The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB

By Christopher Andrew; Vasili Mitrokhin | Go to book overview

THIRTY
THE POLISH CRISIS AND THE CRUMBLING OF THE SOVIET BLOC

In the view of both the KGB and the Soviet Politburo, the Gdańsk Agreement represented the greatest potential threat to the "Socialist Commonwealth" (the official designation of the Soviet Bloc) since the Prague Spring of 1968. On September 3, 1980 the Politburo agreed a series of "theses for discussion with representatives of the Polish leadership"--a euphemism for demands that the Poles recover the ground lost to Solidarity:

The [ Gdańsk] agreement, in essence, signifies the legalization of the anti- Socialist opposition . . . The problem now is how to prepare a counter-attack and reclaim the positions that have been lost among the working class and the people . . . It is necessary to give overriding significance to the consolidation of the leading role of the Party in society.1

The principal scapegoat for the success of Solidarity was Edward Gierek, the Polish first secretary, bitterly criticized by the Soviet ambassador, Aristov, among others, for the loss of Party control.2 The strikers at the Lenin shipyard had greeted Gierek's television appearances with derisive catcalls. Ordinary Poles summed up their feelings in one of the political jokes with which they privately mocked their Communist leaders:

QUESTION: What is the difference between Gierek and Gomulka [who had been forced to resign as first secretary in 197 0]? ANSWER: None, only Gierek doesn't realize it yet!3

On September 5 Gierek was succeeded by Stanisław Kania, the tough, heavily built and heavy-drinking Party secretary responsible for national security. The KGB in Warsaw reported a satirical comment on the changeover doing the rounds in Poland--"Better Kania than Vanya!" (better, in other words, to put up with an unpopular Polish Communist than have to face a Soviet invasion).4 It also reported that on September 6 Admiral L. Janczyszyn, the commander-in-chief of the Polish navy, had warned two Soviet admirals that military intervention would end not in "normalization," as in Prague in 1968, but in catastrophe. "If outside troops are

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