The site on which the European Solidarity Centre (ECS) was constructed is one of great historical importance - for Poland and for the entire world. It was here that changes began, which substantially contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall and of political systems in Central and Eastern Europe.
It is here that the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 is located, commemorating that bloody December when the communist authorities used arms against their fellow citizens.
Nearby stands Gate No. 2 of the former Gdansk Lenin Shipyard, which in the 1980s became a symbol for popular opposition against the communist authorities. And, finally, the HS Hall is just nearby. It is there that on 31 August 1980 the Inter-Factory Strike Committee signed an agreement with the government of the People's Republic of Poland - one entailing so permanent a disturbance of the order of things that dreams of freedom finally became credible. The Poles had to wait a further nine years, enduring the hopelessness of the martial law period in order to finally bring about a bloodless revolution which would make the communists give up power. The ECS foundation stone was laid on 14 May 2011. An international competition for the design of the ECS building attracted entries from 58 architectural studios throughout the world. The competition jury selected the design submitted by the Gdansk-based architectural firm FORT. The ceremonial opening of ECS (address: PlacSolidarnosci 1) took place on 30-31 August 2014.
The group of monuments linked with the emergence of Solidarnosc trade union- the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970, HS Hall, Gate No. 2 and also the European Solidarity Centre (which conducts educational activities and promotes the heritage of Solidarnosc) - have been awarded the European Heritage Label. The European Commission grants this award to sites of special significance for European history and culture, to ones that promote ideas of unification, humanism and democracy beyond national boundaries.
In recognition of all efforts aimed at the promotion of freedom and solidarity, ECS has also been awarded the Council of Europe Museum Prize 2016.
ECS is a modern cultural institution created to commemorate and preserve the memory of the Solidarnosc victory, and also to build a new identity for, and reinterpret, the word "solidarity" according to the needs of the modern individual and of the world. Hundreds of thousands of passionately engaged visitors and the excitement that they are packed with at the end of their tour of the permanent exhibition prove that such a place is necessary, and that the ideals of solidarity, whether spelt with a capital S or not, remain valid and up-to-date.
It was the ambition of its founders that ECS should became a Central European agora.
Therefore ECS is not only a museum commemorating the Solidarnosc revolution and the fall of communism in Europe but also an educational and research centre. Its public activities in this field are performed by the library, archive and media library departments. Projects conducted by ECS bring together academic communities, opinion leaders and youth from the entire world. It is the goal of the ECS to cooperate with societies which have never experienced solidarity and freedom, as well as with those whose freedom is currently endangered.
In the days of its origin, Solidarnosc was a new freedom movement in Europe, and it is in the spirit of the Solidarnosc revolution that the history and the future of Poland and Europe meet in ECS. As, regrettably, no similar institution has yet been created in Europe, ECS has been entering a new field, becoming in some ways an experiment, and potentially an important model and point of reference for other European states. Herein lies the attractiveness of the ECS project.
ECS offers a lively public space - a zone for the practice of solidarity and citizenship, a place where citizens linked by a commonality of views come together. It is a sign of the times that NGOs acting for the common good, including the Regional Centre for Voluntary Service in Gdansk, have come together to function within the building of ECS. We believe that it is from experiencing Poland's road to freedom that today we can draw social energy, and that the legacy of Solidarnosc still gives rise to concepts that might invigorate the whole of Europe.
The Permanent Exhibition, devoted to the history of Solidarnosc and to changes that it triggered in Central and Eastern Europe, occupies the main part of the ECS building. It uses nearly 3,000 square meters of space on the 1st and the 2nd floors. It is divided into seven rooms. Visitors spend approximately 2 hours there. The state-of-the-art exhibition is narrative in character - it immerses the visitor in a historical account based on archival exhibits, documents, manuscripts, photographs, video presentations and interactive installations. Every visitor is encouraged to make their own references both to history and to our contemporary times. The multitude of narrations allows multiple subsequent visits - each being a uniquely new experience.
Boards with 21 demands that the strikers hung on the gates of the Shipyard in 1980, the overhead crane operated by the legendary trade union activist Anna Walentynowicz, the bullet-pierced jacket of the 20-year-old shipbuilder Ludwik Piernicki, shot in December 1970, the original desk of Jacek Kuron, one of the opposition leaders - these are some of nearly 1800 exhibits available in the permanent exhibition.
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