restricted access 6. Volatility in Poland’s Continuing Drama: Solidarność’s Final Victory, February 1988 to September 1989
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207 c h a p t e r s i x Volatility in Poland’s Continuing Drama Solidarność’s Final Victory, February 1988 to September 1989 On July 4, 1989, John and Helen Davis hosted the annual Independence Day celebration at the ambassador’s residence. As Davis reported, that year’s celebration “generated much more than the usual cocktail conversation.” A month earlier, the democratic opposition had won a landslide election victory , taking nearly all the spots open to them in semifree elections that were part of a power-sharing agreement negotiated during the Round Table talks earlier in the year. The hot topics of conversation on July 4 were if Jaruzelski would run for the newly created office of president and whether Solidarność would seek a larger coalition in the new Sejm and Senat to create its own government. As guests nibbled and sipped, Warsaw’s new political elite from both the opposition and the PZPR chatted about the future, creating a “surreal tone of the party, with lifelong enemies cordially congratulating each other on all sides.” Symbolizing Poland’s new political reality, Bronisław Geremek “walked arm-in-arm with Politburo member Józef Czyrek,” and the PZPR’s minister for youth, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, “sat under the trees with former prisoner Adam Michnik making jokes and deals.” As one guest exclaimed, “This was no party; this was history.”1 In February 1988, very few, if any, political analysts had predicted that in little more than a year, Solidarność activists would hold seats in the Polish parliament and be chatting cordially with their former jailors. In the spring and summer of 1988, however, Polish workers took events into their own hands, staging strikes that were reminiscent of August 1980 and that brought Poland to the edge of a precipice once again. Faced with immense popular discontent, the PZPR chose to engage directly with Solidarność, first secretly and then publicly in the Round Table negotiations. With domestic Polish events driving change, American diplomats dutifully reported back 208 volatility in poland’s continuing drama to Washington and reveled at the positive changes. After President George H. W. Bush was inaugurated in January, he spent the first months of 1989 reviewing existing foreign policy and then responded cautiously and prudently to events in Eastern Europe. As spring turned into summer, domestic Polish events moved rapidly, causing the American embassy to question if change was progressing too quickly. When Bush came to Warsaw in July 1989, he promoted stability and slowed the pace of change to maintain as much of the negotiated agreement as possible—a policy also followed by Davis and his deputies in Warsaw. In August, however, Solidarność took another political gamble—further accelerating the pace of transformation— and created a Solidarność-led coalition government, the first elected nonCommunist government in Eastern Europe since the end of World War II. The American government could only sit back and marvel at Solidarność’s political cunning. Tensions and Strikes Despite advances in Poland’s international position made from 1985 to 1987, none of these improvements led to a significant influx of economic aid. The country’s economic future remained bleak. As a group of World Bank economists reported to the PZPR in the summer of 1987, Poland’s two main economic problems continued to be debt and the country’s negative balance of payments. To improve the situation, the bank highly recommended that the PZPR make the economy more pro-export and that it work to normalize prices.2 Poland was still in the same catch-22 of needing new Western credits to build a pro-export economy to be able to repay its debts, but the country’s ability to gain these new credits was greatly hampered by its inability to pay its debts in a complete and timely manner. Meeting with East German leader Erich Honecker in late 1987, Jaruzelski lamented that, while Western sanctions had been lifted, the change meant only about $20 million more per year. In Jaruzelski’s words, “This doesn’t deserve comment. That’s nothing.” Regarding the possibility for new credits, he complained, “in practice the [Western] blockade is continuing.”3 Jaruzelski and the PZPR leadership were also increasingly concerned about domestic instability, fearing that continued economic stagnation could flare into a national crisis on the scale of 1980 or worse. Noting that the mood of dissatisfaction was strongest among workers, a PZPR report from August 1987 warned that “general anxiety is rising...


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