Polish Students Reject Censorship and Repression, 1968


A repeal of the censor against the production of Kazmierz Dejmek's "Dziady"; an end to censorship by PZPR, particularly in schools and in the arts; freedom of the press; ending the monopoly of state-controlled media; an end to the repression and arrests used against dissidents; an end to deployment of police on academic campuses.

Time period notes

Repercussions of the repression campaign would continue into 1969, however the student movement's campaigns ended in early May 1968.

Time period

January, 1968 to May, 1968



Location City/State/Province


Location Description

All major academic campuses in Poland and various cities, including Warsaw, Gdansk, Cracow, Poznan, Wroclaw, and Lodz.
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • Warsaw students petition against the PZPR's censorship of "Dziady."
  • Warsaw students march to the National Theater after the production of "Dziady" is shut down.

Methods in 3rd segment

  • Warsaw students protest censorship on campus.
  • Twenty thousand students march through the streets of Warsaw.

Methods in 4th segment

  • Students at Lodz circulate petitions petitions demanding freedom of the press and an end to the arrest of students.
  • Students distribute fliers in Cracow, Prezemysl, and Siedlice that called for a protest on 13 March in solidarity with Warsaw students.
  • Students in Gliwice sing the national anthem and the “Internationale” during a demonstration.
  • Several thousand students in Warsaw march to the Polish Communist Party headquarters.
  • Thousands of students protest in Warsaw, Gdansk, Cracow, Poznan, Wroclaw, Gliwice. and Lodz on 11 March.
  • Students at Cracow and Wroclaw began a strike on 14 March.
  • At Lodz University, students and some administrators hold a strike from 21 March to 22 March.
  • Three Warsaw campuses hold strikes from 21 March to 23 March.
  • Students at Lodz declare a three-day campus sit-in.
  • Wroclaw students occupy the campus during their two-day strike.

Methods in 5th segment

  • Polish citizens and secondary students living in the provinces outside the major academic centers secretly distribute pro-student, anti-PZPR fliers by scattering them in public places or placing them in mailboxes.
  • Warsaw students call for a five-day boycott of state-controlled media.

Methods in 6th segment

  • Wroclaw Polytechnic students rally and drop a banner emblazoned with: "The arrested are among us," "The truth is on our side," "We demand that the students be freed."
  • Student distribute fliers for a planned demonstration on 22 April.
  • Czech May Day demonstrators march to the Polish embassy to protest Poland’s repression campaign against the students and continued persecution of Jews.

Segment Length

18 days

Notes on Methods

During the fourth segment (10 March - 28 March), there were rallies and demonstrations nearly every day on all major Polish campuses.


Students at universities in Warsaw, Gdansk, Cracow, Poznan, Wroclaw, and Lodz.


Polish citizens, secondary school students, and workers in Provinces.

External allies

Czech citizens demonstrating on May Day.

Involvement of social elites

not known


The Central Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), the Ministry of the Interior, and the PZPR's Department of Science and Education.

Campaigner violence

On 10 March, students at the Warsaw Polytechnical School marched through the streets, condemning the “Gestapo” of the Ministry of the Interior and throwing rocks at the police who responded with tear gas before cordoning off the streets and clubbing the students.

Repressive Violence

Police arrested over 2,700 people during this period, including 641 students. Police frequently used clubs to disperse student demonstrators, and occasionally used tear gas and water cannons. In addition to police forces, the PZPR deployed the Worker's Militia and loyal worker-activists to discipline student protesters and reinforce narratives that the workers were not sympathetic to the student movement.





Group characterization

Polish university students and secondary school students.

Groups in 1st Segment

Students in Warsaw.

Groups in 4th Segment

Students in Gdansk
and Lodz; secondary school students in Radom; blue-collar and white-collar workers in Provinces.

Groups in 5th Segment

Secondary school students in Jelenia Gora.

Segment Length

18 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

1 out of 6 points


0.5 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

4.5 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The repressive violence, mass arrests, and subsequent prosecutions effectively crushed the leadership, momentum and organizational capacity of the student dissident movement. However, the mass student demonstrations are widely cited as an important prelude to the ultimately successful pro-democracy movements in Poland. Thus I gave the movement 1 point for success even though none of their demands were implemented and the PZPR gave no concessions to the students.

