Dictionary of East European History since 1945

By Joseph Held | Go to book overview

Roundtable Talks in Poland. In the late 1980s, popular anger was becoming ever more visible in Polish society, and social and political tensions were reaching a dangerous point. This atmosphere threatened the communist government with the complete collapse of its policies and the repudiation of the communist system. The leaders of the armed forces, except General Wojciech Jaruzelski (see Jaruzelski, Wojciech), declared that they were not willing to repeat the experience of the Poznan riots of 1956, or the firing on the people in 1976. In addition, the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, made it quite clear that Soviet tanks would not be given orders to save the communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

The communists were left to their own devices, and they had no choice but to try to make peace with their own people. The result in Poland was that the government was forced to sit down with the opposition in order to work out some form of consensus and to settle the future of the Polish republic. This was an unprecedented development in the history of Polish communism.

The Roundtable discussions, as the negotiations were called, began in 1989. The talks centered at first on the status of the Polish economy and the steps needed to make it work again. This time, the discussants included the best economic experts that could be found in Poland regardless of their political views. The discussion, however, led to agreements only on short-term economic measures, not to the acceptance of fundamental reforms. The creation of a new economic system was postponed until after the elections to be held in June 1989. The elections resulted in an overwhelming victory for the Solidarity party, and, when a new Polish government was formed, it included noncommunist ministers, for the first time since 1948.

The Roundtable discussions also dealt with the new electoral law and the distribution of parliamentary mandates. The communists still hoped to be able to salvage the system, but the elections ended their illusions. In the final count, the Roundtable discussions did not accomplish much; however, they did contribute to a peaceful transition of power from the communists to the opposition, a process that would have been unthinkable only a few years before.


Bibliography

Sabbat-Swidlicka Anna, "Poland: A Year of Three Governments," Radio Free Europe Research Report. 1.1 ( January 1, 1993), pp. 102-107; Vinton Louisa, "Poland: The Anguish of Transition," Radio Free Europe Research Report 1.1 ( January 3, 1991), pp. 91- 95.

Solidarity Trade Union. On July 1, 1980, the Polish government increased the prices of some consumer goods, including food, without advanced notice. The following day, workers who demanded compensatory wage increases held short work stoppages in factories. There were strikes in the area of Lublin. On August 14, workers in the shipyards of the Baltic port, Gdansk, went on strike. Two days later, led by the electrician Lech Walesa (see Walesa, Lech), and a 48-year old crane operator, Anna Walentynowicz (see Walentynowicz, Anna), they formed an Interfactory Strike Committee (see Interfactory Strike Committee) in order to coordinate the strikes in all

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