2 December, 2013
By the early 1970’s many Soviet controlled cities were experiencing similar problems such as economic stagnation, food price increases, and generally low morale. The Solidarity movement in Poland fought against these problems and promoted a non-violent and anti-communist social movement that would lead to successful and lasting changes. Solidarity’s roots began in December of 1970 in the Polish port town of Gdansk. There, the workers at the Lenin Shipyards marched to the Polish Communist Party headquarters and set it on fire- beginning a wave of strikes and resistance that would continue for nearly two decades.
In August of 1980, electrician Lech Wałęsa led workers in a massive strike (over 15,000 workers) that succeeded in the government not only giving workers the right to strike, but also allowing for a trade union independent of the communist party control (the first in any Warsaw Pact country). This strike led to the formation on September 22 of a nation-wide trade organization called Solidarity (Solidarnosc ). Lech Wałęsa became the first president of the trade union and it quickly transformed into a social movement with a membership of over a quarter of the Polish population. The goal of Solidarity was to “create dignified conditions of life in an economically and politically sovereign Poland. By this we mean life free from poverty, exploitation, fear and lies, in a democratically and legally organised society” . The movement was careful to never use violence, and the Communist government could not find a way to control the movement without suppressing it. As you could guess, this did not impress the Soviet Union, and the Central Party Committee forced Polish First Secretary, Stanisław Kania to resign. Kania was replaced by hardliner Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski whose solution to the problem was simple: Martial Law. On December 13, 1981, Jaruzelski delivered a speech to the Polish people and described their country as falling apart. He believed it was his duty to fix the situation, so he proclaimed:
I announce that today a Military Council of National Salvation has been established. Today at midnight, the Council of State, in accordance with the Constitution, introduced martial law throughout the country. I want everyone to understand the motives and the aims of our action. We are not striving for a military coup, for a military dictatorship. The nation has enough strength, enough wisdom to develop an efficient democratic system of socialist rule. In such a system the Armed Forces will be able to remain where they belong-in the barracks. No Polish problem can, in the long run, be solved through force. The Military Council for National Salvation is not replacing constitutional organs of power. Its sole task is the protection of legal order in the country and the creation of executive guarantees that will make it possible to restore order and discipline. This is the last path we can take to initiate the extrication of the country from the crisis, to save the country from disintegration….
“In this difficult moment I address myself to our socialist allies and friends. We greatly value their trust and constant aid. The Polish-Soviet alliance is, and will remain, the cornerstone of the Polish raison d’etat, the guarantee of the inviolability of our borders.
Poland is, and will remain, a lasting link in the Warsaw Pact, an unfailing member of the socialist community of nations….”
After the announcement, over 5,000 members of Solidarity, including many leaders were arrested. By October of 1982, Solidarity was banned. The martial law officially lasted until July of 1983, but all civil liberties were not retained. The arrests and official ban on Solidarity may lead one to speculate that the movement would eventually die down. This was the case with many previous resistances to communism, but it was not the case with Solidarity. The movement survived as an underground organization throughout the 1980’s with tens of thousands of members and hundreds of different newspapers. One reason that this movement was able to continue despite so much governmental opposition was the support from the other side of the Iron Curtain. Solidarity was playing out live on the international stage, and rather than work with Solidarity, the communist party repeatedly scored bad PR with the West. In 1983, Wałęsa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, however the government denied his passport and he was unable to travel for its acceptance. One particularly bad episode occurred in 1984, with the murder of Pro-Solidarity priest, Jerzy Popiełuszko.
In addition to Wałęsa, another immensely influential Pole was the Catholic Archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyla. In October of 1978, Wojtyla was elected as Pope and became Pope John Paul II. Professor Veronica Shapovalov wrote of the importance of the election of a Polish Pope (the first non-Italian in 455 years),
“I remember when the Polish pope was elected. That was a very bad blow for the Soviet propaganda because before it was totally that the Vatican and the Catholic Church were supported by capitalists and imperialists. But now the Pope was from Socialist Poland.”
Pope John Paul II visited Poland in June 1979 in what was called ‘Nine Days that Changed the World”. He is credited with emboldening the worker-activists, as his initial visit coincided with the formation of the Solidarity movement. In later trips, the Pope gave tacit support for Solidarity. In addition to Polish support, the Solidarity movement had plenty of support abroad. Respected world leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan supported the movement in Poland. Some media from the United States on the Solidarity Movement includes: “Let Poland Be Poland“, a film produced by the US Information Agency in 1982 and Ronald Reagan’s address to the United States in 1981 on the Situation in Poland (he feared a Soviet Invasion like that in Czechoslovakia).
Obviously, one group of leaders that did NOT support Solidarity was the Soviet Union. A. Petrov wrote a piece on “The Intrigues of Socialist Poland’s Enemies” in 1980. He wrote on the Solidarity movement,
“They are inflicting direct damage to real socialism in the Polish land. They want to destroy the link between the party and working class, the chief source of strength of the PUWP and the Polish state. It is precisely for this reason that the antisocialist elements find support among Poland’s enemies operating from outside. It is precisely for this reason that the mass information media in the West are building up a slanderous and provocateur campaign against the Polish People’s Republic”
Solidarity was officially outlawed in Poland, but the support from foreigners combined with non-direct Soviet intervention allowed the organization to prosper underground throughout the 1980’s. Solidarity was finally legalized in 1989 and they fielded candidates in that year’s elections. The election produced a majority of non-communist victors, and the majority of the seats went to Solidarity or coalition members. The peaceful fall of communism in Poland, as a result of the Solidarity movement of the 1980’s prompted the fall of many other communist governments throughout the Eastern Bloc. The fall of communism in the satellite states has a direct link to the Gdansk Strike of 1980. It may have taken nearly two decades, but eventually Lech Walesa’s Solidarity came out on top.
This week I chose the “Solidarity in Poland” module for the topic of my blog post. It is found here:
The Freeze text helped with some background information, as well as this web page:
I used some primary sources from the 17 Moments site such as:
Veronica Shapavalov: http://85856021.nhd.weebly.com/shapovalov.html
and Soviet Evaluation of Polish Solidarity Crisis: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1980petrov1&SubjectID=1980solidarity&Year=1980
The images that I used were from these sites in the order in which they appear: