History of Solidarity

The history of Solidarity (Polish: Solidarność, pronounced [sɔliˈdarnɔɕt͡ɕ] (listen)), a Polish non-governmental trade union, began on August 14, 1980, at the Lenin Shipyards (now Gdańsk Shipyards) at its founding by Lech Wałęsa and others. In the early 1980s, it became the first independent labor union in a Soviet-bloc country. Solidarity gave rise to a broad, non-violent, anti-communist social movement that, at its height, claimed some 9.4 million members. It is considered to have contributed greatly to the fall of communism.

Poland's communist government attempted to destroy the union by instituting martial law in 1981, followed by several years of political repression, but in the end was forced into negotiation. The Roundtable Talks between the government and the Solidarity-led opposition resulted in semi-free elections in 1989. By the end of August 1989, a Solidarity-led coalition government had been formed, and, in December 1990, Wałęsa was elected president. This was soon followed by the dismantling of the communist governmental system and by Poland's transformation into a modern democratic state. Solidarity's early survival represented a break in the hard-line stance of the communist Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR), and was an unprecedented event; not only for the People's Republic of Poland—a satellite of the USSR ruled by a one-party communist regime—but for the whole of the Eastern bloc. Solidarity's example led to the spread of anti-communist ideas and movements throughout the Eastern Bloc, weakening communist governments. This process later culminated in the Revolutions of 1989.

In the 1990s, Solidarity's influence on Poland's political scene waned. A political arm of the "Solidarity" movement, Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), was founded in 1996 and would win the Polish parliamentary elections in 1997, only to lose the subsequent 2001 elections. Thereafter, Solidarity had little influence as a political party, though it did become the largest trade union in Poland.

Astilleros de Gdansk
Gdańsk, 25th anniversary of Solidarity, summer 2005

Pre–1980 roots

Millions cheered Pope John Paul II during his first visit to Poland as pontiff (1979).

In the 1970s and 1980s, the initial success of Solidarity in particular, and of dissident movements in general, was fed by a deepening crisis within Soviet-influenced societies. There was declining morale, worsening economic conditions (a shortage economy), and growing stress from the Cold War.[1] After a brief boom period, from 1975 the policies of the Polish government, led by Party First Secretary Edward Gierek, precipitated a slide into increasing depression, as foreign debt mounted.[2] In June 1976, the first workers' strikes took place, involving violent incidents at factories in Płock, Radom and Ursus.[3] When these incidents were quelled by the government, the worker's movement received support from intellectual dissidents, many of them associated with the Committee for Defense of the Workers (Polish: Komitet Obrony Robotników, abbreviated KOR), formed in 1976.[1][4] The following year, KOR was renamed the Committee for Social Self-defence (KSS-KOR).

On October 16, 1978, the Bishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła, was elected Pope John Paul II. A year later, during his first pilgrimage to Poland, his masses were attended by hundreds of thousands of his countrymen. The Pope called for the respecting of national and religious traditions and advocated for freedom and human rights, while denouncing violence. To many Poles, he represented a spiritual and moral force that could be set against brute material forces, he was a bellwether of change, and became an important symbol—and supporter—of changes to come.[5][6]

Early strikes (1980)

Strikes did not occur merely due to problems that had emerged shortly before the labor unrest, but due to governmental and economic difficulties spanning more than a decade. In July 1980, Edward Gierek's government, facing economic crisis, decided to raise prices while slowing the growth of wages. At once there ensued a wave of strikes and factory occupations,[1] with the biggest strikes taking place in the area of Lublin. The first strike started on July 8, 1980 in the State Aviation Works in Świdnik. Although the strike movement had no coordinating center, the workers had developed an information network to spread news of their struggle. A "dissident" group, the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR), which had originally been set up in 1976 to organize aid for victimized workers, attracted small groups of working-class militants in major industrial centers.[1] At the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, the firing of Anna Walentynowicz, a popular crane operator and activist, galvanized the outraged workers into action.[1][7]

On August 14, the shipyard workers began their strike, organized by the Free Trade Unions of the Coast (Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzeża).[8] The workers were led by electrician Lech Wałęsa, a former shipyard worker who had been dismissed in 1976, and who arrived at the shipyard late in the morning of August 14.[1] The strike committee demanded the rehiring of Walentynowicz and Wałęsa, as well as the according of respect to workers' rights and other social concerns. In addition, they called for the raising of a monument to the shipyard workers who had been killed in 1970 and for the legalization of independent trade unions.[9] The workers may have timed the strike to coincide with the nearby Intervision Song Contest, which many international journalists attended.[10]

The Polish government enforced censorship, and official media said little about the "sporadic labor disturbances in Gdańsk"; as a further precaution, all phone connections between the coast and the rest of Poland were soon cut.[1] Nonetheless, the government failed to contain the information: a spreading wave of samizdats (Polish: bibuła),[11] including Robotnik (The Worker), and grapevine gossip, along with Radio Free Europe broadcasts that penetrated the Iron Curtain,[12] ensured that the ideas of the emerging Solidarity movement quickly spread.

Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 in Gdańsk
Monument to Shipyard Workers Fallen in 1970, created following the Gdańsk Agreement, and unveiled December 16, 1980
Wachtende stakers van de Leninwerf, Bestanddeelnr 253-8309
Strikers waiting in front of the Lenin Shipyard

On August 16, delegations from other strike committees arrived at the shipyard.[1] Delegates (Bogdan Lis, Andrzej Gwiazda and others) together with shipyard strikers agreed to create an Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee (Międzyzakładowy Komitet Strajkowy, or MKS).[1] On August 17 a priest, Henryk Jankowski, performed a mass outside the shipyard's gate, at which 21 demands of the MKS were put forward. The list went beyond purely local matters, beginning with a demand for new, independent trade unions and going on to call for a relaxation of the censorship, a right to strike, new rights for the Church, the freeing of political prisoners, and improvements in the national health service.[1]

Next day, a delegation of KOR intelligentsia, including Tadeusz Mazowiecki, arrived to offer their assistance with negotiations. A bibuła news-sheet, Solidarność, produced on the shipyard's printing press with KOR assistance, reached a daily print run of 30,000 copies.[1] Meanwhile, Jacek Kaczmarski's protest song, Mury (Walls), gained popularity with the workers.[13]

On August 18, the Szczecin Shipyard joined the strike, under the leadership of Marian Jurczyk. A tidal wave of strikes swept the coast, closing ports and bringing the economy to a halt. With KOR assistance and support from many intellectuals, workers occupying factories, mines and shipyards across Poland joined forces. Within days, over 200 factories and enterprises had joined the strike committee.[1][7] By August 21, most of Poland was affected by the strikes, from coastal shipyards to the mines of the Upper Silesian Industrial Area (in Upper Silesia, the city of Jastrzębie-Zdrój became center of the strikes, with a separate committee organized there, see Jastrzębie-Zdrój 1980 strikes). More and more new unions were formed, and joined the federation.

