The text below is a transcription of a roundtable discussion held at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, November 19, 2000, Denver, Co. It was followed by an extensive discussion that was not possible to transcribe. Michael Kennedy, Professor of Sociology and Vice Provost for International Affairs at the University of Michigan, moderated the discussion. Notes on the participants follow the text.
Krzysztof Jasiewicz: Twenty years ago, I was among the many people in Poland—nine and a half million—who struggled to create Solidarity, to develop it, to keep it alive. As we did this, we dreamed of many different things. But there were some things that we never dared to dream. We never dreamed that in 20 years Poland would be a member of NATO. Nor did we dream that in twenty years there would be a free presidential election in Poland, in which Aleksander Kwasniewski would beat Lech Wałęsa, let alone by a margin of 53 to 1.
I would like to present my perspective as a scholar today, not as someone who was a member from day one or as someone who eventually quit the union. I would like to talk about what I see as the three sources and the three component parts of Solidarity. This idea is taken from no one else but Vladimir Ilych Lenin, from his brochure on the component parts of Marxism. Please believe me that this is simply a coincidence.
I see the three sources of Solidarity as follows:
1) the quest for independence, for sovereignty, which predates Solidarity in Poland by more than two centuries;
2) a democratic tradition dating back to noble democracy, when the members of the gentry and nobility elected the kings and the parliament. This tradition was strengthened by the brief albeit intensive period of independence in the interwar period;
3) and in socialist ideas, not those espoused by the communist party in Poland, but the broader tradition that emphasizes the role of labor in the creation of a better world.
There is also a fourth source about which I will speak shortly. First let me speak about Solidarity’s three components. These correspond to the three sources discussed above. Thus Solidarity was a national liberation movement. It sought to restore Poland to sovereignty and independence. This was a very strong element in Solidarity. It was best expressed in the famous call to the other nations of Eastern Europe passed unanimously during the first Solidarity Congress. It emphasized freedom for all nations in Eastern Europe.
Solidarity was also a democratization movement. It tried, within Poland’s democratic traditions, to make the country as democratic as possible under difficult geopolitical conditions. It tried, for instance, to make elections really count for something. This was not possible for national offices. But within Solidarity and other organizations, officers were elected according to sometimes painful but always democratic procedures. I don’t recall any long recounts, but perhaps this was because the rules were simpler.
Finally, Solidarity was a labor movement. It was not limited to industrial workers. This was a very important feature of solidarity. It was unique as a union that included industrial and manual workers as well as intellectuals and white-collar workers. All of them needed liberation from the command economy.
In his piece on Marxism, Lenin forgot to mention the fourth source—the ideas of the French Enlightenment. When talking about the sources of Solidarity, one should not forget about Polish Catholicism. However, I do not see any corresponding component of the movement. Catholicism had another function. It provided a set of rituals and symbols that allowed the participants of the movement to identify each other and allowed them to express these three component parts and the goals associated with each of them in the process.
If we look at these components of Solidarity, we can say that each of them played out in very different ways. First of all, as a national liberation movement it was an unprecedented success. Poland liberated not only itself but all the other nations of the former Soviet bloc. I do not want to overstate Polish influence here. I want to give due respect to the Czechs and the Hungarians and everyone else. It would have inevitably happened, but without Solidarity, both in 1980-81 and in 1989, the process would have taken much longer. Today Poland is in NATO, along with the Czech Republic and Hungary. This is the conclusion of the process. One could not have imagined a better result.
As a movement for democracy Solidarity was also a huge success. Solidarity paid a stiff price for this success; it fell apart in the process of creating a pluralist democracy. If Solidarity had remained united, perhaps the post-Communists would not be as strong as they are today, but this would not be pluralist democracy. More likely there would be extreme polarization. Solidarity’s disintegration gave rise to a vast array of parties and groupings with which we are all too familiar.
The liberal-democratic tendency is represented by the Freedom Union. The Christian-Democratic tendency is represented by so many parties that mentioning just one here would be inappropriate. The nationalist tendency is represented, for example, by the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland. The weakest of all the tendencies is the Socialist tradition. The only party that has roots in Solidarity and a program in the socialist tradition is the Labor Union. Because many of its leading members were also associated with the former Communist Party, it was never strong enough to compete with the post-Communist parties. In the fall of 2001 it will be running on the same ticket as the post-Communist Democratic Left Alliance. Interestingly, these four political fields that emerged from Solidarity correspond to the major traditions in continental European politics.
