This Sunday we had the privilege to attend the funeral of Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland’s first prime minister after communism and someone who was at the forefront of the Solidarity movement in the late 80’s. We know the family and were asked if we would like to be a part of the state ceremony – truly an honour and for me, an extemely interesting experience.
We arrived at the Pepsi Arena at 9am to receive our ceremony passes and to catch one of the 10 or so coaches taking friends, family and political colleagues to the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist in the Old Town. Given that Komorowski, Tusk, Wałęsa and Kaczyński, amongst many others were attending, security was understandably tight. All attendees were checked and I saw priests being questioned by security if they didn’t have their clearance passes visibly hanging around their necks. No chances were being taken with so many dignitaries in one place! The vulnerability and high profile of the event became obvious once inside as security guards could be seen strategically placed around the cathedral.
We managed to get seats on the left hand side of the cathedral, about 10 rows from the front where we could see the pulpit and the coffin once it was brought in. Representatives from each city were present with their flag standards including the shipyard workers from Gdansk and the coal miners from Katowice – each in their traditional uniforms. Most stood standing through the entire service. The political ‘dignitaries’ took centre stage and were all allocated frontline seats in the centre. In my opinion, this area should have been reserved for those who worked alongside Mazowiecki during the height of his political career. I say this because in front of us stood one of his close associates who seemed quite frail and, due to his height, was unable to see most of the ceremony. His emotions at losing a friend and colleague were clear, and it didn’t seem appropriate for him to be so far away from the coffin or family. Careless seating arrangement, but forgivable given the sheer number of people in attendance.
As someone who did not experience the breakdown of the communist regime firsthand or the rise of independence in Poland, it was fascinating to experience the feeling of so much history in one place. The lady at the front of the pew in front of us for instance was the first female tram driver to stop her tram when the strikes started in Gdansk. I wouldn’t have known this had Lucy not pointed her out. The dedications and heart-felt tributes to Mazowiecki from both colleagues and grand-children were touching and genuine. It was clear he had made a real difference to all those that had been fortunate to have known him. Not many people stand for what they believe in to such a degree as he did – especially during such powerfully turbulent and life-threatening times. I also thought the service was conducted in a very neutral manner – there was no preaching sermons or overly political slants; something the family wanted to avoid I think. He was remembered in a very human way, as a true statesman, a teacher to his family and someone who fought for what he believed in. I know funerals only ever touch on the good that people do, but judging by the packed seats in the cathedral, and the crowds that filled the market square outside, it was hard to believe his actions or intentions were anything otherwise.
(A short history of Mazowiecki’s career taken from Polski Radio) Mazowiecki was a member of the communist-controlled Catholic PAX organization from 1945 to 1955, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was expelled after the authorities believed he was a member of an internal opposition group. He went on to establish, with others, the Catholic Intelligentsia Club in 1957 and became editor of the Wiez magazine. From 1981, he was the first editor of the opposition Tygodnik Solidarność (Solidarity Weekly) magazine which was banned when the communists declared martial law in December 1981. Mazowiecki was arrested during the crackdown and was one of the last prisoners to be released in December 1982. He become one of the main negotiators for the Solidarity trade union during the Round Table talks of 1989 and took over as Poland’s first non-communist prime minister in September that year after the newly elected parliament gave him a vote of confidence. Mazowiecki opposed Lech Walesa in presidential elections at the end of 1990 but pulled out of the contest after the first ballot. He went on to become Special Emissary for the United Nations to Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Balkans war and member of the Polish lower house of parliament for the centre-right Freedom Union: he was also a strong advocate of Poland joining the European Union and a more integrated Europe.
Given the current characters in Polish politics and the way personal triumphs are celebrated over the greater good of the country, it seems that well-balanced and educated advice from great minds such as Mazowiecki’s will be sorely missed.