Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War

Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War

Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War

Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War

Synopsis

As the most populous country in Eastern Europe as well as the birthplace of the largest anticommunist dissident movement, Poland is crucial in understanding the end of the Cold War. During the 1980s, both the United States and the Soviet Union vied for influence over Poland's politically tumultuous steps toward democratic revolution. In this groundbreaking history, Gregory F. Domber examines American policy toward Poland and its promotion of moderate voices within the opposition, while simultaneously addressing the Soviet and European influences on Poland's revolution in 1989. With a cast including Reagan, Gorbachev, and Pope John Paul II, Domber charts American support of anticommunist opposition groups--particularly Solidarity, the underground movement led by future president Lech Wa& 322;&281;sa--and highlights the transnational network of Polish emigres and trade unionists that kept the opposition alive.

Utilizing archival research and interviews with Polish and American government officials and opposition leaders, Domber argues that the United States empowered a specific segment of the Polish opposition and illustrates how Soviet leaders unwittingly fostered radical, pro-democratic change through their policies. The result is fresh insight into the global impact of the Polish pro-democracy movement.

Excerpt

On November 15, 1989, Lech Wałęsa became the third foreign, private citizen to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, following in the footsteps of the Marquis de Lafayette and Winston Churchill. Wałęsa was not a head of state or even a government representative, but the chairman of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarność” (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy “Solidarność” or NSZZ Solidarność), formed in August 1980 by striking workers on the Baltic Coast. Initially, he had not been invited to the United States to address Congress. He was in Washington, D.C., to attend the National Convention of the AFL-CIO, but in the weeks between scheduling his visit and his arrival, political developments in Eastern Europe had taken a revolutionary turn. Just six days before his address, the Berlin Wall—the most potent symbol of the division of Europe and the Cold War in that sphere—had fallen. Events in Berlin had been preceded by massive weekly opposition rallies in Leipzig, precipitated by an emigration crisis sparked by young East Germans flocking to Hungary to get to the West. The reform-minded Communist leadership in Budapest had opened its border with Austria, providing an escape hatch from the repressive East German regime. The Hungarians were also planning for multiparty elections, an unthinkable development just a year earlier.

This barrage of revolutionary events, which eventually caused the Communist regimes in Czechoslovakia and Romania to collapse as well, began in Poland. In February 1989, Poles held negotiations between the Polish United Workers’ Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza or PZPR) and opposition leaders, to forge a power-sharing agreement based around semifree elections completed in June. In those elections Solidarność-affiliated candidates won ninety-nine out of one hundred seats in a newly created upper house of parliament (Senat) and all the lower house (Sejm) seats open to them. In the wake of this victory, Wałęsa and his advisers staged a political coup d’état, negotiating a deal with disgruntled members of the rapidly dissolving Communist coalition, upending the PZPR’s parliamentary majority, and clearing the way for an opposition-led government. On August 24, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a longtime member of the opposition and an adviser to . . .

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