THE death of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been attributed to many causes and it is probably the case that an empire built on such insecure foundations would inevitably collapse because of its own internal imperfections. But there had to be a catalyst, a starting point which questioned the power of the Soviet State and encouraged others to challenge it. Czechoslavakia and Hungary are often mentioned in this context but their uprisings were ruthlessly put down. The Gdansk shipyard in Poland has a strong claim to have struck the spark of freedom that spread throughout Eastern Europe and eventually reached the Kremlin. The importance of the first Solidarity trade union strike at Gdansk in 1980 has been recognised by the UNESCO panel which chooses historic documents for its “memory of the world” catalogue. The Declaration of Human Rights, papers from the French Revolution, manuscript scores by Beethoven and the Gutenberg Bible are among the documents kept in UNESCO's special memory and now the Solidarity manifesto of 1980 has been added to them. The manifesto's demands may seem very basic today but 23 years ago they were revolutionary within the Soviet's hegemony - trade union independence, the right to strike, an end to censorship, and religious freedom. When Solidarity won its 17-day strike and when Moscow decided not to intervene, the progress to the symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union was inevitable. Among those at a ceremony in Gdansk at the weekend to mark UNESCO's decision was Lech Walesa, the shipyard electrician who drew up the list of Solidarity's demands and later became his country's president.


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