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A Concise History

of Poland


This is a serics of illtisrratcd 'concisc liistorics' ofsclcctcd individual

countries, inrended both a.i universiry and colicgc tcstl>ooks and as
historical itirrodilctio~isfor gcneral rcadcrr, irnuellers :ind
rnentbers of the husiness community.
For i7 list of titles in the s~vies,see aizd o[l~ook.



1'11iund.after r 7 q j

pre-war eastern Poland, werc particularly cmbittcred by the war's

outcome. The existence of the Corps and of all the other Polish
:irnled forniations in the west was now a s ~ u r c eof political
eniharrassment and a financial burden for the British government;
these units had also been swollen hy Poles released from German
prisoner-of-war camps and hy Polcs who had hcen coilscripted by
tlie \Y'uhrtnncht and who had changed sides ar the earliest opporrunin.. Ilowever, although the nem Rritish 1.ahour government
urged all Polish servicemen n1 1-cturn home (and indeed about a
half did so), it refused to hand over overall command of the Polisli
armed forces in tlie west to rhe new pm-Soviet ai~rhoriticsin
\Yt?rsaw. Most of the remaining l'olish forces wcre movcd to Great
Nritain: rheir anihiguous legal status was resolved by tlie creation
in 1946 of the Polish Rrsettlen~ent Corps, a transirional noncombatant unit in tlie Ilritish army, which was to prcpare the
denrobilized incn and women for civilian life in Britaiii. 111 1951
rlu,frc wcre I jb.ooc Prrlc:. i l l ) Br~tishsoil, of mhom qq,ooo i\:ci-e in
I.(>ndon.forriling rhcrr rlic aecond largcst cthnic ininorit!. until the
mid-rqjos. Altogether. alwut yoo,ooo Poles chose polirical exile
and ~iltirnarelva new lifc In thc wnest: primarily in Rritain, North
hrncrica and !iustr.llla.
In I'oland rh<~us;indsu t ex-Al< guerrillas and other armed groups
Iiostile to the new regimc continued a desperntc strug,cle againn
Sovict security fol-ccs and those of r h ~ i rPuIisIi allics. B~itfor
nlillions of ordinar! Poles, exhausted, impoverished, mouriii~igthe
dcarhs of their loved ones, and forced to survive hy barter or on the
hlack market, the end of tbc war naturally brought profound relief;
there was an overu~hclmingdesire for reconstruction and for a
return to a normal everyday existence. The early pragnlarism of the
new pro-Soviet government, with its appeal to many young radicalized peasants and workers, and to sonic intellectuals drcaming of
careers in rlie shaping: of a better world, appeared to respond to
those expectations. .4t tlrc same dme, the presence of h4ikolajnyk
and the legal activity of his large Peasant Party seemed to indicate
that the cause of freedom and democracy within Poland's imposed
horders might perhaps nor be lost. In reality, ho\vever, the next few
years proved t o he merely n transitional phase between one totalitarianism and another.

Communism and the Cold War,

Oiit of the ordeals of rhe Sec<~nd

\V<~rld\Vat- m i c ~ e c 21i new Polish
srltc starkly differcot froni the pre-war republic in terms of its
rcrritory. the sizc and composirion of its population, its political
l i d social ordcr, nntl its rc1;itions \vith its i~eighhi,urs.Polmd's
terrirorial losses in the east 'ind its compensatory expansion in the
north and \rrcyr dramar~i;illv alrcrrd thc i.<~unrry'sshape ;and
position on the map of Europe. The new Poland was r o per cent
smallcr. hut it was morc compact :ind it had accjltired a 300-milel ~ w gBaltic coastline. Al~Iio~,~:li
much dcvasr.irrd. the ex-Gcrman
Inn(ls \\,ere more dcvclopcd r l i n i i rhc PI-ovinceslost to tlie USSR.
The de~nographiccliarigcc were also conspicuous. Tlic nrw Poland
had just under 24 million inhabitants in 1946, ;IS opposed ro jj
m i l l i ~ ~inn iq;q, bur it r ~ r wcontained an overwhelmingly ethnic
Poltsh population. Dearh, displacement and dispocscssion had all
Ihut obliterated the country's pre-war political and social elite. With
wartime material destruction estimated ar two-fifths of its productive capacity, Polaiid was the most devastated counrry in
Europe, comparable only to the ravaged Sovict rcpiiblics of Belarus
and the Ukraine. Accompanying this were malnutrition, acute
shortages of housing, and rlie \videspread incidence of tuberculosis
and venereal diseases. The war had also left thousands of invalids
and orphans.
' f i e new Poland was also firmly under Sovict military and
political control. All the key levers of powcr wirhin the country
rested in communist hands, while a Ministry of P~lblicSecurity


Poland, after 179 f

and the

Cold War, r 94 r - 1 9 8 ~



Onity pursued praglilatic and tlexihlc policies in the realms

eionornic reconstr~~ction,
culture and religion.
All industrial enterprises employing over fifty workers per shift
were nationalized in January 1946, but much cconomic acrivity,
not:~bly in the retail trade and i r ~agriculture, remained outside
clircct government control. Indeed, the rnnderiltc Ptatiste proposals
clnanating from the ne\r,ly created Cenrral Office of Planning,
where non-Marxist socialists ar~clexperts hcld sway, envisaged the
continuation of a mixed economy. C:urrent political issues were
suhject to strict censorship, hut ntheru,isr a hroad range of
and artistic work. including films and r:idio hrc~idcasts~
w:is permitted. There was still no ideological supervision of
reaching in the rapidly growing net\vorl< of schools or in rhe
resrorcd universities.
:\lthough the r g z j (:oncordat w;is anniillc~lby tlic goverllrncnt
.ii September I y q i , thc C:hurch rcco3ni1rll the nccd for cornproI I I ~ S Cwit11 r l ~ cIICW pulitical ordcr It rrrair~ed full freedom o i
:vorship, and proceeded, not w~tliour a roi~chof rriurnphalism,
icirh tlie creation of new parochial qrructurc\ for rhr millions of
l'olc.; settling in thc so-called '1iccovc1-c~lI . ; I I I ~ s ' a r ~ dwith r n k i ~ ~ g
~ i v t rthc ruincil chl~rchcs of rhc dcp;ir~in:. mostly Proiesrant,
( .cltnan
.population. Indeed, as n resillr nt the fn~nrier:in4 popu-

clirected hy rile NliVD-trainecl Stanislaw Kadkiewicz, and backed

ultimately by the Red Army and the nomrious NKVD itself,
tightened its grip over the cuuntr),. On the other hand, lacking
genuinelv popular leaders. the comnlunist PPR was more than
aware that it needed rime to consolidate its position and to build
up a mass membership. To mobilize the poplilatio~iin the awcsome
rask of post-war reconstruction and to win for itself a degree of
legitimacy, the regime had to make a broad pntriotic appeal, not
least by depicting the post-194s frontiers, within which a p ~ ~ r e l y
Polish nation-state could a t last he created, as representing a rerum
to the original Poland of the Piasts. Furthermore, the decisions
taken a t Yalta and Potsdarn demanded a limited gesture to pluralism. And so, while brutally destroying the remnants of the anticommunist underground. thc Temporary Government of Nationel

Iilrion cli:inges, and ior the first time since thr fnurtecntli cciitur):
l'oland was now :an o~~rrwliclmingly
Carholic coontry. l ' h e sufieriogs endured by tlie clergy and the patriotic and [lignified hehaviour
of thc Church during the war had elihanccrl the Church's status in
I'olish society and contributed to an even closcr identification of
the Church with the nation than had been rhc case h c h ~ r e1939.
L.ittle wonder that the aurhoritics tnovcd cautiously i n their rclarions with the Church; the Stalinist Bierut cvcn used the traditional
formula 'So help me God' a t his presidential inauguration in 1947.
Mowevel; the rrruggle tor political power went on unabated,
generating in many regions an atmosphere of insecurity and
violence, even of civil war. illusions that an armcd conflict between
the \Vestern Powers and the USSR was imminent, and that it would
reverse the Sovict domination of Poland, encouraged the srirvival
until the end of iy47 of many armed anti-communist guerrilla
groups or 'forest hattslions'. Up to 30,000 people, lnostly oppo-

;IS A L i ~ w t !~< >eI ,,, , , r v 887 rt(\t7cLl'\Y':r5,an, spr81,g cL>.+5. r \ ~ l ~ ~ ~, n> v~<i>: l ~
80 p c ~ccnr of \Y;ti-\a\\ 1i;ld heen dciii\r.lrcd, Inany tormcr inhahitants
who had sul-vivrd rhc \Y'arsn\v Rising i,t ,944 soon started to rcrurn m
the city, <despitethc primitive condiriolis of rsistmce. By July 1945 the
population Ihnd rcnchcd nearly ~oc,r;nc.a thiril oi irs prr-war sizc. Tlie

rebuilding <ii\Vnl-so\<. xns 311 uodrni:ihlc aihle\elnenr ofrlle posr-1945

n e n t of the new regime, perished in this internecine struggle. AntiSemitic o~rthurstsagainst Jews who hail survived the I~lolocaust,
the [nost notorious in Kielcc in Jr~ly1946,were also a grim feature
of this unsettled period. 'The Jewish hackground of some of the
most promninmr mcmbers o i the new communist leadership exacerbated anti-Jewish feclings at the end of the war; disputes over exJewish homes and property, which had acquired new occupiers,
also aggravated inter-communal tensio~is.In these circumstances a
large number of the remaining J e w opted for emigration. And in
thc extreme south-east of the country the forcible eviction of the
local Ukrainian population. a5 part r j f the communist campaign to
build a nationally homogeneous scatc, rcsiilred in a brutal counterinsurgent), canlpaigv against nnrionslisr Ukrainian partisans who
waged a forlorn strugglc againsr iornmunisr-led I'ollsh arid Soviet
F:ir more dan::croits for rlic P1'R \van tlic ne\vly rcconsr~ruted
Pol~shllcasarit Parry (I'SLl. Icd hy ~ ~ l i k o l n j s ~wirli
~ k :it< i~iillion
members ;ir the end of 1945 i r \ x i s niore rha~itwice [he sizc of rhe
PPR. The PSI.. enlilyed \ridcsprcad support 1r1 the villages and, in
thc ahccnce of the main prc-\var ce111tistand right-wing parties, it
also hcc:~mrthe forus for r11~1iyclcniciits ill Polish societ~opposed
(:o~lsciou, of irs wcaknesr, and desperate to
to the ct~rn~;i~~iiists.
avoid the kind o t clcctoral disii,tcr t l ~ n thefell 1.Iungary's cornlnunisrs in Sosembc~.I $145, the 1'1'11 resisicil Mikolaiczyk'~insistence
or1 the free elections p~.om~sed
for P ~ l d r i hy
~ i tlie Ya1r;i agreement.
Using intimidation, violcnic and electural fraud, it took the
communists ji~srovcr two years to clin~itiatcthe PSL from public
life. To delay an clcctoral contest the commi~nistsresorted to the
plov of a nation~il referendum on j o June 1946, with three
qurstions relating to the abolition of the Senatc, approval of the
governnient's economic politics, and endorsement of the OderNcisse frontier. It was hoped chat all voters would vote unanimously tor the government propositions and thus endou, the
authorities with a degree of legitimacy. To assert their independence, the PSL recommended a 'no' vote to the first question; the
anti-conununisr underground called for t\vo or even three 'no'
votes. The communists, who retair~cdsole control of the electoral
commissions, claimed that 68 per cent of the voters l ~ a dcndorsed