Thanks to popular support within Poland, as well as to international support and media coverage, the Gdańsk workers held out until the government gave in to their demands. On August 21 a Governmental Commission (Komisja Rządowa) including Mieczysław Jagielski arrived in Gdańsk, and another one with Kazimierz Barcikowski was dispatched to Szczecin. On August 30 and 31, and on September 3, representatives of the workers and the government signed an agreement ratifying many of the workers' demands, including the right to strike.[1] This agreement came to be known as the August or Gdańsk agreement (Porozumienia sierpniowe).[7] Other agreements were signed in Szczecin (the Szczecin Agreement of August 30), and Jastrzębie-Zdrój on September 3. It was called the Jastrzębie Agreement (Porozumienia jastrzebskie) and as such is regarded as part of the Gdańsk agreement. Though concerned with labor-union matters, the agreement enabled citizens to introduce democratic changes within the communist political structure and was regarded as a first step toward dismantling the Party's monopoly of power.[14] The workers' main concerns were the establishment of a labor union independent of communist-party control, and recognition of a legal right to strike. Workers' needs would now receive clear representation.[15] Another consequence of the Gdańsk Agreement was the replacement, in September 1980, of Edward Gierek by Stanisław Kania as Party First Secretary.[16]

First Solidarity (1980–1981)

OLIVIA-Gdansk-2004 ubt
Hala Olivia, Gdańsk. The place where the first national Congress was held.

Encouraged by the success of the August strikes, on September 17 workers' representatives, including Lech Wałęsa, formed a nationwide labor union, Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy (NSZZ) "Solidarność").[1][7][17] It was the first independent labor union in a Soviet-bloc country.[18] Its name was suggested by Karol Modzelewski, and its famous logo was conceived by Jerzy Janiszewski, designer of many Solidarity-related posters. The new union's supreme powers were vested in a legislative body, the Convention of Delegates (Zjazd Delegatów). The executive branch was the National Coordinating Commission (Krajowa Komisja Porozumiewawcza), later renamed the National Commission (Komisja Krajowa). The Union had a regional structure, comprising 38 regions (region) and two districts (okręg).[17] On December 16, 1980, the Monument to Fallen Shipyard Workers was unveiled in Gdańsk, and on June 28, 1981, another monument was unveiled in Poznan, which commemorated the Poznań 1956 protests. On January 15, 1981, a Solidarity delegation, including Lech Wałęsa, met in Rome with Pope John Paul II. From September 5 to 10, and from September 26 to October 7, Solidarity's first national congress was held in Hala Olivia, Gdańsk, and Lech Wałęsa was elected its president.[19] Last accord of the congress was adoption of republican program "Self-governing Republic".[20]

March 20–21, 1981, issue of Wieczór Wrocławia (The Wrocław Evening). Blank spaces remain after the government censor has pulled articles from page 1 (right, "What happened at Bydgoszcz?") and from the last page (left, "Country-wide strike alert"), leaving only their titles. The printers—Solidarity-trade-union members—have decided to run the newspaper as is, with blank spaces intact. The bottom of page 1 of this master copy bears the hand-written Solidarity confirmation of that decision.

Meanwhile, Solidarity had been transforming itself from a trade union into a social movement[21] or more specifically, a revolutionary movement.[22] Over the 500 days following the Gdańsk Agreement, 9–10 million workers, intellectuals and students joined it or its suborganizations,[1] such as the Independent Student Union (Niezależne Zrzeszenie Studentów, created in September 1980), the Independent Farmers' Trade Union (NSZZ Rolników Indywidualnych "Solidarność" or Rural Solidarity, created in May 1981) and the Independent Craftsmen's Trade Union.[17] It was the only time in recorded history that a quarter of a country's population (some 80% of the total Polish work force) had voluntarily joined a single organization.[1][17] "History has taught us that there is no bread without freedom," the Solidarity program stated a year later. "What we had in mind was not only bread, butter and sausages, but also justice, democracy, truth, legality, human dignity, freedom of convictions, and the repair of the republic."[7] Tygodnik Solidarność, a Solidarity-published newspaper, was started in April 1981.

Using strikes and other protest actions, Solidarity sought to force a change in government policies. In some cases, as in Bielsko-Biała, Solidarity managed to force corrupt officials of the government to lose their jobs. At the same time, it was careful never to use force or violence, so as to avoid giving the government any excuse to bring security forces into play.[23] After 27 Bydgoszcz Solidarity members, including Jan Rulewski, were beaten up on March 19, a four-hour warning strike on March 27, involving around twelve million people, paralyzed the country.[1] This was the largest strike in the history of the Eastern bloc,[24] and it forced the government to promise an investigation into the beatings.[1] This concession, and Wałęsa's agreement to defer further strikes, proved a setback to the movement, as the euphoria that had swept Polish society subsided.[1] Nonetheless the Polish communist party—the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR)—had lost its total control over society.[14]

Yet while Solidarity was ready to take up negotiations with the government,[25] the Polish communists were unsure what to do, as they issued empty declarations and bided their time.[16] Against the background of a deteriorating communist shortage economy and unwillingness to negotiate seriously with Solidarity, it became increasingly clear that the Communist government would eventually have to suppress the Solidarity movement as the only way out of the impasse, or face a truly revolutionary situation. The atmosphere was increasingly tense, with various local chapters conducting a growing number of uncoordinated strikes as well as street protests, such as the Summer 1981 hunger demonstrations in Poland, in response to the worsening economic situation.[1] On December 3, 1981, Solidarity announced that a 24-hour strike would be held if the government were granted additional powers to suppress dissent, and that a general strike would be declared if those powers were used.