Database Narrative

In early 1968, the Polish
National Theater in Warsaw decided to stage a production of “Dziady,” a classic
Polish play by the revered 19th century writer Adam Modzelewski. The
production’s director, Kazmierz Dejmek, choose to highlight the text’s
connection to early Christianity as well as the story of Poland’s struggle for
liberation. Although the communist government rejected religion, no pundits
viewed the play’s content as an exceptional departure from the guidelines of
the Central
Committee of the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), the governing party of


After the debut of Dejmek’s
production in early January, the PZPR announced that 30 January 1968 would be
the show’s final night by order of the police. Unlike other acts of censorship,
which usually happened with no prior warning or explanation, the government
leaked the order to censor “Dziady” to the public two weeks in advance of 30


On 30 January 1968, three
hundred students from the University of Warsaw and the National Theater School
marched to the National Theater, where Dejmek’s final production had just
finished. The demonstration continued as students marched to the statue of Adam
Modzelewski, the playwright of “Dziady,” and laid flowers at the base of the
monument. In the following days, students circulated a petition protesting the
PZPR’s censorship at the University of Warsaw.


On 3 February 1968, the PZPR’s
Department of Science and Education referred to the demonstration of 30 January
in a telegram sent to the fourteen Provincial Committees in Poland, asking that
Provincial authorities take action if student dissent began in their province.


On 8 March 1968, several
hundred University of Warsaw students marched to their rector’s office shouting
“No studies without freedom.” As they proceeded to march through campus, five
hundred members of the Worker’s Militia (the state’s special police force)
arrived and asked to speak to the student demonstrators. Soon after, they used
clubs to disperse the demonstration – two hundred police officers who had
gathered nearby arrested students attempting to flee.


The following day, 9 March,
twenty thousand students marched through the center of Warsaw in response to
the militia’s repression - police officers beat the marching students with


On the same day, the heads
of the PZCR Science and Education Department sent a telegram to the Provincial
Committees recounting the previous day’s protests and stating that police would
prevent any future protests by punishing and expelling students who initiated
the demonstrations. The telegram also threatened to discipline faculty who had
supported the student dissidents. The propaganda of PZPR, which appeared on campuses
in Warsaw, Lublin, and Jagiellonian University on 9 March, characterized the
protests as the result of Jewish outside agitators. The same day police
arrested Adam Michnik, a Jewish student and well-known dissident leader.


The next day, 10 March 1968,
students again assembled to protest the closing of “Dziady” and to express
their outrage at the invasion of their campuses by the police and the Worker’s
Militia, and the arrests of their peers. Students at the Warsaw Polytechnic
School marched through the streets, condemning the “Gestapo” of the Ministry of
the Interior and throwing rocks at the police who responded with tear gas
before cordoning off the streets and clubbing the students. Meanwhile at the
University of Warsaw, police attacked students demonstrating by the church where
the heart of composer Frédéric Chopin was buried.


On 11 March 1968, thousands
of students protested in Warsaw, Gdansk, Cracow, Poznan, Wroclaw, Gliwice, and
Lodz, some of whom attempted to stage sit-ins and boycotts on campus. In
addition to protesting censorship, students called for freedom of the press and
denounced the state-controlled media. Police, some of whom used water cannons
and tear gas, attacked almost all demonstrations.


In Warsaw, thousands of
students marched to the Polish Community Party headquarters and clashed with
police for eight hours in the streets – the officers clubbed and arrested
demonstrators. When additional officers arrived to Warsaw campuses, students
yelled “Gestapo!” Later in the day Warsaw students formed a three-person
committee to serve as a representative body for the protesters.


In Lublin a thousand
students and supporters gathered on campus chanting “Help Warsaw” and “Down
with censorship.” In Gliwice nearly two hundred students gathered on the
Silesian Polytechnic campus to sing the national anthem and the “Internationale,”
a famous anthem of socialist revolutions. The police attempted to disperse the
crowd without force and later arrested 43 of the most active protesters as the
demonstration ended.


In Lodz students circulated petitions
demanding that police stop arresting student protesters and that the government
expand freedom of the press. A thousand students joined a march through campus
and declared a three-day sit-in.


The PZPR cut the phone lines
on the Lodz campus to isolate protesters from each other although students
still managed to form a delegation to represent the protesters’ demands.


By 12 March 1968, the
student protest movement had engulfed all of Poland’s major academic campuses:
Warsaw, Gdansk, Cracow, Poznan, Wroclaw, and Lodz. The PZPR began to identify
Jewish students as leaders of protests and to target them for arrest during


Students distributed fliers
in Cracow, Prezemysl, and Siedlice that called for a protest on 13 March in
solidarity with Warsaw students. At Gdansk Polytechnic, students sent delegates
to places of work to explain their demands to workers. The PZPR sent 800 police
officers to Cracow, 130 to Gdansk, and 80 to Poznan.


