Leader Reporter Decorated by Polish President
By Tom Nothel
Chris O’Neill, a reporter for the North Shore Leader, was decorated by Polish President Andrzej Duda with that country’s second-highest civilian award, the “Polonia Restituta,” last month, on December 13th.
The ceremony took place at the presidential palace in Warsaw, exactly 42 years after the communists in Poland imposed Martial Law in 1981, outlawing the Solidarity free trade union movement.
Chris O’Neill actively took part in the struggle against the communist regime in Poland in the 1980’s. He belonged to an underground organization that focused on preparing and printing uncensored materials for distribution to the public.
The organization acted strictly according to what the Poles call the ‘principles of underground conduct’, taking care not to be detected by the authorities, which meant, for example, that, on average, most members only knew several other members, and only by pseudonyms. Of the 30 member group, only two were discovered and served prison time.
“This is an unbelievable honor” said O’Neill. “What is especially significant for me is that I received this award on the anniversary of Martial Law – which for Poles is as traumatic as Pearl Harbor was for our grandparents.”
“I was a student in Poland at the time,” added O’Neill. “I remember looking out my dormitory window at tanks rolling down the street in the middle of the night. The university was shut-down, and all the students were ordered to go home.”
“They fought for a few days, in the dorms, or together with striking workers in the factories, but were crushed. My dorm was then used as a barracks for the riot police. They would sleep in the day, and at night go off and “pacify” another striking factory.”
“There were only a few of us foreign students left in the dorm. We had no place else to go. I was the only one from a non-Third World country.”
“I cut out pictures and letters from Newsweek or Time that I had gotten from home and made a collage with nuclear missiles, a mushroom cloud, and a picture of Ronald Reagan, together with letters that spelled out the Polish word: CHCESZ?, which means, “Do you want this?” I put this on the door of my dorm room.”
“We had riot police in the next rooms, and we shared a bathroom. One morning I got up, passed a burly guy shaving and found the toilet smashed into smithereens,” recalled O’Neill. “They did not want me there. I could go on and on about my experiences. It was only later that I got actively involved in the underground.”