The Catholic Church of Poland. Primate of Poland: Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (in office, 1949-1981), Józef Glemp (in office, 1981-)
Komitet Obrony Robotnikow (Workers' Defense Committee)
Komitet Obywatelski "Solidarność" (Citizens' Committee "Solidarity"), and other dissident groups involved in the Round Table Talks
Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy "Solidarność" (Independent Self-Governing Trade Union "Solidarity")
Wiejska Solidarność (Rural Solidarity)
Under the Communist yoke, Poles had long harbored long resentment toward the state over such issues as wages, working conditions, and the ever-persistent food shortages. On several occasions, government announcements of food price hikes would prod this resentment into open protest. One such time was in 1970. As the government suppressed the strikes, Prime Minister Wladyslaw Gomulka lost his seat to Edward Gierek, an a 27-year-old electrician named Lech Walesa began a one-year jail sentence for participating on a strike committee at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk. Walesa would organize underground trade unions later that decade and would earn surveillance and detention for his efforts.
Another wave of strikes occurred in 1976. After the inevitable government crackdown, dissident intellectuals in Poland founded the Komitet Obrony Robotnikow (Workers' Defense Committee). KOR brought medical, legal, and other assistance to the families of jailed workers, established a clandestine news network. It united dissidents among the workers, the Catholic and non-Catholic intelligentsia, and the Catholic hierarchy at large. In 1979 KOR drafted a Charter of Workers Rights, which would play a significant role in the beginnings of Solidarity.
(The Catholic Church, stronger in Poland than in any other Communist nation, was encouraged when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, was elected to the papacy. The contributions to the overthrow of Eastern European Communism by Pope John Paul II - and by political leaders outside of Poland - will be honored at a later date, pending thorough research.)
Labor strikes broke out across Poland once again in 1980. The largest strike began on August 14 at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk, where 17,000 workers led by Walesa barricaded themselves within the plant. He organized an Interfactory Strike Committee to coordinate the efforts of striking workers in Gdansk with those in nearby Sopot and Gdynia. A list of 21 demands, based largely on the Charter of Workers Rights, was hand-written on wooden boards and attached to the outer gates of the shipyard.
The most controversial demand was the first: official recognitions of independent unions. This was a grave insult to a regime steeped in a worldview nominally dedicated to the liberation of the working class. Strikers sought to prevent direct intervention by the PZPR (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza - Polish Communist Party) in union activity. The government offered a compromise: unions would accept the "leading role of the Party," but this "leadership" would not involve Party officials' physical presence in the unions.
Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski delivered a sermon calling for the strikers to take the gradual approach to reform and agree to the compromise. He knew the perils of inflexibility personally, having been forced into internal exile from 1948 to 1956 for openly challenging the state. To provide measures against censorship and distortion by the state media, he organized the cardinals to draft and deliver a memorandum stating clearly that the Church supported the "21 demands," and that its support for the compromise does not suggest that what reform is not available today should not be pursued tomorrow - quite the contrary. The strikers consented. On August 31 the agreement was put in writing in the form of the Gdansk Accord.
Soon after that, 36 trade unions had begun to organize across Poland. On September 22, 1980, they filed jointly under one organization: Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy "Solidarność" (Independent Self-Governing Trade Union "Solidarity"). KOR disbanded; its members joined the union. Walesa was elected chairman. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a chief advisor to the Interfactory Strike Committee, edited the union's weekly newsletter, leaving his post with a Catholic monthly that had long given voice to dissident writers.
Solidarity continued to fight against the language acknowledging the "leadership of the Party." On October 24 a judge ruled that the clause must stand. A protest strike was scheduled for November 10, but was averted as Poland's Supreme Court made cosmetic changes in Solidarity's charter, moving the objectionable language to an appendix. Solidarity was officially registered that day. An agricultural union, Wiejska Solidarność, formed the following month.
Earlier in 1980, Gierek had been succeeded by General Wojciech Jaruzelski. On December 13, 1981, under the specter (imaginary or otherwise) of a Soviet crackdown, the new prime minister declared martial law. Thousands of Solidarity's leaders (including Walesa and Mazowiecki) were arrested, and its offices were shut down; Walesa would be released the following year. Solidarity was officially outlawed October 8, 1982. Troops were stationed at factories. Martial law was administered by Wojskowa Rada Ocalenia Narodowego (Military Council for National Salvation). (WRON was derisively nicknamed wrona - Polish for "crow" - contrasted to the black two-headed eagle, Poland's national symbol.) Martial law remained in place until July 1983; many restrictions remained in place afterward.
One day after martial law was enacted, the new Primate of Poland, Józef Glemp (appointed cardinal two years later), cautioned against violence and protest in general; Bob Bultman's Revolution by Candlelight quotes him as stating, "The authority under martial law is not an authority of dialogue." The people would not follow the latter request. The Church in Poland saw its finest hour, organizing and assisting many of the public protests and many of the newly-emerging samizdat publications. Replaying the mission of KOR, the Church also provided legal and material aid and pastoral care for jailed dissidents and their families.
