Central Europeans reflect on life before the fall of the Berlin Wall
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Teresa and Mariusz Muskat

We got married quickly just before his possible conviction

Sopot, Poland, 2019
Polish English

Teresa and Mariusz Muskat , Retired (Psychologist and Sociologist)

Mariusz Muskat (MM): My political activity began in 1968 at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. One of the consequences of the political revival in Poland in 1968, which was associated with the Prague Spring, was the fact that we could not stage Adam Mickiewicz's Dziady, one of the most important dramas in Polish literature. Just a few performances were allowed before the play was banned. The theme of the play is anti-tsarist and the audience "updated" the content with their reactions both in and outside of the performance hall. They were suppressed by force. State anti-Semitism was unleashed, all those opting for democratization were expelled from their positions. Everywhere, media departments were replaced with aggressive communist ones and certain writers were forbidden to print. Students were removed from many universities, some were conscripted into the army, and some humanities faculties were even banished to Warsaw for a few years.  

Teresa Muskat (TM): As the top student at the 3rd year of sociology at the Jagiellonian University, Mariusz gave a spontaneous public speech in the city's central student club criticizing the political situation at the time and the lack of freedom of speech. It was an official and legal meeting with the participation of a representative of the Communist Party. Later we met many friends and they were shocked that Mariusz was publicly criticizing the government in this way. It was unusual before, people did not criticize the opening of power because of the fear of going to prison.  

MM: They couldn't have arrested me for that. The meeting was legal and official. Especially since I established and was president of an official open and legal student organization at the university to help the graduates of the settle in the Regained Territories (post-German, where Poles were resettled after WW2, from Soviet occupied Eastern Poland ). The entire communist-fascist attack of the authorities used patriotic slogans directed against Germans and Jews. Of course I was noticed and was arrested 1.5 months later. They kept me in custody for two months for one leaflet. At the trial for one leaflet it turned out that the copy in my files is not the one found in front of me and I was acquitted. I finished my studies with honors, but now I had a wolf ticket and thus was a railway clerk for 4 years. (Wolf ticket was used in many former Eastern Bloc countries to denote any kind of document that negatively affects one's career.)   

TM: We got married quickly just before his possible conviction. This way if he went to prison for longer, as his wife I could contact him. When he was sent to prison, the secret police tried to intimidate me. Once an agent approached me and said: "Don't wait for him, he'll be in prison for at least 20 years. He told me that Mariusz was a German agent. He wanted to deceive me so that I could live in fear. I knew this man. He was with Mariusz in the same organization at the Jagiellonian University. He was his deputy.

MM: After graduation I couldn't find a job in my field of Sociology. The subject was taught at all universities and in every large company there was a sociological laboratory. Admission to work was based on the fact that everywhere the security services anonymously put a positive or negative sign by the name. This stamp indicated admission. I was first received with open hands and then sent back with a receipt. Then it turned out that I had an undisclosed ban on being employed where there were workers or students.

December 15, 1970 was the beginning of the first strikes at the Gdańsk Shipyard. The workers were leaving the shipyard in crowds and burning communist party files from the building of the Party's Provincial Committee, which was attacked and the roof burned, but nobody died. The strike broke out because it was just before Christmas and the prices for food were drastically increased by the government.  On December 16th the workers were coming out the gate again, but the army stationed outside the gate gave a salute to them. Several shipyard workers died. The occupational strike in the whole shipyard complex in Gdańsk began. The next day the head of the Voivodeship Party announced that people should go back to work. 

In Gdańsk, the crews were sitting inside the factories, but there were no occupational strikes in Gdynia and people (including me) went to work there. And then the army and the police started shooting at completely defenseless people on the streets. Officially 44 people died, but there were many more. They reported 44 because if it had been announced that more people had died, it would have required an official international investigation.

In 1977 started with the Workers' Defense Committee (human rights, civil liberties), in the Pomeranian region where other independence-oriented organizations emerged, all acted together and supported each other. Soon Poland was flooded with underground publications, from leaflets to books. I took part in this work in various ways - from printing, through distribution in train lockers, to selling at meetings of the "House of Independent Culture" that I had founded.  I also organized meetings with writers or underground activists. I played songs by Wołodii Wysocki or Okudzhava and above all created then excellent songs of "Independent Salon". From Piotr Pietkiewicz I got memories of the forced labor camp of the Gulags in Workuta (the first information publically known about this camp) and published them on a photocopier in the amount of 100 copies for the 60th anniversary of Poland regaining independence. Half of it was caught by the secret police, but one copy reached Radio Free Europe and was read on air. It was a big sensation. I was also distributing the anti-communist peasant movement's magazines in the countryside. 

On 16 December 1977, together with Błażej Wyszkowski, I laid a wreath at the Gate No. 2 of the Gdańsk Shipyard for the first time in 71st year to commemorate the anniversary of the events of December 1970. And I filmed it. The film was preserved despite a furious attack of the security forces on the people carrying the camera. When they managed to get it out, the film was no longer there. The laying of the wreath on December 16, 1977 was my greatest achievement. 

TM: Most people really came together during this time. Our neighbors in the apartment above us, told us that there was a voice recorder planted above so that the Secret Police could spy on us. We were often afraid but at the same time we were all helping each other. When in 1981 he was again sent to prison, people helped me. I was pregnant at the time, and the neighbors were offering to carry coal from the basement up to the apartment, the money from the collecting were brought in, a young man showed up taking care of our family all the time. We were also provided with more valuable food products, I had two boys at home. Only on Christmas Eve I did find out where my husband was, through the underground channels. Officially, I didn’t know anything. Food parcels were sent from the West.

MM: Gdańsk was a melting pot. First, there were people expelled from Lithuania after 1944 and repatriated after 1956. Very patriotic and very educated Second, Kashubians living for centuries in a large area of Gdansk province, Old Slavs, strongly fought by Germans and also by communists after the war. Very attached to Catholicism. The third group consists of people from many other areas of Poland. As a port and shipyard city, we were always open to the world. Many sailors traveled here. The city was multicultural, not only Poles, but also Spaniards, Dutch, Danes, Swedes, Italians, Jews and Germans. We have in our tradition an element of independence, courage, Gdańsk belonged to the Hanseatic League. During the partitions it was Germanized, but before the war it was still 30% Polish. For the vast majority of its history it belonged to Poland.

The changes that came after 1989 meant the removal of the totalitarian political system and police terror. Economically, however, it was a disaster because of the neoliberal model imposed on us without discussion, which is hard to even call capitalism. The tragic standard of living suddenly fell by 30%. The opening up of the country to imports from thousands of companies - from tiny private services to entire branches of modern industry hurt the economy. For six years inflation was suffocated by hyperinflation. Many farmers went bankrupt and some of them even took their lives, several million unemployed people had to go abroad, or go to starvation pensions that burden the budget.  Fortunately, about two million new family businesses were created from nothing and slowly began to grow.  Also fortunately, it was impossible to control other processes until the end (including political ones). The most important thing is that we do not get under the rule of Russia and Germany. This threatens us. Germany is conducting a real policy that is hostile to us in all areas. For 30 years after the 89th year. Russia has, of course, also been doing so since Putin.

This conversation was in Polish and English with the aid of a translator.

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