Forming an underground seems to be a typically Polish way of coping with a political disaster. Since the 19th Century, the best men and women of nearly each generation have felt compelled to leave their homes and families in order to plot the overthrow of foreign powers, or to struggle for the country's independence.
It was no accident, then, that on the night of Dec. 12, 1981, when Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's police started to arrest opposition leaders, those who managed to escape the net went underground and, after a number of aborted attempts, formed "Solidarity underground structures," better known as Konspira--from the Polish word the conspiracy. Soon Konspira was rumored to reach into the remotest corners of the country, to have a million regular participants, to run thousands of illegal Solidarity cells and clandestine publishing enterprises, even to infiltrate the police and the military.
Was it reality or legend? More significantly, was it the best way to deal with the Polish predicament--the discrepancy between aspirations of the society and the dismal political realities of Brezhnev's final years? Most of the opposition activists who were arrested endured their detainment with dignity, and after their release undertook all sorts of independent yet open activities to preserve the Solidarity spirit and push the government toward some kind of negotiated solution.
They wrote books and published them abroad or underground, organized clandestine lectures and seminars, launched a campaign of support for the victims of repression and the declining economy. There were other, spontaneous expressions of social defiance: wearing forbidden badges and symbols, laying flowers at the sites of national martyrdom, boycotting various official institutions, attending church celebrations and street protests. Was Konspira really the driving spirit and the organizer of all those actions?
In 1982, three young journalists--Maciej Lopinski, Marcin Moskit (real name Zbigniew Gach) and Mariusz Wilk--decided to seek out seven of the best-known, and best-hidden, leaders of the underground and ask them directly. The result of their investigation was a book of interviews now made available to the American reader. "Konspira," published in 1984 by one of the Poland's underground houses, received an annual Solidarity award for best independent publication, yet provoked some heated debates among the opposition leaders. Even an official pro-Jaruzelski weekly, Polityka, chose to reprint fragments of the book without the authors' permission, and with some obnoxious commentary.
The story of the underground, told in the leaders' own words, was definitely less heroic and innocent than many expected. It was a story of great sacrifice and courage, but also of petty ambitions, personal squabbles and the sense of growing isolation from the mainstream of the political life. The main redeeming quality in those partly cocky, partly confessional statements is their great honesty, the sense of moral responsibility and almost obsessive preoccupation with purity of means and intentions.
What we see here is a sophisticated resistance aware of the many pitfalls of "underground mentality." This awareness is eloquently expressed by one of the most steadfast and unimpeachable Solidarity leaders, Wladyslaw Frasyniuk: "Although everyone wants to fight for an independent Poland, a self-governing society, brotherhood and so forth, increasingly we are using dubious and underhanded methods. Brotherhood becomes a fiction, there's no unity, and ideals get pushed aside."
Like all underground organizations in history, Konspira had to devote most of its energy and resources to itself: establishing contacts and setting up safe houses, training and protecting its people, looking for money and technical support. Relations with the external world--the clandestine Solidarity cells in factories and the society at large--proved more difficult to manage. Channels of communication were slow, awareness of the popular moods often inadequate, and the underground governing body, the Interregional Coordinating Committee, was hard pressed to find a unified strategy.
Instead of leading and coordinating, Konspira often limited itself to supporting and evaluating spontaneous initiatives. It was in that area, too, that the underground suffered occasional setbacks. Some of the strikes and demonstrations it called for never came off, while others broke out without the underground's knowledge or approval. Sometimes a letter of support arrived to a striking factory exactly at the moment when protests were losing momentum, or the situation was turning dangerous and unmanageable.
The underground's main problem was to justify its existence as something more than just a symbol of defiance. Yet what was really the long-term purpose of all its efforts and sacrifices? Contending opinions were voiced in underground publications but the conclusions often were ambiguous and unconvincing.