three of their proposals; the real figure, as revealed by confid c ~ ~ r iL'aPlK records, urns only 27 per cent. The falsification of the
rcierendum result was to remain one of the most closcly guarded
iccrers of the comniunisr era. The final confrontation with the I'S1.
occurred during the general election which finally took place on l g
Jnnuary 1947. The PSL refused to join a siligle electoral list under
I'I'R auspiccs. and sroocl as a distinct rival party. Thousands of 1'SL
.ii.rivists and ovcr roo I'SL candidates were detained by the
.~lithorities;the niiniber of polling stations was drastically reduced;
over a fifth of the electorate was discnfrar~chizcdfor nllegcd right\?.lng sympathies. A vicious prnpasaiida campaign presented the
1'Sl. as stooges of the west. The officially annol~ncedourconlc of
tlic rigged election was hnrdly surprising: rile PPK-led bloc ohtairi(ti Ro pcr cent of the votes, and the PSL only l o per cent. Recent
ir:1gilenr3ry s t ~ ~ d isuggcst
rhat cven with ihis heavy intimidatir,n
rile I'SL received henvrcn 60 and -3 pcr ccnr of rhc popular votr.
Itic ircc elc,ctions promised at Y,ilm werr: l~ttlcnitlrc rh;m 3 farce.
\~nericnn:rnd Br~tishprorcsrs had l o cffcct, h ~ ihr
i ~nllrurr of the
~i,mmunisttake-over i ~ iPolalid conrl-~borcdto the i4:irIening of
riic rifr lxtween rhe\Ylestern Po\vcrsand tlie 1!SSH.
i l i r ncn. go\.ernrncnt formed in February 1 9 4 7 (nr, l<iilgcr.l,rw
r i ~ o n a l ' ~was led by tlie pro-comniilnist soci.rlist Jrjzcf
(:i.r;inkic\viiz. a flcxihle polirici;iri who was to survivc ;IS prime
mini~turunril I y7o. while rhc lie? ininistries continued 111 rrmain in
crimmunisr liands. In October 1947 X,likolniczyk tlctl the country.
'ihe Pbl. was rcduced to itnpotency and its rump taken ovcr hy
cornnitin~sr syiiipatluzers; in November rq49 it was formally
absorhcd into tlie pro-communist U~iiredPeasant Part! (ZS1.j.
Despite the inauguration of a superficially democratic 'little constitution' in I 917, effective power lay wirli thc l'olitburo of the PI'R,
whose gcilcral secretary owcd his position directly to Stalin.
On the political scene there rcmained for the conlmunisrs the
awkward prohlem of the Polish Socialist Parry (PI'S) whose
\vai.time leaders, both in Poland and abroad, had little time for
Soviet commonism. Although the PPS had been reconstituted in
I'oland after the war undcr a left-wing faction which collaborated
with the PI'R, many rank-and-file socialists expected full equality
k ~ their
party (whose membership exceeded that nf the PPR until

C'onrrnunn??~nnd the Cold Wor, 1945-1 y 89

1947) and rhe avoidance of sovietization. They hoped r l ~ a Poland
mould retain a pluralism of autonomvus social organizations, trade
unions and co-operatives. Yet by associating themselves with the
iniqoiries of the PPR and by so-operating with the I'PR during the
1947 election, the I'PS liad allowed rhcmselves to be tarred with
the same hrush.
In 1947 and '948, in the cvcr~worseihingclininre of the Cold
E'ar, Moscow tighrened irs grip oi,cr its satellites. Not only were
they obliped to abandon any in\-olveinenr v i t h thc h4xrshall Plan
bur they were also forced to accelerate the adoption of the Soviet
model of political, economic and social control. In 1948, after
Sralin's split with Tito. steps u8cre wkcn to clirn~n;rteall so-called
'Titoisr' or 'nariclnalist' d e ~ i a r i o ~nrithin
r11c communist parrics of
rhe Soviet hloc. I11 Septernlwi- 194s Wladgslau, Gomolka. rlie
advocare of a mildcr 'Polish' road rri socialism, was dismissed froin
his posr as ( ~ T ~ L I prlrne
111ini5re1,~ncI\ws rcplaced ;is ~ecreraryof
the ccnrrel ccrnirnirrcu o f thc PPR 1,) Klcrur. In Dccemhcr 1948 a
rhoroughly purged and hrc~whcatc~i
PPS :tgrced to i~nircwith the
I'I'K to forni rlie I'ZPR (Pr,li.;h llnircrl \XTi)rkrrs' Parry), under
which appellation thc commu~iisrswrrr rr, rule P11I:lnd i~nril1989.
All of Polatid's large prc-wir poliiical plrries liad cithrr been
banned. <,bliged to dissolve rhc~~isclx~cs,
ohstrhed hy cllc cornrnunlsrs, or rrans~iiogr~fiedillto iiicrc ;lppcnd~igcsof the PZI'R; the
latter \yere ~rscful to dernonsrratc rn foreigners as evidence of
political plural~sm.'rhc PZI'K had :ichicved Ihegen~ony.There was
no room for any i~~depende~ir
pulir~calor social movements in the
'brave new w<~rld'of Stalinist Polantl in rvhich the cominunist
PZPR contrnlled all state instirutions through the cxcrcise of the
patronage of jobs (the so-called nomenklilturn) and the cstablishmcnt of parry cells at every level of pulilic employment. For many
opportunists and 'realists', often possessing little formal education,
membershipof the PZPR offered prospects of careers. In July 19.72
a new consrinition, aiiiended personally by Stalin, enshrined the
industrial workers as 'thc leading class in society', and proclaimed
tlic creation of thc Polish People's Repohlic. Elections after 1951.
became a collective ritual in which over 99 per cent of the
electorarc voted unanimously for a single list of candidates of the
so-called Front of Xational Uniry dominated by the PZPR. Conse-


qucntly the Sejm was reduced a)the role of a rubber-stamp on 311

I'artv decisions. The communist-controlled system of government
was never to enjoy legitimacy based on a freely expressed and
gcnuine democratic mandate.
A vasr and repressive police and security appnr:rrlls (by 1953
tlu~nheringover roo,ooo functionaries, or nearly sixfold the size of
lie pre-war policc forcc) kept a vigilant cyc on the popolation,
~vbicli\vas intimidated by a continuous armosphere of tension and
feat; and rnohilized in carefully staged public processions arid other
nrrificial expressions of joyiul tvgerherncss. Fear of intormers
-rifled all free speech and corroded all natural social relations.
iierween r y q j and 1 9 5 6 j,ooo drarh sentences were passcd tor
Ix~liricalrrasws; half of them werc carricd our. Tcn5 of rliouaaiids
0' peoplr cuffercd longer or shorrcr periods of arl,itr,iry iletrlirion;
lilts were kepi 011 nearly a rllird of all Polish adults. The jitdicial
-.\rcnl, ; ~ l l trade unions, youtli and s r ~ ~ d c organiz:lrions,
ziiil rlic
I)ri.\s c a m under Psrty co~itrr~l.
K\'or did Sralin rrusr rhc I'olis!~
: ; : m ! . whose nlrive officer corps was purged .ind then in Noveiilher
194" placed under the command o f rhe Soviet hlnrshal R o k ~ s s o \ . sky, an appointme111 srrik~nglya n a l o g o ~ ~tos chat ot Gr.irid i)ukc
i'<,ilsranrilisiri rlie Congress Kingdom of Poia~idin I S I 5 to I X?o.
1 %rhc
~ cnd o f r g j r rhrce-q~iarrersI,( all :icrivcgencrals in rhc i'olislr
.?r!ny wcrc Soviet citizens. At rhe same timc tlrc million or st) I'oler
I. ho liad rcinained in the USSR following the border charrgcs were
dqvived of their cultural and social organizarions, and gradually
{ti their parish priests and churches; only in Soviet Lithuania werc
ionic Polish-lansunge schools allowcd tn funcrion. Thousands oi
I'olish prisoners continued t o languish in the slave labour camps of
rhe (iulag.
A Soviet-stylc planned economy w s imposed. In 1 9 j 0 , Hilary
Mine, the hard-line Stalinist chairman of the state planning comniissiori who had already destroyed thc private rctail sccror and
deprived all co-operatires of their autonomy, launched rhe Six Year
I'lan, an ambitious programme of rapid heavy industrialization. Its
rrii~rnphalshowcase was the Lenin steel mill in Nowa Horn, a new
'sncialist' town that was intended to dwarf the neighbollring
ancient city of Krakow, that bastion of Polish conservarisni. As
intcriiatir~naltension heightened during the Korean War, much of




. ~..



v;,,i~s~n i h r ~ ~ ~ g~i n
, tg~ l r ~ro
t rrhe
e !n.tstg,. ( . l x ~ i ~ ! t ,I''s~ ! / ~ , ~ ~ in
~ i i, .Aw~ , ~ ~ ~ I #;? JO :l,c
V / o r p , r>fll><,K<,<r!!mzho
qy S<>ci;~liu
n~iil.~n Clior,.h\v, tipipper Silcsin. Painted i n 1952 :.1 \.licc?!rla\r Frrwin-0r.lck1 I r q r 2-77). Ar [he piano i s rhc pianist
Xr('iadpsla\vK ~ d r awho like orhcr artisrs frcqoenrlv pcrionucd rn ploccs n f uvtll-k. LJiiril rlie ctrnsrruction oi.Uowa H u l a
in thc i95os,Charzhw possessed rhr l a r ~ r s sreel
iniil in Polnnd.


CP"'"r. ,, :

C G3


GC~CGIIIY I , ~ J s ~ l , t' \~~~b: c l c r ~. ,.I I ~ ; >,I, I<..,< ~~IL,!I>:>I:< . I I V ~I,,: I'oII\IT r<lt!gceb Krlvc<lor, 1 1 1 1;sk~ Y ,
England, i n Nnvemlxr I 951.l l i ~ pi,<,nccl
11) rhc So\\crs 111 I 930-41, Anc1t.l-s rhcn commanded the I'oiish
nrnly in rhe US511 bcforr leadins the I'rtlih 'rccond (:<lips in rhc Vliclille Easr ;and Italy. Thr chal.isinativ
Andem hccamc ;I l i u ~ r ~crnla,dinlpni
o f Polish ~nilii:~r!.
valr,or ~iurini:rhc Sccnnd \Y1c,rid \War :and or the
6migrC cnusc afrcr i r1.l j h , r rhc cum~nunicri.i,xiinr ill \V,~r\aw lhr. was n lh.~tcdsynih<ilof rc;~ctlon.I ie
died i n 1970 and i s lhuricd ncxr to h i s coldirrs wlwi <ell n i \.Ionic <:assbnii.