Martial law (1981–1983)

After the Gdańsk Agreement, the Polish government was under increasing pressure from the Soviet Union to take action and strengthen its position. Stanisław Kania was viewed by Moscow as too independent, and on October 18, 1981, the Party Central Committee put him in the minority. Kania lost his post as First Secretary, and was replaced by Prime Minister (and Minister of Defence) Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, who adopted a strong-arm policy.[25]

Solidarity Memorial, Paris
Memorial to the "martyrs"of Solidarity outside Les Invalides in Paris, Easter 1982

On December 13, 1981, Jaruzelski began a crack-down on Solidarity, declaring martial law and creating a Military Council of National Salvation (Wojskowa Rada Ocalenia Narodowego, or WRON). Solidarity's leaders, gathered at Gdańsk, were arrested and isolated in facilities guarded by the Security Service (Służba Bezpieczeństwa or SB), and some 5,000 Solidarity supporters were arrested in the middle of the night.[1][17] Censorship was expanded, and military forces appeared on the streets.[25] A couple of hundred strikes and occupations occurred, chiefly at the largest plants and at several Silesian coal mines, but were broken by ZOMO paramilitary riot police. One of the largest demonstrations, on December 16, 1981, took place at the Wujek Coal Mine, where government forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing 9[1] and seriously injuring 22.[19] The next day, during protests at Gdańsk, government forces again fired at demonstrators, killing 1 and injuring 2. By December 28, 1981, strikes had ceased, and Solidarity appeared crippled. The last strike in the 1981 Poland, which ended on December 28, took place in the Piast Coal Mine in the Upper Silesian town of Bieruń. It was the longest underground strike in the history of Poland, lasting 14 days. Some 2000 miners began it on December 14, going 650 meters underground. Out of the initial 2000, half remained until the last day. Starving, they gave up after military authorities promised they would not be prosecuted.[26] On October 8, 1982, Solidarity was banned.[27]

The range of support for the Solidarity was unique: no other movement in the world was supported by Ronald Reagan, Santiago Carrillo, Enrico Berlinguer, Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Benn, peace campaigners, NATO Spokesman, Christians, Western Communists, Conservatives, Liberals, Socialists.[28] The international community outside the Iron Curtain condemned Jaruzelski's actions and declared support for Solidarity; dedicated organizations were formed for that purpose (like Polish Solidarity Campaign in Great Britain).[17] US President Ronald Reagan imposed economic sanctions on Poland, which eventually would force the Polish government into liberalizing its policies.[29] Meanwhile, the CIA[30] together with the Catholic Church and various Western trade unions such as the AFL-CIO provided funds, equipment and advice to the Solidarity underground.[31] The political alliance of Reagan and the Pope would prove important to the future of Solidarity.[31] The Polish public also supported what was left of Solidarity; a major medium for demonstrating support of Solidarity became masses held by priests such as Jerzy Popiełuszko.[32]

Besides the communist authorities, Solidarity was also opposed by some of the Polish (émigré) radical right, believing Solidarity or KOR to be disguised communist groups, dominated by Jewish Trotskyite Zionists.[33]

In July 1983, martial law was formally lifted, though many heightened controls on civil liberties and political life, as well as food rationing, remained in place through the mid-to-late 1980s.[34]

Underground Solidarity (1982–1988)

"Fighting Solidarity" poster, modeled after World War II "Kotwica" emblem

Almost immediately after the legal Solidarity leadership had been arrested, underground structures began to arise.[17] On April 12, 1982, Radio Solidarity began broadcasting.[19] On April 22, Zbigniew Bujak, Bogdan Lis, Władysław Frasyniuk and Władysław Hardek created an Interim Coordinating Commission (Tymczasowa Komisja Koordynacyjna) to serve as an underground leadership for Solidarity.[35] On May 6 another underground Solidarity organization, an NSSZ "S" Regional Coordinating Commission (Regionalna Komisja Koordynacyjna NSZZ "S"), was created by Bogdan Borusewicz, Aleksander Hall, Stanisław Jarosz, Bogdan Lis and Marian Świtek.[19] June 1982 saw the creation of a Fighting Solidarity (Solidarność Walcząca) organization.[35][36]

Throughout the mid-1980s, Solidarity persevered as an exclusively underground organization.[37] Its activists were dogged by the Security Service (SB), but managed to strike back: on May 1, 1982, a series of anti-government protests brought out thousands of participants—several dozen thousand in Kraków, Warsaw and Gdańsk.[19] On May 3 more protests took place, during celebrations of the Constitution of May 3, 1791. On that day, communist secret services killed four demonstrators – three in Warsaw and one in Wrocław. Another wave of demonstrations occurred on August 31, 1982, on the second anniversary of the Gdańsk Agreement (see August 31, 1982 demonstrations in Poland). Altogether, on that day six demonstrators were killed – three in Lubin, one in Kielce, one in Wrocław and one in Gdańsk. Another person was killed on the next day, during a demonstration in Częstochowa. Further strikes occurred at Gdańsk and Nowa Huta between October 11 and 13.[19] In Nowa Huta, a 20-year-old student Bogdan Wlosik was shot by a secret service officer.

Jerzy Popieluszko
A wave of protests was sparked by the 1984 murder of Warsaw priest Jerzy Popiełuszko.

On November 14, 1982, Wałęsa was released.[17] However, on December 9 the SB carried out a large anti-Solidarity operation, arresting over 10,000 activists. On December 27 Solidarity's assets were transferred by the authorities to a pro-government trade union, the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, or OPZZ). Yet Solidarity was far from broken: by early 1983 the underground had over 70,000 members, whose activities included publishing over 500 underground newspapers.[38] In the first half of 1983 street protests were frequent; on May 1, two persons were killed in Kraków and one in Wrocław. Two days later, two additional demonstrators were killed in Warsaw.

On July 22, 1983, martial law was lifted, and amnesty was granted to many imprisoned Solidarity members, who were released.[37] On October 5, Wałęsa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.[39] The Polish government, however, refused to issue him a passport to travel to Oslo; Wałęsa's prize was accepted on his behalf by his wife.[40] It later transpired that the SB had prepared bogus documents, accusing Wałęsa of immoral and illegal activities that had been given to the Nobel committee in an attempt to derail his nomination.[41]

On October 19, 1984 a popular pro-Solidarity priest, Jerzy Popiełuszko had died.[42] As the facts emerged, thousands of people declared their solidarity with the deceased priest by attending his funeral, held on November 3, 1984. The government attempted to smooth over the situation by releasing thousands of political prisoners;[39] a year later, however, there followed a new wave of arrests.[17] Frasyniuk, Lis and Adam Michnik, members of the "S" underground, were arrested on February 13, 1985, placed on a trial, and sentenced to several years' imprisonment for committing several acts of terror against Polish state and its people.[19][43]

Second Solidarity (1988–1989)

On March 11, 1985, power in the Soviet Union was assumed by Mikhail Gorbachev. The worsening economic situation in the entire Eastern Bloc, including the Soviet Union, together with other factors, forced Gorbachev to carry out a number of reforms, not only in the field of economics (uskoreniye) but in the political and social realms (glasnost and perestroika).[44] Gorbachev's policies soon caused a corresponding shift in the policies of Soviet satellites, including the People's Republic of Poland.[39]

