, on the 34th anniversary of the signing of the Gdańsk Agreement.
European Solidarity Centre / Europejskie Centrum Solidarności, ul. Doki 1, Gdańsk
Author: Mikolaj Glinski, translator: MJ 27/08/2014