"We want Mickiewicz's truth", "We demand the play remain on stage" - such were the signs carried by the group of a few hundred Warsaw students, as they marched on the evening of January 30th 1968 from the National Theater to the monument of Adam Mickiewicz in Warsaw, protesting against the Gomułka regime's decision to take the play Dziady [Forefathers' Eve] off the stage after two months of running. The reason for this was the animated reaction of the public to those lines of the classic 19th-century national drama which were interpreted as anti-Soviet.
After the last performance, on January 30th, the young people who had come to put flowers under the monument of the nation's bard were attacked by the militia (communist police), who arrested 35 of them. At the same time, as a reaction to the decision of the authorities, collecting of signatures began at the Warsaw University under a protest against the banning of Dziady. In Warsaw, 3145 people signed this protest, and in Wrocław 1098. In the following weeks the conflict, which had been growing for a long time, between the regime and the intelligentsia circles which opposed it, escalated. It manifested itself, among other things, in the sentencing to 3 years in prison of the writer Janusz Szpotański, author of the satirical opera Cisi i gęgacze, czyli bal u prezydenta [The Quiet Ones and Gagglers, or the President's Bal], which took place at the beginning of February. On February 29th 1968, a turbulent Special Meeting of the Warsaw Branch of the Polish Writers' Union took place, where a resolution was passed, demanding, among other things, the returning of Dziady onto the stage, and condemning censorship. Among the writers who blatantly criticized the politics of the communist Polish Unified Workers' Party were Antoni Słonimski, Paweł Jasienica, Jerzy Andrzejewski and Stefan Kisielewski, who addressed the issue of the émigré writers whose works were banned in the People's Republic of Poland. These intellectuals said that "the censorship is in the hands of some dimwit, who prohibits the writing about, for instance, the 100th anniversary of Marshal Józef Piłsudski's birthday. In Poland, dimwits have the monopoly of power behind them". A dozen or so days later, Kisielewski was beaten up by "persons unknown" and the other critics of the leadership became the targets of crude attacks in the papers. The style of these attacks can be illustrated, for instance, by Gomułka's comment about the imprisoned Szpotański: "Sentenced to 3 years of prison for a reactionary travesty oozing with the poison of sadistic hatred for our party and the organs of state administration. At the same time the work contains pornographic filth, which could be conceived only by a man rotting in the gutter, a man with the morale of a pimp". The propaganda machinery lashed out in an exceptionally vile way against Paweł Jasienica, a solider of the anticommunist underground, who had fought in the Vilnius Brigade of major Zygmunt Szendzielarz "Łupaszka". The attacks led to the untimely death of the author of popular history books.
Meanwhile, on March 4th, the minister of education and higher learning, Henryk Jabłoński decided to expel from the Warsaw University two students - Henryk Szlajfer and Adam Michnik - who had been involved in the protests against the banning of Dziady and who were connected with the so-called commandos - a left-wing group of young people who contested the Gomulka regime. In protest against this decision, on March 8th 1968 in the courtyard of the Warsaw University, students organized a demonstration, which was broken up by "working-class volunteer" units (armed with cable and truncheons) of the Voluntary Reserves of the Citizens' Militia and the Citizens' Militia itself. The clashes between the protesters and the militia spread to the neighboring streets and the vicinity of the Warsaw Polytechnic. News about the brutality with which the students were beaten reached other academic centers.
On March 10th the first flyers appeared in the Kraków student dorms: "We, the students of Kraków unite with the Warsaw Students in their just fight for freedom and the freedom of Academia". The following day, the first meeting took place on the Kraków Main Square - the young people shouted "ORMO [voluntary reserve of the militia] go home!", "Long live Dziady" and then proceeded to march to the Collegium Novum university hall, where, in the presence of the Rector of the Jagiellonian University they passed a resolution calling for the punishment of the militia and secret service officers who had been responsible for the brutal and unjustified actions against the students and for the respecting of basic rights. That very day - March 11th - approximately 4 thousand people gathered on the Main Square - they declared support for the resolution passed at the university and condemned the Socialist Youth Union, which was declared a traitor organization for defending Gomułka's regime. The following day the local press failed to print the students' resolution which heated the atmosphere in the city even further. On March 13th in the morning, several thousand students gathered in front of the "Żaczek" dormitory. They were joined by fellow students from the University of Science and Technology, and the crowd, several thousands strong, soon marched towards the center of town along Józefa Piłsudskiego street (then the Manifestu Lipcowego [July Manifesto] street). The first clashes with the militia and the "activist workers" took place. The demonstrators chanted slogans of solidarity with Warsaw's students and shouted "The Press Lies". The latter slogan became an almost symbolic cry of March '68. The attacking militia and those beating the students were met with shouts of "Gestapo!", "Gestapo!". Simultaneously the militia broke into the university buildings: Collegium Witkowskiego and Collegium Novum, firing tear-gas grenades and beating those inside the building, including academic staff, among them professor Karol Estreicher, professor Konstanty Grzybowski and Lesław Paule Ph.D. Vice-rector Adam Bielański was hit with a tear-gas grenade. In reaction to these events, flyers appeared immediately announcing that this was the first event of such kind since the entrance of Nazi police into the university building and the arresting of professors on November 6th 1939. That evening, the University Senate condemned the activities of the militia, secret service, voluntary reserve of the militia and "activist workers", but it did not refer to the demands of the students, which lay at the core of the March '68 events. That day 24 people where detained by the militia, the following day 76, out of which 42 where placed under temporary custody. The authorities introduced a ban on public gatherings and special fast sentencing procedures. In reaction to this the students declared a strike. A sit-in protest in the dormitories began.