On September 11, 1986, 225 Polish political prisoners were released—the last of those connected with Solidarity, and arrested during the previous years.[39] Following amnesty on September 30, Wałęsa created the first public, legal Solidarity entity since the declaration of martial law—the Temporary Council of NSZZ Solidarność (Tymczasowa Rada NSZZ Solidarność)—with Bogdan Borusewicz, Zbigniew Bujak, Władysław Frasyniuk, Tadeusz Janusz Jedynak, Bogdan Lis, Janusz Pałubicki and Józef Pinior. Soon afterwards, the new Council was admitted to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.[17] Many local Solidarity chapters now broke their cover throughout Poland, and on October 25, 1987, the National Executive Committee of NSZZ Solidarność (Krajowa Komisja Wykonawcza NSZZ Solidarność) was created. Nonetheless, Solidarity members and activists continued to be persecuted and discriminated, if less so than during the early 1980s.[19] In the late 1980s, a rift between Wałęsa's faction and a more radical Fighting Solidarity grew as the former wanted to negotiate with the government, while the latter planned for an anti-communist revolution.[35][45][46]

By 1988, Poland's economy was in worse condition than it had been eight years earlier. International sanctions, combined with the government's unwillingness to introduce reforms, intensified the old problems.[29][39] Inefficient government-run planned-economy enterprises wasted labor and resources, producing substandard goods for which there was little demand. Polish exports were low, both because of the sanctions and because the goods were as unattractive abroad as they were at home. Foreign debt and inflation mounted. There were no funds to modernize factories, and the promised "market socialism" materialized as a shortage economy characterized by long queues and empty shelves.[47] Reforms introduced by Jaruzelski and Mieczysław Rakowski came too little and too late, especially as changes in the Soviet Union had bolstered the public's expectation that change must come, and the Soviets ceased their efforts to prop up Poland's failing regime.[39][48]

In February 1988, the government hiked food prices by 40%.[39] On April 21, a new wave of strikes hit the country.[39] On May 2, workers at the Gdańsk Shipyard went on strike.[19] That strike was broken by the government between May 5 and 10, but only temporarily: on August 15, a new strike took place at the "July Manifesto" mine in Jastrzębie Zdrój.[19] By August 20 the strike had spread to many other mines, and on August 22 the Gdańsk Shipyard joined the strike.[19] Poland's communist government then decided to negotiate.[17][39]

W samo poludnie 4 6 89-Tomasz Sarnecki
"High Noon, June 4, 1989",
Solidarity Citizens' Committee election poster by Tomasz Sarnecki

On August 26, Czesław Kiszczak, the Minister of Internal Affairs, declared on television that the government was willing to negotiate, and five days later he met with Wałęsa. The strikes ended the following day, and on November 30, during a televised debate between Wałęsa and Alfred Miodowicz (leader of the pro-government trade union, the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions), Wałęsa scored a public-relations victory.[39][49]

On December 18, a hundred-member Citizens' Committee (Komitet Obywatelski) was formed within Solidarity. It comprised several sections, each responsible for presenting a specific aspect of opposition demands to the government. Wałęsa and the majority of Solidarity leaders supported negotiation, while a minority wanted an anticommunist revolution. Under Wałęsa's leadership, Solidarity decided to pursue a peaceful solution, and the pro-violence faction never attained any substantial power, nor did it take any action.[23]

On January 27, 1989, in a meeting between Wałęsa and Kiszczak, a list was drawn up of members of the main negotiating teams. The conference that began on February 6 would be known as the Polish Round Table Talks.[50] The 56 participants included 20 from "S", 6 from OPZZ, 14 from the PZPR, 14 "independent authorities", and two priests. The Polish Round Table Talks took place in Warsaw from February 6 to April 4, 1989. The Communists, led by Gen. Jaruzelski, hoped to co-opt prominent opposition leaders into the ruling group without making major changes in the structure of political power. Solidarity, while hopeful, did not anticipate major changes. In fact, the talks would radically alter the shape of the Polish government and society.[48][50]

On April 17, 1989, Solidarity was legalized, and its membership soon reached 1.5 million.[17][19] The Solidarity Citizens' Committee (Komitet Obywatelski "Solidarność") was given permission to field candidates in the upcoming elections. Election law allowed Solidarity to put forward candidates for only 35% of the seats in the Sejm, but there were no restrictions in regard to Senat candidates.[51] Agitation and propaganda continued legally up to election day. Despite its shortage of resources, Solidarity managed to carry on an electoral campaign.[50][51] On May 8, the first issue of a new pro-Solidarity newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza (The Election Gazette), was published.[52] Posters of Wałęsa supporting various candidates, appeared throughout the country.

Lech Walesa George H Bush
Solidarity Chairman Wałęsa (center) with US President George H. W. Bush (right) and Barbara Bush (left) in Warsaw, July 1989

Pre-election public-opinion polls had promised victory to the communists.[50] Thus the total defeat of the PZPR and its satellite parties came as a surprise to all involved: after the first round of elections, it became evident that Solidarity had fared extremely well,[48] capturing 160 of 161 contested Sejm seats, and 92 of 100 Senate seats. After the second round, it had won virtually every seat—all 161 in the Sejm, and 99 in the Senate.[51]

These elections, in which anti-communist candidates won a striking victory, inaugurated a series of peaceful anti-communist revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe[53][54] that eventually culminated in the fall of communism.[55][56]

The new Contract Sejm, named for the agreement that had been reached by the communist party and the Solidarity movement during the Polish Round Table Talks, would be dominated by Solidarity. As agreed beforehand, Wojciech Jaruzelski was elected president.[48][51] However, the communist candidate for Prime Minister, Czesław Kiszczak, who replaced Mieczysław Rakowski,[48] failed to gain enough support to form a government.[51][57]

On June 23, a Solidarity Citizens' Parliamentary Club (Obywatelski Klub Parliamentarny "Solidarność") was formed, led by Bronisław Geremek.[48] It formed a coalition with two ex-satellite parties of the PZPR — United People's Party and Democratic Party — which had now chosen to "rebel" against the PZPR, which found itself in the minority.[57] On August 24, the Sejm elected Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a Solidarity representative, to be Prime Minister of Poland.[48][51][57] Not only was he a first non-communist Polish Prime Minister since 1945, he became the first non-Communist prime minister in Eastern Europe for nearly 40 years.[48] In his speech he talked about the "thick line" (Gruba kreska) which would separate his government from the communist past[58] By the end of August 1989, a Solidarity-led coalition government had been formed.

Party and trade union (1989 to the present)

The fall of the communist regime marked a new chapter in the history of Poland and in the history of Solidarity. Having defeated the communist government, Solidarity found itself in a role it was much less prepared for — that of a political party — and soon began to lose popularity.[17][59] Conflicts among Solidarity factions intensified.[17][60] Wałęsa was elected Solidarity chairman, but support for him could be seen to be crumbling. One of his main opponents, Władysław Frasyniuk, withdrew from elections altogether. In September 1990, Wałęsa declared that Gazeta Wyborcza had no right to use the Solidarity logo.

