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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert
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They called her “Justice”

8 June, 2010 - 00:00

Anna Walentynowicz’s death is a great loss for two nations, Poland and, of course, Ukraine, which had become very dear to her in the last years of her life. May she rest in peace, and may her heroic life be known throughout Ukraine – for she was always the daughter of Ukraine.

Few people know that a Volhynia-born Ukrainian woman was one of the founders of the Polish free trade union Solidarity. Anna Walentynowicz died together with Lech Kaczynski in the plane crash near Smolensk, on April 10.

There still may be some poor people in Poland, but there mustn’t be any intimidated ones.

Anna Walentynowicz


April 10, 2010 saw the second Katyn massacre in the history of Poland. The plane crash near Smolensk took its toll: the lives of the Polish President Lech Kaczynski and the elite of Polish leadership. The Polish delegation was going to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the first Katyn massacre — the mass executions of Polish citizens, mainly the officers of the Polish Army, committed in the spring of 1940 by the NKVD.

It is well known that history repeats itself, albeit modified. It is this modification of recurrences that causes the spiral (rather than cyclic) model of the evolution of historical development both in time and space.

The Polish delegation included one of the founders of the famous opposition trade union Solidarity, Anna Walentynowicz, known throughout Poland. However, few people know that Walentynowicz was Ukrainian-born, and was from Volhynia.

According to the research conducted by modern experts in local history, Walentynowicz (nee Lubczyk) might have descended from the family of Severyn Nalyvaiko. Perhaps the spirit of the great Cossack leader manifested itself in Walentynowicz’s actions. Just like her probable distant ancestor Nalyvaiko, who in his time shook the very foundations of the Commonwealth and nearly overturned its political establishment, his probable distant descendant Walentynowicz essentially overturned the foundations of the contemporary Polish statehood.

Anna Lubczyk was born on Aug. 15, 1929 in the village of Sinne (now Sadove), not far from the village of Korostiatyn (now Malynivka), where the father of the founder of modern cosmonautics, Kostiantyn Tsiolkovsky, was born – another descendant of Nalyvaiko.

Her mother, and the father of Mykola Pashkovets, one of the authors of this publication, were siblings. In 1939 Anna’s mother, Priska Lubczyk (nee Pashkovets), died leaving six children orphaned. Anna was the third child in the family, having an elder brother Ivan (by her mother’s first husband, Oleksii Sushuk) and an elder sister Olha. The Lubczyk family, with a crowd of little children, lived in abject poverty during the war. Therefore, at the age of twelve, Anna was sent to work for a Polish gentleman Muntyk Telesnicki, who served at the sugar refinery in Babyn. For her backbreaking job Anna received meals – but no wages.

In 1943, before the entry of the Soviet troops into Volhynia, the Telesnicki family fled to Poland, taking the thirteen year old Anna with them without the consent of her parents, as a free pair of hands would always come handy around the house.

First, the Telesnickis moved to Hoshcha. Later, learning that the girl’s father was searching high and low for her, they moved to Hrushvytsia, and later spent a whole week getting to Gdansk, where some relatives lived. The girl was told that her family had been killed by the Nazis who had burnt their village. In fact, it was the village of Pustomyty, next to Sinne, that was burnt. Besides, Anna’s masters kept warning her to keep her Ukrainian descent secret, for fear of being killed.

Nazar Lubczyk spent long years searching for his daughter Anna, making one inquiry after another, but to no avail. He did not know where exactly the Telesnickis had moved. The man died in 1995, never learning that his daughter was alive. For many years Anna herself was afraid to send a message to her family. And only after Ukraine became independent, and after some time had passed, did Anna venture to take this step.

It happened thanks to Yefrem Hasai, a researcher and expert in local history from Ternopil, who heard Nazar Lubczyk’s announcement on the radio, in which her father was asking to help find his daughter. Hasai sent an inquiry to the Warsaw address bureau (it’s thanks to him that Anna was able to reunite with her family). Although, it turned out later that the secret services of both Poland and the USSR knew perfectly well where Walentynowicz came from, and watched her closely in case she began establishing contacts with her family in Ukraine.

