Poland Table of Contents
Lech Walesa, Solidarity leader and first postcommunist
CourtesyCommittee in Support of Solidarity, New York
General Wojciech Jaruzelski, last communist leader of
Courtesy United Press International
In August 1980, faced with an increasingly severe economic crisis and social unrest that had been building throughout the 1970s, the communist government reluctantly conceded legal status to an independent labor federation, Solidarity (Solidarnosc). After monopolizing power for thirty-five years without genuine sanction from Polish society, the communist Polish United Workers' Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza--PZPR) found itself in contention with an alternative source of political power that had a valid claim to represent the country's working people. Under the threat of general strikes and facing economic and political chaos, the regime grudgingly reached a series of limited compromises with Solidarity in 1980 and early 1981.
After the government's initial concessions, however, Solidarity militants insisted on substantially broader concessions. In response, PZPR hard-liners used the memories of the Soviet Union's violent reaction to Czechoslovakia's moderate political reforms in 1968 to justify the imposition of martial law in December 1981. Solidarity was declared illegal. General Wojciech Jaruzelski, earlier that year named prime minister and then first secretary of the PZPR, appointed trusted military men to key government positions and de-emphasized communist ideology. Through the rest of the decade, the government sought in vain to recover a degree of legitimacy with the people and to overcome the country's severe economic problems. The overtures of the Jaruzelski government failed, however, to win the support of the Polish people. In a key 1987 national referendum, voters refused to support the government's package of painful reforms needed to halt the economic slide. Eventually, the government came to realize that improvement of the economic situation was not possible without the explicit support of the Solidarity opposition. At that point, the government had no choice but to enter negotiations with Solidarity.
Data as of October 1992