Later that month, Wałęsa announced his intent to run for president of Poland. In December 1990, he was elected president.[17] He resigned his Solidarity post and became the first president of Poland ever to be elected by popular vote.

Next year, in February 1991, Marian Krzaklewski was elected the leader of Solidarity.[17] President Wałęsa's vision and that of the new Solidarity leadership were diverging. Far from supporting Wałęsa, Solidarity was becoming increasingly critical of the government, and decided to create its own political party for action in the upcoming 1991 parliamentary elections.[61]

The 1991 elections were characterized by a large number of competing parties, many claiming the legacy of anti-communism, and the Solidarity party garnered only 5% of the votes.

On January 13, 1992, Solidarity declared its first strike against the democratically elected government: a one-hour strike against a proposal to raise energy prices. Another, two-hour strike took place on December 14. On May 19, 1993, Solidarity deputies proposed a no-confidence motion—which passed—against the government of Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka.[17] President Wałęsa declined to accept the prime minister's resignation, and dismissed the parliament.

It was in the ensuing 1993 parliamentary elections that it became evident how much Solidarity's support had eroded in the previous three years. Even though some Solidarity deputies sought to assume a more left-wing stance and to distance themselves from the right-wing government, Solidarity remained identified in the public mind with that government. Hence it suffered from the growing disillusionment of the populace, as the transition from a communist to a capitalist system failed to generate instant wealth and raise Poland's living standards to those in the West, and the government's financial "shock therapy" (the Balcerowicz Plan) generated much opposition.[17][61]

In the elections, Solidarity received only 4.9% of the votes, 0.1% less than the 5% required in order to enter parliament (Solidarity still had 9 senators, 2 fewer than in the previous Senate). The victorious party was the Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej or SLD), a post-communist left-wing party.[17]

Solidarity now joined forces with its erstwhile enemy, the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ), and some protests were organized by both trade unions.[61] The following year, Solidarity organized many strikes over the state of the Polish mining industry. In 1995, a demonstration before the Polish parliament was broken up by the police (now again known as policja) using batons and water cannons. Nonetheless, Solidarity decided to support Wałęsa in the 1995 presidential elections.

In a second major defeat for the Polish right wing, the elections were won by an SLD candidate, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who received 51.72% of votes. A Solidarity call for new elections went unheeded, but the Sejm still managed to pass a resolution condemning the 1981 martial law (despite the SLD voting against). Meanwhile, the left-wing OPZZ trade union had acquired 2.5 million members, twice as many as the contemporary Solidarity (with 1.3 million).[61]

ETUC, Solidarity Trade Union - Budapest, 2011 (2)
Solidarity, ETUC Demonstration, Budapest, 2011

In June 1996, Solidarity Electoral Action (Akcja Wyborcza Solidarność) was founded as a coalition of over 30 parties, uniting liberal, conservative and Christian-democratic forces. As the public became disillusioned with the SLD and its allies, AWS was victorious in the 1997 parliamentary elections.[17] Jerzy Buzek became the new prime minister.

However, controversies over domestic reforms, Poland's 1999 entry into NATO, and the accession process to the European Union, combined with AWS' fights with its political allies (the Freedom UnionUnia Wolności) and infighting within AWS itself, as well as corruption, eventually resulted in the loss of much public support.[17] AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski lost the 2000 presidential election, and in the 2001 parliamentary elections AWS failed to elect a single deputy to the parliament.[17] After this debacle, Krzaklewski was replaced by Janusz Śniadek (in 2002) but the union decided to distance itself from politics.[17]

In 2006, Solidarity had some 1.5 million members making it the largest trade union in Poland. Its mission statement declares that Solidarity, "basing its activities on Christian ethics and Catholic social teachings, works to protect workers' interests and to fulfill their material, social and cultural aspirations."[62]

The European Solidarity Centre, a museum and library devoted to the history of Solidarity and other opposition movements of the Eastern Bloc, opened in Gdańsk on August 31, 2014.[63]


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Further reading

  • Eringer, Robert (1982). Strike for Freedom: The Story of Lech Wałęsa and Polish Solidarity. Dodd Mead. ISBN 0-396-08065-0.
  • Kenney, Patrick (2006). The Burdens of Freedom. Zed Books Ltd. ISBN 1-84277-662-2.
  • Matynia, Elzbieta (2009). Performative Democracy. Paradigm. ISBN 1594516561.
  • Osa, Maryjane (2003). Solidarity and Contention: Networks of Polish Opposition. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-3874-8.
  • Ost, David (2005). The Defeat Of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Postcommunist Europe (ebook). Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4318-0.
  • Penn, Shana (2005). Solidarity's Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-11385-2.
  • Perdue, William D. (1995). Paradox of Change: The Rise and Fall of Solidarity in the New Poland. Praeger/Greenwood. ISBN 0-275-95295-9.
  • Pope John Paul II (May 19, 2003). "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis". Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
  • Staniszkis, Jadwiga (1984). Poland's Self-Limiting Revolution. Princeton University Press.
  • Szporer, Michael (2012). Solidarity: The Great Workers Strike of 1980. Lexington Books. ISBN 0739174886.

External links

1981 warning strike in Poland

In the early spring of 1981, the quickly growing Solidarity movement faced one of the biggest challenges in its short history, when during the Bydgoszcz events, several members of Solidarity, including Jan Rulewski, Mariusz Łabentowicz and Roman Bartoszcze, were brutally beaten up by the security services, such as Milicja Obywatelska and ZOMO. The Bydgoszcz events soon became widely known across Poland, and on March 24, 1981, Solidarity decided to go on a nationwide strike in protest against the violence. The strike was planned for Tuesday, March 31, 1981. On March 25, Lech Wałęsa met Deputy Prime Minister Mieczysław Rakowski of the Polish United Workers' Party, but their talks were fruitless. Two days later, a four-hour national warning strike took place. It was the biggest strike in the history of the Soviet Bloc, it has also been called the largest strike in the history of Poland. According to several sources, between 12 million and 14 million Poles took part in it.

1982 demonstrations in Poland

The 1982 demonstrations in Poland refers to anti-government street demonstrations organized by underground Solidarity to commemorate the second anniversary of the Gdańsk Agreement. The bloodiest protest occurred in southwestern Poland, in the town of Lubin, on August 31, 1982. The Lubin demonstration resulted in three protesters killed by Communist services, and an unknown number of wounded. On the same day, rallies and demonstrations took place in several cities across the country. According to Solidarity sources, there were four more victims—in Wrocław, Gdańsk, Nowa Huta, and Toruń. According to official government sources, there were demonstrations in 66 cities.

