Agnieszka Łuczak

Comments in the national press about the June 1956 Poznan uprising and their reception in Wielkopolska

The system of press management and control put in place in Poland in 1950s was one of the instruments of power under complete supervision of the Central Committee of the Polish United Worker’s Party (KC PZPR). The press and radio served to deliberately misinform the public and distort reality. What should be added here is that the journalists had gone through a careful selection process. Thus, it is unsurprising that it is difficult to find any comments on the growing conflict and bitterness of Poznań workers in press dated June 1956 despite the atmosphere of thaw among journalists.
The opinion on riots presented in newspapers published the day after the Poznań uprising reflected the official standpoint of Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz which he had put forward in a radio address to residents of Poznań. Another guideline for event assessment was a speech by Edward Gierek, a Secretary of KC PZPR during a eulogy at the graves of over ten casualties of riots. An identical interpretation was offered in a letter by KC PZPR dated June 28th , 1956 that was sent to all PZPR Committees. According to this interpretation, demonstrations and street riots were a product of a "provocation and sabotage action carefully masterminded" by the regime’s enemies. The words about a "hand being chopped off in the interest of the working class" had become embedded in the memory of Poznanians. In the days following this address, many people pointedly went around town with their hand hidden under the clothing. Early official press reports were met with distrust and indignation of the public. In July and August 1956, the Poznań revolt was widely discussed and debated in all circles all over Poland, instantly becoming a national legend. The public tried break the state monopoly for information through leaflets and slogans disseminated in all places where they had a chance to find readers. As there was no freedom of expression and no chance for an open nationwide debate, such an independent flow of information emerged as the only method of social communication. The public could respond in no other way but to have hard feelings and spread more and more hearsay and rumours about the Poznań uprising.
About a week after the revolt, the press changed its almost total condemnation of the ‘provocation’ in Poznań. On July 6, Trybuna Ludu published an article by Krzysztof Wolicki entitled Early conclusions. In his analysis of the Thursday events, the author broke away from the prescribed scheme of interpretation. Wolicki highlighted the presence of two currents in the Poznań revolt, pointing to the "current of workers’ discontent and bitterness and the current of hostile upheaval against the people’s government”. The author also criticised the Poznań-based Provincial Committee of PZPR for its "far-reaching passive attitude and lagging behind of events". Reprinted in local Poznań dailies, this article then went on to become a new prescribed version of events for press comments.
The main Polish weeklies presented the thesis of two currents of the ‘Black Thursday’ about a week after the events. What is most striking is that al lthe articles shared the same tone, which makes it evident that it was not a personal afterthought of different journalists; rather, the facts were aligned to the official interpretation imposed by the authorities. The explanation of the Poznań June, as an expression of two currents, was officially presented three weeks after the Poznań events on July 18th by Edward Ochab, the First Secretary of KC PZPR, at the 7th Plenum of KC PZPR, i.e.. The ‘Poznań uprising’ problem was again addressed by the press in the run-up to the trials of persons accused of being a part of the rebellion. The theory of two currents was then modified. It was emphasised that the Poznań tragedy had involved a peaceful workers’ current and a hooligan and bandit current. In this situation, persons whose actions were classified as the second current were to be prosecuted.
The interpretation of the uprising was officially changed after a speech by Władysław Gomułka at the 8th Plenum of KC PZPR (October 21st , 1956). However, this new approach was quickly overshadowed by a deluge of demands for freedom brought up by the national press in October.
The last time the June 1956 Poznań uprising was officially addressed was at a meeting of Gomułka with workers from H. Cegielski’s Works on June 5th , 1957. This is when the First Secretary made the famous claim about drawing a "mournful curtain of silence". The commemorative events of the first anniversary of the ‘Black Thursday’ in 1957 were very simple and quiet, and PRL authorities managed to maintain said "curtain of silence" for twenty five years.