Scholar Interviews

Does this poem help explain the strike?


It’s romantic in the sense of here’re these young people bringing about freedom. And that’s how I want to think about the revolution of 1988.

But then when I worked, sort of got deeper into the strikes of 1988, my thoughts about 1988 began to change. I went to the town of Jastrzębie Zdrój this mining town in southern Poland and I interviewed a lot of people talking about what had gone on during those strikes. And at one point I visited the Solidarity offices of the July Manifesto Mine and I found a collection of poems that had been composed during the strike and issued as a leaflet. The style and meaning could not be more different.

Let me read the beginning of one of these poems. It’s called "The Ballad of the Striking Miners." "On the other side of the fence there’s a large group of Smurfs,” which is the slang for policemen, “and on this side is faith. No one fears them. We will sit here from morning until the next morning. What’s going to happen to us, beloved fatherland? We sit and we wait and we have nothing in exchange but we will have something when we are victorious. The coal is just lying there. No one is mining it. It’s lying in huge piles. No one is carrying it. There are no ministers here. There’s no general. All of Poland waits for news from us. The newspapers are deceiving us. The radio is deceiving us. Tell us now, here, what is going wrong in Poland.” And—the ballad goes on, not particularly happy.

There are no anarchists here. There’s no sense of a movement either. We’re sitting. We’re waiting. We have faith and we’re alone. We’re isolated. Which, of course, is maybe more likely in a mine. This poem and some other poems in the leaflet are clearly directed to the outside—listen to us. But they’re not asking you to come and join us.

Pejot does end the poem with a call to those in Warsaw to go out and demonstrate, but it’s a feeble call. It’s a sense of, you know, things have passed us by and here we are stuck in the mine with the exception of that second line where he mentions the Smurfs. With that exception, we just don’t see the rest of Poland. We don’t see those social movements. We don’t see the new kinds of movements that were emerging.

How to Cite

Padraic Kenney, interview, "Does this poem help explain the strike?" Making the History of 1989, Item #592, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:24 pm).