For Freedom and Peace; WiPing Poland into Shape

By Michalski, Franek | The Nation, May 23, 1987 | Go to article overview

For Freedom and Peace; WiPing Poland into Shape


Michalski, Franek, The Nation


WiPing Poland Into Shape

From May 7 through 9 an increasingly vocal groupof young Polish peace activists that calls itself WiP, the Polish acronym for Freedom and Peace, hosted an unprecedented seminar in Warsaw on International Peace and the Helsinki Agreement. For the past two years WiP has protested various aspects of military service and the political role of the Polish Army. WiP--pronounced "veep"--numbers several hundred active members in a half-dozen of Poland's major cities, with perhaps 10,000 more who can be counted on to demonstrate, sign open letters and take part in support actions. Given the atmosphere of post-martial law Poland, the group, whose methods and philosophy are nonviolent, has scored some remarkable successes.

After its tentative victories at home, WiP has begun to explorethe international implications of its antimilitarism. It has made contact with other Eastern Europeans, for example signing an "individual peace treaty" with East German pacifists, in which the signatories pledge not to participate in military actions of "friendly assistance" against each other's country. WiP also regularly reprints news items and interviews from the publications of Western peace groups, as well as information from Amnesty International.

WiP First came into public view in 1985, with a campaignin support of draftees jailed for refusing to take the army oath because of its pro-Soviet content and for refusing military service altogether. The group's vigorous appeals to the Ministry of Defense led to a de factor recognition of alternative service: in its January 7 issue the army newspaper, Zolnierz Wolnosci, published instructions for seeking conscientious-objector status. In a backhanded way last autumn's general amnesty was a recognition of the politicla rights of draft protesters, because WiP members were released along with other imprisoned opposition activists. (However, the pacifist Wojtek Jankowski, jailed for refusing induction into the armed forces, was freed only after a sit-in demonstration in Warsaw's downtown shopping district.) Although these shifts in policy have not been made law, they are a significant reversal of the customary denunciations of draft refusal as one of the "dangerous crimes against the state."

After the Chernobyl disaster WiP members from thesouthwestern industrial city of Wroclaw held a spirited protest march with banners that read, "Why the delay in news of nuclear fallout?" and "Today Chernobyl, tomorrow Zarnowiec!" -- a reference to a nuclear power plant under construction. Later, WiP members in Wroclaw organized demonstrations against a local steel mill that had been dumping chromium, a heavy metal, into the city's water supply. As a result the local authorities have put aside a proposed expansion plan and have decided to phase out production at the mill, promising to close it altogether by 1990.

The Wroclaw group, most of whose members are of collegeage, has earned a reputation for street militancy and guerrilla theater. When the Rector of Wroclaw University became annoyed with WiP activists who were members of the campus Hiking Club, he threatened to ban the club unless it acted like other campus social groups. "Why don't you rent a bus, get some beer and have a picnic?" Delighted to oblige, the Hiking Club spent a merry day riding a bus through the streets of Wroclaw, drinking beer and regaling passers-by with rendtions of old Stalinist standards and more contemporary Solidarity protest songs. The Hiking Club was suspended the next day.

The whimsy of some of WiP's public actions, its "peacepolitics" and youthful profile (most WiPers are not old enough to have participated fully in Solidarity) tempt one to make comparisons with the Vietnam War-era protests in the United States. In a January headline The New York Times called WiP activists, not altogether kindly, "Hippie Foes of the Draft."

There is some truth in the comparison. …

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