On the morning of 30 August, the Freedom Express started its journey through Eastern and Central Europe from Gdansk, Poland. The touring study trip is taking twenty young Europeans on a journey to trace the historical events of 1989, a year that transformed Europe. Twenty-five years on from those spectacular events that triggered the collapse of communism in Europe, the organisers of the campaign are raising questions about that watershed. They are showing young people what the world was like on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and they are asking a new generation of Europeans what in their opinion has survived of the spirit of solidarity from 1989.
Participants taking part in the Europeana 1989 workshop in Gdansk. Neil Bates, Europeana (CC-BY-SA)
As you might already know, we have been actively engaged with the preservation of memories from that time period through our Europeana 1989 project, which was launched in Warsaw last year. So far, thousands of stories from people who lived through the time have been added to the website, both via online submissions and through collection days that have been held in a number of cities across Eastern and Central Europe. Now, we are very excited to have boarded the Freedom Express. At Europeana, we love taking new approaches to cultural history, and we understand that our collective history is much more than our books and official records. It is the experiences of real people that help to offer new perspectives and understanding, especially for new generations. So commemorating landmark periods in our history such as 1989 through innovative approaches such as Europeana 1989 and the Freedom Express is very important, particularly for young people today.
Europeana on the Freedom Express
So far, the bus has passed through Gdansk and Warsaw in Poland. Participants had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the living protagonists of 1989 and talk with them directly. These are the people that not only shaped the time, but had a direct impact on the outcomes. Other highlights have included attending the official opening of the European Solidarity Centre, a speech on solidarity from the President of Poland, a tour of the Gdansk shipyards by a former worker and union activist, a Q&A session with the Culture Minister of Poland, attending Westerplatte at 4:47 to mark the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII, and an engaging re-enactment of life under martial law in Poland.
Video piece of Westerplatte commemorations, by Anna Kasperska, one of the study trip participants.
Europeana hosted its own workshop for participants to learn more about Europeana 1989. The 1-hour workshop introduced the group to the project and highlighted some of the fascinating stories that have been preserved as a result of it. A collection day for Europeana 1989 will be held while the group is in Berlin, where they are all invited to take part. They will get the chance to meet members of the general public that bring along their stories. Participants will also have the opportunity to get involved in the process of digitisation. If you are in Berlin yourself, please do come along with your stories and memorabilia from 1989. More information can be found on the Europeana 1989 website.
Participants get a taste of life under martial law in Poland. Photograph by Paweł Radzikowski, European Network of Remembrance and Solidarity.
You can get on board the Freedom Express virtually by following a collaborative blog that has been set up to document the journey through the eyes of the participants. As Europeana has a seat on the Freedom Express, you can expect updates here on our own blog and new stories on 89 Voices. The Europeana 1989 Facebook and Twitter accounts will also be posting updates from the journey. So, plenty to watch out for.
Next Stop, Budapest…