Until last week, hardly anybody in Poland had heard of 20-year-old Bogdan Wlosik. Today he received the kind of funeral normally reserved for national heroes.
A trainee electrician at the giant Lenin Steelworks here, Wlosik was shot dead by a security policeman last Wednesday evening during street protests in support of the banned Solidarity trade union.
His silver-embossed coffin was lowered into the ground this morning as more than 10,000 steelworkers and Solidarity supporters -- some standing on the tops of buildings, others perched in trees -- raised their hands silently in the victory sign. A brass band struck up the slow, swelling chords of Chopin's funeral march, and 21 priests intoned a final prayer.
With the world's press looking on, and the secret police filming the proceedings from a distance, delegations of workers placed wreaths and Solidarity flags by Wlosik's grave. Attached to the seven-foot-high pile of flowers was a note on which someone had scrawled a message in the name of "all Polish mothers." It read: "Son, sleep peacefully in the Polish soil on which you were not allowed to live."
The backdrop for the occasion was provided by chimneys and cranes of the sprawling steelworks, the largest factory in Poland and one of the focal points of resistance to the martial-law regime.
Inevitably, this was more than just a funeral of a steelworker "who died tragically," to use the language of the obituary notices stuck up around this grimy industrial town. For many of those who attended, it was also a symbolic funeral of the hopes for greater freedom and democracy that they had vested in Solidarity.
As one of Wlosik's colleagues remarked afterward: "We still feel attached to Solidarity, and we're still ready to fight for it. But deep down within us, we realize we can't win. The forces ranged against us are just too great."
In order to forestall further disturbances after three successive days of rioting last week, the Communist authorities have drafted thousands of troops and sent specially equipped Zomo riot police into Nowa Huta. The 39,000 employes at the steelworks were placed under direct military discipline following the crackdown in December by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski.
If the latest events in Nowa Huta illustrate Solidarity's difficulties in organizing effective protests against martial law, however, they also represent the collapse of a Communist dream. Nowa Huta was designed in the early 1950s as a model socialist community -- a breeding ground for a new type of Communist.
But in last week's demonstrations, one of the favorite targets of the enraged workers was a 20-foot-high statue of V.I. Lenin, the founder of Soviet communism. The towering figure was repeatedly drenched in gasoline and set afire while demonstrators attempted to take apart the massive marble pedestal.
"No, we didn't manage to destroy Lenin, but you can say that we smoked him," a steelworker said cheerfully.
Today, the statue, which is evidently undergoing repairs, was guarded by a corrugated iron fence. Five trucks containing approximately 200 Zomo and elite paratroops were stationed next to the statue, backed up by water cannon and several jeeps.
In building Nowa Huta, Communist Party leaders hoped that the new working-class town would offset what they regarded as the reactionary influence of nearby Krakow, Poland's religious and cultural capital. Krakow was the only city in Poland officially to vote down Communist proposals in a nationwide referendum held after World War II.
Some steelworkers attribute their radical attitudes today to the long battle for a church to be built in Nowa Huta -- a struggle that divided and politicized the community.
"That was what started it all. We wanted a church, and the authorities were determined that Nowa Huta should remain godless. The grudges and tensions would pile up and every few years spill over into protests on the streets," an elderly worker said.
A cross was first erected in Nowa Huta in 1956, but it was not until 1977 that a church was finally consecrated. Much of the impetus for building it came from the then-archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, prior to his election as Pope John Paul II.
It was near the church, a huge concrete structure known in Nowa Huta as "God's ark," that Wlosik was shot. A street memorial that was erected in his honor last week has since been removed; police patrols guard the spot permanently, checking the identity cards of anyone who approaches.
The government has already exonerated the plainclothed policeman involved. According to the official version, he fired at Wlosik in order to save his own life after being pushed to the ground by an angry crowd of between 100 and 150 people.
This account is widely disbelieved in Nowa Huta. Local residents insist that only five or six people were in the immediate vicinity when the fatal shooting took place. Wlosik, they say, had just left the church on the other side of Mayakowski Street at the end of a mass and recognized the policeman as a agent of the secret police.
In any case, the incident occurred well away from the main clashes around the Lenin monument and a police station that was under bombardment by demonstrators with stones and ball bearings.
The management of the steelworks allowed small delegations of workers time off to attend the funeral. But the most of those in the crowd were workers from the afternoon shift.
A long banner carried in front of the funeral procession read: "Solidarity lives." It, too, was placed on top of the grave.