The Fall of Communism the Polish Experience 1980

The talks, symbolically taking place around a massive "round table" legalized Solidarity, and allowed them to put up as many candidates as they wanted for the Polish Senate. They were only allowed to contend for 35% of the seats in the lower house, the Sejm. While pre-election forecasts suggested the Communists would win, in fact, there was a landslide for Solidarity. It won 92 out of 99 Senate seats and all 161 seats it was contending in the lower house. Had it been allowed to contend all seats it seems likely that Solidarity would have won more than 95% of the seats going. The Communist Party (the PZPR) was left virtually powerless, and the first non-Communist Prime Minister of Poland, Bronislaw Geremek, was chosen from the lower house. His acceptance speech spoke of a "thick line" (Jendt, 2005) that would be drawn between the Communist past and the Solidarity-led future. As Jendt (2005) puts it, "in hindsight the outcome of the round-table was a negotiated end to Communism, and at least to some of the participants, that much was already clear . . . but no-one anticipated the speed of the denouement." In conclusion, the speed of the ultimate breakdown of Communist was remarkable, but it can be explained by the fact that the Communists had been holding on to power through a relentless artificiality for nearly a decade. Once the bonds of the Soviet Union were released and the people were actually allowed a free vote, the pent up frustrations and will to change that had been growing within them burst into a massive rejection of Communism….
But this weakness had not always been the case. For several centuries during the Middle Ages Poland was one of the most powerful countries in Europe. But as the Renaissance took hold and as the balance of power shifted westwards, its fortunes waned. By the 1600’s the days of Polish power were long gone. Nearly four centuries ago Polish armies were having to repel the attentions of more powerful enemies. Thus in 1633, the Poles survived through the talents of one Wladyslaw IV, who pushed back intended invasions from the Turks, Russians and Swedes.
Distant Polish history is not of too much relevance to this study, but it suffices to say that its geographical position has led Poland to being an easy target for a number of powers. In the eighteenth century Napoleon invaded Poland as part of his plan to dominate Russia, only to be fought back. Its involvement in the two world wars in the Twentieth Century would lead to the brutal invasion of the Nazis, followed by a partition of the country between Germany and Russia, before the former attacked the latter. For two years (1942-1944) Poland came under a purely German rule, before the Russians pushed them back and ended up essentially staying once WWII was finished. The history of Poland up until this time is perhaps best summed up by the title of a book about the unfortunate region: God’s Playground: A History of Poland. (Davies, 1982). Poland has been invaded, occupied, played as a pawn in geopolitical games of chess between larger powers, and largely run roughshod over for centuries.
It is a remarkable feat of will and imagination that has maintained a sense of the Polish people’s "identity". It is this "identity"1 that was as important to the fall of Communism as anything else.