1988 Polish strikes

The 1988 Polish strikes were a massive wave of workers' strikes which broke out in 1988 in the Polish People's Republic. The strikes, as well as street demonstrations, continued throughout spring and summer, ending in early September 1988. These actions shook the Communist regime of the country to such an extent that it was forced to begin talking about recognising Solidarity. As a result, later that year, the regime decided to negotiate with the opposition, which opened way for the 1989 Round Table Agreement. The second, much bigger wave of strikes (August 1988) surprised both the government, and top leaders of Solidarity, who were not expecting actions of such intensity. These strikes were mostly organized by local activists, who had no idea that their leaders from Warsaw had already started secret negotiations with the Communists.

1989 Polish legislative election

Parliamentary elections were held in Poland in 1989 to elect members of the Sejm and the recreated Senate. The first round took place on 4 June, immediately after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China, with a second round on 18 June. They were the first free elections in the country since 1928, and the first since the communist Polish United Workers Party abandoned its monopoly of power in April 1989.

Not all parliamentary seats were contested, but the resounding victory of the Solidarity opposition in the freely contested races paved the way to the fall of Communism in Poland. Solidarity won all of the freely contested seats in the Sejm, and all but one seat in the entirely freely contested Senate. In the aftermath of the elections, Poland became the first country of the Eastern Bloc in which democratically elected representatives gained real power. Although the elections were not entirely democratic, they led to the formation of a government led by Tadeusz Mazowiecki and a peaceful transition to democracy in Poland and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe.

Bydgoszcz events

The Bydgoszcz events (Polish: wypadki bydgoskie), Bydgoszcz crisis (Polish: kryzys bydgoski) or Bydgoszcz provocation (Polish: prowokacja bydgoska) was a series of events in Poland culminating in beating up the delegates of the Solidarity movement by the forces called upon by the authorities during the session of the voivodship National Council on March 19, 1981, which was to discuss the running strike in Bydgoszcz. It was a turning point in the early history of Solidarity. Following the registration of Solidarity by the authorities of Poland in 1980, the farmers were also pushing for creation of a separate trade union, independent from the official system of power. The NSZZ RI Solidarność (Independent Self-Governing Trade Union of Individual Farmers Solidarity, also called Rural Solidarity) was created, but not legalized by the authorities. Because of that on March 16, 1981 in Bydgoszcz a strike was proclaimed.

This forced the authorities to finally hold the meeting of the Voivodeship National Council, a governing body of the Bydgoszcz Voivodeship. The meeting was attended by several members of Solidarity, among them Jan Rulewski, Mariusz Łabentowicz and Roman Bartoszcze, who were to explain the reasons for the strike. However, the Council decided not to discuss the issue of Rural Solidarity, which made the members of Solidarity protest and they refused to leave the session. The authorities responded by calling in the Citizen's Militia and the ZOMO, who entered the seat of the Council and forcibly removed the delegates of Solidarity.

Even though the authorities had a monopoly on media, the underground press reported of the Bydgoszcz events and the matter became widely publicised in a matter of days. On March 24 Solidarity decided to go on a nationwide strike in protest against the violence aimed at the delegates. The authorities bowed down and on 25 March the deputy prime minister Mieczysław F. Rakowski started a conference with the leaders of the Solidarity. This led to the signing of the so-called "Warsaw accord" (Polish: porozumienie warszawskie) on March 30, 1981. According to the agreement, Solidarity was allowed to report the Bydgoszcz events on public television (the first such independent news behind the Iron Curtain since the 1940s) and the government pledged to continue the talks on registration of a trade union of farmers.

The events were extensively covered by the publication project "Kryzys Bydgoski 1981", a three-volume edition: a monograph with a DVD with film "14 dni. Prowokacja bydgoska", a collection of documents, and a collection of witness testimonies.

European Solidarity Centre

The European Solidarity Centre (Polish: Europejskie Centrum Solidarności) is a museum and library in Gdańsk, Poland, devoted to the history of Solidarity, the Polish trade union and civil resistance movement, and other opposition movements of Communist Eastern Europe. It opened on 31 August 2014.

History of Białystok

This is a sub-article to BiałystokThe city of Białystok has existed for five centuries, during which time the fate of the city has passed between various political and economic forces.

From surviving documentation we know that around 1437, a representative of the family Raczków, Jakub Tabutowicz with the coat of arms of Łabędź, received from Michael Žygimantaitis son of Sigismund Kęstutaitis, Duke of Lithuania, a wilderness area located along the river Biała that marked the beginning of Białystok as a settlement.During the years 1617–1626, the first brick church and a beautiful castle, on a rectangular plan with two floors, in the Gothic-Renaissance style, was built by Job Bretfus. Extension of the castle continued by Krzysztof Wiesiołowski, since 1635 Grand Marshal of Lithuania and the owner of several administrative and royal and married Aleksandra Marianna Sobieska. In 1637 he died childless, thus Bialystok came under the management of his widow. After her death in 1645 the Wiesiołowskis estate, including Białystok, passed to the Commonwealth, to maintain Tykocin Castle. In the years 1645–1659 Bialystok was managed by governors of Tykocin. It was then a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.In 1661 it was given to Stefan Czarniecki as a reward for his service in the victory over the Swedes. Four years later, as a dowry of his daughter Aleksandra who married Jan Klemens Branicki, thus passing into the hands of the Branicki family. In 1692 Stefan Mikołaj Branicki, the son of Jan Klemens Branicki (Marshal of the Crown Court), obtained the rights to the city of Białystok from King John III Sobieski and built Branicki Palace in the city on the foundations of former defensive castle of Wiesiołowskis' family. In the second half of the 18th century the ownership of the city was inherited by Field Crown Hetman Jan Klemens Branicki. It was he who transformed the previously existing palace built by his father into the magnificent residence of a great noble.At the end of the 19th century, the majority of the city's population was Jewish. According to Russian census of 1897, out of the total population of 66,000, Jews constituted 41,900 (so around 63%). This heritage can be viewed on the Jewish Heritage Trail in Bialystok.