Polorrd. after r7y 5

Church's loyalty to the state was rewarded with a degree of

independent activity, many church-run organizariol~,and charities
were dissolved, religious activities were banned from schools,
hospitals and the army, and church attendance was discouraged;
priests and bishops were harassed. Diverse ploss were iised to split
the Churcl~f ~ o mtlie inside; schemes were even li.irillcil 10 scvcr illt
I'olish Church's links wirh Rome ;and ro crenre a smte-conrrollec
natiollal ch~trch.Bierur's grotesque plan to secularize \Viirso\v'!
skylinc by cutting off all church spires \\.as fortunately n e w
i~iiplernentcd,hut in q j r there arose in the ccntrc o f the city ;
Palace of Culture 2nd Science, Sralin's 'gift' to Poland and :
towering symbol of Soviet domination.
Tlic hciglit of the anri-Church campc~ign\cis rr;iclicd in r 9 j j
when rllc stare unilnrcrally asrumcd the pnacr ro i.(r~lrolall church
nppnintmciirs kuid demanded ail oath of lo)-~ilrytc the stare from
: ~ l l clergy. Tlir lic\v prilnntc. hrchl,ishop Srcfnn \Y7v,/yilrki. cvcntu.~llynd\.iscd coillpiiance but himsclf plilrlicly .liid syniI)~lically
refuscd: 'We arc nor permitted to place the rhings of God on the
alrar o i Caesar. Non possumus!' His rcsulr;int derention was
tr~llowed hy larpc-scalc arresrs of bishoy\ nlld ilcipy, arid the
c1nsu1.u ot numerous mr,ri:~steries : ~ n d c11urcl1r.s. The leoding
Catholic \\:~cklp, Tygodnik Pou,srcchn~ (Ilni\cr\:iI \X:t.rklyi of
Krakhn. was hanned for rcfusi~igto publish ;i pai~eg!;ric upon
Sralin's drnrl~ on j hlal-ch i y j j . 'X'liilc \V!;\ryhski remained
isolilred in cletcntion, the episcopate br~a:e~lin Scptcn~berr q j j ro
rhc state's demands.
As Stalinism tightened its grip on Polanrl, thc Polislr exiles in
Great nritain, numbering some r ~ o , o o o ,maintained a veritable
'stare in exile'. The csiled President Ilaczkiewicz contitiucd in
nffice. as did Arcis%ewski's government, still recognized hy the
Vatican, Spain and a handful of lesser states. Most prc-war
parties, and rrew political ~ r o ~ ~ p i n gcontinued
to opcrate in
Britain and maintained branches around the world wherever Polish
communities existed. Despite difficulties oi life in cxile and the
exiles' physical dispersal across Britain, Polish cultural and social
life thrived, bolstered by ex-servicemen's assnciations arid by scores
of social, educational and religinl~sorganizations. Something of the
atmosphere of pre-war Poland was recreated in 'f't~lish 1.ondon' h?

Cotr7,nu!zis1?r rrrld t l ~ cCold LT'or, I 945-1 989


Marian Hernar's satirical cabaret and institutions such as the

'Polish Hearth Club' in Exhibition Road. Journals, newspapers,
scholarly works and wartime mernoirs poured off emigre presses.
The exiles waited fnr international changes that would favour their
legitimist cause, and shunned anyone tainted with collaboration
tllc ci,r~l~n~ini.;rs;
rllis inclocie~l\likoldjc~yI;, a,lio :irrivcd i i i
London after liis escape fr-om Poland in 1747. h i i k o l ~ j c z ~soon
~ilovcdro tllc Unitcd S r a ~ t swlicre be scc~rred[lie CO-~perarioii
rhc C o n ~ r e s sof American Poles. the largest Polish organization in
1 1 1USA;
many Poles in l:raricc also followcd his lead.
jest as the 'Great Emigration' of the 1830s and 1840s iiad
warlietl rhc wcsr boot 'Tsarisr dcsp~ris~ii,
SO Iinw r h ~ .post-I ~ ) + j
csiles. regarded by sornr as the 'Second Cruat Emigration', promoted ;In 'nrilrcncss in rlir wesr o f the dnnpers of Soviet cornmunism and o f rhc realities of So\.icr atrocities. Thc? scored a norahlc
,iicicss whcn i n Dcccnihcr icijr r l ~ rllS IIOIIZPof Reprcsenwrives
dcclared thc USSR responsihlc tor ihe Icaryn iiiassacrc. Thc ourLlrrak of thr Korean War rnisccl ernisre l i i ~ tliar
p ~ rhc Polish issue
rnol~ld return ro the international forum. The US go\rcrn~iicnr
tisclincd Gr11cr.ll Anders' otfer to rccrcate a Polirh army iii tlie
west, bur it [Ild dm\\, a vnricry of exilr ::roups into pro-i\meric:in
cspionape acti~iry: somcrhtng which inevirnbly damaged the
cinigre cnusc. h'lorc co~istrucrivedild loiig~lastingw,is 14mericati
support f ~ rhe
~ Polish-language
Radio 'Free Loropr'. rstahltshed in
1 95 2 :ind dirrcred h: Jan N o w k Jcziurafiski. a talel~tedjournalisr
and lobbyist, and a war-time courier hcnveen the Polish goverti~nenrin Londo~iatid tlic Uridcrgronnd in Nazi-occupicd Poland.
R~tdk)'Free Europc' was heanictl from Munich for ninetccn hours
?very day and, rfeqpite extensive conlmunist jamming, was widcly
lisrclied to across Poland. The war in the ether becamc n malor
hattleground of the Cold War. Ever vi~ilatitfor foreign spies and
countcr-revolutionaries, the communist authorities remained on high alert against the activities o i the tmigr6s and rheir
organization\, and i~npcdcdcontact between Poles living in Poland
dnd their fellow countrymen abroad. Yet one thing, paradoxically,
united thc ideological and political foes: for while insisting on
Poland's rights m irs pre-war eastern border. the exiles called also
for tlle international recognition of rhe Oder-Neisse Line as

Cotnnrrritism urrd tlte Cold War. lyqj-rgSg

Pola~ld's western border aod campaigned energetically against
West German revanchism.
Needless to say. the world of exile politics was wroughr with
deep fissures. Augusr Zaleski, a former foreign ininisrer, succeeded
Kaczkiewicz as president-in-exile after the latter's death in 194,,
hut alienated the exiled socialists and the nationalist SN;he then
refused ro step down after rhe expiry of his term oi office in 1 9 . i ~ .
A rival presidenrial body was created, the 50-called 'Council of
Three', consisting of General Anders. Tomasz Arciszewski (replaced after his death in l g j j by General R6r-Komorowski, the
former commander of the Home Army), and Count Edward
Raczyhski, a highly distinguished diplomat and former Polish
ambassador to the Cotlrt of St. James. The 'Council of Three'
sained wide support among the exiles, while the posirion of the
increasingly isolated Zaleski was further undermined when two of
his 'prinle iliinistcrs' dcclded to rerrrrn to comnlunist Poland.
Launching a propaganda campaign among the Polish diaspora in
19 j j, the Polish communist authorities also set out to undermine
the exiles' political role.
Despite its totalit;~rian features, Stalinist rule in Poland never
became a clrlne of irs Soviet model and avoided solne of tlie
excesses witnessed in other satellite starcs, such as the purge trials
of co~nmunisrleaders iri Czcchr)slovakia and Hungary between
1949 atid iq5r. But the post-Sralinisr political thaw was a slow
process, limired at first t o the PLPK. It started wirli discreet purges
in 19 j 3 within the I'olish security apparatus. The defection to tlic
West in December 19x3 of 1hzef ~wiarlo,a high-ranking officer in
the security police (the [IB), and his revelations on the airwaves of
Radio Free Europe in autumn 1954 ahour the iniquities of the UR,
aroused widespread ferment within the Parry. Scapegoats were
sought for tlie now admitted illegalities of the security police. In
December 1954 thc Ministry of I'ublic Security was restructured
and its notorioos chief Radkiewicz transferred, in a mild postStalinist inanrler !,f demotion, ro tlie minisrry for state farms.
Gomulka, who had heel1 under arrest since August 1951, was
quietly released from jail. In January 195s the central committee of
the PZPR publicly condemned thc repression of the Stalinist
period. Ir proved increasingly difficult for the Party leadership to


contain its internal critics, many o t them young comrnunists

,qssociared with the weekly Po prostu (Straighr Talk) and a host of
cliscrlssion clubs that appeared all over the country. An attack on
~ocialistrealism in literarure was launched by. hlarek Hlasko, a
young rebellious exponent of black realism, whilc tlie poet Adam
\Vaiyk qoesrioned the price paid for 'the great building of socialism' in his published 'Pocm for adults'. Khrilslichev's denonciation
~ r fStalinism at the twentieth Congress of tlie Soviet Communist
['arty on z5 February 1956 was a clear message that the old style of
repression had to go; in Poland and Hungary it provided a
powerful boost for change.
Thr death of Bierur in Moscow on r z March ~ 9 5 6increased
the pressure on the beleaguered Stalinists. It also provided the
dispirited PZPR, now led by Edward Ochab, with a timely opporrunity to brcak wirli the euphemistically labelled period of 'errors
a1111 distortions', tor which Rierur could be blamed. But an amnesty
f<,rthousands of political prisoners could nor hy itself appease the
crowing demand for change. The lowering of the threshold of fear
Across rhe country and rhe continuing lorv living srarldards conrrilhured to the o~lrbreakof mass demonstrations in thc city of PoznaA
<,n 1.S June 19j6. Crowds carrying national flags and singing
religious hymns demanded 'bread and freedom'; security police
and PZPR headquarters were attacked. Alrhough quelled by troops
with tanks, rhe proresrs in Poznah were a sharp warning that the
communist system in Poland was facing a profound crisis. The
participation of over a million pilgrims at rhe shrine of the Black
Xadonna in Czystocho\va on r j - r 6 August 1g5(; to commemorate the 300th anniversary of rhc dclivcrancc from Swedish
invaders indicated that powerful national emotions were at play.
Within the Party, whose leaders had become isolated from the
inass of the population, nvo rival strategies were proposed for
dealing with the crisis. Adrocares o i reform called for the conirolled liberalization of the system; tlic hardliners tried ro channel
discontent against scapegoats, including Jewish members of rhe
now discredited security apparatus. 80th groups were looking for a
new leader with clean hands. Gornulka, the recently frced victim of
Sralinist repression, appeared thc ideal choice. The reformist
grouping succeeded in winning over many workers and Parry