Solidarity did not just dissolve or fragmented into many groups. There is still an actor by the name of Solidarity. This trade union has its own political arm—Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), or, more specifically, the party Social Movement AWS (RS AWS), the core party of this umbrella organization. In a sense it occupies a centrist position, but this is the center by default. Solidarity as we know it today, even if it leans toward Christian-Democratic and maybe nationalist ideals, is not as radical in this respect as certain parties allied with it under the AWS umbrella.
There are certain misperceptions about the break up of Solidarity. It is often said that it split along the lines of workers and intellectuals. I do not have time to present data here, but my very close examination of post-election surveys does not confirm this view. Intellectuals and white-collar workers are present in all of the groupings discussed above. The same is true for workers. It is true that white-collar workers are more likely to vote for the Freedom Union than blue-collar workers, but this is a slight statistical difference. It is not a class split, but can be explained much better by ideological differences.
Finally, in terms of the labor struggle, Solidarity has failed. It failed along with the other trade union movement in Poland, the post-Communist OPZZ. Both got locked into thinking of the state as the only employer. The state is still the most important employer, but not the only one. Before this conference, I read that Solidarity was engaged in adversarial negotiations with the government. But beyond those employed by the government, there are many employed in the private sector who are not sufficiently represented by the trade unions. This absence of trade unions sometimes works to the benefit of Polish consumers. Stores can stay open longer hours as they do in the US, in contrast to Western Europe where the trade unions are strong. However, this clearly is at the expense of the employees.
My final word is about Wałęsa. Why did he lose? This is a question I hear over and over again. Well, Wałęsa had enormous charisma and authority. He lost his authority during his term as president because of unwise actions, that antagonized people of all political orientations, right, left and center, against him. Wałęsa still had enough charisma to mount a serious campaign against Kwasniewski in 1995. He lost by only a small margin—about three per cent of the popular vote; no recount needed. And because of this lost battle, five years later, in 2000, Wałęsa resembled Saint George, but with one important difference—he had failed to kill the dragon. He charisma was lost and even those who are still sympathetic to him, sought other candidates to support. This time around Wałęsa got one percent of the popular vote.
Michael Bernhard: I have organized my thoughts in terms of Solidarity’s legacies. One can look on that on several levels. The first level I will examine is world historical legacies.
The first and most important of these is summed up by the old joke about Brezhnev’s nightmare. "He dreamed that Pope John Paul II was leading Mass on Red Square for millions of workers who were squatting and eating Matzo Balls with chop sticks." Solidarity represented the real possibility that the working class could organize and rebel against the party of Lenin. This was one of the things that scared Soviet leaders into thinking that reform was necessary if their system was to survive and thus one of the developments responsible for the collapse of the Soviet-type system, not only in Poland, but worldwide.
A second world historical legacy has to do with Solidarity’s tactics, but its significance went well beyond the tactical. Its nonviolence and self-limitation are benchmarks of the death of the tradition of violent revolution in European politics. This tradition, which runs from the Jacobins through the Bolsheviks and their imitators, has been replaced by the notion of evolutionary reform as the only legitimate way to pursue substantive change. While there were other important milestones in this process, in Eastern Europe Solidarity was the initiator of this sort of politics and the most influential movement of this type. In his new book Andrew Arato speaks of the institutionalization of this ethos in form of the Roundtable negotiations that were so ubiquitous in the peaceful dismantling of Soviet regimes in much of Eastern Europe. This institutional form was another Polish innovation.
There is also one more world historical legacy: Solidarity was the critical moment in the rebirth of civil society in Eastern Europe. If we understand "the destruction of civil society" as a central part of the Stalinist totalitarian vision, the struggle to recreate, defend and maintain an underground public sphere and social self-organization in a Soviet-type system by Solidarity, its predecessors and the Solidarity underground represents the most definitive and powerful negation of that vicious historical project. Solidarity as one of the formative historical experiences that has led us today to see the centrality of civil society to democracy and its normative substance.
We can also speak of Solidarity's legacy within Poland. First, it was the major oppositional actor in the dismantling of the Soviet-type system there. This was true in both 1980-1 and 1989. I do not need to elaborate the details for this audience. Second, it was the initiator of the neo-liberal project of economic reform that has transformed Poland. Here, the period between 1982 and 1989 was definitive and is one of the parts of the Solidarity experience that has been understudied. This was period in which ideas of reforming socialism came to be replaced with ideas of a market economy.
