Postwar Poland

Postwar Poland 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. 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.