Daniel Rubin: SEPTA driver is a hero in Poland

Andrzej Sekowski's passport, issued in 1987, which allowed only exit from Poland. He was sentenced to prison for making a visual statement about life in the then-communist state using a greased pig.
Andrzej Sekowski's passport, issued in 1987, which allowed only exit from Poland. He was sentenced to prison for making a visual statement about life in the then-communist state using a greased pig.
Posted: November 23, 2012

If you're riding through Roxborough and Manayunk today on SEPTA's Route 35 bus, you might want to tip your hat to the driver. He's a national hero of Poland.

Official recognition came earlier this fall to Andrzej Sekowski, and 25 years after the fact. His signature act of protest involved a can of black paint, a red ribbon, some grease, and a pig.

It was actually the second pig that earned Sekowski a year in prison for activities found subversive to the communist state. The first one went off as planned.

As regional elections approached in the fall of 1985, he and a friend in the Solidarity movement bought a pig from a farmer, tied a red ribbon - symbolizing communism - to its tail, and painted on its flanks the words in Polish for "I'm voting." Before sending it squealing through Gdansk's old city, his friend greased the pig.

"People laughed," Sekowski says. The pig protesters, whoever they were, became folk heroes. Then Sekowski got cocky. Before setting out to repeat the act in nearby Gdynia, he notified the newspapers. The secret police stopped the Fiat sedan on the way to the city, with the pig, in the trunk, ready to go.

"I never knew who told on us," he says.

He is sitting in SEPTA's Midvale offices, wearing a crisp blue Oxford shirt - the color of his penetrating stare. Before him fan out mementos from another world - a passport; secret police photos of a Polski Fiat 125p and the pig; a magnificent cross that reads Wolnosc i Solidarnosc - Freedom and Solidarity.

That day in 1985, authorities were already building a thick file on Sekowski, who worked as a bus driver in the resort city of Sopot. He used to write speeches and distribute leaflets, passing out news from the West he'd heard on his forbidden radio.

He'd spent three months in jail once before, after May Day 1984, when he organized a group that disrupted a communist march.

For the statement with the pig he got two years in prison. The first four months he slept on the floor of a 6-by-9-foot cell with seven other inmates, all criminals. He enjoyed status in the group because he had refused to tell police anything - not even his name, when they brought by the pig farmer to identify him.

In his fifth month he was moved to a cell with one bed for each of the four inmates. "It was nicer," he said, "but this cell had a better spy." He was constantly being asked where he got his radio, who he was working with.

Halfway into his sentence, he was released, but once home with his wife and young daughter, he found himself blacklisted, unable to work. The government issued them three passports in 1987, with no possibility of return. A church in Wayne - St. Mary's Episcopal - sponsored them. And they arrived on the Main Line with six duffel bags and no English.

They moved from apartment to apartment and worked their ways to independence. Sekowski cut grass at a golf course, pumped gas, drove an airport shuttle. His wife still toils on the packaging line for a pharmaceutical company. A dozen years after getting hired by SEPTA, Sekowski still prefers to drive seven days a week.

"Everyone wants to know why," he says. "I was 40 when I arrived with my daughter and wife, and $120 in my pocket. I am trying to catch up."

On Sept. 26, Kamila Sekowski Swartz, now 37, drove her father and her mother, Teresa, from their Phoenixville condo to New York City for a ceremony to honor his fight for his homeland. When his name was called, her father told President Bronislaw Komorowski, "Thank you."

"The president said, 'Thank you,' " she said, "and added what the country was doing was too little, too late. And I agree with that. I can't begin to describe the sacrifices he's made. He could have done a number of things, but he gave it all up for his country and so future generations could have a better life."

Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917, drubin@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @danielrubin or Facebook at http://ph.ly/DanRubin

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