One can also talk about the legacies of the death of Solidarity as a unitary movement in the post 1989 period. First, the successful attempt by Wałęsa and what can be called the Solidarity right for lack of a better name to force Jaruzelski from office effectively abrogated the power-sharing arrangements of the roundtable agreement and led to the full democratization of the Polish political system.
Another legacy of the end of Solidarity's unity was that it had an important influence on the rise and success of Solidarity’s major antagonist, the post-communists. The policies pursued by competing post-Solidarity camps are responsible for the rise and success of the post-Communists in Poland. Compare the performance of Cimoszewicz in the presidential election of 1990 and still weak performance of the Left Democratic Alliance (SLD) in the parliamentary elections of 1991 to the period since. First, the way in which the forces around Mazowiecki and Balcerowicz implemented market reform helped to create the SLD’s constituency. The movement of the reforms as a unified emergency package was indicative of the failure to prepare society for its impact. Failure to effectively communicate with society helped to rapidly alienate many Poles. Second, pursuit of policies which imposed religious values (abortion, compulsory religious education in schools, etc.) and calls for severe punishment of former communists by those on the right of Solidarity also helped to create a constituency for the rejuvenation of post-communist forces.
Finally, we can speak of Solidarity’s legacy today. Quite simply, it is spent. If one looks at the last presidential election, Solidarity had little emotive appeal to the voters. The candidate of the AWS (the titular custodian of the Solidarity mantle) Krzaklewski came in third, winning 15.6% of the vote. Lech Wałęsa won a minuscule slice of the vote—1 percent trailing both Andrzej Lepper and Janusz Korwin-Mikke.
The events surrounding the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the summer of 1980 attempted to politicize the union's legacy for partisan purposes. In the run-up to the commemoration were there were attempts to downplay the role of Lech Wałęsa in those events. No matter what one thinks about Wałęsa today, there is no denying his centrality or instrumentality in those events. In Gdansk there was some question as to whether he should be assigned a central place of honor in the commemoration. In the end those who spoke in the name of historical accuracy won over those who wished to rub salt into the wounds of Wałęsa’s political irrelevance.
In Gdansk, neither the Gwiazdas nor Anna Walentynowicz took part in the commemoration. In Szczecin, Marian Jurczyk, who has smeared himself with a barrage of xenophobic public statements and whose reputation has been further diminished by charges of collaboration with the secret police, was not invited to participate.
While all this was going on, in Warsaw the Lustration Court was considering the declarations of the presidential candidates. The court returned to the old canard that Wałęsa had worked as a police informer in the 1970s. Meanwhile Aleksander Kwasniewski was cleared to run for president. Wałęsa’s prosecutor, in a blatantly political move, tried to go on vacation prior to the resolution of Wałęsa’s case. Ultimately Wałęsa was exonerated. This event struck me a victory for the communist-era security services.
Solidarity's legacy now counts for little in Poland. Some try to manipulate its history for partisan purposes. This seems to be the very negation of the spirit of the Solidarity of the 1980s. Solidarity's name, leaders, symbols seem only capable of mobilizing a small part of the electorate. Poland has not only entered into a phase of post-communist politics but it seems to me that it has entered into a period of post-Solidarity politics as well.
Padraic Kenney: There is and probably should be some room in today's discussion for talking about questions of gender and Solidarity. Some of you may have expected that I would address this today, but I won't, in part because I've moved on from that project and have now been working on social movements in the late 1980s, particularly in Poland but also across the region. My remarks will be from that perspective.
What exactly was Solidarity during the 1980s and what really does the Solidarity of 1980-81 have to do with 1989? I do not think the connection between the two Solidarities is obvious at all. It is easy to have a false sense of continuity, that Solidarity somehow brought Poland from 1981 to 1989. I would like today to throw that certainty into question. Let me do this by mentioning some events that might be familiar to some of you—what I would call the five challenges of the 1980s—and outlining how they profoundly changed and questioned the even existence of Solidarity. Don't worry as I'm going though this—there will be a happy ending to this story.
