One of the characteristics of Polish politics had indeed been considerable political and ministerial instability. After 1980, Poland followed a unique ‘impetuous’ and ‘restive’ course, the most important event being probably the creation of the illegal trade union Solidarity (Solidarność) which, under the leadership of Lech Walesa, then a worker at the Gdansk shipyards, which attracted millions of supporters and which the government could not effectively repress. As a result of the unrest which Solidarity directed, the regime felt obliged to soften the opposition by a variety of measures, ranging from the release of detainees to the creation of a Council of State which was to be independent from the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), the name which the Polish Communist Party had adopted. From 1988 onwards, the situation came to be out of control: the government by then had effectively abandoned the hope to govern alone. In a climate of demonstrations and strikes, the government appeared to have no alternative but to recognise fully and to negotiate with Solidarity in the early months of 1989 in what came to be known as the ‘Round Table’ talks. A compromise was struck which was essentially designed to preserve as much as possible of the old order. A new upper chamber, called the Senat, was set up, to which Solidarity was allowed to compete freely; but, in the existing chamber, the Sejm, only 35 per cent of the seats were to be freely contested while the majority was to be retained for the Communist Party and its allies. The election took place in July 1989.
On what was to be a record turnout for a parliamentary election (62 per cent) and to its great surprise, Solidarity won this ‘semi-free’ election on a massive scale. It took all but one of the 100 seats in the Senat and all the 161 seats in the Sejm for which it was allowed to compete. For a short while the Workers' Party (the PZPR) tried to remain in control, together with the United Peasant Party and the Democratic Party, which had been satellite organisations of the Workers' Party throughout the period of communist