Warsaw 1981 - "The Building" by Andrzej Markiewicz

When I received this unique material from Andrzej Markiewicz, I was thrown back in time to the early 1980's. On December 13, 1981 thousands of soldiers in military vehicles appeared on the streets of Warsaw and other major Polish cities. It was a carefully planned and efficient military coup and much of the planning took place in The Building. 

The coup was led by General of the Army Wojciech Jaruzelski and the "Military Council of National Salvation". The plan was presented in advance to the government of the Soviet Union.

General Jaruzelski imposed martial law. Movements such as Solidarity were banned and their leaders arrested over night and imprisoned. A reign of terror followed and about 700 000 Poles fled the country during the rule of Jaruzelski from 1981 to 1989.

Well, I should not go on. I was not there, I was only one protester outside the Polish Embassy in Stockholm. Now you will get the story from Andrzej. He was there only some months before Poland was thrown into turmoil and repression.
Mr Urbano

"My photos depict the building of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party. In January 1981 I started a job close to the Building. And, yes, I was already since a few years a photographer who believed to be an artist of importance. 

I mean… like a conceptual artist, like Andy Warhol's movie making.

I like boring things (Andy Warhol).

I started to take pictures of The Building and my idea was to be calm and neutral. No chasing of demonstrators or oppressors, just every day snapshots for the family album (I was working as a lawyer and I put my prints in a notebook instead of in a heavy and elegant photo book). 

That was the whole idea - to pretend that I could be just an Artist, even if I breathed the same air as my brothers and sisters - the air of hope, the air of fear.

But I’m never consistent. I started to take pictures from different angles, from the street, from the bus, I started to invite family and friends to the spot. I avoided to come too close - it didn’t help a lot, Milicja took care of me three times. And - even if I tried to take boring pictures - it was impossible to avoid the reality.

Things happened, not very dramatic in my pictures but the real drama is there all the time. 

Sometimes it was impossible to avoid drama/good picture/humor - like Reiseführer Couple (275) standing in the middle of one of most dangerous conflicts of that time, trying to understand…

My boss warned me that people were watching me - my long hippie hair made me an easy target, the act of photographing was considered  suspicious.

Many years later I understood that photographing was considered suspicious on both sides: for our oppressors and for my brothers and sisters who were afraid of Bezpieka (Secret Service).

Well, I left Poland in August 1981, I left my City lawyer job for Sweden, cleaning floors and peeling onions, earning real money, breathing fresh air, worrying about my mother…

Reading about Solidarity (Polish trade union) in the English edition of Wikipedia makes me realise the need for a massiv educational effort. 

I didn’t work for Solidarność. I was busy with my little daughter (side 48), my friends and my education (suddenly we could read forbidden books)

But trust me - around ten million people were members of that movement and almost every aware citizen wanted to get rid of the Soviet occupation and start to build a democratic society. 

The time in Poland between August 1980 and December 1981 was like a carnival with dancers who didn’t know what was waiting around the corner: flowers or bullets.

December 13, 1981 ”the authoritarian communist government of the People's Republic of Poland drastically restricted normal life by introducing martial law in an attempt to crush political opposition.” (Wikipedia) So much for the power of art.

PS - in 1984 I applied for University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm (Konstfack). With these pictures and with zero understanding. So much for the power of art.

© 2017 Andrzej Markiewicz


Jurek Holzer said…
Absolutely unique document!