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The University of Southampton

“Solidarity’s Sounds and Songs” Seminar

17 April 2012
Room 1083 Music, Building 2 Highfield Campus University of Southampton SO17 1BJ

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Dr Florian Scheding at .

Event details

A Seminar by Andrea Bohlman

The final decade of the Cold War in Poland is frequently considered "the era of Solidarity," a reference to the first independent trade union behind the Iron Curtain and the impetus it gave to the Polish opposition to communist rule. Solidarity's formation in August 1980 was the climax of three weeks of general strikes across Poland and daily negotiations between the opposition and government at shipyards on the Baltic Coast. Over the course of one month, the political everyday in Poland had shifted from anxious trepidation to a "carnival of revolution" in which any civilian could take part. Solidarity was thus both social movement and workers' union, and narratives of the Polish national context during the last decade of the Cold War have correspondingly integrated political and cultural histories in an attempt to capture the optimism that characterized the experience of political activists and Polish citizens.

In the Polish context, the implicit assumption that music cannot articulate a political position, with its germ in the freedom the state accorded avant-garde composition, has often precluded cultural histories attuned to music's presence at and even participation in the Solidarity movement on the stage of history. Yet patriotic anthems, satirical cabaret, and devotional hymnody resounded at the scenes of protest as the carnivalesque brought together generations, trumpeted the theatrical, and made space for religious devotion.  In this presentation, I return to Solidarity's nascent moment at the shipyards in Gdańsk in August of 1980.  On the basis of radio broadcasts, diaristic accounts, and strike pamphletry, I make a first attempt to reconstruct the strikes' soundscapes and establish the sounds and songs instrumental to the negotiations and the communitas behind Solidarity as social movement. But the presentation is also a historiographic intervention in the cultural history of Solidarity's August. Just who pays attention to music and why? How and when did the musical traces of Solidarity become silent? Ultimately, I suggest that a music history of Solidarity has the capacity to unsettle the vision of togetherness upon which Solidarity's solidarity was predicated.

Speaker information

Andrea Bohlman, Harvard University

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