Poli7nd, after 179 y

Contmunrsm and the Cold War, r 945- 1987

5.i l h c cnd of Scalinisni. Wlsdyslaru Goinulk~..lr the Ihcigllr of his

pr,pulariry, addressing liundrcds of rli(,i~s.indsof \J.~rsoi,i;ln~
on 1 4 Ocroht
r 9 j 6 He appealed for an end to dcmonsrrnring and for a rerurn ro work.
'Unircd wirh rhe working class and wirh rhe narion', hc concltldcd, 'rlie
Parry will lcad Poland alonaa ncw parh ro socinlisni.' (;omulka's
populariry in Ocmhcr r y s h probably equallrd rhar of Pilsudski in >lvl;~y
1 gzo and of I.ech U?dqsa in I980- I . I)~s~~~chanr~nenr
~ v s sso011ro follow.

attacked the Stalinist illegalities, the misconceived methods used in

collectivization, and the excessive dependence on rhc USSR. On
r r October a tiew Polithuio, with Gon~ulkaas first secretary. was
clected. While anxious to allay Soviet fears, Gomulka at the sanic
time had to moderate the cnthusiasric expectations of a poptilation
that saw in him a national leader against Soviet domination. Tlie
soberil~geffect of the brutal Soviet suppression of the Hungarian
I<cvolution in November 1956 played \\,ell into Gomuika's hands.
f-lungary demonstrated to tlie Poles the limits of Soviet tolefiince.
I'oland rc~naincdwithin the Sovirt bloc and the Party retained its
n ~ o ~ ~ o pof
o lpower.
Yet tlie changes following Gomulka's appointment marked a radical break with the Stalinist past, and opened
the r ~ toda milder for111of c o m ~ ~ ~ u rule.
~ l i s lrt was a turning-point
i n the histor): of post-war Poland. Kokossovsky was deprived of
thc co~nnl;~nd
o t the Polish army and returned to rhe USSR, tlir
security police was tamed. some of the worst Stalinist rornlrei-s
wcrc put on trial, and Party bosses were changed at every Ievrl.
Tlic most hated factor!; directors found themselves re~novedby rhe
\r.orkcrs in wliecll>arr<~ws,
while workers' councils were est~l)lished
III niany f;ictories as an antidote to rigid bureaucratic methods.
Scarly all collective farnis a e r c dissolved. Cardinal W'yszyliski was
frccd, his moral authority enhanced. A compromise was reached
\r.~ththe Church which in turn helped to restore stability within the
country. Keligloos educatioil returned ro the schools and five
C:atholic dcpotio of tlir Znak group were allowed to sit in the
Scjm. Gomulka ~uccessfully renegotiated in Poland's favour a
1111rrtherof military and cconc~micagreements with illoscow; the
USSR was no longer to buy Polish coal at paltry prices. The
~repatrinrionof ovcr zoo,ooo I'oles still detained in the USSR was
. .
wcnred. ':oreixn travel was eased, as was coliracr with Poles hv~ng
In the wcst. In 1960 thc USA grantcd I'oland niost favoured nation
status in tradc. Tlie hirriers bctwcen easr and west were becoming
rno1.c permeable.
iilthoogh tlic cxilcs rvcre srill c:lpahle of concerted action, such
as the de~iio~isrration
i n 1.o1idon by ro,ooo Poles in 1956 dul-ing
tllc visit to Britain of thc Soviet leaders Khrushchev and Bulganin,
hy the lare 1950s the appe:ll of tlic 'sratc in exile' or the 'nation in
cxilc' was heginning to wanc ;imong their rank and file; prohle~ns


inrellecruals, and in making common ground with Gomulka. The

I'arry boss. Ochab, also wisely showed willingness to step down.
But Moscow was not consulted. And so when on ry Octoher 1956
the central committee of thc PZPR mct nt its Vlllth plena? session
to rcsolve tllc internal crisis, Soviet forccs stationed in Poland
started converging on LVarsaa. The scent of a national revolution
was in rhe air and preparations were made for resistance. At that
ioncture a furious Khrushchev, accompanied by most of rlie Soviet
leadership, made an unexpected appearance in the Polish capital.
Bur in a dramatic nocturnal ralk, Gornulka succecdcd in persuading
thc Soviet leader thar the undertaking of repairs \vould not undermine the principles of the system or deflect Poland from the road to
socialism. Mao Tse-T~ing's support tor Gomulka also carried
weiglir in Moscow. 111 a innior specch on zo Octohcc, Gomutka



Polund, after 179 j

of daily lift, ant1 rhc concern to preserve the l'olish language and

culture among their childrcn were taking prioriry over politics.

Tlierc !rere also consolations and even attractions of life in the
west. Co~nmirtcdto the overthrow of communism, the Omigre
leaders found it difficult ro adjusr ro the new realities in Poland.
More itnagin:itivc proved to be the message coming from the
Literary Institute outside Paris, founded by Jerry Giedrnyt, a
political thinker of vision and something of an enfont terrible
among rlre exiles. The monthly jol~rnalKr~ltura,which Giedroyt
edited with his .lssr~ciatcJuliusz iMieroszcwski, pro\:ed to be the
mosr )nfluenti,ll Polish emigre publication of the entire Cold War
period. Kathcr than call for the overthrow of communism, they
thought in tcrnls oi its euolution, and set out to influence that
process in Poland h y an open-door approach. On the pages o f
h'irlturo appeal-cd some of rhe hesr exiled wrirers, including individuals who had worked for the rcgintc in Warsaw suc11 as Milosz,
as well as \+!riteis (undcr assumed names) living in Poland, and
Iiussian writers banncd in the USSR. Kult~rriialso cmbarkcd on
diffusing histori~ilanimosities benveen rlte Poles and their irnmediate eastern nciglthours; tt called on the Poles ro acccpt the loss
of Wilno (Vilnius) and of Lwbw (Uviv), srill regarded by [nost
exiles as an inalicnahle historical and territorial legacy, in the name
of reconciliation with rhe 1.ithuanians and the Ukminians. I<rrlrura
discussed tlie Jemrish ~SSIIC, a s~tbjectlargely ignored by Poland's
officially sani-tioned publications. Despirc communist border controls, Kultr~rrt and its lncssagc rcached numerous schol;irs and
students in Poland, and was to !have a formative influence on the
new: post-rulr Polish intelligenrsia, and indeed among I'oland's
eastern neighbours.
In Poland Gomuika's regirne actluircd tlio qualified acccprance of
milch of the popillation, while rhe relarive stability in the counrry
obviatcd the need tor prevei~riverepression. In the field of culture,
freed from ideological rcsrraints, there was renewcd vigour nftcr
1956. 'l'he innovarive musical co~npositionsof Witold Lutosiawski
and Krzysztof Pendcrccki quickls acquired an internatio~tal
renoun, \vhile Andrzej LVajda's epic war films marked a brcakthrough in rhe post-war Polish cinctna. Slawomir Mroick published his 6rst sarirical wc~rks,wl~ileStanislaw 1.eni bcga11liii long

cnrecr as I'oland's rnost famous scicnce-fiction wrirer. New student

c;lba~-etintroduced a breath of fn:sh air in rhe arts. Greater
plitralism was tolerarcd in tlie academic \vorld. Even Poland's
Olynipic successes in Romc in 1960 enhanced the country's
reviving national pride. I'oland was tzow eifccrivcly the most liberal
iounrry of the Soviet bloc, or as some with p l ~ rit: 'the most chccrful
h:lrrack in the camp'.
Rut there was only disappoit~rrr~entfor those \vho expected
fltrtlier liberalization of the system. For all his courage in ,1956,
Gomulka remained adamantly hosrile to revisiorris~it,rhat is delilo
cratizgtion within the Party and u*orker self-rule. In Ocrober r957,
the iour11:tl Po prostrr was closed (lourn, and in 1958 the workcrs'
ioi~ncilswere dissolved and replaced I>); supine l'arty-led groups.
The authorirics' artack o11 revisionist communist intellectuals
gratlually widened into a gciieral campaign to force all the
i o u n t ~ y ' swrircrs and inrellectuals ro toe the Party line: in 1963
\Iro%ek left Polan~l,while the Iii~lily popular writer Melchior
\Vai~kowicz, who had r e t u r ~ ~ efrom
exile after 1956, received a
rhrcc-year senrence in 1964 for including in n private letter
infortnation 'liable to iiarnngc the inrcrests of the Polish People's
IIcpoblic'. In r q h j rhe young revisionisrs Jacek Kuron and Karol
l o d z e l c u ~ s k i ,who Irail ;trgued oprnly that the count~.y's ruling
class was thc Party bureaucracy and Inor the workers, were expelled
i r o ~ nthe Party, to be followcd thc ncst ycar by the eminent
pllilosophy profcssot Leszek Kolakowski.
Expccrartons of economic ireform led nowhere. 'The retcnrion of
rigid plann~ng, thc continued crnphasis on heavy industry. and
(.;omulka's i~~compcrence
in economic nlarters allowed only a
ntodest improvement in living stnndards in the lare 1953s and rhe
1960s. l'olish agriculrure conrinued to smgnate: obstacles \\:ere
placcd in the \ v ; ~ yof the ni~~dernization
of private farming, n~hile
tlre highly sobsidizcd statc farms remained grossly inefficient. Food
shortages, csl~cciallyof meat, continued to plague the l'olish scene
for dccadcs. And it was in the ryhos rhat the gulf bct~vccnPoland's
economy and staiidard of liviiig ;and that of the counrries of
western Europe, even poorer ones like Spain, began to widen a t a
growing pace.
There \\':is also a rcrreat from the cor~cessiorlsmndc to the

and the Colrl' W'zr., I 941- 1989

i: (.':~rtlt~nal
\Y,ysxyiisLi .IT t l ~ rl.~st~'tCi,)c.> mioti:~s~cr~
I I I C>~qsr,>~~l~<,,v,,
during lhe cc/~-I)rari~il
01 lllc i i ~ i l l ~ i i r ~ ~
i uin( ~. : h i i s r i i ~ ~icii iI1<~lanci.
1966. lltilikr rhc conservarivc Canllnni M i n d r z r ~ l of
r ~ I lungnr):
\Vys~yAskiwas receptive to idcns of social 2nd culrur;,l progicsr, itlld was
polcricnlly Inure asruru. I-lr was slo~\:ho\vcrcr, in ifnpl~n>rnrin~
in Pc,lsnd
rile rctnrnis r)i rhc Second Vzricnn Council. The Polish co~nmanisr
duihorirles failed ro break rhr. ~ilot.alailrhcrriry of rhe C:~rlrolicC:liurch
a.Iiose strength grew under Wyszyitski's prirn;tcy. Many I'c~lishC:~tholics
regarded U'ys.szynski as the 'inrcrrcx', rhc posr hclil hv rhc I'ri~nilrc hcru,cen
two myal reigns in rhc olcl 1'i)lish Grn~monwealrh.

