Leader Reporter Chris O'Neill Honored in Poland
by Maureen Daly
A reporter for the North Shore Leader, Chris O’Neill, was recognized recently at an international media conference in Lodz, Poland where he addressed the attendees. The conference was organized by members of Poland’s former anti-communist opposition, and featured the media and political organizations that fought for democracy and a free press against the communist dictatorship in 1980’s Poland.
O'Neill is perhaps the only non-Pole awarded the "Anticommunist Activist" status by the Polish government Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression. O'Neill worked as a journalist in the 1980's with the underground free press in communist Poland, while studying there as a Fulbright Scholar.
The conference was organized by the "Fighting Solidarity" and "LPD-N" both formerly underground groups. Fighting Solidarity was founded by the late Kornel Morawiecki, father of the present Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, to coordinate with members of the free labor and political organization Solidarity against the communist regime.
Fighting Solidarity, many of whose members were engineers, became famous for cutting-edge free journalism, including underground radio broadcasts, debunking communist propaganda, illegal leaflets and journalism, placing informants within the communist security services, and creating devices that listened to both police and secret police communications.
For years the Soviet KGB and communist Poland's secret police were unable to locate Morawiecki. So they turned their wrath upon his then-teenage son, Mateusz Morawiecki. The police harassment started when Mateusz was just 14. At one point they kidnapped Mateusz to the forest, stripped him naked and forced him to dig his own grave, telling him they were going to execute him. They then started laughing and let him go.
Fighting Solidarity decided in response to burn down the garden shed of the local SB head as a warning. The Communists' physical and psychological abuse meted out upon the younger Morawiecki has informed his leadership as Prime Minister. He has vowed to "never" allow a totalitarian group to take power again in Poland.
Speaking before the conference, O'Neill related that he was involved in the 1980’s in the eastern city of Lublin, mostly with the LPD "N" underground media group. LDP-¨N¨ was a resolutely anti-communist underground organization that advocated for a democratic system, a market economy and complete dissociation from the Soviet Union.
Between 1984 and 1990 the group prepared, printed and distributed 17 publications, including two books, 14 magazines (numerous issues), and over 500,000 leaflets.
"Such publication activity would have been noticeable under normal economic conditions in a free society," noted O'Neill. "But in communist Poland, paper, ink, printing equipment, and even staples were controlled, and had to be organized outside the communist police state, and printed and distributed in secret."
The communist police had, as their job, the main task of combating and preventing exactly such independent media activity. The sanctions, if free journalists were caught, were real and severe, including arrest, loss of a place at university, loss of a job, and imprisonment.
"It should be noted that the raison d'etre of underground publications was to present to the public information or ideas that the communists did not want disseminated," noted O'Neill in his address to the group.
"The members of organizations like Fighting Solidarity and LDP-¨N¨ knew from their parents and grandparents, who often were members of the Polish resistance during WWII, how underground organizations were built and run," stated O'Neill. "No one knew other people's real names, and you only had contacts with others in the organization that were absolutely necessary – in most cases usually no more than two other persons."