• Znak czasu (A Sign of the Times)

It is hard to believe that 30 years have passed since 13 December 1981, when General Jaruzelski declared martial law in Poland, outlawing the free trade union Solidarity  and bringing to an end an extraordinary period in Polish history.  Traumatic though this action was for the country, it proved not to be conclusive, as subsequent history both in Poland and elsewhere in the former Soviet bloc has amply  shown.

Poles woke up to find telephone lines cut, radio and television rigidly controlled by the military, airports closed and internal travel severely restricted.  Such an information clampdown is hard to imagine today, but back then there were no social networks or mobile phones (many homes didn’t even have a landline).  All people could do was to sit tight, scrabble around for supplies, and think of what had happened to Solidarity’s bid – and that of virtually the entire population – for greater freedom of action and belief.

Mementos of the Solidarity period became even more iconic: badges, publications, photographs, posters.  I had visited Warsaw in September 1981, not only to attend the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival but also to experience the excitement and activism of the Solidarity movement.  I visited one of the Union’s headquarters and while there bought a number of items, including a small A3 poster that quickly became a prized possession.  My copy of ‘Kardiogram’ is now a bit crumpled and faded (it was then a bright Polish red on white), but it still speaks volumes.

‘Kardiogram’s’ direct design is typical of Polish poster art.  It may be a bit crude in its fervent execution (its typed dates at the top are skew-whiff), but that’s the point.  Its rallying message was a powerful one.  As Jacek Kaczmarski said about his 1981 album of songs Muzeum, Solidarity was just the latest in a continuum of Polish social and political movements that stretched way back before the 20th century.  In this brilliant image, the timeline peaks at moments of insurrection and brutal deaths: the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the food riots and crisis that came to a head in October 1956, the student and intellectual protests of March 1968, the food riots in northern Poland, especially in Gdańsk, of December 1970, the workers’ protests of June 1976, and finally the lock-in at the Gdańsk shipyards that led to the formation of Poland’s first free trade union Solidarność in August 1980 under its leader Lech Walęsa.  The image culminates in one of the world’s most memorable graphics, a proud march of letters (figures) waving the Polish flag aloft.

‘Kardiogram’ was designed by Czesław Bielecki in 1980 and is stamped at the base: ‘Druk: Komitet Wydawniczy NSZZ “Solidarność” Region Mazowsze’ (Printing: Publication Committee of the Solidarity Trade Union, Mazowsze Region).  It’s worth noting that printing presses and materials, like paper and ink, as well as the new-fangled photocopiers, were not publicly available in those years in Poland.  Such activities were carried out almost entirely ‘underground’.

• The Poet and His Red Bus (1981)

It’s true what they say.  You wait for ages, then three buses come along all at once.  After Szpilman and Winkler‘s happy vehicle, then Linke‘s tortured wreck, here’s another, angry red bus from Jacek Kaczmarski (1957-2004). Pianist, Painter, now Poet.  Kaczmarski was also a singer-songwriter who was one of the voices of the free trade union Solidarity (Solidarność) in the early 80s.

In 1981, Kaczmarski penned a song as a direct response to Linke’s painting.  Czerwony autobus, however, was not the only time that Kaczmarski turned to the visual arts for inspiration.  Over 60 of his 800 poems and lyrics were direct responses to paintings by artists as varied as Pieter Brueghel, Caravaggio, Goya, Hals, Holbein, Manet and Vermeer, with Polish artists such as Maksymilian Gierymski, Jacek Malczewski, Jan Matejko and Witkacy providing equally strong stimuli.  Kaczmarski’s output must have been one of the single most sustained creative collaborations between the visual arts, poetry and music.  Some samples of this interaction can be found on the Polish-language Wikipedia page: http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacek_Kaczmarski.

His musical style belonged to both Polish cabaret and the protest movement, with non-Polish icons including Georges Brassens and Bob Dylan.  He was a mean classical guitarist and his vocal delivery was dynamic, expressive and urgent.  This can be heard on his recording of The Red Bus, where he is accompanied on the piano. It comes from Muzeum, the third album he made with Przemysław Gintrowski (also voice/guitar) and Zbigniew Łapiński (voice/piano).  Kaczmarski commented that:

“The programme of Muzeum came into being in 1981 and was based on selected works of historical Polish art. Its intention was to locate the experiences of the ‘Solidarity’ period within an historical perspective so that the listener would understand that he is a witness to a process and not to a one-off event.”

Kaczmarski’s published lyrics, printed below (there are some differences with the recording), make reference to  characters in Linke’s painting, characters who were just as real to Kaczmarski in 1981 as they had been to Linke 20 years earlier.  They were both a long way from the false dawns evoked by songs such as the original Czerwony autobus of 1952.

The Polish Poet’s Red Bus – in English!, posted six days after this one, gives a corrected Polish transcript and a translation into English.


Pędzimy przez Polską dzicz
Wertepy chaszcze błota
Patrz w tył tam nie ma nic
Żałoba i sromota
Patrz w przód tam raz po raz
Cel mgłą niebieską kusi
Tam chce być każdy z nas
Kto nie chce chcieć – ten musi!
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie
W Czerwonym Autobusie mija czas!

Tu stoi młody Żyd
Nos zdradza Żyd czy nie Żyd
I jakby mu było wstyd
Że mimo wszystko przeżył
A baba z koszem jaj
Już szepce do człowieka
– Wie o tym cały kraj
Że Żydzi to bezpieka!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz!
Więc na co jeszcze czekasz! W mordę daj!

Inteligentna twarz
Co słucha zamiast mówić
Tors otulony w płaszcz
Szyty na miarę spluwy
A kierowniczy układ
Czerwony wiodąc wóz
Bezgłowa dzierży kukła –
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta!
Dziełem tych dwóch marszruta! – Luz i mus!

Za robotnikiem ksiądz
Za księdzem kosynierzy
I ktoś się modli klnąc
Ktoś bluźni ale wierzy
Proletariacki herszt
Kapować coś zaczyna
Więc prosty robi gest
I rękę w łokciu zgina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina!
Nie ruszy go lawina! Mocny jest!

A z tyłu stary dziad
W objęcia wziął prawiczkę
Złośliwy czyha czart
W nadziei na duszyczkę
Upiorów małych rząd
Zwieszony u poręczy
W żyły nam sączy trąd
Zatruje! I udręczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy!
Za oknem Polska w tęczy! Jedźmy stąd!

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