Poznań protests of 1956 were symbol of struggle for everyday freedom: PM

The main ceremonies marking the 64th anniversary of the tragic events of June 1956 were held in Poznań, western Poland, on Sunday. This was the first major anti-communist protest that occurred in Poland after WWII.

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On Sunday, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on social media that “64 years ago, workers, citizens took to the streets in Poznań,” and that “the Poznań June is a symbol of the struggle for basic freedoms - the right of every human being to a dignified life.”

“64 years ago, workers, citizens, as well as fathers and mothers fighting for a better present and future of their children, took to the streets in Poznań,” he added.

Earlier in the day, addressing the observances, Jacek Jaśkowiak, the Mayor of Poznań said that “we will always be proud that Poznań was the first city to show that it is possible to oppose the tyranny of power.”

The Mayor recalled that the protest of June 1956 had been caused by economic conditions, and added that it had been a spontaneous outburst of people against the authorities, which were unable to satisfy the basic material needs of citizens.

“This was a protest against the abuse of power, but also a struggle for diversity and democracy in a time, when there was only one 'right' party in power, and when the only acceptable ideology was binding. Anyone, who disagreed with it, was destroyed,” Mr Jaśkowiak said.

June’56: 63 years ago today workers rose against communist regime

On June 28, 1956, the workers’ protests known as events of June’56 started in Poznań, western Poland. It was the first major anti-communist protest...

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First anti-communist protest

The June’56 events were the first major anti-communist protest in Poland after the imposition of the communist regime in the aftermath of WWII. It also had an influence on the process of the relative liberalisation of the regime that started in October 1956, after the period of Stalinism in Poland was over.

The direct cause of the workers’ protest was a conflict in the Joseph Stalin Metal Works in Poznań (known before WWII and today as the Hipolit Cegielski factories) which employed 13,000 people. The staff of this factory demanded from its board a return of taxes deducted from bonuses, decreasing production quotas, improvements in occupational health and safety and better organisation of work. Workers also demanded higher salaries and lower prices.

In the early morning of June 28, workers announced that they were going on strike and marched to the premises of the Poznań National Council, the local authority of that time. Employees of other working entities joined them along the way.

The regime fired the first shots at the protesters around noon, at the premises of the Office of Public Security (UBP), the secret police. There were casualties and wounded and, according to reports, shots from the UBP were also aimed at women and children.

The central communist authorities took the decision to put down the protest with the use of the regular army. The fighting in the city lasted until June 30. The protesters destroyed and damaged dozens of tanks, but they did not stand a chance against regular troops.

At least 59 people died, around 240 were injured. A total of ten soldiers and militia officers also died in the fighting. Many people were detained by the authorities.

After the pacification of the protests, Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz uttered a famous sentence: “Any provocateur or lunatic who raises his hand against the people's government may be sure that his hand will be chopped off.”