On March 15th in front of the "Żaczek" dorm another student meeting began with approximately 5-7 thousand participants. The university staff persuaded the protesters not to march to the Main Square - this was also the last students' manifestation of this size to take place in Kraków in March 1968. That day, the boycott of classes continued at the university. The secret services informed that classes did not take place at all at the Higher Theatrical School and the Economic University, while at the Academy of Fine Arts and the Agricultural University 85% of students were on strike and 80% at the Jagiellonian University, 80-75% at the Technical University, at the Academy of Physical Education 60-50%, 60% at the Higher Pedagogical School and only 10% at the Medical Academy. Even though small groups of students still gathered in the streets, the tension in Kraków slowly began to fall. On March 18th there was still a clash between approx. 200 protesters from the dorms of the University of Science and Technology on 18 Reymonta street and some 80 rioters from the Socialist Youth Union. However, this was already the last act of March '68 in Kraków, during which another 137 people where detained.
Kraków was one of eleven cities where young people clashed with the police and where university strikes took place. Support for the students was expressed also by high school pupils, even outside of university areas. Therefore, already from mid-March in some cities school directors appointed teachers to patrol the streets in the afternoons. Homework was also organized to be done together, so that the pupils would return home when their parents were already back from work. Despite these measures, high school youth did not remain indifferent to the events taking place in the country. Posters were put up, flyers distributed (they appeared in over 100 cities and small towns), and sometimes the pupils even joined the demonstrations. Protests - outside of academic centers - took place in Przemyśl, Legnica, Radom, Bielsko-Biała and Tarnów, where on March 20th, at 6 pm, a group of pupils gathered in front of the Adam Mickiewicz monument. The group quickly grew to approximately 2 thousand people. They were attacked by the police and broken up into several groups. 43 people were detained. The following day the events repeated themselves, only on a smaller scale. The secret service noted: "In Tarnów, on March 21st of this month, events of public disruption took place with the participation of some 300 people, the majority of which were young hoodlums, onlookers and passing pedestrians, who had gathered under the Mickiewicz monument before 6 pm. Some of those gathered listened to the call to disperse, and those who remained, some 200 people, taking an aggressive stance, shouted abuse at the police and threw rocks in their direction. In the face of such behavior, the group was dispersed by public order units. 37 of the most aggressive participants were detained, including 7 underage, who were turned over into their parents custody".
Intellectuals and the Polish Episcopate spoke in defense of the beaten youth ("a rubber truncheon can never be an argument for a free society, it evokes the worst associations and mobilizes the public against the existing order"). The members of parliament from the "Znak [Sign]" parliamentary club put forward an interpellation in the parliament: "How does the government intend to curb the brutal police behavior and to determine the responsibility for the brutal attack on the youth?" The reaction was a mass propaganda campaign against these circles. At the same time it was suggested, that the unrest was inspired by students of Jewish origin, the children of prominent members of the communist party. A vilifying anti-intellectual and anti-Semitic campaign took place under the slogan of fighting against "Zionism". All across the country meetings of support for the First Secretary of the communist party, Władysław Gomułka, were held, where "Zionists and troublemakers" were condemned, threats of "smashing bones" were heard and appeals were made: "Students go back to studying!", "Writers go back to your pens!". The student protests were quelled. The last rally took place in Warsaw on March 28th 1968. The "Students' Movement Declaration" was passed there, which elaborated on and recapped the demands, which had been made. Many of the participants of the demonstrations were expelled from universities, detained and arrested. The academic staff which was fired was replaced by compliant devotees of the communist party, for whom career advance was made easier - the so called "March assistant lecturers" (575 university staff were promoted this way, with omission of the obligatory scholarly requirements, 13% of all the independent academic staff). Meanwhile, the result of the anti-Semitic campaign launched by the communist party, was the emigration of 15 thousand Jews and Poles of Jewish origin. For the students, March 1968 was a painful lesson given by the ruling communist party, and for many intellectuals the end of their illusions about communism.