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431 ANDRZEJ PACZKOWSKI THE ROAD TO MARTIAL LAW, 1980–1981 POLISH-SOVIET RELATIONS DURING the period between the wave of strikes in July 1980 and the introduction of martial law in December 1981 were exceptional in many respects. Never before had direct contacts between the state and party leaders of the two countries been so frequent—with the possible exception of the 1944–46 period, when Stalin simply dictated many key decisions to the Polish communists, while many others were made only after consultations with him. Furthermore, the top Soviet authority— the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)—had never before occupied itself so intensely and systematically with Poland: Polish issues constituted separate points on the agenda of at least twenty to twenty-five Presidium meetings. This frequency was connected with the fact that the economic crisis in Poland, which had lasted since 1976, triggered a social crisis that found expression in widespread strikes. Symptoms of no less than a systemic crisis appeared after August 1980 and the emergence of Solidarity as a multimillion-person social movement , independent of the authorities. The rise of Solidarity had a number of causes: in addition to the prevalent dissatisfaction with living standards and the arrogance of the government, other contributing factors included the activity of the democratic opposition (rightly considered antisocialist) and the influence of the Catholic Church, which in 1978 had gained powerful authority in the person of the “Polish pope,” John Paul II. The pope’s 1979 visit to Poland—described as “a pilgrimage to the Homeland”—demonstrated conclusively who really held sway in the country. The strikes in mid-July 1980, including a several-day work stoppage at the Lublin railway junction, which handled much of the transit traffic for Soviet army troops stationed in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), evoked concern in both Warsaw and Moscow. Soon after Edward Gierek, then on holiday in Crimea, met with Leonid Brezhnev, who was critical of the Polish 432 ANDRZEJ PACZKOWSKI comrades, accusing them of having incurred excessive debt to Western countries , abandoning the active struggle against political opponents, and “obscuring the class sense of socialist patriotism with slogans like ‘All Poles are brothers.’“ Still, up to mid-August there was no reason for alarm or extraordinary measures. The situation changed on 14 August when, for the first time ever, a sit-in strike began at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk that was not spontaneous but organized by opposition groups. From that day on, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Polish Workers’ Party met daily, a special panel (the so-called Kania Commission) was established to monitor the situation and draft response measures, a crisis team (known as Summer-80) was set up at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces had officers on special standby. At last, Moscow also responded: on 21 August, Gierek received a personal letter from Brezhnev, and a few days later the Soviets established a commission on Poland, headed by Mikhail Suslov. It included Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, KGB chief Yuri Andropov, and Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov. Their presence demonstrated the importance of the commission and the fact that Moscow was not ruling out the “force option.” On 27 August, Brezhnev sent another letter to Gierek, demanding firm measures to bring the situation under control. The Suslov Commission was obviously alarmed by the developments in Poland: on 28 August, it prepared a draft decree on the mobilization of three armored divisions and one motorized division, which were to attain combat readiness by evening the following day. As if that were not enough, the plan envisioned the mobilization of a further five to seven divisions, “if the main forces of the Polish Army take the side of the counterrevolution.” Although in light of subsequent events those proposals appear bizarre, they certainly reflected the attitudes and fears of the Soviet leadership. It is little wonder: at that time, the strikes had engulfed practically the entire country (some 750,000 workers were involved). On 29 August, the Polish leadership decided not to suppress the strikes by force and to sign agreements with the major strike committees. That opened a new chapter in the history of communist Poland, which, for all practical purposes, ended only in 1989. Because of Poland’s size and location, everything that happened in the country was of vital significance to the entire Soviet bloc in Central and Eastern...


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