Catholic Church. Uy r 9 6 r religious instrucrirln in schools had

ended end drastic official limits had hccn placrd <>tithe building of
new chorchcs. The rladir in churcii-srarc relntions occurred
I>ct\vec~i1965 a n d 1 9 6 6 . 111Ni~senil>er1961 Polantl's Ihishops sent
a iorrnal letter t o tlie German Roman Catliolic cpisci~parcseeking
reconcili:rtion hetween the t w o narions. l i e reminding the
Gerrri;ins nf Nazi atrocities in Poland, rhe lerter also acknowledged
the sufferings inflicted b,- the l'oles on the C;crmans. For Coinull;a
this was a n itriacccptahle inrerfetcncc hg the Church in foreign
tiffairs, all the 111oru resented since the communiar aurlior~ticshad
uscd tlie threat o f \Vest Gcrman revanchism :is one of their kry


:irguriii:ntsin dc,fcncc of communist rule in Polarld a n d of Pol;riid's

:illin~;ccwith the 11SSR. Bur !vhatevcr points the g~ivernmvntwas
.il,lc t o score froni the ensuing propaganda a r t a c t on thc Church
were lost thc iollowing year. l'hc cclchrarions i~rganizcd hy rhc
(.liurch in r g h 6 t o c o n i m c m ~ ~ r a[he
t e ri~illentriutiiof (:lrrisrianiry in
I'i>land (tlrc baptis~riof Micszko 1 in y6h) confirmed thc loyalty of
rI1v faithful t o thc Clinrch. T h e authorities' attempt t o hold rivnl
aclchrations of the millentriltm of Polish sratehood inrn1duccd a n
clcment i ~ f thcarrical i;ircc arid o i i l ~wcakened rlieir standing
+niorrg rile popirlat~ori. Hruiscd, the communist party \r.itlidrei\.
frorn any f~trrlier direct confronration with the (:horsli, whose
rcrsirion it1 thc counrry was yr;idually hut 1-e~norselcsslvstrcngrhcncd by the implncablr Cardinal Wysz~bski.In tlie lore 1960s rhe
Pulish Church was e\.cn iiblc a)spare Koo ~ x i c s t s ,monks a n d nuns
ior missionary w11rk around tlic worlcl; a T'olish cleric, 31-chhisliop
K ~ ~ z l o w i c c lhec:ime
tlie metropolitan of Lusaka in Z a ~ n h i a .
\Vitliin a pear the country lurchcd into anorher phase of mrrnoil.
For wliilc C;urnulL:i w:is ;il>le, fill- tlic momcnt, ro silcnce rhe
rcvisio~lists,3 tar s r r - ~ n g e illid
more sinisrcr rhrc.it \ V ~ Semerging
w~thlri tlic I'arry apparatus in the f~lrrii of all anti-i~ltellecrual
grouping which was to [make a bid fnr power hy riding
the nilrioriel~sr r i ~ c r . Led hy M i c a y s l a w hloczar. rlie deputy
minister of thc ~nrcric,rand a shady wartime communisr guerrilla
tighrcr; thc so-cilled 'Partisans' esp(iused a crude narioiinlism rhat
was a i t i e r n i n anti-Ukr;iinian and anti-Semitic; they cvrn
offere~la partial relrahilirntion to former AK soldiers whose warrirnc record had been vilified by- the communists since tlie war. lTlic
'P;trtisans3 rargctcti lihcraliting pro-reforlners within the I'arty, a s
=:ell :is 'ct,smopolitan' writers and film-makers. Tlic tensions
\r,ith~nrhc ['arty between bloczar's I'artisans o n tlie one hand, a n d
the r e r n a i n i ~ ~reformer-s
on the ~ltlier,caiiie t o a dramatic head in
I 967-8. ' l h c cr,ndcninarion oiTslnel :and Z i ~ i n i s mby tllc USSR a n d
mosr of its e;iar Europe:+ii satellites during tlie Arablsi-acli w a r of
June 1967 w.1 nor shared by Poland's small number of Je\vs o r
indeed by i n : ~ i ~youlig
1)iiIcs. Gomulkn persoiinlly had no record o f
anti-Semitism ( a n d 111s \\.ife was of Jewish origin), hut his p ~ t h l i c
contleriitiation rrf Polish 'Ziolrists' w h o had rejoiced in Israel's
victiiry as a
'iifrli colurun'
a n excellent oppo1,-

t t l ~ i i t yfor hiloczar and his followers to exploit anti-Semitism in

their hill for power. In a climate o f political hysteria. tantamount to
a w i r c l i - I i ~ ~ i told
, Pnrty members a t Jewish origin wcrc cxpclled
f r i ~ nrheir
posts. AII attiick was also launched on thc y o u ~ i gradical
rcvisionists ( K ~ ~ r o hModzclewski
and the student activist Adam
Michnik) whose support for Dubi-ck's reform movement ill
<:i-cchoslovakin turther enr;~gedthe Party authorities.
The filial push h y the I'arrisans t o topple <;omulkn took place
nftcr students cheered nll liberal and anti-Russian statements in
Mickie\vicz2s play F(~rc{nlbers'cuc staged in \7'a1-liiiw's National
Theatrc i n January 1968. I n an inept move o f culttlral ccnsorsliip,
prohnhly inspired hy hloczar t o provoke disturhnnccs, Comulka
ordered tlie play's suspension. Tlie enstling student proresrs, first in
LVarsaw and r l i e ~ i n most university towns i n S4arcli 1968, were
net with a violent policc response and thousands o f arrcsrs. A l l
over the country, orchesrrated demonstrations o f hatred, endorsed
hy the Moczar-conti-ollcd press, were staged againsr 'Zionists',
students and 'Sralinist crilninals'. Protests against this came from
tlie Church, the Llriion o f Polish \YJriters, and the s~nnllCatholic
Znak parliamentars group. G o ~ n i ~ l knext
a tried to limit the \riltl
anti-~emitislii,hut the dalnagc was done: 111-, ro zo,ooo pcoplc! o f
Jewish clescent, i n the inail1 fully assirnilatcd and alnir~stall belonging to the intelligeiitsi~i, and some non-Jewish inrcllcctuals were
pressured inro leaving thc country. C;omi~lkii silr\,ived Moc7,ar's
onslaoglit, but serious datiiage had becn inflicted oil the intcrnational reputation o f tlic communist regime i n Poland. Indeed, the
anti-Semitic campaign csposed rhe ideological hollolvncss o f the
M a r v ~ s mpropagated by the Polish communists. (;nmulkn's relentless hosrility to all forills of revisionisni, wlicther o f thr I'c>lish or
Czeihosloi~ak variety, and a desire t(1 rnainrniti his credit in
hfoscow led hini to support ~iiilitarily( w i t h z6,ooo Pnlish troops)
the Soviet-led invasion o f Czechoslovakia i n August 1968.
For the momenr t l i c Party apparatus \\'as triumph;int, but i t lind
alicnatcd an entire gencrarlnn o f vnun:: cduc:~ted people Ihy its
brut31 police methods and liicnilacious propaganda. Convinced
that the ct~mmunirtsycrem could not he reformed from w i t l i i ~ the
rcvisionists began t o turn thcir hacks on Marxis111 and to scek
c ~ ~ l l a b o ~ x t i with
non-blularuist student ncrivisrs, (Gicdroyi's

i\ir/ru~nin T'aris, ;and tlie liheral Cnrlii>lic intclligenrsia. The dctcrii,~.:iting economic siruotion and continrling fnod shortages brought
(;umulkn no credit citlier. N o r did his apparent foreign policy
>llccess, in thc sh:ipc o f a treaty \vith tlie W ~ s C;erni;in
oi Willi Bralidt oli 7 Deceliil~crI970, which recljgnized de firrto
I'oland's post-war western border, e~iliancehis domestic position.
LYlIiatcvcr sclf-satisf>iction (;nnililka's tc;irn may hiive felt at thc
signing o f thc trciity with Bonn evaporated a uxcck later with the
ourhrcnk of strikes in the sli~pyardso f Gilafisk ;ind Gdyiiia. K
lxugramnir o f niodest econ(!ttiic reform, il~tendcdto give some
to facrories 2nd to introduce a system of wage incentives, went hadly w m n g when irs first ph;ase, a large increase in
f n r ~ dprices, was intr<iduccd ~vitlioor\varnilig on r z ilccemhcr. I t
a blow for illany working-class iair~illrs.\t.lio oiren spent
:iliour three-fifths o f thcir hucl~ero n food. Tlie timing o f the
n,casure, a fortnight before C1iristni:is \r,Iien Polish families make
considcrahle and costly prcpal-at~onsfor tlic festivities, was nothirig
short of crasc stupidity
'rhc authorities' incpt and bloody response t o the strikes on [he
roast. cspecinlly tlie gunning do\vn i n (qdynia on 1: 1)eccmhcr o f
ciores o f workers on their w a y - t o work. led t o a vcrirable workers'
1-c\:11lt across rnocli o f nc~rrlicrnI'olnnd. 'To rionr)niic demands was
IIII\~ added rhe demand for- rlic cl-c;ition o f independenr 11-ad?
t~nions, in complete contravention o f the Leninist principle that
rrnde unions undcr communism wcrc nicrcly to scrvc as 'transmission belts' o f P;trty orders t o the masses. Faced with the prospect
( ~ af geliernl dcstalhilization i ~ the
f entire countl); .llosco\v agreed
to the dis~liissnlo f Gomulka, tnken ill after a ~ n i l dcerebral stroke,
: l n ~ tlic
appoinrmcnt of hd\vord C;ierek ns first secretary o f the
I'arty on zo December. A s Parq- hnss in llpper Silcsia, GicreL had
; ~ c ~ u i r cad rrputati<~nfor cllicient marnge~nentand had becn rhe
I'arry's rising star since r968.
Nc\v strikes hroke our i n January 1971 and a general strike
pi~ralysedthe port city oi Szrzecin on 2: lanuary. Giprek's direct
lxrsonal appeals to the ~ v o r l ~ e rosf Szcrecin and Gdniisk, his
promises o f reform and iinproverncnt o f \c,orkers' living standards,
and the freeing o f derained wl~rkers, couplcd w i t h further per~ o t i n echa~igcs
at ministcri:il and m p Party level, finally helped to