The first challenge is the clashes from December 1981 through roughly 1983. These were quite violent in a number of cities. These were the lasting images of martial law. These were events that for many people within Solidarity and without raised a very real question of civil war. As you probably know some in Solidarity actually called for that briefly before changing their minds. Others wondered whether this in fact had anything to do with Solidarity. In fact some of those more memorable clashes were, even if one cannot really use the word "led," certainly marked by the strong presence of groups that were not precisely Solidarity—eg Fighting Solidarity (Solidarnosc Walczaca) or the Alternative Society Movement (RSA) in Gdansk.
Challenge two, of course, was the death of Popieluszko in 1984. It is sometimes today seen as another great milestone event that marks the path towards 1989. But at the time, the most memorable event within Solidarity was a famous essay in Mazowsze Weekly (Tygodnik Mazowsze) whose authors in some sense acknowledged that they too felt a kind of responsibility, if not exactly guilt, for the fact that this had happened. They argued that it should have been anticipated and there should have been more protection around Father Popieluszko and so on. Whether or not they were right, it is certainly clear that at that moment it seemed as if the regime had shown that it was powerful enough not only to perpetrate such a crime but could then clean up afterwards. That was in some ways was the more frightening fact. It was as of they could say: "We know who's guilty. We'll take care of that problem and you will not be involved." It was a very disempowering moment for society.
The third moment was the planned general strike February 1985 that was called off. It is such a forgotten event that a year and a half ago when I questioned some of the people involved, they had no recollection. I asked Zbigniew Bujak about, "what was going on at that moment in the Solidarity leadership?" And he looked at me and said "The strike? I don’t recall that event." At the time, for many of the workers who mobilized, or wondered whether they should mobilize, for such a strike, as short as it was going to be, having it called off at the last moment raised the question of—well then what exactly does Solidarity do? Is there such a thing as Solidarity? Does still even exist? Again—within a year and a half there would be more events that would make that question seem rather odd, but at the moment it certainly seemed a problem.
The fourth challenge of 1986-87 was marked by the final amnesty of the summer of 1986. It raised the very difficult question of what Solidarity supposed to do now. Do we or does the union go above ground? How does one act above ground [as opposed to in the underground]? What is the difference? What is the relationship between the two places? What precisely is our role? To some at the time it seemed as if the amnesty had been a brilliant move by the regime. Had it sapped Solidarity's strength? At the time this seemed to many to be the case, but it would not last over the long term. Still Solidarity was weakened by uncertainty about what to do next.
The fifth challenge was the strikes of 1988 that, as I am sure, as you all know, in most cases were not instigated by Solidarity, but by people who were not part of Solidarity in 1980-81. Many of them were too young to have been part of Solidarity. In one case a strike leader had spent 1980-81 in prison for, I believe, armed robbery and certainly had not been a member of Solidarity at the time. This was a very serious challenge, because raising the question, again, of whether Solidarity even existed anymore. Had it had been in fact destroyed, and replaced by a new generation? The happy answer though of course was no—it had not been. But it had become something profoundly different—a completely different idea and, I am not even sure I want to use the word, organization. I want to make this point by referring just to the last two events.
I begin with the question of 1986-87. In the last few years, I have spent my time looking at the new aboveground movements of the period roughly 1986-1988, mostly movements involving students and high school students. To them, Solidarity was the dorosla opozycja—the adult opposition. The term carried with it a sense of ironic detachment—from the adults in the way a teenager might talk about his or her parents. But at the same time it also expressed an attachment and dependence, one that was reluctantly acknowledged. Solidarity was where one got resources: printing, supplies, money. It was a place into which one could advance; if you were a really successful student organizer you might find a place eventually in Solidarity circles. And it was a place from which some ideas came.
That second challenge—the strikes of 1988—started from outside of Solidarity but very quickly Solidarity played a very important role. Within Solidarity were the experienced organizers who could show up at the mines or at the mills—if they were not already next-door, as in Gdansk. And in addition I think Solidarity gave those workers a language they could use. In general that is a problem when you start a strike or any kind of movement. If it is rather new and spontaneous, the next question is what exactly do we say, how do we express ourselves?
Solidarity proved to have a language that those workers could easily adopt. Although they had reservations at first, workers became more comfortable with those words and with the terminology. At first they were afraid of even using the union's name and then by the end talking rather freely that they had always been Solidarity members. So, even though it is perhaps a cliché, we know that the sixteen months of solidarity in 1980-81 did create a virtually indestructible new form of social organization that confounded the regime’s attempt to "normalize" society in the 1980s. But if we look closely at what follows martial law we see a much more complicated story of transformation.