The Telesnicki family settled not far from the city of Gdansk. The girl continued doing housework for them for meals and clothes only. She did all the chores, and milked cows, trying to please everyone in the household, while her masters always humbled her, deriding her Ukrainian descent. Anna had to work from four in the morning till late at night. She never had meals together with the family who shared home with her – not even at Christmas. She usually spent Christmas in the stable with horses, just not to stay alone.

Once her masters beat her up so cruelly for some fault that she desperately rushed towards the sea and was about to commit suicide. There Anna was overtaken by a woman who used to buy milk from them. She comforted the girl, put her up at her house, and then found her a job – looking after a baby for a certain family. These were kind people. When the baby grew up and they moved to another place for work, they let Anna stay in their apartment.

In November, 1950, Anna was so moved by the slogan “The young build ships” that she went to work as a welder at the Gdansk Lenin shipyard. She became a top worker, fulfilling 270 percent of the quotas. Her photos appeared in the newspapers.

For such achievements, in 1951 Anna was chosen to be a delegate from the Polish Youth Union to the Congress of the Socialist Youth in Berlin. However, soon she was disappointed by the atmosphere of hypocrisy permeating the Union. She discontinued her membership in the Union of the Polish Youth and joined the Women’s League, and then became the leader of this organization at her shipyard.

In the 1950s, she was summoned by the secret police and questioned about her past and her origins. She testified to being an orphan from Rivne, but did not mention her Ukrainian identity (the syndrome which was impressed on her by her former masters). Therefore they indicated her nationality as Polish in her passport, and her birthplace as Rivne, although she did remember the name of her home village, Sinne, even if she could not name the relevant administrative district in Rivne oblast.

She did not look for her relatives because it would create problems for them. She was aware of the persecutions to which the Soviet regime subjected anyone who had connections abroad.

In 1964 Anna married, changed her surname to Walentynowicz, and converted to Roman Catholic faith. Soon she became a trade union activist at the shipyard in Gdansk, and then joined in opposition activities.

The first attempt at firing Walentynowicz was made in 1968, when she tried to investigate the fact of disappearance of the workers’ aid fund. Her entire department stood up for her, so the administration only transferred the rebellious worker to another department, without the right to change the place of employment.

Walentynowicz took part in the strikes of 1970, cooking food for the protesters. In January 1971 she was a member of the workers’ delegation during the meeting with Edward Gierek, the new secretary of the communist party of Poland. In 1978, Walentynowicz joined the organization for the defense of workers rights, the “free trade unions” (WZZ – Wolne Zwiazki Zawodowe), an alternative to the official Polish trade unions, and which were just beginning to take shape. Also, she became a member of the editorial board of the trade union magazine Robotnika Wybrzeza and was actively engaged in promoting the circulation of the magazine, leaflets, and illegal literature, while her home became a venue for the meetings of the free trade unions.

The apartment No.49 at Grunwaldska Str. 9 saw the most famous oppositionists in the Polish People’s Republic, including Jacek Kuron, Kazimierz Swieton, Andrzej Kolodziej, Leszek Moczulski, Adam Michnik, Lech Walesa,

Bogdan Borusiewicz, Alina Pinkowska, Krzysztof Wyszkowski, Jacek Taylor, Iwanna and Andrzej Gwiazda, and the Kaczynski brothers. Anna was like a mother to them, receiving them at her home, cooking and doing the laundry for them.

Later, Walentynowicz was under close surveillance by the secret police. She was often detained for 48 hours, her apartment was searched, she was reproved and censured by the administration more than once. In this connection, Walentynowicz declared the following: “There still may be some poor people in Poland, but there mustn’t be any intimidated ones.” These words by the Great Ukrainian must become a motto for present-day Ukraine.

On Aug. 8, 1980, after 30 years of conscientious work and five months prior to retirement, Walentynowicz was fired from the shipyard for opposition-linked activities. However, the official indictment from the administration said that she was accused of being accomplice to an attempt of theft: there had been an alleged attempt at stealing some wax for making candles for a memorial service. The candles were needed to honor the memory of the demonstrators who died in the streets of Gdansk at the hands of punitive squads.