C I I the

c;lse the situation. Rut it took a further strike hy tlie textile workers
of thdi., a city moch neglected by the ~urhnritiessince t l ~ e
hcforr the price rises were wirhdrawn on I 5 February.
Althnugh Gicrek's tear11 cmcrgcd fl-0111 the crisis with sol:
degree o t puhlic co~ifidcncc,:In end was p l ~ tto :ill attempts
endow trade unions with greater autonomy. Tlic workers remainlu
c:iotiou.; even if very mucl~aware of their strength. The narinnalisr.
communist Moczar. who htid challcn~edGomulka in 1968, was
cased out of the interior ~ninisrryin the spring of 1971, after which
Gierck skilfully kept a~nhiriouscolleagilrs away from the levers
powcn Relations with tllc Churcll, now respected by the state as
a key basrio~iof social prncr in the country, imp]-nscd. In June
~ 9 7 1Pope I'aul VI finall!. rcc(~gn~zed
the post-w;ir ecclesiastical
administration in the ex-Gcrmcin tcrritorics. Thcrc was 3 nlarked
liheralizatinn in cultural polis); especiall\- e\.ideut in the reai~nof
cxpcrimcnr:iI thcatl-c and in film-making. Repressinn was eased
and government propaganda iiuw cmp1i;isized tlhe 'moral-political
unity o f the Polish nation'. The decision NJ rchuild the Royal Castle
in Viiarsa\v, which had been destroyed hy rlir Kazis, was welcomed
hy I'oles a t home and ahroad; Gierek's go\,crnrrient was even ahle
to attract some emigri-s to co-opcr.lte in the tieids of husiness and
culture. O n the other hand, the continiling tmigration to West
Germany of many Mazuri;ins, Upper Silcsians, and even Kashubians, who had bcen alicnatcd froit1 Polishrlcss ~ivertlie years by an
insensiti\,c administration, was a sh;lmeiul indicrrr~cntof the communist I-cgime.
As for the 1.ondon imigres, it was only in iy;~, atrcr Zalcski's
dcath, that their main groupings achieved a belatcd reconciliation.
The successio~lof Edward Raczyfisl;i nl the presidential office in
1979 restored snnie prestige ro the exilccl presidency. Outside this
new h o ~ i d nf krnigri: unity renaincd rlic National Party (the
n:~tionnlist heirs of Dmowski) who sought a more 're:ilistic'
apprnncli to Gicrek's Poland and who continued ro warn of
C;crnlan :ind lewish intripucs i n destabilizing the counrrs. A great
boost to thr n111r:ile of the Poles in tlie llnired States was the
appointment in Novemher 1 ~ 7 oi
6 the Polish-;\rnerica~~scholar
Professor Zhigniew blzeziliski, an expert on Soviet affairs, as
President Carter's national security adviser, as ivell as the prnmi-

Cold War, r 9 4 j - r9Sg


l>c.otrole played in US political life lhy Ser~atorEdtnund hluskie, a

1)rrnocrat pres~dcntialhopef~il,;lnd Klerncnt Zalilocki, chairman
, i r l 1977) o f the Foreign Ilelations Committee of the Mouse of
f h c key to the carly buoyancy of Gierek's regime was the rapid
<,xpansion of rhe economy, f~ielledh y western credits amounting to
1.1billion dollars, and the introduction of modern tcchn~)lr>gy
a vim to increasing I'oland's role in international trade. Gon~ulka's
p,,licy of econoinic autarky was abandoned. There was n marked
iniivovc~ncntin the general standard of living. Emphas~swas put
on reversing the chronic housing shortage, and motor-car production under licence increased, notably of the Fiat r r x p ; herweell
1970 and 1980 car ownership grew from 4jo,ooo to over two
Tlir casing o f fol-eign currerlc? resrrictions gave many
l'olc access to otherwise rare western consumer goods. A t the
7;irnc time the sr;tre coiitinued its heavy subsidy of housing,
icinsport, holidays and of the health service. and it cvcn hrought
iilrlependenr peasant farmers within rhc social security system.
(:ornpulsory requisitioning of agricultural produce iron1 the
p~,;ls.ints, in forcc s i ~ ~ c1945,
findly ended in 1971. 111 the new
climate o t eect-wcsr detente, Gicrek paid official visits to several
\veste~-ncountries, irrcluding the USA, and in return was Iiosr in
W-:~rsawro the French president Gisc:ird d'Estaing, and tlic Amcricall presiderlts lu'ison, Ford and Carter; rhc latter came in 1777,
~?ccompaniedby I'rofessor Hrzr~ihski.
811t G~crek's'economic miracle' restcd on flawed fou~tdatinns.
I'lic centralized economy, run irieflicienrly hy a privileged and
vcnal I'arty leadership, still revolved round heavy industry which
riilderwent no srrucn~ralreform. ]Many of the i~tvcsrmcntswere
misdirected and indced wasted. Many new 1)olish protlucrs illtcndcd for cxport provcd to be of shoddy quality and failed tn \\-in
foreig~imarkets. External factors, such as the 1774 oil pricr rise
(following the 1973 Arah-Israeli war) and rising western interest
rates. compounded the economic d ~ f f c ~ ~ l t iHeys .1974 tlie economy
was overheating, inflation was growing, and there was a return o f
fc~odshort.tges; in 1976 sugar was rationed. Gierek's honeymoon
ivitlt the nntion, rvhose consumer appetites had bcen whetted, was
cuniing to a n end. There were also serious squalls (117 the political


Pola1i11,after J 7 9 7

5 ; C : o ~ l l ~ . ~ ii<l rl \ v . ~ r (d, i ~~ c L I , ilv, c:i-<,i~ilc>.IU:LCC< ihc T I ~ I I ~ C ~ 01\

Rydulttlw) ICI llpl,x1 S~lcsia.\cprc~iilrcr,974. L>csp~re
failure (ri G i ~ u c krionumic
policirs. sn opii~iunpoll of Ocrohcr i q g g
found 11i:lr >nostI'ules who had rr.iched inarurir? in rhc early r9;as as
ivcll as r h r m lcarr well c l f f in rhcThird lleptrhlic rcrainrd o fnvour:thle
image o f thr ' ~ w rimes'
under Cierek. Ovcr ro.ooo mourners attended
his fonci;il m S<,snowiccin Augusr zoor. Yet rhc rcpayrnenrs of rhe debts
ncqnirrd under Gicrrk courinue to risc, and \\,ill reach ti peak of q . j billion
dollerr in 2co8.

front. .4s a price demanded by Moscow for I'oland's greater

cliploniaric activity, thc government proposed in mid-ry:y
f Polish constitution clauses stipiilating t h a t
include in tlie text r ~ the
the Parry held the 'leading political role in society' and, in a
manner reminiscent o f Poland's relations rvith Cathrri~iethe Grcat
in the cigllreenrh ccritiirv, that tlie alliancc with the USSR w a s
'permanent'. A campaign o f indignation and protest, hacked by the
Churcii, did not prevent the i~iclusiono f the first arneridmcnt, hot
did s ~ ~ c c e cind \r?atering d o w n the second. The socialist character of
tlie Polish state and the ideal o f full collccti\.izarion were also
enslirincd in the constitution. Hou.ever; rlic whole affair consolidated a wide oppositian rnovenlellt, ranging frvm the Catholic

lntclligcnrsia to thc former communist rcvisioi~isrs,with significant

;!iiplicarions far the future.
The govemmcnt was further discredited u ~ l i c ~ ifaced
moonring foreign clehts arid growing itiflaticln, it annoiinced price
rises oil 25 June 1gj6. Widespread strikcs and protcsrs forced the
;iitthoritics to back clown. Although the authorities did not use
5rrarms (unlikc in 1956 and 1970). they meted out brural punishiircnts a ~ a i n s the
t demonstrarors. In Septuniher I 976 n Comrnittce
l , r the Dcfenze of Workers ( K O R ) was formed which organized
, j ~ ~ i cand
k eftectivc materiiil assistance t o the victims of repression.
I;C)R3s early meinbers came from divcrse hnckgronnds, hut among
thc [most active werc rhe formcr revisioliists Jacek Kuroh and
l\dani klichriik, and tlie vetcran sociiilist Jan Jhzcf Lipski. Highly
.rilg~rralwas the link which K O l l provided hetween the intellectual
opposition and rhc disaffected workers. solnerliing that Iiad been
iar:I(ing ill r g X 8 and r y 7 o when horli groups had fought their
scparatc battlcs. In September 1 9 7 7 KOK hroacle~ledits aims hy
becomirlg 3 per-marient institution cornmittcd t o tlie defelice of
lh~~rnanand cirizen rights, and by stating as its aim the 'selforganization of Polish society'. llespitr police harassment, KOR
hccame a n i~iiportantfoclis for tlic oppositioii, publicizing acts o f
illcgnlity committed by the srare, and s~~cccssfulls
assisring with the
looriding it1 1978, in (idalisk, of an indepcr~dent(and of course
iliesal) rradc union movement. Other dissident groups, some even
demanding iudepcndct~cefor Poland, also appeared.
In the less repressive clirnate of Gierek's Poland, and in marked
contrast t o the resr of the Sovict hloc, there u2iis a burgeoning o f
ilnofficial ci~lturaland publishing acti~xitgbeyond the rcach of the
ccnsor. The works of exiled writers like Czeslaw Llilosz, Witold
Gombrowicz and 1.cszek i<olakowski, as well as tmnslations o f
hirhcrro banned foreign wrirers such a s Oru,ell, saw the light of
rlny; outstanding among the i l l c p l publications o f authors living in
Polalid was Tadcus7, Konwicki's Minor R ~ O C O I ~ ~( S~P ~ 7with
9 ) irs
cntertaining yet disturbing caricature of life in I'eople's Poland. A
so-callcd 'flying university', drawing on the services of maiiy
academics and publicists, and very rcrninisccnt of unauthorized
tcachi~rgduring the tsarist period, organized lectures in private
homes on officially forbidden historicnl and political subjects.

Poland, iiftrr I 7 9 1

ll~rdthe Cold \Var. 1945-1989

Emigre publications and Polish-laligi~agc mdio srations abroad.

especislly Radio Free Europe in Munich and the Polish section of
the IMC. also contrib~itcdro this effer\~cscenccof ideas. At tIlc
same time the relaxation on foreign travel and the spread of
television ( 4 per
~ cent of Polish homes j~ossccseda ttlevision ser in
1970) increased popular awareness of rhe cvcr-widening gulf
between Polish and western living conditions. Dependent on
western loans and bcing a signarory to the Helsinki Final Act o i
1975 with its emphasis on human rights, thc Polish governmcnr
W ~ onable
to root out the vigorous and pluralist \vorld of dissent
\vhich now flourished behilid rhe increasingly sterile official political ordcn
The Catholic Church conrrihutcd significantly ro the creation of
a broad-based movement in defcncc of honlan rights, which
embraced Catholic and secular intcllccruals acrlve in rhe opposirion. The Church had already her11 stl-engtliened by Cardinal
Wyszyhski's deft, yet rclcntlcss, exrcnsion of its influence os a Inass
orsanization firmly rooted in the national tradition. Its prestige
soared to unexpected heights wllcrl Karrrl Wbjtylo, the archbishop
of Krakhw, was elected pope oil 1 6 Octohcr I 978, assu~ningthc
namc of John Paul 11. For the authorities, who lhad strongly
clisapproved o f \%jr).fa's I-obustsupport i<)revarigcllzati~)n,it came
as a shock: 'By God's wounds, what art. we going ro do now?'
Gierek was supposed to have exclaimed on he:lring the news from
Konie. Tlic pope's triurnphal pilgrimage to Poland from .I to 10
June 1979, which thu autkoriries did not dare to stop during a
period of cast-uzest derentc, con61-med nor nllly tlie adherence to
thc faith of rhc hulk of the Polish popularion, wliich rurncd out in
Ihunrlreds of thousands to grecr the pontiff, bur also the enormous
capacity for 'self-organi7ation' o i l'olish society. The pope's
treq~lentreferences to human and national rights, and his appeai
for courage and for changc did nor fall on dcaf ears.
Tile papal visit had ;I powerft~lly liberating impact on the
national psyche at a rime when, despite official propaganda ro the
contrary, the economlc s~tuarioncontrnocd to dcterioratc: in 1980
over four-fifths of Poland's i ~ ~ i n ~from
l l r exports went to qervice the
iorcign dcht. Yet the scalc and intensity of the strikes thar swept
across tlie country in July rgRo. after the government had intro-

