Stalinism in Poland - End of Communist Rule (1980–1990) - Facing The Inevitable

Facing The Inevitable

The government slowly but inevitably started to accept the idea that some kind of deal with the opposition would be necessary. The constant state of economic and societal crisis meant that, after the shock of martial law had faded, people on all levels again began to organize against the regime. "Solidarity" gained more support and power, though it never approached the levels of membership it enjoyed in the 1980–1981 period. At the same time, the dominance of the Communist Party further eroded as it lost many of its members, a number of whom had been outraged by the imposition of martial law. Throughout the mid-1980s, Solidarity persisted solely as an underground organization, supported by a wide range of international supporters, from the Roman Catholic Church to the Central Intelligence Agency. Starting from 1986, other opposition structures such as Fighting Solidarity, Federation of Fighting Youth, and Orange Alternative "dwarf" movement founded by "Major" Waldemar Fydrych began organizing street protests in form of colorful happenings that assembled thousands of participants and broke the fear barrier which was paralysing the population since the Martial Law. By the late 1980s, Solidarity was strong enough to frustrate Jaruzelski's attempts at reform, including a failed attempt to gain a popular mandate for changes in a national referendum held in November, 1987, and nationwide strikes in May and August 1988 were one of the factors that forced the government to open a dialogue with Solidarity on 31 August 1988.

The perestroika and glasnost policies of the Soviet Union's new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, were another factor in stimulating political reform in Poland. In particular, Gorbachev essentially repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine, which had stipulated that attempts by its Eastern European satellite states to abandon Communism would be countered by the Soviet Union with force. This change in Soviet policy, along with the hardline stance of US President Ronald Reagan against Soviet military incursions, removed the specter of a possible Soviet invasion in response to any wide-ranging reforms, and hence eliminated the key argument employed by the Communists as a justification for maintaining Communism in Poland.

By the close of the 10th plenary session on 18 January 1989, the Communist Party had decided to approach leaders of Solidarity for formal talks. From 6 February to 4 April, 94 sessions of talks between 13 working groups, which became known as the "Round Table Talks" (Polish: Rozmowy Okrągłego Stołu) radically altered the structure of the Polish government and society. The talks resulted in an agreement to vest political power in a newly created bicameral legislature, and in a president who would be the chief executive.

On 4 April 1989, Solidarity was again legalized and allowed to participate in semi-free elections on 4 June 1989. This election was not completely free, with restrictions designed to keep the Communists in power, since only one third of the seats in the key lower chamber of parliament would be open to Solidarity candidates. The other two thirds were to be reserved for candidates from the Communist Party and its two allied, completely subservient parties. The Communists thought of the election as a way to keep power while gaining some legitimacy to carry out reforms. Many critics from the opposition believed that by accepting the rigged election Solidarity had bowed to government pressure, guaranteeing the Communists domination in Poland into the 1990s.

When the results were released, a political earthquake followed. The victory of Solidarity surpassed all predictions. Solidarity candidates captured all the seats they were allowed to compete for in the Sejm, while in the Senate they captured 99 out of the 100 available seats (the other seat went to an independent, who later switched to Solidarity). At the same time, many prominent Communist candidates failed to gain even the minimum number of votes required to capture the seats that were reserved for them. With the election results, the Communists suffered a catastrophic blow to their legitimacy.

The next few months were spent on political maneuvering. The prestige of the Communists fell so low that, even the two puppet parties allied with them decided to break away and adopt independent courses. The new Communist Prime Minister, general Czesław Kiszczak, who was appointed on 2 August 1989, failed to gain enough support in the Sejm to form a government, and resigned on 19 August 1989. He was the last Communist head of government in Poland. Although Jaruzelski tried to persuade Solidarity to join the Communists in a "grand coalition", Wałęsa refused. By August 1989, it was clear that a new Prime Minister would have to be chosen from among the Solidarity nominees. Jaruzelski resigned as general secretary of the Communist Party on 29 July 1989, forced to come to terms with the prospect of new government being formed by political opposition. Increasingly nervous Communists, who still had administrative control over the country, were temporarily appeased by a compromise in which Solidarity allowed General Jaruzelski to remain head of state. Jaruzelski won by just one vote in the National Assembly presidential election of 19 July 1989 even though his name was the only one on the Communist ballot. Essentially, he won through abstention by a sufficient number of Solidarity MPs. Wojciech Jaruzelski became President, but Solidarity elected representative Tadeusz Mazowiecki assumed the office of Prime Minister. He was appointed on 24 August 1989. The new non-Communist government, the first of its kind in Communist Europe, was sworn into office on 13 September 1989. It immediately adopted radical economic policies, proposed by Leszek Balcerowicz, which transformed Poland into a functioning market economy over the course of the next year.

The striking electoral victory of the Solidarity candidates in these limited elections, and the subsequent formation of the first non-Communist government in the region in decades, encouraged many similar peaceful transitions from Communist Party rule in Central and Eastern Europe in the second half of 1989.

In 1990, Jaruzelski resigned as Poland's president and was succeeded by Wałęsa, who won the 1990 presidential elections. Wałęsa's inauguration as president in December, 1990 is thought by many to be the formal end of the Communist People's Republic of Poland and the beginning of the modern Republic of Poland. The communist Polish United Workers' Party dissolved itself in 1990, and transformed into Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved in the summer of 1991 and the Soviet troops would leave Poland by 1993. On 27 October 1991 the first entirely free Polish parliamentary elections since the 1920s took place. This completed Poland's transition from Communist Party rule to a Western-style liberal democratic political system.

Read more about this topic:  Stalinism In Poland, End of Communist Rule (1980–1990)

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