From the very beginning, the Nazis pursued a ruthless policy of pillage and removal of the non-German population during World War II. The 56,000 Jewish residents of the town were confined in a ghetto. On 15 August 1943, the Białystok Ghetto Uprising began, and several hundred Polish Jews and members of the Anti-Fascist Military Organisation (Polish: Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa) started an armed struggle against the German troops who were carrying out the planned liquidation of the ghetto.Capital of administrative divisions

Over the course of the last 200 years, the city has been the capital of numerous administrative divisions of a number of countries or occupying powers;

Capital of the New East Prussia province, Kingdom of Prussia from 1795 to 1807

Capital of the Belostok Oblast, Russian Empire from 1807 to 1842

Capital of the Belostok Province of the Grodno Governorate, Russian Empire from 1842 to 1915

Capital of the Bialystok-Grodno District of the German-controlled territory of Ober-Ost during World War I (1915–1918)

Capital of the Białystok Voivodeship, Second Polish Republic from 1919 to 1939

During World War II it was the capital of the Belastok Voblast, Byelorussian SSR from 1939 to 1941 and 1944 to 1945

Capital of Bezirk Białystok during the World War II occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944

Capital of the Białystok Voivodeship, People's Republic of Poland from 1945 to 1999 Białystok was, from 1945 until 1975, the capital city of the Białystok Voivodeship. After the 1975 administrative reorganization of the People's Republic of Poland, the city was the capital of the smaller Białystok Voivodeship which lasted until 1998.Since 1999 it has been the capital of the Podlaskie Voivodeship, Republic of Poland.

History of Poland (1945–1989)

The history of Poland from 1945 to 1989 spans the period of Soviet dominance and communist rule imposed after the end of World War II over Poland, as reestablished within new borders. These years, while featuring general industrialization and urbanization and many improvements in the standard of living, were marred by social unrest, political strife and severe economic difficulties.

Near the end of World War II, the advancing Soviet Red Army, along with the Polish Army formed in the Soviet Union, pushed out the Nazi German forces from occupied Poland. In February 1945, the Yalta Conference sanctioned the formation of a provisional government of Poland from a compromise coalition, until postwar elections. Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, manipulated the implementation of that ruling. A practically communist-controlled Provisional Government of National Unity was formed in Warsaw by ignoring the Polish government-in-exile based in London since 1940.

During the subsequent Potsdam Conference in July–August 1945, the three major Allies ratified the colossal westerly shift of Polish borders and approved its new territory between the Oder–Neisse line and Curzon Line. Following the destruction of the Polish-Jewish population in the Holocaust, the flight and expulsion of Germans in the west, resettlement of Ukrainians in the east, and the repatriation of Poles from Kresy, Poland became for the first time in its history an ethnically homogeneous nation-state without prominent minorities. The new government solidified its political power over the next two years, while the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) under Bolesław Bierut gained firm control over the country, which would become part of the postwar Soviet sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe. The Constitution of the Polish People's Republic was promulgated in July 1952 and the state officially became the Polish People's Republic (PRL).

Following Stalin's death in 1953, a political "thaw" in the Soviet sphere allowed a more liberal faction of the Polish communists, led by Władysław Gomułka, to gain power. By the mid-1960s, Poland began experiencing increasing economic as well as political difficulties. They culminated in the 1968 Polish political crisis and the 1970 Polish protests, when a consumer price hike led to a wave of strikes. The government introduced a new economic program based on large-scale borrowing from the West, which resulted in a rise in living standards and expectations, but the program meant growing integration of Poland's economy with the world economy and it faltered after the 1973 oil crisis. In 1976, the government of Edward Gierek was forced to raise prices again and this led to the June 1976 protests.

This cycle of repression and reform and the economic-political struggle acquired new characteristics with the 1978 election of Karol Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II. Wojtyła's unexpected elevation strengthened the opposition to the authoritarian and ineffective system of nomenklatura-run state socialism, especially with the pope's first visit to Poland in 1979. In early August 1980, a new wave of strikes resulted in the founding of the independent trade union "Solidarity" (Polish Solidarność) led by electrician Lech Wałęsa. The growing strength and activity of the opposition caused the government of Wojciech Jaruzelski to declare martial law in December 1981. However, with the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, increasing pressure from the West, and dysfunctional economy, the regime was forced to negotiate with its opponents. The 1989 Round Table Talks led to Solidarity's participation in the 1989 election. Its candidates' striking victory gave rise to the first of the succession of transitions from communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe. In 1990, Jaruzelski resigned from the presidency of the Republic of Poland; following the presidential election, he was succeeded by Wałęsa.

Independent Students' Union

Independent Students’ Association (Polish: Niezależne Zrzeszenie Studentów, NZS) is a Polish student society, created in October 1980, in the aftermath of the Gdańsk Agreement and the anti-government strike actions (see: History of Solidarity). It was a student arm, or suborganization, of Solidarity, and together with it, as well as other similar organizations, was banned after the martial law in Poland, (December 13, 1981). Some activists were arrested, others organized an underground NZS. After the fall of communism in 1989, the organization was recreated, and its focus changed from political to cultural, although it still stands by its origins as seen by Polish students’ support for the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. It now is the largest independent student organization in Poland, with 90 chapters at Polish universities and a total of 20,000 members.

Institute of National Remembrance

This is about the Polish institution. You may also be looking for the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance.The Institute of National Remembrance – Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (Polish: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej – Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu; IPN) is a Polish government-affiliated research institute with lustration prerogatives, as well as prosecution powers. It was created by legislation enacted by the Parliament of Poland. The Institute specialises in the legal and historical examination of the 20th century history of Poland in particular. IPN investigates both Nazi and Communist crimes committed in Poland between 1939 and the Revolutions of 1989, documents its findings and disseminates the results of its investigations to the public.The Institute was established in law by the Polish Parliament on 18 December 1998, and incorporated the earlier 1991-passed Main Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation (which itself had replaced a 1945-passed body on Nazi crimes). It began its activities on 1 July 2000. During the first fifteen years following its inception the IPN collected over 90 kilometres (56 mi) of archives, released 1,794 publications, organized 453 exhibits, held 817 conferences, and launched 30 educational internet portals. In the same period, the Institute researchers held interviews with over 103,000 witnesses and interrogated 508 individuals charged with criminal offences, leading to 137 sentences by the courts of justice.According to a new law which went into effect on 15 March 2007, IPN was to be mandated to carry out lustration procedures prescribed by Polish law. However, key articles of that law were judged unconstitutional by Poland's constitutional court on 11 May 2007, so the role of IPN in the lustration process is at present unclear. The IPN is a founding member of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience organisation.

International Solidarity Day of Azerbaijanis

International Solidarity Day of Azerbaijanis (Azerbaijani: Dünya Azərbaycanlılarının Həmrəyliyi Günü) is an annual public holiday in Azerbaijan celebrating the worldwide solidarity and unity of Azerbaijanis. The day was inspired by the dismantling of border fences between Soviet Azerbaijan and Iran in December 1989 and the collapse of the Berlin Wall in the same year.

Occupation of factories

Occupation of factories is a method of the workers' movement used to prevent lock outs. They may sometimes lead to "recovered factories", in which the workers self-manage the factories.