IIIC , ~ r ~ ~ l o~ t lKr,,k<n\,
~ t s l ~I ~ ~~ I~V L~ . I;L
q4 T!>eI'u11,;h l'cqw. l\,~rol\Vol~yl,~,
si~srdnt Ihr,nnur on lhis rrrurn n>l'olnod as l'opc john I'nul 11, :June ~r;ri.
(.),I the leir is ('arlltnal \X1ys7!.ti<ki, and in rhe ccntre is I'rr,fessor Hcnry!~
lnhl<,i,ski. rhr communlsr head r~islart..During his cighi-d~ypilgri~-n.ijir,
\ i x million Polcs cnnlr otlr ro q e r r thc Polisll Pope. \Vojtyla's election ro
rhc ponritic;,rr 2nd his visit hari 3 carnl?ric cffecr on rhc coilnrr?: Ir alro
rho mc,r;tlc ot rhr Pol~shri~nsy<~r:i.



ducctl minor meat price riscs in iacrorv canteens, took the governmenr and tlie opposition by surprise. !\nd this time, unlike rg7o o r
1976, the strikers did not pour clur into the strects or atrack local
Party hcadq~~atters;
thcv uccupied iacrories and fornmed strike
com~nittees.Attempts ro appease rhe strikers with pay riscs and
extra food supplies failed to stem rhc tide of prorcst. The creation
of an inrerfactory strike cnmrnirtec in (;dahsk on r 6 Augl~crunder
the clinirmanship of Lcch \Valfsa: a 37-year-old electrician, provitled a model tor similar committees in other consral cities, and
proved be a turnins-point. On r; .4ugusr the strike comtnirtce in
(;daiisk issued its twenty-one dcmnnds, which incluclcd the right to
r,rsanizc independent trade unions, rhe risht to strike, and the right
11, frccdom of expression. blenlhers of the poliricnl 11ppr)sitioil
offcrcd their scrvices as experts; individuals such as ' l a d e u s

Conin11171rs11ra i d the Cold W L I ~r ,q q j - 19x9

. nP


" .

' (

fl 1 . ~ ~ \Y.IIcs.I
0, ,111 I I X ~IAIII ~ L , I Iat
I tlie tn~omr!bro ; s ( g r 117,.
agrcenler1r n.hiih lh~ouchtZolid.ir~t! inra rxi?rr~~ce,
in rhc 1.enin shipyard
in Cdahsk on 3 r Augrbct rqXo. On his icnmcdiarr righr is Mieczyslnw
lagiclski, a dcpury prsme tiiiriisrcr and member oirhr communisr
Politburo. h r x c thc sraruc ofLenin. lorig since zone, in the rigl~t~hantl

\4azou,iccki, a lcadiiig Catholic juurnalist, a n d Bronistaw

Geremek, a distinguished mcdiclaal historia11 and doughry ilegotiator, joined Walpsa's tcnni.
Yer again a la>-gesectior~oi the Polish working clasc, crearrd by
the comniunist-led prngr;immc of post-war i~idustrializarion,
turncd against its bureaucratic masters. When o n z6 Augt~srrhe
srrikes spread t o the coal-mines of Silesia, Poland's industrial liearrland, the governmcrlr had littlc choice hut to negoriate with the
~ t r i k cco~ii~nirtces.
T(I his credit, Gicrck rejcctcd Soviet advice t o
use force against tlic srrikcrs. O n j o a n d j r August, in S7,czecin
and Gdansk respectively> rlic tloundering authorities capirlrlarcd
over tlie ccntral demand for indepclident trade unions. TO consolidntc rlicir position against any future government intrigues, the
tratlc union leader5 vorcd on 17 Septcmbcr t o create H single
llational trade i ~ i i i o ~called
'Solidarity'. Llndcr the leadership of


~Yjalqsa,\rho displaved a slire\vrl political insrinzr, combined with

,Iynarnis~nand a scnse of mission, Solidarity built up its inrernal
democratic srrucrures a n d h c c a ~ n ca magnetic focus for a widc
r,ingc o f protest groups. By mid-November it had Y ~iiillion
memhers, roughly a third of Poland's adult p o p ~ ~ l a r i oan ;year later
its membership exceeded r o million. T h e discrcditcd Gierek was
removed fronr office on 6 Septemher and replaced by Stailistaw
Kania, a n experienced apparatchik.
'Flie developments in Poland niade tlic headlines around the
xrrorld, while Alilosz's Nohel I'rizr for Literature in Dccembcr 1 9 8 0
also focused international attention on Polish affairs. In the wesr
thrre was considerable sympathy fnr Solidarity which also enjoyed
tile support of the Polish pope. 111 'loscow a n d East Berlin rliere
was horror and alarm. President Carrcr \ m s briefed o n rhe Polish
situatiori hy Rrzezihski, and his thrcat of sanctions a ~ a i n s rthe
USSR, niadc to the Kremlin via the 'hot line' ar midnight of 3-4
December 1980, nray have dissi~adcdt h r Soviet leadership from
ordering a n imminent invasion of Poland. l'hr likclihood of I'olish
resistance was prohahly another deterrent t o a Soviet invasion
which would have creared a ~ i i a j o rintcl-nar~onalcrisis. In any casc,
> ~ l o s c ~ ~remained
unyielding in irs hosrility, a n d leant heavily o n
the Polish aurhorities to crack down on Solidarity. For Solidarity
was not an ordinary tvade union; it was evolving into a niass social
movement commitred t o the democratization of political lifc, the
disnianrling of the command econoni): a n d the introduction of
autolionlous production units. Although 11s lcadcrs were realistic
enough t o hold back from seizing political power (Kuroir described
it as 'a self-limiting revolution'), a n effective sratc i ~ 'dual
was cmcrging. Ry its very csistence, Solidarity represented a
challenge t o tlic communisrs' ~ n n n o p o l yof political control within
Poland, and ultimately t o the Soviet empire in eastern Europe.
Under 1Vatqsa's leadership Solidarity not only w~ithstood the
government's arrempts to infiltrate its regional branches a n d ro
promore a split wirhin its ranks hut also grcw in strength, most
vividly demonstrarcd by theall-national four-hour general srrikp on
z j hlarch I ~ X I In
. M a y Rural Solidarity of peasant farliiers --as
legalized. T h e Polish authr~ritieswere not yet ready for a decisive
confrontation. Indeed, u ~ ? d e rthe impact of the euphoric expecta-

tions of greatcr freedom gripping rhe country, rhe Parry itsclf was in
turmoil and in 3 verifahle state of decline. Of its j million
mc~nbers,ahour :I third ab.indoncd rlie Party nltogcther, while a
further 700,ooo mernbcrs actually joined Solidarity. A reformist
wing called for more dc~nocratic'horizonrel struit~ires'within the
Parry, while the hardliners, encouragerl by M o s c o ~ v urged
action against the 'counter-revolution'.
T h e (:hurch's effective mcdinmry role in diiiusing repcated crises
hetween the auth(~riticsand Solidarity was temporarily blunted in
May 1981 by the attempted assassination of the pope, probably
instigarcd by the KGB, and hy tlic dear11 of Cardinal Wyszyhski.
T h c new primate Cardinal Jbzef Glcmp did iiot have his predeccssur's dominating prestige and had a hard act t o follow. In an!,
case, rile day of reckoning was fast approaching: tol- the ahnormal
situation in Poland could nor conrinne indcfinitclp. [ h e appoinrrnelir o i the defence in in is re^- Genrral \trojciech J;truzelski as prime
rninisrcr in February was at1 early indication rliat the I'arty leadership rons hmcing itsclf for action. Althou,~ho t gentry origin a n d a
s o u n g victim of Sralink deport;irions, the a loot Jaruzelski was a
loyal communist senera1 with a long, nrjcccssful military career
behind him. At frequent meetings throughout tlic spring a n d
summer of 1981, the I'olish comrnur~ist lcadcl-s nssurrd thc
irnpaticnr Soviets of their rcsolvc t o end the crtsi.\ by their orrrn
means. At rlie extraordinary 9th l'arry congl-css in July, the first t o
b r attcndcd by deniocratically elccrcd delcgatec, Knnin succeeded
in r c s t o r i n ~some order within rlie I'arty. Wirh rlie appointment iii
August of Gcncral Kiszczal,, the head of military countcrinrclligence, as interior minister. the authorities accelerated plans
devised earlier for the i~irrnductionof ]martial law.
T h e drastic dctcrioration of food supplies rriggercd oif further
wage demands and deeperred thc \krcariness of thc pupularion. T h e
hardening of rhe authorities' atrirudes raclicalii-cd lnatiy Solidarity
;~crivists.At irs nalional congress, hcld in Gdiiirsk in Scprernher,
Solirlarity overwhelmingly endorsed a n ~ p p c a lof fraternity t o rhe
3vorLrrs of eastcrn Oirope arid o i the USSR; i r was a romantic
gesture that onlv serrsed as a red rag to the Sovirr bull. 'The gravity
(if thc situation and the h ~ g hsrakcs involved werc rcflcctcd when,
on 18 Octoher, rhc central commitrce of the h r t v replaced Kania

wiih JaruzcIsL~ es firsr secretary. Conrr<]l of the srate and Party

nppal.atirs nnd of tllc counrry's armed forces now rested i l l o n e pair
of hands. T h e inilurc of Ge~lelnlJaruzelski, Cardinal Glcmp a n d
\Valqsa r secure a national cornpromise a t 3 mecring o n 1
X o ~ ~ e r n b c tfollowed
hp Solidarity's annmlncemcnt of a great
demonstration in Wi:irsnw fur 17 December, and corltinuing Sovirt
p r e c ~ ~ r forccd
jaruzelski's hand.
D ~ i r i n g the nighr of 12-1 j December 1981, in a well coordinarcd and cfhcicrillv exccured operation. observed closely by
tlic Soviet .\tarshal Kulikov, a n d involving most of rlie I'olish army
and all t h r security forces, martial law ('a stare of war') w a s
~riiposedovci- thc enrire country. To all intenrs and purposes it mas
a coup d'itat: n so-callcd Militarp Council of National Salvation,
headcd I)? Jaruzclski. assumcd supreme iiuthority irr rhe land.
-lhkcn by surprise, 6,000 Solidarity activists. ilicluding Vl'alysn,
werc nrresrcd 2nd inrcrned. Only in Wroclaw was the local
Solidarity le:ldeishrp tully prepared for such an cvcnrualit? a n d
nvoidcd detenrlun. All soc.ial organizations were suspended, a n d all
incrories, transport a n d co~nmunications militarized. Force w a s
used nr cl.ilsh thc strikes char cr,uptcd over rhc country. b u t
Iai.gcscalc bloodshed was avoided; the worst incidcnt w a s the
killing of nine miners in rhc'wujek' coal- nine in Karowice. \Y'irhin
(lays ilie president-in-cxile Raczyhski broadcasr t o his iellow
coutitrymcn in Poland calling on them t o kccp their faith a n d hope;
it was all ccho of rlic broadcast he had made in Septcmher 1939
when serving as ambassador in l.ondon, a n d posscsscd a vivid
liisrorical dimcr~siori.
T h e inilirary crackdown restored a semblaocc o t public order
a n d drove pcople b;ick rn a.ork, but did little t o resolve I'oland's
fundalncnral political a n d ccoliomic prohlcms. T h e Solidariw
leaders rtzlio had escaped dctenrion rebr~iltt l ~ cmouement's structures undcrgro~mda n d prepared for a 'long march'. A prr)paganda
war asainsr rhc authurities was Iaunchcd. Suhstantial ainoonrs o f
printing and conimunicaiion equipment, sup131ied by the CIA via
Arnrrican TI-ade union organizarions, was snruggled into Poland.
Illegal 'samirdat' lournals a n d hooks, many on liistorical a n d
topics h a l ~ n c diry the authuritics, rolled off secret prinrinx
presses. !\nd it was tortunare chat the cnll of some radicals t o resort

