Since the later eighteenth century, Polish history has frequently been punctuated by risings against foreign (usually Russian) domination. They include the risings of 1768, 1794, 1830, 1846, 1863, 1905, 1918, and 1944. They have occurred both during periods of direct imperial rule, and at times when foreign hegemony was exercised via Polish client states. The period of the Polish People's Republic (1944-1989) falls within the latter category. Communist Party rule and Soviet hegemony provoked a great variety of forms of resistance, including violent protest. Part of the resistance movement against the German occupiers took up arms against the Soviets and Polish Communists, and this partisan resistance presented a serious challenge to the regime until 1948, and lasted in some places into the mid-1950s. Yet after its defeat, no full-scale national rising took place. 'Solidarity' was a non-violent organisation, although violence was employed by the regime to suppress the movement. The moment when Poland came closest to a rising was in 1956, at the same time as the Hungarians did in fact rise against their Soviet occupiers
On 28 June 1956 workers in Poznań revolted, as demonstrators attacked the headquarters of the Party and the Security Apparatus, in the belief that similar revolts were taking place across the country. Seventy died when the revolt was crushed by 10,000 soldiers, and hundreds injured. Feelings ran high that summer and autumn, contributing to a changing of the guard in the Party leadership A national rising again seemed possible in October, when in response to the return of Władysław Gomułka to power and widespread agitation, Khrushchev landed in Warsaw and the Soviet army began to move on the Polish capital. But Gomu?ka convinced Khrushchev to call back the tanks and troops. Riding a wave of popular enthusiasm, he was able to portray himself as the defender of Polish sovereignty, and introduce reforms in various areas of Polish life, without relinquishing the Communist Party's grip on power. When the Hungarians rose, and died in their thousands, instead of joining them, the Poles confined themselves to humanitarian aid. Subsequently, 1956 took its place in much of the nation's memory as the end of Stalinist Terror, and a new dawn which produced great improvements in living standards and a measure of freedom unparalleled in the Communist bloc, but whose early promise was not fulfilled.
The conference, to be held as close as possible to the fiftieth anniversary of the Poznań revolt, poses the question of why (for once) the Poles did not mount a national uprising against Russian domination in 1956. It also looks at the wider significance of 1956, both in the history of 'People's Poland', and in that of Polish emigrés in the West, who had been cut off from their homeland since the end of the Second World War. One of the new departures will be an examination of the reaction of the British Government to events in Poland, at a time when Suez preoccupied it.
Most of the papers will be given by younger historians working at the Institute of National Memory (IPN) in Poland, on the basis of recently accessible archival material. IPN (Poznań) will present a photographic exhibition on Poznań in 1956 – the 'wounded city'. Their perspectives, and the latest research, will be confronted with the experience, approaches and insights of an older generation of historians, sociologists, and political scientists based in the UK. It is hoped that SSEES will publish the proceedings.
First session 9.30-11.00
Second Session 11.30-1.30
Third Session 2.30-3.45
Fourth session 4.15-5.15
* Presented by Agnieszka Rogulska
The conference fee is £10, and £5 for students. To attend the conference, please complete the application form and return to Susie Rizvi, Room 341, UCL-School of Slavonic and East European Studies, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.