They have been used in many strike actions, including:

the 1920–22 Biennio Rosso (in particular the Turin factory occupation of 1920)

1936 French general strike (see 1936 Matignon agreements)

in the May 68 revolts, supported by the Council for Maintaining the Occupations

in the 1970s in Italy (35-day occupation of the Fiat)

upper Clyde shipbuilder workers staged a work-in during 1971-72 with about 260 further occupations in Britain in the following decade

the 1971 Harco work-in, Australia

1973 Uruguayan general strike

Lip factory in France in 1973

the occupation of the ceramics factory formerly known as Zanon in Argentina starting in 2001, that under workers' control changed its name to FaSinPat

the occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago in 2008, and the re-occupation of the factory in 2012

A 77-day occupation of the Ssangyong car factory in 2009

Current occupation of Viomichaniki Metalleutiki in Thessaloniki, Greece, along the lines of factory occupations in Argentina.

Otłoczyn railway accident

The Otłoczyn railway accident (Polish: Katastrofa kolejowa pod Otłoczynem) was a train wreck which occurred on 19 August 1980, near the village of Otłoczyn (Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, northern Poland). At 4:30 a.m., a freight train collided with a passenger train which ran from Toruń Main Station to Łódź Kaliska. As a result, 65 people were killed, and 64 injured, out of which an additional two later died (bringing the total number of dead to 67). It was the biggest railway accident in the post-World War II history of Poland.

Pacification of Wujek

The Pacification of Wujek was a strike-breaking action by the Polish police and army at the Wujek Coal Mine in Katowice, Poland, culminating in the massacre of nine striking miners on December 16, 1981.

It was part of a large-scale action aimed to break the Solidarity free trade union after the introduction of martial law in Poland in 1981. Although the strike was suppressed, in a longer term, it turned out to be a milestone towards the collapse of the authoritarian system in Poland and, ultimately, to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. It was a site of numerous protests, including by Solidarity activist Anna Walentynowicz who commemorated a plaque to the murdered miners shortly after she left prison at Gołdap.

Poznań protests of 1956

The Poznań protests of 1956, also known as Poznań June (Polish: Poznański Czerwiec), were the first of several massive protests against the communist government of the Polish People's Republic. Demonstrations by workers demanding better working conditions began on 28 June 1956 at Poznań's Cegielski Factories and were met with violent repression.

A crowd of approximately 100,000 people gathered in the city centre near the local Ministry of Public Security building. About 400 tanks and 10,000 soldiers of the Polish People's Army and the Internal Security Corps under Polish-Soviet general Stanislav Poplavsky were ordered to suppress the demonstration and during the pacification fired at the protesting civilians.

The death toll was estimated to be between 57 and over a hundred people, including a 13-year-old boy, Romek Strzałkowski. Hundreds of people sustained injuries. The Poznań protests were an important milestone on the way to the Polish October, the installation of a less Soviet-controlled government.

Revolutions of 1989

The Revolutions of 1989 formed part of a revolutionary wave in the late 1980s and early 1990s that resulted in the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond. The period is sometimes called the Fall of Nations or the Autumn of Nations, a play on the term Spring of Nations that is sometimes used to describe the Revolutions of 1848.

The events of the full-blown revolution first began in Poland in 1989 and continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. One feature common to most of these developments was the extensive use of campaigns of civil resistance, demonstrating popular opposition to the continuation of one-party rule and contributing to the pressure for change. Romania was the only Eastern Bloc country whose citizens overthrew its Communist regime violently. Protests in Tiananmen Square (April–June 1989) failed to stimulate major political changes in China, but influential images of courageous defiance during that protest helped to precipitate events in other parts of the globe. On 4 June 1989, the trade union Solidarity won an overwhelming victory in a partially free election in Poland, leading to the peaceful fall of Communism in that country in the summer of 1989. Also in June 1989, Hungary began dismantling its section of the physical Iron Curtain, leading to an exodus of East Germans through Hungary, which destabilised East Germany. This led to mass demonstrations in cities such as Leipzig and subsequently to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, which served as the symbolic gateway to German reunification in 1990.

The Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, resulting in eleven new countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan), which had declared their independence from the Soviet Union in the course of the year, while the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) regained their independence in September 1991. The rest of the Soviet Union, which constituted the bulk of the area, became the Russian Federation in December 1991. Albania and Yugoslavia abandoned Communism between 1990 and 1992. By 1992, Yugoslavia had split into five successor states, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was later renamed Serbia and Montenegro in 2003 and eventually split in 2006 into two states, Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia was then further split with the breakaway of the partially recognised state of Kosovo in 2008. Czechoslovakia dissolved three years after the end of Communist rule, splitting peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992. The impact of these events was felt in many Socialist countries. Communism was abandoned in countries such as Cambodia (1991), Ethiopia (1990), Mongolia (which in 1990 democratically re-elected a Communist government that ran the country until 1996) and South Yemen (1990).

During the adoption of varying forms of market economy, there was a general decline in living standards for many former Communist countries. Political reforms were varied, but in only four countries were Communist parties able to retain a monopoly on power, namely China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam (North Korea went through a constitutional change in 2009 that made it nominally no longer Communist, but still de facto organised on Stalinist lines). Many communist and socialist organisations in the West turned their guiding principles over to social democracy and democratic socialism. Communist parties in Italy and San Marino suffered and the reformation of the Italian political class took place in the early 1990s. In South America, the Pink tide began with Venezuela in 1999 and swept through the early 2000s. The European political landscape changed drastically, with several former Eastern Bloc countries joining NATO and the European Union, resulting in stronger economic and social integration with Western Europe and the United States.

Rural Solidarity

Rural Solidarity (full name Independent Self-governing Trade Union of Individual Farmers "Solidarity") is a trade union of Polish farmers, established in late 1980 as part of the growing Solidarity movement. Its legalization became possible on February 19, 1981, when officials of the government of the People's Republic of Poland signed the so-called Rzeszów - Ustrzyki Dolne Agreement with striking farmers. Previously, Communist government had refused farmers’ right to self-organize, which caused widespread strikes, with the biggest wave taking place in January 1981. The Rural Solidarity was officially recognized on May 12, 1981, and, strongly backed by the Catholic Church of Poland, it claimed to represent at least half of Poland's 3.2 million smallholders.

Summer 1981 hunger demonstrations in Poland

In mid-1981, amid widespread economic crisis and food shortages, thousands of Poles, mainly women and their children, took part in several hunger demonstrations, organized in cities and towns across the country. The protests were peaceful, without rioting, and the biggest one took place on July 30, 1981 in Łódź. The situation in Poland was serious enough that it prompted Adam Michnik to write, "Poland faces hunger uprisings'".

Frozen conflicts
Foreign policy
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