Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century and After

By R. J. Crampton | Go to book overview

21

EASTERN EUROPE, 1980-9

The Soviet bloc did not weather the storm of Solidarity well. Deeply conscious of a deteriorating economic situation and of a technological inadequacy made all the more apparent by developments in the arms race, the communist states of eastern Europe were further disadvantaged by the gerontocracy which dominated the Kremlin for most of the first half of the 1980s. To make matters more difficult, the west changed after 1980; it adopted more right-wing policies and with them a more truculent tone. It no longer hesitated to deride the pathetic economic performance and the woeful social provision which socialism à la russe provided for itself and its outer empire in eastern Europe. Western powers were able to reassert their influence in Grenada and the Falkland Islands whilst the marxist presence in Africa crumbled and Afghanistan became a disaster for the Soviets. A new broom arrived in Moscow in 1985 but it was already too late. In each state communist power had weakened.


Poland

In Poland general Jaruzelski began to relax military rule by releasing Wałęsa from detention and suspending martial law in December 1982; it was abolished and the military council of national salvation dissolved in July 1983. A year later an amnesty was declared to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the 1944 liberation.

There was, however, no permanent peace between the government and its opponents. In October 1984 most Poles were revolted by the kidnapping and subsequent murder of father Jerzy Popiełuszko, a priest whose anti-government sermons had earned him a large following in his Warsaw suburban parish. In January 1985 price rises again caused confrontation, the government eventually modifying the proposed increases after opposition from a newly resurgent, although still illegal, Solidarity. In October of the same year Solidarity called for a boycott of the parliamentary elections. The boycott may have been less effective than its organisers had hoped but it nevertheless did much to frustrate the government’s attempt to recoup some legitimacy by allowing more than one candidate to stand for each seat. In February 1986 Wałęsa was arrested and put on trial for allegedly disputing the results of these elections, but the charges were

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