Gregory Jerkiewicz receiving The Cross of Freedom and Solidarity from the Polish Ambassador to Canada.

Photo by Tadeusz Fiturski

Fighting back against the regime

On Sunday, Faculty of Arts and Science Professor Gregory Jerkiewicz was honoured by His Excellency Witold Dzielski, the Polish Ambassador to Canada, with the The Cross of Freedom and Solidarity.

The Cross honours members of the democratic opposition in Poland who between the years 1956 and 1989 were killed, seriously wounded or injured, arrested, imprisoned or interned for at least 30 days, who lost jobs or were expelled from school or university for at least six months as a result of their activities for the benefit of a free and democratic Poland.

“I was a member of the democratic opposition and one of the founders of the Independent Students’ Association and represented the interests of the Association in the governing body of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union ‘Solidarity’ directly reporting to Lech Walesa (Nobel Peace Prize 1983; President of Poland, 1990 –1995),” Dr. Jerkiewicz explains.

“When the then-communist authorities of Poland imposed a martial law in December 1981, I was arrested and spent six months in an internment camp, which was an ordinary prison. I was also ‘advised’ by the then-communist authorities to leave Poland, which I did for my own safety. One can say that I did some unusual things as a student in Poland for which the Director of the Institute of National Remembrance nominated me for the Cross of Freedom and Solidarity and the President of Poland bestowed it on me.”

A respected chemist and director of the Surface and Materials Electrochemistry and Electrocatalysis Lab, Dr. Jerkiewicz says his life consists of two district parts, one being Polish and the other Canadian, with both having an enormous influence on both his personal and professional career.

“In fact, the Polish part of my life was more political than academic, because of the political situation in Poland in the early 1980s and the unique opportunity that existed in 1980-81 to change the political system from a communist dictatorship to a democracy,” he explains.

These days, science is the main objective of his professional career, although he says he still follows global politics.

“Many of my colleagues at Queen’s and elsewhere are very accomplished and have received many academic honours and awards for their academic achievements, for their academic contributions.  It is due to my unusual biography that I have received both academic and non-academic awards and distinctions.”

Dr. Jerkiewicz says it is very satisfying and rewarding to be a recipient of the Cross of Freedom and Solidarity and it recognizes what he did in the past for the country where he was born and spent the first 27 years of his life. 

“But at the same time, the distinction and the associated ceremony bring back a lot of very emotional memories and recollections. It was very hard to live under a repressive regime and being watched most of the time. I have a book written by Mary Craig entitled The Crystal Spirit about Lech Walesa and the Solidarity trade union. We were very idealistic in those days, and the Solidarity trade union and the Students’ Association were really ‘crystal spirit’ movements.”