Questions to the narrator
- 00:08After this first Stalinist period of communist rule was over in 1956. What did the party turn of for the Polish people in the sixties and seventies?
- 01:03And what happened to that promise?
- 02:40Why did the party actually start negotiating with Solidarity?
- 05:41Why did the party then break of negotiations and imposed the martial law?
- 07:21What particular groups in a party or state navigators decided to break of the negotiations with Solidarity and were they urged to do so?
- 09:56What fixed the normalisation process of martial law in Polish society?
- 11:18So has it worked that normalisation beaten down a society?
- 13:06What happened to the party? What has happened to the party since the martial law?
- 14:38What happened to the party since 1981?
TranscriptPlease note that this transcript is based on audio tracks and doesn't have to match exactly the video
After this first Stalinist period of communist rule was over in 1956. What did the party turn of for the Polish people in the sixties and seventies?
I think that in 56 – that was a moment of hope. The party changed really its programme, the way of action. And in the sixties and the seventies the Polish party became more pragmatic but what was still offered to Polish people it was a world of goods, a consumer society, a kind of affluent society in a very eastern type. But that was the proposition of the Polish party. And it was in a sense accepted by the society.
And what happened to that promise?
It collapsed and collapsed cruelly in 1979 and 1980. I would say that the beginning of this collapse had the economic origin. In 1976, it was absolutely clear for everybody that this system of management cannot continue, that the external situation of Poland is difficult and that the of economic crisis is really at the door and nothing was done. The explosion of social unrest in 1976 should be a sign for the party and it wasn’t. And in 1980 what changed it was a link between this economic crisis and moral crisis. I would say that people were aware that it cannot continue like it was. And this feeling maybe for the first time had, in this part of Europe, had this a general dimension. It was really a movement of whole society, of the Polish people.
Why did the party actually start negotiating with Solidarity?
It is not an easy question. I would think that we should think about it and we should understand it. One could say that it was only a tactical means that the party tried to obtain time for its action, too obtain these 500 days but I do not think so. I think that it was the real change in the party behaviour. And why? I think that for the first time the party that is called working class or workers party, this party had – against it – a working class. The working movement was Solidarity and not the ruling party. To do something in this situation one has to think of course in political terms. Was the party able in this moment to destroy all the social opposition, all the social movement against it? Certainly, it was not prepared and in this moment the only way to obtain the destruction of Solidarity, of the movement of resistance was the Soviet intervention. That’s I would say the simplest explanation of this factor. When I am saying that only I am not satisfied with this kind of answer. I think that something else happened, that the party, for the first time maybe, was thinking that something should change not only in the structures of management but in the very existence of this political power which is called communist par force, the leading role of the communist party.
Why then it stopped negotiations and imposed the martial law?
First of all, during five hundred years Solidarity did exist – it is a tremendous phenomenon. I think for the Polish society.
Sorry. If I can just stop you here. You mean during five hundred days,
Yes, you say yes. You’ve just said years. Why did the party then break of negotiations and imposed the martial law?
You see during five hundred days we were doing, we did exist and that is most important phenomenon I would say. Generations of the Polish society are marked by this experience. And it was after these five hundred days of negotiations, existence of independent movement then – when communist party decided to introduce the martial law. Why, you asked me. I would say, I don’t know, that’s the simplest answer. I was involved in these negotiations without optimism but with the good will. And I thought it is really possible to obtain an agreement, a fair agreement with the power. I think that really during this period the communist party was too weak and Solidarity was too strong. So, it was too strong because Solidarity accepted the monopoly of power for the communist party. So, a very strong movement giving this sort of monopolistic power to a weak partner – it was absurd in a sense but it was a necessity.
What particular groups in a party or state navigators decided to break of the negotiations with Solidarity and were they urged to do so?
I don’t know. Because we couldn’t be informed about the internal situation in the political leadership of the party but I would say that I have a feeling how it happened. I think that at the end of November 1981 the situation was better than it was in the beginning of this year. In the relationship between Solidarity and the communist party I think that we had a kind of experience of negotiations. In 1980 we had no experience of this kind. So why it happened? I think that Moscow couldn’t accept this peculiar evolution in a very important country from the Warsaw Pact. And for them to decide a military intervention would be a very difficult decision. The best one it was to destroy this situation and to destroy Solidarity with Polish hands. And so I don’t think that the experience of Mr Jaruzelski’s government was the very reason of this decision. It was the rivalry between different groups.