I would end by saying this: Solidarity is not—and I don’t want to be misunderstood here—does not end up being "just" a symbol—an enervated shell of its former self which simply somehow carries Poland across the finish line before collapsing. Nor, however, is it a continuous organization; despite the fact that there were at least hundreds of thousands of people who kept paying their dues throughout those eight years. Instead I would say Solidarity proved to be a very valuable and deep collection of resources. I would add something else though cautiously. I think this term about the adult opposition suggests that what Solidarity had become by 1987-88 was an elite—a counter-elite if you will. I use this term in the sense we might speak about adults and resources. It was an elite to which unhappy workers 1988, students of 1986-87 or indeed all of Polish society—whether or not they had long since stashed their Solidarity pins in the sock drawer—could still turn to and would turn to again in June of 1989.
Jan Kubik: Like Krzysztof Jasiewicz, I organized my thoughts in a triptych. When I was thinking about the ten minutes I would have here and about how to squeeze the many thoughts I have about Solidarity into them, I decided, of course, to try to figure out what, from my perspective, are the most important elements. It so happened that I came up with three very important ones. This ties in rather well with my current project of exploring the main problems of post-Communism. In this discussion, I will try to relate those three ideas about Solidarity with the three problems of post-Communism.
The first of these legacies is accountability, particularly the institutionalization of accountability. As you know, to put it in plain language, the problem of corruption is a serious problem in the post-Communist world, although it is very unevenly distributed. Poland usually ends up among those who are doing pretty well in such rankings. It is listed in third, perhaps fourth place among the 27 entities that emerged from the Soviet zone.
The second is the question of the institutional architecture of post-Communism, of how different countries created systems designed to serve them after the fall of Communism. Finally, the third, and probably the biggest question relates to the fact that there is not just one single model of post-communism, but many. The question is, then, how many really are there? This issue needs to be approached, it seems at least to my mind inductively, and we should first try to carefully identify and name the post-Communism [in question] in every country and only then try to generalize from there. Too often, I think, we approach this question sort of deductively, from the top down.
This brings me back to certain issues I raised in my own book on Solidarity, which discusses its cultural side, its symbols and its religious dimension. The conclusion of this book was that Polish politics at the end of this period around, let's say, 1988 saw the second wave of symbolic mobilization, but, by and large, Polish politics of the time seemed already over-symbolized. It was a tremendously powerful symbolic mobilization, which, of course, served Solidarity very well. It helped Solidarity activists to produce this powerful cleavage: we, the people, Solidarity, versus them, the Communists.
What were the roots and consequences of polarization? I had posed this question to myself at the time I was finishing the book. What would happen in a country where the political domain was charged symbolically to such a tremendous degree, and there was such powerful symbolic polarization. I think the answer to that question is very clear, and one of the people who worked ceaselessly on this problem, Krzysztof Jasiewicz, demonstrated it in a number of his works. It is not necessarily the economic cleavage that is most important in Poland; equally important, if not more important, is the symbolic cleavage. This [fact] can be traced clearly, albeit in a somewhat complicated manner, back to the initial polarization of the Solidarity period. In any case Jasiewicz found that it was not pocketbook issues that explain Polish post-communist politics. It is a question of who performs the rosary and who doesn’t; that polarization is still there.
I think that the over-symbolization and polarization is tied in an interesting way to the problem of accountability. Each of the countries that dealt effectively with corruption develops a different mechanism. We see a different mechanism in Slovenia, in the Czech Republic, in Hungary and in Poland. Each of them has a slightly different set of institutions that deal with this problem. The Polish mechanism is polarization. It is not easy for ex-communists to cheat, because the post-Solidarity side has its eyes on them and vice-versa. So, paradoxically, this polarization, which sometimes is seen, particularly by political scientists, as ineffective and obsolete and not thoroughly pragmatic, has, to my mind, a pragmatic dimension in the Polish context. It helped to produce accountability, however imperfect and less than fully institutionalized.
The second legacy of Solidarity, a tremendous legacy to my mind, one that I explored in fieldwork in Poland in 1990-91, is politics on the local level. After the fall of communism, I studied local governments. What was tremendously important during that brief moment were the Citizens' Committees (Komitety Obywatelskie). They simply would not have existed without Solidarity.