This administrative decision triggered a strike of the shipyard workers which began on Aug. 14, 1980. The trade union stood up for Walentynowicz. The union proclamation said that she was an obstacle and got in the administration’s way as she defended the workers and could organize them for action. The workers of the Gdansk shipyard started to make banners, and the very first of them carried a demand to reinstate Walentynowicz in her former job. Very soon, on Aug. 16, the shipyard administration agreed to the workers’ economic demands. Walesa declared his readiness to sign an agreement to cease the strike.

However, Walentynowicz suddenly opposed this decision. She declared that the strikers’ main demand was the right to create independent trade unions, which is why it was necessary to go on with the strike. Walentynowicz stood at the gate of the shipyard and personally stopped the workers who started to leave the premises.

Soon Walentynowicz was included in the board of an intersectoral strike committee. In September, 1980, she joined the board of the intersectoral committee of free trade union founders in Gdansk.

Alongside with Walesa, Walentynowicz became the most popular and best known person in the union. That was the time when she visited the British parliament, and was also received by the French prime minister. She was acknowledged as the woman of the year in Holland, and later she appeared in an episode of Andrzej Wajda’s Iron Man, where she played herself.

This was then that she was first called for “The Justice of Solidarity.” As a member of the Gdansk intersectoral strike committee, she participated in the signing of the famous “21 postulates” of the agreement with the Polish government on the creation of free trade unions. It is exactly for this that Walentynowicz was also called “the Mother of Solidarity,” which made her an unofficial ideological leader of the Gdansk strike.

She was arrested three times, and during the arrests the secret police inquired about her family in Ukraine.

Once, in 1981, they summoned her father Nazar Lubczyk to the KGB quarters and, without explaining anything, asked him bluntly, “Where is your daughter Anna?” “At school,” was the reply. The investigator was surprised, but he instantly understood that Lubczyk must have had a younger daughter whom he named Anna (in memory of the lost one, for whom they had ordered requiems in church). So he asked, “Didn’t you use to have another daughter of the same name?” “Ah! That one... She just disappeared. Her Polish masters took her away,” replied Lubczyk. “So – you know nothing about her?” the investigator insisted. “No, nothing. Maybe, you do?” asked the old man, and hope rang in his voice. “No, no. We don’t know anything either. You may go,” promptly replied the investigator.

Thus, old Lubczyk never got to know that his daughter Anna, one of his eleven children, was alive. Many years later, in 1996, clinging onto her father’s grave at the cemetery, the tearful Anna Walentynowicz said, “Forgive me, Father, for not having come back earlier, for not having found you. There were various reasons. Ill fate separated us for good, but I’m grateful to you for searching for me. I am so happy to have met my family. God helped me find the path to my old home, to my happiness, even if half a century had passed.”

Walentynowicz played the most active part in the trade union at the rise of Solidarity, but, as she herself mentioned, she voluntarily ceded her leadership to Walesa. Her motive was that in negotiations the state administration would more easily find a common language with a man than with a woman. However, as a wise woman and an experienced politician, she might perhaps be reluctant to create a precedent of fighting for power at such a crucial moment, and add discord to the initial and yet fledging phase of the great struggle for the just cause. Later she would recollect this: “When as a young girl I was just beginning this uneasy strife for every person’s right to a dignified life, I dreamed that my son and his peers would be happy citizens of a free nation, led by wise and honest individuals.”

At that moment, Walentynowicz was still Walesa’s faithful comrade in arms and even became godmother to his children. Yet in the last period of their opposition activities there appeared certain ideological controversies between them. They started to drift apart in the fall of 1980. Her home remained a venue for informal meetings of the trade union activists led by Kuron. Walentynowicz backed Gwiazda and criticized Walesa’s politics as the leader of Solidarity, so she was deprived of the status of delegate to the First National trade union congress at the Gdansk shop “Olivia” in 1981. However, she was still present there, even though as a guest.

This reminds one of certain events in the leadership of the Popular Movement of Ukraine, which even didn’t try to study and consider our Polish neighbors’ experience of opposition activities!

After the introduction of the martial law of 1981 she was arrested, yet after being released 11 months later, she never stopped her opposition activities. The Gdansk Institute of National Memory published some information in 2006 which showed that at that time, 100 officers of regular and secret police “hunted” for Walentynowicz, and there was a plan to poison her in 1981.

