Postwar Poland Essay

Postwar Poland
Communist-Socialist strength in the government
grew steadily during 1946 and 1947. In the 1947 parliamentary elections
the two-party coalition won more than 85 percent of the vote. Beginning
in September 1948 the Polish Communist Party purged itself of many thousands
of so-called national Communists who were accused of approving Yugoslavia’s
defiance of the USSR. Among those jailed in the purge was Wladyslaw Gomulka,
secretary general of the party and first deputy premier. In December the
Socialists and Communists merged to form the Polish United Workers’ Party,
in which pro-Stalin Communists were dominant. Thereafter Poland appeared
to be one of the most faithful satellites of the USSR. During the postwar
period, Poland became an active member of the Council for Mutual Economic
Assistance and the Warsaw Pact. In 1952 Poland adopted a constitution modeled
after that of the USSR but recognizing certain property rights. Gomulka
became the dominant figure in Poland, steering a careful course between
pro-Soviet and nationalist sentiments and introducing limited political
reforms. In the 1957 elections, slates included some non-Communists and
independents; there were nearly twice as many candidates as there were
jobs. By the early 1960s Gomulka had tightened the party’s hold on Poland
and halted most of the reforms.

An economic crisis assumed major proportions
late in 1970. Polish industry had fallen short of planning goals. Bad weather
again contributed to a poor harvest and resulted in the costly import of
grain. In addition, the prices of coal, food, and clothing were drastically
increased. Outraged at the increases, Polish workers, mainly from the Baltic
seaports of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin, staged demonstrations that led
to riots, arson, and looting. A week-long state of emergency was declared,
and the protests were forcibly suppressed with considerable loss of life.

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In the aftermath of the rioting, party secretary Gomulka and other party
leaders were removed from the the executive committee of the Communist
Party. Edward Gierek, a prominent Politburo member from Silesia, became
party secretary. Prices were frozen at their previous levels.

Improving relations with the West were
symbolized by visits to Poland by U.S. presidents Richard M. Nixon in 1972,
Gerald R. Ford in 1975, and Jimmy Carter in 1977. Living standards deteriorated,
and hundreds of thousands of Polish workers responded to a large food price
hike by going on strike in the summer of 1980. In August the country was
paralyzed when workers in Gdansk and other Baltic ports conducted sit-in
strikes in their shipyards for three weeks and started making political
demands. Finaly the communist government gave in to the demands of the
ritors, they gave them more liberties which included the right to strike,
wage increases, the release of political prisoners, and the elimination
of censorship. The ill and discredited Communist Party leader Gierek stepped
down shortly afterward.

In February 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelski
was made premier, and in October he became the head of the Communist Party.

To control the situation Jaruzelski used the demands of the Solidarity
movement for economic improvements and greater political freedom. In mid-December
the Solidarity organization was suspended, its leader, Lech Walesa,
was interned. Thousands of other Solidarity activists were either arrested
or interned, and approximately 90 activists were killed. All industrial
and political opposition was banned and suppressed, and Communist Party
reformers were also reviewed.

The political and economic stalemate in
Poland during the 1980s was broken by the election of Mikhail Gorbachev
as Soviet leader in 1985. Reform became possible in Poland. Jaruzelski’s
reformist Communists and Walesa’s Civic Committee negotiated an agreement
in early 1989. Solidarity was re-legalized, and a freely elected Senate
was established. Jaruzelski was elected to the presidency with Solidarity’s
approval. In the 1989 elections, Solidarity won 99 of the 100 Senate seats
as well as the 35 percent of the Sejm, the lower house seats that it was
allowed to contest.

Poland established or renewed diplomatic
relations with the European Community, the republics of the former USSR,
the Vatican, and Israel, and signed cooperation treaties with the newly
unified Germany and a number of other European states. The country joined
the Council of Europe and negotiated associate membership of the European
Union; full membership was promised by the year 2002. Full national sovereignty
was regained in 1992 with the evacuation of most of the Soviet troops stationed
in Poland. The withdrawal was completed in August 1993. In 1994 Poland
became a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.


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