It was really interesting how they fulfilled a tremendously important role in those early years, in the very process of transition. By now they have been forgotten. Two years ago I was in Krakow, teaching at the Jagiellonian University, and had several students, about 20 of them, working on various projects focused on the civil society around Krakow and on various NGOs, and how they worked, how they used the cultural capital of Krakow in their activities.
I asked my students, to their amazement, "why don't you also ask a question about Citizens' Committees? Just ask people what kind of memories they have. Does it play any role in the current thinking about politics?" First of all, the students did not want to do it. They looked at me: "What? Citizens' Committees? What are you talking about?" It was just seven, eight years later. And then they went out, they started doing interviews, and then they came back and they asked us: “Can you drop that question? Each time we asked people looked at us funny and they say, 'What!? Why should we bother with this!?'" So, this was an interesting experiment on historical memory, but I do think that at that time (in 1989-90) the role of Citizens' Committees in the political transformations was absolutely positive and that the local government reform originated without a doubt in the same dimension of Solidarity.
Poland was the first post-Communist country that introduced a dramatic devolution of power. Later, others followed, but this was the first instance that increased the number of administrative and political arenas in Poland and it started political competition in all those arenas. As Solidarity in the guise of Citizens' Committees existed in all 2400 plus gminas (communes), it immediately triggered political competition at levels of the system. Again, this helps to explain Poland’s relative success in controlling corruption. Of course today Poles complain bitterly about it because the situation is getting worse, and the country is slipping in various rankings.
The last legacy is a politics of protest. This was the topic of my six-year long study with Grzegorz Ekiert. The question was very simple: if the Polish transition was marked by this tremendous mobilization, the only massive mobilization in Eastern Europe, is there anything legacy of this mobilization? We carefully studied the years 1989 to 1994. We discovered that Poland continued to be the most mobilized society in Eastern Europe, with a much higher number of protests than the other countries in the region. Solidarity had been a tremendous force when it came to the mobilization of society. So, has this "tradition" of mobilization continued, after the fall of Communism? Well, it has, at least to some degree. The key problem is how to assess this phenomenon. Many people assert it was bad for democratization. They would like to see a rapid channeling of political energy into what is widely perceived as more conventional institutions.
Protest is not usually perceived as a useful avenue of democratization and democratic consolidation. So, people complained about the excessive contentiousness of the Polish situation. Echoes of this debate are still to be found in various analyses. Edmund Mokrzycki, a very important Polish sociologist, presented a paper at Congress of Polish Sociologists this fall in which he suggested that this is a problem of Polish democracy.
Ekiert and I thought it was not really a problem, at least not at that time, due to the weakness of other institutions, especially the party system. Political parties are weakly imbedded throughout Eastern Europe, but the problem is even starker in Poland. When people are asked about their trust in political parties, Poland comes basically at the bottom. There is less trust in political parties than elsewhere.
We thought that mobilization through protest, by trade unions and other organizations in civil society, fulfilled a surrogate function of keeping society relatively well mobilized in order to keep the system responsive to people's demands and to generate a modicum of social control. Instead of talking about excessive contentiousness, we talked about contentious reformism. It was the Polish path of reform, of building a system after the fall of Communism. It is important to look at it in a much more balanced way.
These three elements (or problems) of Communism combined with certain legacies of Solidarity led to specific institutionalized solutions to the problems of post-Communism. Due to the legacy of Solidarity such solutions are idiosyncratic, unique to Poland, but they are not dysfunctional. They make up the specific Polish path away from Communism.
Wojciech Roszkowski: It is very difficult to be the last speaker following the other presentations. We did not coordinate our presentations, so there is bound to be some overlap. I will try not to belabor points that were already made.
As a historian, I see this topic in a rather more linear way than a political scientist probably would. I see four turning points: 1980—the emergence of Solidarity, 1981—the declaration of martial law, 1989—the triumph of Solidarity (I am reticent to call it a complete success, but the collapse of communism in 1989 was, nevertheless, a triumph) and, finally, the recent reelection of post-Communist president Aleksander Kwasniewski.
When we discuss the significance of Solidarity back in 1980, there is a couple of critical issues that still need to be mentioned. Firstly, it marked the delegitimization of the Communist system. It claimed to embody the will of the working class, while in Poland most of the working class opposed it in 1980. It raised serious questions about the very idea of Communism worldwide.
