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Poland Table of Contents


Toward the Round-Table Talks

The first break in the Polish logjam occurred in 1985 when Gorbachev assumed leadership of the Soviet Union. Although Gorbachev in no way willed the demolition of the communist order in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, his policies of glasnost' (see Glossary) and perestroika (see Glossary) inadvertently accelerated the indigenous systemic rot in those countries. As the literal and figurative bankruptcy of East European communism became obvious, apologists resorted more frequently to the Brezhnev Doctrine--the understanding that Moscow would use force to prevent ceding any territory once under its control--as the ultimate justification of the status quo. But the sustained liberalism of the Gorbachev era undermined the credibility of this last-ditch argument. The inhibiting fear of Red Army retaliation, which had blocked reform in Poland and elsewhere in earlier years, gradually faded. Hastening to identify itself with Gorbachev, the Jaruzelski team welcomed the spirit of reform wafting from the east and cautiously followed suit at home. By 1988 most political prisoners had been released, unofficial opposition groups were flourishing, and Solidarity, still nominally illegal, operated quite openly.

In the meantime, however, economic malaise and runaway inflation had depressed Polish living standards and deepened the anger and frustration of society. In early 1988, strikes again were called in Gdansk and elsewhere, and a new generation of alienated workers called for representation by Solidarity and Walesa. Amid widespread predictions of a social explosion, Jaruzelski took the momentous step of beginning round table talks with the banned trade union and other opposition groups. This measure was taken over the objections of the still-formidable hard-line faction of the PZPR.

Data as of October 1992