Could you repeat that. That was the rivalry.
You just say it again.
I think that the very reason of this decision was the rivalry between general Jaruzelski’s group and the other groups inside the Politburo, inside the leadership. One could say that the martial law was prepared, everything was prepared for it and the police could do it. The problem was who will give the order if not general Jaruzelski. Probably it would be something else, another group. So the decision has its origin in internal, internal struggles inside the Polish political class.
What fixed the normalisation process of martial law in Polish society?
The normalisation process is six years old now. The first period was an open, an open struggle between Polish people and the Polish power. One could say that this division between “us” and “they”, between the society and the power was the deepest one. And after these three, first three years of this martial law I think that people were tired. It was no hope of change in immediate future. And so the normalisation… I would say that normalisation wasn’t done by political force of police and army but it was made by a frustration, the sentiment of weakness and the lack of hope.
So has it worked that normalisation beaten down a society?
To answer it simply: in a way. Because if you think that the power decided to introduce tanks in the streets of all Polish cities, that hundreds of thousands of soldiers and policemen were mobilised to this work of destruction, what happened? In a sense, nothing. After Budapest 1956 the resistance was destroyed in some weeks or some months, after 1968 in Prague the resistance was destroyed maybe in one year. In Poland six years after this decision you have still the same movement weaker may be than before but it is still existing. You have hundreds and hundreds of underground publications. And you have a moral and a political resistance in this country. And one could say that for the first time in the Eastern Block we are a country in which an opposition is a political fact. And when I say an opposition I mean the civil society, the society with its own means of communication, with its own means of expression, with the public opinion. How one can speak about the real normalisation in this situation?
What happened to the party? What has happened to the party since the martial law?
That’s, that’s a very difficult question to observe it from an external point. I think that during this first Solidarity period the party was destroyed in the all senses of this word. Not physically but in the sense that there were no structures, organisation, members of this party having the feeling of programme, reasons how to be in the party. The martial law period was done not by the party but by the police forces under the umbrella of the army. After the 13 of December 1981, I think that party tried to rebuild its structures. What is the result now? What is sure is that one third of party members are gone from the party. They are out of the party. It means that one million people decided to abandon the party.
What happened to the party since 1981?
The party collapsed in 1980- 1981 and the martial law period was the work of police and army. The party has no role in this period. And after that it was very difficult to rebuild the party. One could rebuild a party in a positive programme. It was impossible at this moment. With an aggressiveness it was possible but against the church it was too dangerous. The party couldn’t be rebuilt but what was rebuilt was the strength of the party apparatus. It means the party power, the very structure, personal structure of this power – but not this power of two or three million people giving the assurance to the power that it has not only the monopoly but a kind of social support. They have no support. The workers are against the party. Inside this party you have a very small part of workers. What is the sign of this very new situation is that the party is growing old. They have no young people. But what they have still until now and maybe more than before: 85% of all living posts in this country in the administrations, army, police are jobs for the party members. 85%. It means that the party having now something as 5% of the population has all the power. In the Old Poland, the Polish “szlachta”, the Polish gentry was 10% of the nation, 10%, and now 5% has all the power in this country.
Bronisław Geremek (1932–2008)
Bronisław Geremek (1932 - 2008) is a Polish historian, a statesman, one of the leading figures in the Polish opposition against the totalitarian communist power and a political prisoner during martial law, expert and adviser of Solidarity Trade Union (1980 - 1990), in free Poland Member of both Polish and European Parliament, Minister of Foreign Affairs. A prominent historian devoted to Middle Ages, his books were published in 10 languages contributing to the European heritage. Professor Geremek spent almost his entire life working at Polish Academy of Science History Institute in Warsaw. He taught also at Sorbonne in Paris. Collaborating closely with Lech Wałęsa he played an important part in Poland's successful transition from communism into a free market liberal democracy. He received many prizes, honours and awards from all over the world, including many honoris causa doctorates.