The final decade of the Cold War in Poland is frequently considered “the era of Solidarity”—a reference to the first independent trade union behind the Iron Curtain. The successful dissolution of state socialism in the People’s Republic of Poland has formed the framework of many historical narratives of Polish life in the 1980s. Music histories, too, often attempt to narrate the political context as formative for Polish musical culture.
The 1980 strikes in Gdańsk that brought about Solidarity’s formation form the focus of this lecture. Building upon archival and ethnographic research methodologies, the history and historiography of the union’s sounds and songs are framed. Written, recorded, and filmed accounts document the patriotic anthems, satirical cabaret, and devotional hymnody that resounded at the union’s nascent moment. Activist film makers, pamphleteers, scribes, and radio engineers attended to the ubiquity of songs, giving the brief musical narratives prominent positions in Solidarity’s first histories.
Introducing musical participation through the study of a climactic moment in Cold War politics, a conversation is opened that forgoes the customary formulation of “music and politics” in favor of “political action and music.” This lecture will be presented by Andrea F. Bohlman, who is a postdoctoral fellow in music from the University of Pennsylvania.