In August, 1982, Walentynowicz organized a hunger strike at Saint Barbara Church in Czestochowa, demanding to allow Pope John Paul II visit Poland. Later, she continued the hunger strike at her home. Several days later, this protest action was curbed by the secret police.

Her son Janusz also spent several months in detainment, and Poland’s then vice prime minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski called Walentynowicz an “irresponsible adventurer” (she must have really annoyed the communist rulers of Poland, to make them resort to this kind of talk).

On Dec. 1, 1982, Walentynowicz was fired by the shipyard administration for absence from work due to her arrest. Soon afterwards, in March 1983, the court in Grudziadz passed a decision to give her a suspended sentence of 15 months imprisonment for the “continued trade union activities and organization of protest actions in December.”

In December 1983 she was again arrested, this time in Katowice for an attempt to establish a memorial plaque at the local coal mine Wujek honoring the memory of the miners killed by the police.

In November 1984, protesting against repressions, Walentynowicz returned two bronze medals and the gold Cross for Merits to the Chancellery of the Council of Poland. She initiated a hunger strike protesting against the murder of priest Jerzy Popieluszko. The strike lasted from Feb. 18, 1985 to Aug. 31, 1986, in the Krakow parish of priest Adolf Choinacki.

She regarded Walesa’s policy after 1980 as reconciliation, and labeled the round table meeting between the representatives of Solidarity and the communist leadership of Poland as treason and a “conspiracy with the communists.”

Even after the fall of the communist regime in 1989, the Solidarity ex-activist intensifies her sharp criticism of the policies of those ruling parties which originated from Solidarnosc. In 2003, Walentynowicz refuses the title of honorary citizen of Gdansk. In 2005, she refuses the honorary pension offered by then prime minister of Poland Marek Bielka. Neither did she agree to take part in the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Solidarity.

Yet one of the proofs of Walentynowicz’s victorious truth can be found in the fact that it was her, the legendary Polish opposition leader – and not Walesa – who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the American Foundation of the victims of communism in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 2005. The award was conferred on her by US President George Bush. At one time such medals for fighting communism were received by Elena Bonner, Vytautas Landsbergis, and Vaclav Havel.

“I am really touched by the fact that after 25 years I finally received the acknowledgment I had not dared to dream of. When I come back to Poland, I will show this medal to people and say that their struggle, their courage was acknowledged at last,” said Walentynowicz as she received the award.

And yet, as the British historian Timothy Garton Ash said, “the secret of the Polish opposition was that the people who totally differed in terms of ideology, nevertheless could come to consent in their strategy and activities.” This is what our Ukrainian opposition has always lacked so badly.

On the whole, the Polish opposition produced a certain phenomenon: communism, which at one time appeared as an ideology for workers, was destroyed by them in Poland. And Anna Walentynowicz doubtlessly made a great contribution to the rise of this phenomenon.

In 2006, Walentynowicz was awarded the highest decoration in Poland, the Order of the White Eagle. This highest award she received from the hands of President Lech Kaczynski on May 3, 2006 (on occasion of the 215th anniversary of the Constitution of 3 May) at the Royal Palace in Warsaw.




She turned 80, she was often sick and could not frequently visit her numerous relatives in Rivne oblast, whom she found again after the 53 years of separation from her homeland. Walentynowicz was survived by her son Janusz, her grandson Patryk (named in honor of St. Patrick), and her granddaughter Kasia.

Two days prior to her tragic death she was able to revise the 700 pages of the typed manuscript of her biography, authored by Slawomir Cenckiewicz. She corrected a few typos in names and handed over some photographs she had found before.

As he got the news of Walentynowicz’s death, the author of her biography whose publication is due in May 2010 by Zysk i Spolka publishers, added the final chapter, the most dramatic one.

Anna Walentynowicz’s death is a great loss for two nations, Poland and, of course, Ukraine, which had become very dear to her in the last years of her life. May she rest in peace, and may her heroic life be known throughout Ukraine – for she was always the daughter of Ukraine.

P.S. This article was based on materials from a chapter of Mykola Pashkovets and Yaroslav Plias’ book Severyn Nalyvaiko and the Princes of Ostroh, which is ready for print and is soon to be published by Styx publishers.

By Mykola PASHKOVETS, Yaroslav PLIAS. Photos provided by the authors