Jaruzelski could not stem the tsunami of opposition. The people were energized as the "former leader of a former union" was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. (Like many laureates, his efforts had yet to see results; unlike many, they eventually did materialize.) The secret police's 1984 murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, beloved spiritual advisor to Solidarity, enraged the public. Poland was descending into economic crisis. And Mikhail Gorbachev stole the state's trump card - the specter of Soviet crackdowns - as the ideas that once drew the military wrath of the USSR to Prague now became Soviet policy. In his Boston Globecolumn, Jeff Jacoby remarks on the legacy of Dubcek and Gorbachev:
"Brezhnev understood what Dubcek did not -- that "socialism with a human face" -- a government both democratic and communist -- was a contradiction in terms. If the Dubcek government had insisted on Communist Party supremacy, it would soon have lost its human face. And if its democratizing humaneness had continued, the communists would soon have been swept from office.
"Which is just what happened two decades later, when another communist leader -- Mikhail Gorbachev -- pursued the same chimera...Each new taste of freedom and openness only intensified the hunger for more. This time, with no tanks to abort the experiment, Gorbachev learned what Dubcek never realized: Communism and freedom cannot coexist."
In 1988 strikes erupted in two waves, one in May and June and another in August. Both times protesters called for the government to negotiate with Solidarity, which had been operating clandestinely under several factions. The following year PZPR sat down with Solidarity's Citizens' Committee (led by Walesa) and various groups of lapdogs and dissidents for 59 days of talks. On April 6 the Round Table Agreement was signed; its provisions included judicial reform, reinstatement of the Senate (which had been abolished when the Communists came to power in Poland), decriminalization of independent labor unions, and open elections for the whole Senate and 35% of the lower house, the Sejm (161 out of 460 seats).
The June elections gave Jaruzelski the presidency and Solidarity all seats for which it was eligible, save one in the Senate. Solidarity used its new-found power to prevent Jaruzelski from installing a Communist into the office of Prime Minister; the general eventually yielded to pressure and nominated Mazowiecki to that post. Most cabinet ministries went to Solidarity members. The ministries of national defense and internal affairs were given to PZPR, and seven others went to minority parties.
In 1990, Solidarity became an official party, and PZPR, refusing to function with a mere fraction of the power it once held, disbanded. Solidarity rapidly splintered over various issues, and the rift grew wider as Walesa criticized his old advisor Mazowiecki for not accelerating the rate of reforms and for allowing Communists to continue to serve in government posts. When Jaruzelski retired from the presidency, both Walesa and Mazowiecki ran for the office. The election was forced into a runoff between the Solidarity founder and expatriate Stanislaw Tyminski; on December 10 Walesa won Poland's first free presidential election. After a stormy term of office, he lost reelection to former Communist Aleksander Kwasniewski in 1995, and received less than one percent of the vote in a 2000 bid. Like old soldiers, Walesa and Solidarity faded away, but they gave birth to a Poland free from totalitarianism.
The Index of Economic Freedom rates nations according to ten factors (explained here) on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being most free). The 2004 report on Poland shows that the nation entered the "mostly free" category (2.00-2.99) in 1998 with a score of 2.91, and currently rates at 2.81, a faint improvement over the previous year and almost even with Greece (2.80). And even a nation with many former Communists in political office can outperform Mexico in both Index score (2.90) and in per-capita GDP ($4,320 versus $3,679).
Freedom House monitors the former Communist states' progress toward economic and political liberty and publishes its findings annually in its Nations in Transit report. On a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being most free), the report grades these nations with respect to democratization and rule of law (and a third category, economic liberalization, from 1997 to 2002). Originally, the categories were named political rights and rule of law. Under the original system, Poland's 1989-1990 scores were 4 and 3, respectively; the 1998 report reveals that both improved to 2 in 1990-91, and the former improved further to 1 in 1995-96. Under the newer scoring system (see 2002 and 2003 reports), all scores show only slight decreases of less than a quarter of a point since 1999. Table 4: Nations in Transit 2003 Democratization Rankings (Acrobat Reader required) shows that Poland is the highest ranked in both democratization and rule of law among the former Communist countries.
Liberty represents these four basic rights: to life and physical safety, to property, to choice and expression of personal
beliefs, and to choice and pursuit of personal interests. The State exists to protect individual rights, and society exists
to provide opportunity for individuals to voluntarily associate with others to engage in commerce, to share ideas, and to
pursue common peaceable interests. Any person, whether acting as a private party or as an agent of the State, is guilty of
violating these rights when that person commits assault against person and property, theft of property, fraudulent trade,
coercion to prevent peaceable speech and pursuit of peaceable interest, or coercion to adopt and express undesired beliefs
and to pursue undesired interests. Liberty is advanced with the broadening of support for individual rights within a society,
with legislation that brings a body of laws into greater compliance with individual rights, and with the overthrow of
tyrannical governments that have violated the rights of the people and that have abolished all means of seeking redress of
grievances against the crimes of the State. -- A Statement of Individual Rights, finalized version July 9, 2003