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Poland Table of Contents


The 1989 Elections and Their Aftermath

After months of haggling, the round table talks yielded a historic compromise in early 1989: Solidarity would regain legal status and the right to post candidates in parliamentary elections (with the outcome guaranteed to leave the communists a majority of seats). Although to many observers the guarantee seemed a foolish concession by Solidarity at the time, the election of June 1989 swept communists from nearly all the contested seats, demonstrating that the PZPR's presumed advantages in organization and funding could not overcome society's disapproval of its ineptitude and oppression.

Solidarity used its newly superior position to broker a coalition with various small parties that until then had been silent satellites of the PZPR. The coalition produced a noncommunist majority that formed a cabinet dominated by Solidarity. Totally demoralized and advised by Gorbachev to accept defeat, the PZPR held its final congress in January 1990. In August 1989, the Catholic intellectual Tadeusz Mazowiecki became prime minister of a government committed to dismantling the communist system and replacing it with a Western-style democracy and a free-market economy. By the end of 1989, the Soviet alliance had been swept away by a stunning succession of revolutions partly inspired by the Polish example. Suddenly, the history of Poland, and of its entire region, had entered the postcommunist era.

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The list of English-language literature on the history of Poland, formerly sparse, has improved considerably in recent years, stimulated in great part by the dramatic events of contemporary times. The leading survey is Norman Davies's twovolume God's Playground. Davies covers the same territory in a single volume in Heart of Europe, recommended despite its confusing reverse chronological organization. The older, twovolume , Cambridge History of Poland and Oskar Halecki's The History of Poland are standard but dated. Adam Zamoyski's The Polish Way is a popular account aimed at the general reader. One of the most significant and controversial topics arising from the Polish tradition of heterogeneity receives sound and balanced coverage in the composite work The Jews in Poland, edited by Chimen Abramsky and others.

For the medieval period, Eastern and Western Europe in the Middle Ages, edited by Geoffrey Barraclough, discusses Poland in its regional context. Pawel Jasienica's The Commonwealth of Both Nations addresses the early modern era in colorful style. The nineteenth century is best summarized in The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1795-1918 by Piotr S. Wandycz.

Recommended general sources for the modern period include M.K. Dziewanowski's Poland in the Twentieth Century, The History of Poland since 1863, edited by R.F. Leslie, and Hans Roos's A History of Modern Poland (all of which predate the upheavals of the 1980s).

Monographic treatment has not caught up with the collapse of East European communism, and no complete English survey of the rise and fall of the Polish People's Republic yet exists. The most perceptive commentator on contemporary Central Europe, the journalist Timothy Garton Ash, covers the developments of the decade from the rise of Solidarity to the end of communist rule in his three works The Polish Revolution, The Uses of Adversity, and The Magic Lantern. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of October 1992