The 1980 August Agreements were the breaking point in the contemporary history of Poland and the harbinger of what followed: the downfall of the communist system in Eastern Europe.
This article originally appeared in Nowy Dziennik.
Translated by Aleksandra Słabisz
Niagara Falls lit in white and red, the colors of Poland’s flag. A digital display on the NASDAQ building in New York’s Times Square. White and red animations with the Solidarity logo on the buildings of the Polish Consulates and famous structures.
That’s how Polish Americans celebrated the 40th anniversary of signing the 1980 August Agreements, which paved the way for the creation of independent ‘Solidarity’ trade unions.
“The idea of displaying animations on buildings in the biggest cities of the world, where the Polonia is present and has its diplomatic institutions, came about in 2019 when Poland was celebrating 100th anniversary of regaining independence. We displayed such animations in various places all over the world [including New York],” consul Mateusz Gmura told Nowy Dziennik.
These initiatives have been aimed at raising awareness about Poland’s history in local communities. They’re also how Polish Americans marked the anniversary of the Gdansk August Agreements, which was the breaking point in the contemporary history of Poland and the harbinger of what followed: the downfall of the communist system in Eastern Europe.
“The goal was to send a message in an attractive and modern way to Americans and New Yorkers passing by the Polish Consulate at Madison Avenue,” said consul Gmura, who hoped that seeing the illumination on the facade of the Polish consulate New Yorkers would be encouraged to look up the Solidarity movement online and find out more about its role in the history of Poland and the world. At the same time, the consul hoped that the animation would draw the passers-by attention to one of the historical places of Manhattan: DeLamar Mansion, home of the Polish Consulate General in New York.
The animation displayed on the facade of the Polish consulate was an initiative of the consulate and the Polish Cultural Institute in New York, also a governmental institution whose mission is to promote Polish culture. “The message we wanted to send to New Yorkers was that Poland contributed to the onset of democratic movements in Europe and that workers’ unions changed into a political movement thanks to the cooperation between representatives of various trades and culture. It is especially important now, during the pandemic, when collaboration between various sectors allows for facing modern challenges, including these that have political consequences. The Solidarity movement should be an example for them,” said Izabela Gola of the Polish Cultural Institute.
“The legacy of the Solidarity movement goes beyond Poland’s borders. It is a universal message against totalitarian regimes that silence their citizens and deny them rights,” said a message on the FB profile of Poland’s embassy in Washington, whose headquarter was also adorned by the digital illumination commemorating the 40th anniversary of Solidarity.
Poland’s consulates in Chicago and Los Angeles as well as Chicago’s Willis Tower – the highest building in Northern America—displayed similar animations in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Solidarity movement. In Santa Monica, CA the event was marked with a Ferris Wheel at Santa Monica Pier lit in white and red and a “V”, a symbol of victory, displayed there.
On another edge of the United States, at its border with Canada, the Niagara Falls beamed with white and red the night of August 29th thanks to the initiative of the Polish Consulate in Toronto.
New Yorkers in New York City on the other hand were reminded of the anniversary with a digital billboard at the NASDAQ building in Times Square. All day throughout August 31st, white and red animation with a Solidarity logo, sponsored by the Polish Slavic Federal Credit Union, reminded the passers-by at the heart of Times Square that “the beginning of the Solidarity movement in Poland marked the beginning of the fall of communism around the world.”