When 25 years ago, on Easter Monday during the martial law, a group consisting of several people broadcast their first programme of the underground Solidarity radio the communists were furious. The underground activists broke the communists’ monopoly for radio information.
...It is not true that detaining people is something different than imprisoning them. We still hear news about beating people in the internment camps, for example in Wierzchow and Wlodawa or beating people in the remand prisons. Mr. Matejczyk, student of the fourth year of the Academy of Catholic Theology, who was cruelly beaten, has been kept in the remand prison in Warsaw-Mokotow. Although he was beaten so cruelly that his spleen was ruptured and his life was endangered, his questioning was continued and he was beaten more instead of being taken to hospital. Let us remember that when we are being told that life is being normalised, when we are told that we must resign ourselves to the times of contempt in the name of peace and higher reasons. Our country cannot be normalised when people are beaten and undeservedly imprisoned, when human rights are violated. Our consent to such normalisation is treason of our conscience, it is dishonour. We must fight for the release of the prisoners, for restoration of human dignity. For the renewal of our Union. Our radio station becomes involved in such a battle and every honest Pole should wage such a battle as much as he can.
This is a fragment of the first programme, read by Zofia Romaszewska, and written by her husband Zbigniew.
In December 1981 the martial law had its first victims. Thousands of people were imprisoned in 46 internment camps. Several hundred more were jailed for striking, undertaking various protest actions against the communists. And the military junta, headed by the Polish United Workers’ Party and Wojciech Jaruzelski, announced further successes of communism. After a temporary fall of hope, connected with the fact that the Solidarity Trade Union began regaining its citizen rights, the underground papers, including ‘Tygodnik Wojenny’ [War Weekly] or ‘KOS’, began appearing from the first days of the martial law. Other forms of organisation needed for the underground were built. One of them, the most spectacular one at that time, was the origin and functioning of ‘Radio Solidarnosc’ in Warsaw.
Beginnings of the underground Solidarity radio
It was Roman Kolyszko, electronics engineer, who was the originator and constructor of Solidarity radio station. Several months before the imposition of martial law he proposed that form of communication to the works in the Mazowsze Region of the Workers’ Union Solidarity, in case of a general strike in December. But his idea was not put into practice. Then Zbigniew Romaszewski, activist of the underground Solidarity, saw the chance of using Kolyszko’ invention again. Prof. Jan Kielanowski contacted both men after the martial law had been imposed. Soon the idea to start a radio, which was in January 1982, was not only taken up by Zofia and Zbigniew Romaszewski, who were hiding themselves before the Security Services, but also by several other people, including Janusz Klekowski, a musician from the Grand Theatre in Warsaw. He had known the Romaszewskis for a few years when they worked in the Workers’ Defence Committee. He was hiding himself, too. It was him and his wife Zofia that Zbigniew Romaszewski proposed to be the first speakers in the programme.
Janusz Klekowski remembers his collaboration with Solidarity Radio very well and regards this event as one of the most precious experiences in his life. He recollects that time, ‘We knew the contents of the first programme. But Zbyszek and I were wondering what music ringtone we should choose. We considered such pathetic compositions as ‘The Revolutionary Étude’ by Chopin. However, Zosia Romanowska warned us against it and tried to convince us that it should be a catchy melody. At last she said, ‘Since we have war let it be a fragment of the song performed during the Nazi occupation, ‘Siekiera, motyka...’ [Axe, hoe]. And I, even before the martial law, apart from playing in the orchestra, played viola da gamba every day and played the end-blown recorder-type flute in the old music ensemble under the supervision of the excellent composer Marcin Szczycinski. I had my flute in the flat I was hiding in. So I decided to play it... axe, hoe... And it turned out that the chosen music ringtone was the best one. For me this end-blown recorder-type flute is historical and I have kept it till now. It occurred that if we had chosen some pathetic music it might have been funny since the programme lasted several minutes, so half of the time would have been the music ringtone. By the way, people liked this melody very much. I heard people signing that song in town...axe, hoe... And there was a beautiful and humorous story. When the Western stations like Radio Free Europe, the BBC, the Voice of America played the programme of Radio ‘S’ the next day Marcin Szczycinski got excited and was running and telling other people humorously, ‘Listen, my student played the flute on the BBC.’
– There is another less humorous story related to that broadcasting’, says Elzbieta, the wife of Janusz Klekowski. ‘Janusz has a slight speech defect, which is so characteristic that all those who know him can easily recognise his voice. The next day after the programme had been broadcast several people in the theatre approached me, patted me on the back and said, ‘Congratulations, Elzunia.’ I thought I would vanish into thin air. The radio broadcast secretly and here almost half of the theatre knew who was involved in it. From that time two Security Service men were present during our rehearsals since Janusz had an arrest warrant, and those men waited for him when he would by any chance appear in the theatre.