cumpounded by the vast h ~ r c i g ndebts (Sqobn ill 1988) and the

\\,csr's onwillir~gncssto advance fi~rrhcrcreriirs, ntlr t o ~iicl~tiorl
c c o ~ ~ o n ~s ai nc c r i n n ~ , s o n r i l ~ ~ l etdn gnaw a r the very sinews of
nntional life. Industrial p ~ - ~ ~ d u c rand
i o n living standards continued
ro f>~ll;prices I-osc; slinps cmpricd; the statc budget faced a
draniaricall? growing deficit. Alarming effects of industrial pollu.
r i m were observed i i i m;in!. areas of the country. Poland\ prospects
sermed lhoprless a n d some half a rnillior~I'ules. mostly young and
enrerprising, left rhr country 11r chose t o r e u ~ a i na h r o ; ~ din t l i s
period. In 1y86 the :nrer!nnent rclcased all remaining ~lolitical
prisoncl-s but rlie Snlidarits leadership. altht~uglln o longer prerwnted from actlng o l ~ r n l refusc~l
t o parricipare in a govenlmentsponsored consultar~vc'issen~l~ly.
Treare~lby visiring h ~ r e i g npoliticians as the efiectivc IcaJci- of rhe opp<~sirionand encn~lragedby
rhe pope's rliird vlsit in june 1987, Walssa continued t o insi<r on
the rcsa~rationo f political pluriilism a s a precondition for any allnational activn to drdl wirh rhc rconomic crisis.
Jaruzelski's government and the Party soughr other measures to
hreak o u t of the impasse withour having t o sorreoder their monopoly o f pnwer. ..\ referendurn, hcld on 29 N i ~ v r m h c r1 9 8 7 , to seek
c ~ the
~ t governnicntk hesitant attempt a t
the r~arion'se ~ i ~ l o r s e i n of
cconomic reform, wos a resounding defeat for the authorities.
Neverthclcss, rhe govcl-nnicnt refused ro give way ro Solidarity
demands and rospundcd with force against widespread strikes ill
April and May 1gX8. A second w:ivr of strikes e ~ ~ v e l o p erhe
country in August 1988. Fe>~rinprhat the country w:rs on the edge
oi' an uncontrolled major explosion, the authorities drew hack
froni reintroducing marrial lnw.
Of decisive significance for ihc siruari(~nin Poland was nclw thc
clramatic rcversnl of the pnlicy of the USSR rowards its satcllircs.
Forcecl hy the stress ( ~renewcd
in~liraryrivalry with the USA inro ;I
t.adical overha111 of rllc Sovier cconomic a n d political system, the
new Soviet leader Garhacher was no longer preparcd n1 i~nderwrite
the unref~lrmedc o n ~ m u n i s rregimes of castern Eorope. Disorirntcd
hy thc ch;lnges in rlie lJSSR. :lr~d n o longer able t o jusrify a
rcsroration of mal-rial law ns preferable t o a Soviet invasioi~(as had
been the case in 19811, the Polish c o ~ n m u n i s t snow faced wc srark
clioices: t o mainrain control by force over a rcsrles\ l,opulario~land

a degraded economy, o r retain solnc degree of power a n d the

1,rnefirs of \c.i<lcr econorr~icrrforrn by an acct~mrnud;rtiul~
wirh the
ilpyt~sitionwliich would srcure for rhc regime popular legitimacy
: ~ n dintc:rnational respectability,
In a televised broadcast on z h Angusr 1988 thc interior ~niiiisrcr
(,cnernl Kiszczak proposed 'round table' ralks between the governnlent a n d the opposition. Emerging as a level-hearled politician,
\Yal$sa next succecdcd in bringing t o :ln e n d tltc srrike calnpaign
th:ir was dcstahiliring the country. O n 3 I August Kisrc7nk met
a privarel!~ for the first time. Estrc~nists in both camps
opposed the talks, and ir rook lice months of ct~rnplexpolirical
~nanncuvringbefore they g o t off the ground on 6 Fcbruary 1989. It
\ v ; ~ sonly by threnrening r o rcsijin rhat Jaruzel5ki and Kiszczak
sccurcd the consent of rile central con~rnirteeo l r l ~ cPZPR to tlic
~clegalizntionof Solidarity.
T h e deliherations of the 'round tahlc' cndcd on 5 April wirh a
co~npromiseagreement which heraldcd c x t e ~ ~ s i vchanges
t o thc
constirurional order. T h e offices of the president mid the Senate,
in rq j?. a n d r q q h rcspcctively, uJel-e recrorcd; rhc former
\\,a% r t ~he chose11 j o i r ~ r l1~
1); rlie Scjm and rhc Srnnrc, : ~ n thc
d latter
lo he clecred on rhe tx~sisof fr~llyfrcc nati(1nnl elecrions. Roth
the presidel~ra n d tlie Senatc would esercisr thc powcr of veto over
tile Scjni in which 6 j per cenr of tlie sears u.ould bc resenred for the
I'ZI'R a n d its nllies, while 3 j pcr tern of r t ~ eseats would he decided
hy a frec clcct~,ral conresr. Solidarity a n d Rural Solidarity were
relegalized o n 17 a n d 20 April, respecrir~ly.
T l ~ esemi-free clecrions took place o n 4 June rgKg. Although
huyct~tted by a sceptical third of rhe electorarc. they were an
overwhclrning disaster f u r the Party .iattd eucecded all expecrations
o t the nrchitccts of the 'rnond table' agrccmcnr. In retrospect, rhe
Polish elections of 1 9 8 9 ~ r o v c dt o he r l ~ e6rst kcv move ill the
Jisrnanrling of the c v r n u i u ~ ~ i csystem
in cast-ccnrral Europe. All
hut onc of the hundred scats in the Sellate a n d all the frce seats in
the Sejm were won by the Solidarity-backed Citizens' Committee,
\vhile only five gouernmcnt-backed candidates ~ a s s e dthe 30 per
cent vote needed t o secure rhe reserved sears in the Seim. A second
round of voting was thereinre needed OII I 8 June t o enable the
parries t o till their gilaranrced places. On 3 July

Gorhacbcv's rnvoy made the mnmcnrous announcement that

Polantl w,as free ro determine the shape of its ourn governn~cnr,ln
anothcr conipromise arrangement, Jaruzclski was clecred president
on l y July; ten days later he resigned from the Parry ~ccrctaryshi~.
On the other hand, \Valcsa skiltullv ~ v o o r dthe United Peasant
Party (ZSL) and the Democratic par^ (SD). hirherto communisr~(~nrroljed
parliamentary grouping.< but iiow eager to assert rheir
independence, to prevent the crearion of a cr)nlirion government led
by General Kiszczak. On I y August President Jaruzelski invited the
respected Catholic i~~rellectualTildeurz i\.[;izowiecki to form a
coalition governmcnr. With the almost unanimous support of the
Seim, b1.iazowiecki became rlie first non-communist prime rninisar
in what was still formallv communist castern Europe - and received
a congratularory telegram from Mnsco\r.. U'alrsa himself eschewed
all public office for the tinic being. Although the PU'R rerained the
kry ministries of the interior and o f defence_in accordance witli the
'mund rahle' agreement and ro reasstlre bloscow, its days as a
'.Clarsisr-I~cninisr' parry were over.
The for(?-five-year pcriod of communist rule in I'oland cannot
he simply dismissed as one in wliicb nothing constr~~ctive
beneficial was achicved. And l'ola~ld's snrellite status mas cerrainly
preferable to the late of the Baltic States. \vhich were incorporated
in the USSR. Rut the forcible imposition of an ideology alien ro
most of its inhabita~ns,the cynical travesty of the concept of
democracy, rlie decades of me~idacity,the humiliating suhserviencc
to the USSR, and the shccr rvasrefulness of much econc)mic activiry
all weigh bcavilv in any objectivr asscssn~e~it
of the communist
legacv in I'nland. In terms of livins srandards, co~nrnunistPoland
not only did not catch up wirh the west, bur fell furrher behind.
Impressirc statistics of coal or sreel prodt~rrionwere no suhsrirure
for chronic shortages of hasic goods. It now remained ro be seen
how I'olish socien; so long in a conimunist srrairiacker, would
rcrpond m the sudden challcrlgcs o f freed0111and indcpendencc.

A new republic, 1989-

.Although ~T,III!:hardline Solidari? soppt~rterrresented the lack of

a clean break \I-irh thr communist past and no settling of scores
with the cnmmunisrs. the constitutional chattges and rhe t.lecrions
of ry8q are now generally accepted as marking the birth of thc
Pol~sli'Third Republic'. O n rg 1)ecemher 1989 Poland formally
ccaied 10 bc a nu-callrd 'People's Republic' and rccovcrcd the
crowned white earlr ns irs emblem; rcfcrcnccs ro the 'Icading role'
nf thc PZPR, to the S n v ~ e:alliance,
and to socialis111were expungcd
frmn the constirllrioti. \.YJhar made possible Poland's pcaceful
rranstormarion in iy8y-yo was rhc 'self-organization' of Polish
society that had evolved since the 1970s and the self-restraint and
5ense of responrihilit). of the counrry's political leaders, whether
conimuntsrs or menlhers of the former opposition. As a result a
dangerous political vacuum was avoided and social peace was
ni:~inrained.Indeed, the much greater political realism of the Poles
in rhe second halt of the twentieth century, as witnessed in r y 56, in
rgXo-I, and now, marked a powel.fi~lcontrast wit11 the disastrous
Ronianric insurrrctions of rhc previous century and with rhe
\Varsa\\r uprising of 1944.
.IlazowieckiS 'great coalition' showed exceptional energy in
draaging I'oland out of its economic mnrasmus. J a n u a ~~ s q saw
the introduction oi a widc-ra~lging prosranline of economic
reform, the mosr radical in thc wholc of ex-communist Europe and
prepared hy the new tinnncc minisrrr Professor Leszek Balcerowicz.
The resulting 'shock rrearment' halted the galloping ir~flatiunand