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-~1 B' Li4 I') W SAMO POtUDNIE 4 CZERWCA 1989 14 9 y f a Poetics of the Revolution Some Notes From Poland Elzbieta Matynia WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION of Tiananmen Square, the most spectacular political theatre of the 1989 season was on the streets and squares of the cities of Central and Eastern Europe. Budapest, Berlin, Leipzig , Sofia, Prague, Bucharest, and the cities of Lithuania and Latvia became stages where people began to discover their own strength; where they collectively celebrated their victories; or where they mourned their dead. But in Warsaw, Gdansk, or Cracow one rarely saw big crowds. At first glance it might have seemed as though very little remained of those years during and just after the state of war ("martial law" in the Western media) when Poles gathered by the hundreds of thousands, defying the water cannon to mark Solidarity's anniversaries, hiking from the four corners of the land to welcome the Pope, or marching in memory of a murdered student, worker, or priest. The state of war had created the custom of counter-parades, or alternative marches, which undermined the military regime's efforts to show through orchestrated May First parades that the situation was back to normal. The counter-parades, organized by workers from underground Solidarity, would move along the open avenues on the banks of the Vistula where it was easier to escape from attacks by the militia. It was obvious that since all 16 unauthorized gatherings were prohibited, the police would use force to disperse the parade. But the news that the militia was beating up workers on the very day that had been set aside to honor them sent a powerful message. In 1989 once again the alternative May First parade went along the old route which over the years had witnessed clashes with the militia. But this time it was a joyous stroll of 100,000 citizens who had just won, as a result of the Roundtable Talks, the right to the (partially) free election of a new Parliament. And walking safely through those familiar streets-while less visually striking-was like dancing on the Berlin Wall: as though an evil spell were being lifted from the streets. In one of the demonstrations in Prague, the concise message on a banner read: "Poland-10 years, Hungary-10 months, East Germany-10 weeks, Czechoslovakia-10 days." Of course some Poles would argue that the Czech days would not have happened without the Polish years. But whatever the accuracy of that observation, no one can deny that the Poles had been on the streets for ten years, and even before the elections on June 4, 1989, it was obvious to whom those streets belonged. Solidarity-or society-had had only one month to prepare the election campaign (one of Solidarity's concessions during the Roundtable Talks) and had very limited access to the state-run mass media. So the streets again became the setting for a fight. But this time it was a war of posters. Huge posters and banners with the familiar Solidarity logo covered all empty spaces on walls, fences, trams, and the windows of stores and restaurants. The fight for space on the walls had been going on in Poland since 1980. Especially during the state of war, walls were covered during the night with signs and symbols which were meant to demonstrate that Solidarity still existed. They were soon covered by thick layers of dark paint. These freshly painted spots proved to be almost as eloquent as the messages they covered, especially when seen on one's way to work on the walls of party committees or militia precincts. In the spring of 1989 it was a matter of time: who would be first to put a poster on a still available space, Solidarity or the authorities. It was a matter ofglue: whose will hold the best so the competition won't tear it all down. It was also a matter of wit: hand-written puns and comments on each other's posters. The poster wars were not just about wallspace but about the imagination . Solidarity's posters played on double meanings, paradox, and subtle humor...


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