Flickering lights reached the horizon
Kolyszko’s transmitter was a prototype. So technical tests lasted several weeks. The first programme, which was a kind of final technical test, was broadcast on 12 April 1982. ‘We thought that the radio would become an important element to maintain the social mood. We wanted people not to think that we, the Solidarity resistance movement, disappeared’, Zofia Romaszewska recollects. ‘We knew that the Security Service would jam us and would catch us after some time; we would be jailed. And we supposed that our sentence would have two-digit numbers. However, it was worth risking because encouraging people was the most important thing to us. Our colleague Wojtek Kochlewski, code-name Medalik, got the idea to broadcast from his tall block of flats in Grojecka Street. He had a fantastic caretaker who gave him the keys to enter the roof. We recorded in Bemowo, in an old villa in Telewizyjna Street.
‘The choice of Easter Monday was not accidental. We knew that some people would be demobilized for Easter: from the police, the Security Service, the Reserved Units, ZOMO, the army. Three days before our broadcast we distributed several or even dozen, thousand flyers informing that Solidarity Radio would broadcast on Easter Monday, and the exact time of the broadcast was given. The programme was of ‘heartening character’. It was, so to say, the first ‘interactive’ radio in Poland. Since we asked people to switch on and off the light when they could hear us. Zosia gave a special ‘code’ during the programme. Thus we could get to know our range of audibility. Janusz Klekowski and Marek Rasinski broadcast the first programme of Solidarity Radio. Several families from the block of flats were involved, too. Although it was only the middle of April the evening was not cloudy and it was warm. The transmitter was carried in a briefcase to the roof by Klekowski and Rasinski. The latter carried an antenna placed on a several meter long telescope fishing pole ‘for pikes’. ‘Marek Rasinski is a wonderful man, very courageous and very much involved in the fight for independence. He feared nothing. He stood with the long antenna on the roof like a messenger of freedom, and I stood with the control transmitter a few meters away from him, checking the audibility,’ Janusz Klekowski recollects. ‘I had my fears. The electrical wire was connected to one of the flats. I had the impression that the black wire, going up the wall to the roof, was visible everywhere. Suddenly, I imagined a big crowd of people at the block of flats pointing to us and to the wire. It was completely irrational. Fortunately, Marek’s presence calmed me down. We began broadcasting and then I saw lights reaching the horizon... People confirmed that they could hear us and informed us about the quality of audibility. I began crying. So did Marek, I think, and with great euphoria he said, ‘Now they can put me to jail.’ That was very moving. I have never experienced such a moment again. We hid the transmitter and the recorder in a safe place, somewhere in the block. I think it was in the flat of the Koraliks since we went to them after we had descended from the roof. When we entered in they all kissed us. We drank tea, remained with them for some time and went out safely. After the broadcast I realised that Solidarity reached a higher level of its flight for Poland’s independence. ‘I was most impressed by the story of the typesetter from the Polish Word House. He had a night shift like other several workers in the printing house; they were setting and printing papers’, says Zbigniew Romaszewski. ‘Almost every worker came to work with a small radio. Their work began and before 9.00 p.m. they switched off the machines and there was complete silence. Suddenly those radios played the ringtone and our broadcast began. At that moment they all shouted so loudly that the walls trembled.
People went out to their balconies
After that first programme, the next one was two weeks later, the day before 1 May. Then a special investigation group ‘Audycja’ [Programme], formed by the Security Service, was active. It was supported by STASI, the East German services. Although they used a special device for pelengation they could not find the transmitter and the tape-recorder. The Security Service and the police closed several streets and gathered almost thousand secret workers and uniformed forces as well as transporters and armoured cars. A helicopter was circling over the building from which we broadcast. ‘Even if the transmitter had been found nobody would have been endangered. Since that time the transmitter and the recorder were switched on automatically’, Janusz Klekowski explains. ‘As I was told the Security Service covered the whole housing estate ‘Za Zelazna Brama’ from which the programme was really transmitted. Looking at that ostentatious presence of the police people realised that the programme was broadcast from their estate. They were so enthusiastic that they stopped hiding their emotions. They went out to their balconies and sang the national anthem. Two months later, in July 1982, Zofia Romaszewska was accidentally arrested. The next month her husband and seven other collaborators were denounced and arrested. Their trial was in January 1983 and they got sentences: from seven-month imprisonment to four and a half year imprisonment for Zbigniew Romaszewski. His wife was sentenced for three years. At that time, in the entire country there originated programmes that collaborated with Solidarity Radio in Warsaw. The radio stations broadcast in Gdansk, Gorzow, Krakow, Lublin, Pulawy, Szczecin, Swidnik, Torun or Wroclaw. Many of them broadcast on the TV frequencies, thus jamming the television programmes.