Unlike Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland managed to bring about some reform, without a Soviet invasion. Strikes and demonstrations took place in 1956, 1970 and 1980, and each year Polish political leaders were replaced and new reforms introduced.
In 1980 the Solidarity Trade Union movement emerged in Poland. Its members were unhappy with the political and economic situation in Poland. Solidarity was led byLech Walesa, an electrician from Gdansk (Danzig). It was a non-communist organisation.
-Put forward 21 demands; free trade unions, free speech,
In order to calm the situation the Polish government allowed Solidarity to exist, but when it began to demand free elections many feared that the Soviet Union would intervene, as it had done in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The Soviet leadership put pressure on the Polish government to deal with the situation. In 1981 martial law was declared in Poland, and Walesa and thousands of Solidarity members were arrested. Communist rule was once again unchallenged in Poland.
Because of the continuing persecution of the Solidarity movement, the United States and other Western countries imposed economic sanctions against Poland. This had a devastating effect on the Polish economy, which saw inflation reach 70%.
The Polish government was finding it more and more difficult to suppress the Solidarity movement. In 1986 the government wanted to increase the price of food. Solidarity threatened a general strike and the Polish government was forced to back down.
However, Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika were to have an important impact on events in Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe after 1986.
Poland and Solidarity
- The Solidarity trade union movement developed out of worker dissatisfaction with the political and economic situation in Poland.
- It was led by Lech Walesa, a Gdansk electrician.
- Put forward 21 demands
- As the support for Solidarity grew, and greater political reforms were demanded, the Soviet leadership became concerned.
- The Soviet Union put pressure on the Polish communist government to deal with Solidarity.
- Martial law was declared in Poland and many Solidarity members were arrested, including Walesa.
- In response, the United States and other Western countries imposed economic sanctions on Poland.
- The Polish government found it more and more difficult to suppress Solidarity.
- In 1986 Solidarity threatened a general strike, which forced the Polish government to back down over food prices.
- After the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1989 Solidarity became the new government of Poland.
Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in eastern Europe
- 'Glasnost' and 'perestroika' raised the expectation of reform among the people of eastern Europe.
- In May 1989 Hungary dismantled its fortified border with the West.
- In June 1989 Solidarity won the Polish democratic elections.
- In September 1989 thousands of East Germans escaped to the West through Hungary.
- In October 1989 in the face of huge demonstrations, the East German dictator, Erich Honecker, was told by Gorbachev that he must reform.
- He was also told that the Red Army would not come to his rescue as his own troops refused to fire on demonstrators.
- In November 1989 the people began to tear down the Berlin Wall, and the East German communist government resigned.
- Also in November, multiparty democracy was allowed in Czechoslovakia.
- In December 1989 similar events unfolded in Hungary and Bulgaria.
- Also in December Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania was overthrown in a violent revolution and executed.
- Communism had collapsed in eastern Europe.
Solidarity my notes
-National feeling – Poles wanted country to be free to make own policies –
-The Catholic Church: very strong in Poland – 80% Catholic. Church wanted freedom to preach as it wished and run its own schools
-1978 – Polish cardinal elected Pope; Pope John Paul II – inspired poles and caused surge in polish nationalist and anti-gov feeling + church became even stronger focus of opposition for gov
-Living standards: Poles wanted end to shortages of food and fuel and the high prices
-Freedom of expression: Poles, backed by church wanted a free press and right to discuss issues openly
-Late 1970’s Polish economy hit crisis ; high prices and fuel and food shortages –Gov no idea how to solve problems -July 1980: Gov announces increase in price of meat. Strikes followed
-Aug 1980: Workers at Gdansk shipyard, led by Lech Walesa put forward 21 demands to gov, including:
1)free trade unions and the right to strike/ more freedom
2) improved standards of living
= SOLIDARITY = first free trade union in Eastern Europe
30TH Aug: Gov agreed to all 21 demands; the right to strike/ form independent trade unions/ more discussion of Gov policy/ relaxation of censorship/ improved wages and working conditions
-Workers agreed to accept the leading role of the Communist Gov in Poland and the Socialist economic system, as well as polands links with the USSR and other East Europe Communist countries
October: Solidarity officially recognized by Gov
-Showed that a well-organized non-violent mass movement could force even a Communist Government backed by the USSR to help and agree with the people
-Showed that the Communist Gov was incapable of solving Poland’s economic problems and had lost the confidence of the people- 30% of the Communist party joined solidarity due to lack of faith
-The USSR could not use force due to troops in Afghanistan whilst the USA threatened to sell nuclear weapons to China if did
-Solidarity caught the imagination of people in the West that neither Hungary or Czechoslovakia had
-Walesa regularly in Western Media/ Solidarity logos bought in Capitalist world – supported democratic movement
Jan 1981: Membership of Solidarity at peak of 9.4 million – more than 1/3 of workers in Poland
-Solidarity became increasingly defiant – movement began to challenge communism – threatens agreement with Gov by demanding free elections - Moscow watched in growing alarm
The Role of Walesa
-responsible for co-ordinating activities of various union movements
-symbolized for the poles and outside world the struggle for greater freedom in Poland
-courageous and pungnacious leader -
- his role brought his national and international recognistion – 1983 awarded Nobel Peace Prize
Dec 1981:USSR backs appointment of new Polish army commander General Jaruzelski – under increased pressure -> declares martial law in Poland (rule by Army) + strict censorship and control over media
Soviet leader Brezhnev ordered Red Army tanks on borders of Poland on ‘training exercises’
Walesa and around 150,000 Solidarity members arrested
1982: Solidarity declared illegal but releases Walesa
What was learnt?
-The only thing that kept the Communists in power was force or the threat of military force; there was no support for it.
Fighting for survival
-Solidarity continued as ‘underground organization’
1982-1989 -Pope John Paul and Ronald Reagan work together to ‘keep solidarity alive’ - provide focus of opposition to the Government – Communist party saw church as enemy but could not defeat it due to Pope John Paul II – together; the church and solidarity had more support than Communist party –90% of people supported
-Western organizations provided money and supported popular Walesa (received Nobel Prize in 1983) and Solidarity received other equipment including transmitters, computers and advice with how to deal with the Polsh Gov and USSR from priests and spies
1986: Radio Solidarity – break from censorship/freedom of speech
1989 – Solidarity wins free elections – 99% seats- Communists do badly
-Leaders of Solidarity refuse to join Communist Gov / form coalition with other opposition parties
-Jaruzelski forced to appoint non-Communist prime minister
-In return for solidarity’s help in solving the country’s problems, Jaruzelski agrees to legalize Solidarity, increase press freedom and hold elections while reserving majority of seats for Communists
-Walesa is elected as first Non-Communist President of Poland in free elections by a landslide