Frequent street
demonstrations occurred over the next three days and police attacked and
arrested students at each one. Cracow and Poznan students demonstrated on 13
March. Students at Gdansk Polytechnic rallied on 14 March and voted to hold a
joint demonstration with workers the following day. On 15 March students in
Gdansk, Katowice, Legnica, and Wroclaw held rallies, and two days later several
hundred secondary school students in Radom demonstrated, resulting in 41


Students at Cracow also formed
an inter-university committee to represent the protesters on 13 March. They began
a six-day strike on 14 March, which led to a boycott of classes until 20 March.
Students at Wroclaw also began two-day strike on 14 March, occupying the campus
until 16 March. On 16 March several dozen people departed Cracow en route to
Warsaw in hopes of supporting the student leaders at Warsaw University - 50
were detained on the way.


On 19 March 1968, Community
Party General Secretary Wladyslaw gave a speech publicly rejecting any chance
of negotiation between students and PZPR.


At Lodz University, students
and some administrators held a strike from 21 March to 22 March. Strikes also
occurred on three Warsaw campuses from 21 March to 23 March.


In response, the Ministry of
the Interior arrested the organizers of the Warsaw Polytechnic strike and the
members of the Warsaw University Student Committee. Between the beginning of
the mass protests on 8 March and 21 March, 2,180 Poles were arrested for
participation in demonstrations, including 525 students. Although the PZPR
hoped to pit the Worker’s Militia against the students, the arrest records
reveal that many workers in the Provinces were disciplined for distributing
fliers and protesting in support of the students. During the same period 769
blue-collar workers and 288 white-collar workers were arrested. 825 of the
arrestees were released within 48 hours of their detainment.


On 22 March administrators
at Wroclaw Polytechnic expelled 1553 students from involvement in the movement.


On March 25, students from
Wroclaw, Warsaw, Lublin, Lodz, Cracow, Gliwice, Poznan, Torun, and Szczecin
held a meeting in an attempt to coordinate actions. The Ministry of the
Interior received information on the meeting and reported that students
discussed reaching out to Polish workers to build support for their demands.


On March 28 police arrested
twenty-two more Warsaw students, 15 of whom were members of the university-wide
committee. By the end of March almost students who had participated in the
March 25 planning meeting were in prison.


Some Polish citizens and
secondary school students living in the provinces outside the major academic
centers supported the students and secretly distributed sympathetic fliers by
scattering them in public places or placing them in mailboxes. Three hundred
such fliers were distributed in Jelenia Gora on 31 March – police later
arrested a secondary school student who confessed to making the fliers that
Jelenia had distributed.


In early April students at
Wroclaw campuses organized a cafeteria boycott.  Schools reported that they only served ten to thirty percent
of the usual numbers of meals during the boycott. At the same time Warsaw
students called for a boycott of the state-controlled press, where students refused
to watch state television or listen to the state’s radio from 5 April to 10


Police seized 153
pro-student fliers in Bytom on 8 April. By 6 April, the total number of arrests
since 8 March had increased to 2,725, including 641 students, 937 blue-collar
workers, and 272 white-collar workers.


Several campuses called for
a major demonstrations and strikes to occur on 22 April, and students
distributed fliers for the action in the preceding days.

To preempt the strike, the
Ministry of the Interior arrested several dozen students organizers at Warsaw,
Cracow, and Wroclaw. The planned demonstrations and strikes did not occur on 22


hoped to rally on May Day but continuing arrests, investigations, and threats
hampered the dissidents. Police seized 300 pro-student fliers in Mragowo in
late April, and another 500 anti-PZPR fliers in Milsko on 30 April.


1 May 1968, a hundred students from Wroclaw Polytechnic rallied and dropped a
banner emblazoned with: "The arrested are among us," "The truth
is on our side," "We demand that the students be freed." Without
using force the police persuaded the students to remove the banners and
disperse. In Czechoslovakia, May Day demonstrators, including Czech students
and citizens, marched to the Polish embassy to protest Poland’s repression of
the students. The Czech demonstrators also demanded that the Polish PZPR end
its persecution of Jews.


repercussions of the PZPR’s heavy repression continued in the years following
the mass demonstrations. Between March 1968 and 28 February 1969, prosecutors
sent 96 arrestees, including 91 students, to be tried in court – 80 out of the
total 96 were found guilty and sentenced, of which 33 received prison terms.
Soon after, 22 were released which left 9 students – all members of the student
dissident leadership – still in prison by 28 February 1969.


The Polish students were influenced by the global wave of student protest in 1968. In particular, Mark Kurlansky notes that the Polish students adopted tactics (sit-ins) from the U.S Civil Rights movement and drew inspiration from student dissidents in Czechoslovakia (see: Prague Spring).


Friszke, Andrzej. "The March 1968 Protest Movement in Light of Ministry of Interior Reports to the Party Leadership," Intermarium, Volume 1, Number 1, 1997; translated from Polish. Original published in Wiez (March 1994).

Kurlansky, Mark. 1968: The Year That Rocked the World. New York: Ballantine, 2004. Print.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Guido Girgenti, 24/2/2014