Secondly, by striking in 1980, in the renewed cold war atmosphere of that time, Poland or Polish workers challenged the international balance of power. The 35-year old division of Europe was also called into question.
Thirdly, the Poles became a subject, not an object of history. Earlier, especially after the war (or even earlier in 1939) Poland was seen as an object of history—as a victim of invasions, or of behind-the-scene maneuvers. Now, for the first in many years, Poland challenged the world order and began to make history. This was a serious risk. Poland attracted the world's attention in a new way. The world had ceased to care about the injustices of Yalta. Those who lose are easily forgotten. However, the election of Pope John Paul II and the success of Solidarity generated a lot of interest, if not sympathy, worldwide. History rewards those who help themselves.
Fourth, the Solidarity revolution was bloodless, at least until the martial law, but that was not Solidarity's fault. In 1980, this use of non-violence was a new tactic. Though they failed in the short term, in 1981, in the long run they proved successful, contributing to collapse of Communism in 1989.
Of course, in 1989 Poland was very different than it was in 1980. Padraig Kenney said a lot about this and I quite agree. The martial law years though do not help us to understand the Solidarity of 1989 and later. Post-1989 Solidarity was different as Poland was different. The unity of the movement collapsed. This was to be expected because this unity was product of the struggle against Communism and Communism collapsed. Thus Solidarity split into various political currents.
I am critical of the way in which it was done. And here we have a problem of authority. Many authority figures from Solidarity’s first period failed to meet expectations, failed to match their new roles later on. I do not want to mention names, or engage in partisan politics, but there are many moral leaders failed to meet the challenges of 1989 and after.
Also, I do not accept this classic, but not very precise, division of the contemporary Solidarity or post-Solidarity movement into the left, the right and the center. In fact, I was a little lost when Michael Bernhard started talking about the right wing of Solidarity. Post-Solidarity terminology is difficult and complicated. So, I think it is probably better to avoid this left-right distinction and perhaps try to elaborate a new terminology for this.
My final point refers to evolution and revolution. That the Solidarity revolution was bloodless was a good thing. Violent revolution would probably have been worse. To paraphrase Michnik—those who destroy the Bastille are very likely to create a new one. However, evolutionary change also carries a certain price. Those who have strongly abused power, even criminally, like martial law, often escape without punishment.
Evolutionary change creates political and moral relativism, which is, in fact, eroding the foundations rule of law. This is the price we are paying for the evolutionary path. I am not saying revolution would have been better, but we must be aware that evolution had a price.
Note on Participants
Michael Bernhard is Associate Professor of Political Science at Penn State University. He is the author of The Origins of Democratization in Poland (Columbia University Press, 1993) and co-editor (with Henryk Szlajfer) of From the Polish Underground: Selections from Krytyka (Penn State Press, 1995). His recent work has appeared in Comparative Politics, Journal of Politics, and East European Politics and Societies.
Krzysztof Jasiewicz is currently Professor of Sociology at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, and a Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences (ISP PAN) in Warsaw. In the 1980s, he was a co-author of a series of political attitudes surveys in Poland (known as Poles ‘80, ‘81, etc). His recent publications include articles in the Journal of Democracy and Communist and Post-Communist Studies and chapters in edited volumes, in English as well as in Polish.
Padraic Kenney is Associate Professor of East European History at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the author, most recently, of "The Gender of Resistance in Communist Poland" (The American Historical Review, 1999) and Carnival 1989: Revolution in Central Europe (forthcoming, Princeton University Press).
Jan Kubik is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Russian, Central, and East European Studies at Rutgers University. His work is focused mostly on post-Communist transformations in Eastern Europe and revolves around the relationship between culture and politics and contentious politics. His publications include two prize-winning books: (with Grzegorz Ekiert) Rebellious Civil Society: Popular Protest and Democratic Consolidation in Poland, 1989-1993, (University of Michigan Press, 1999); and The Power of Symbols Against the Symbols of Power. The Rise of Solidarity and the Fall of State Socialism in Poland (Penn State Press, 1994).
Wojciech Roszkowski is the first holder of the Kośćiuszko Chair at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. Prior to the Miller Center, he was the director of the Institute of Political Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. He has published extensively both in Polish and English under his own name and the pseudonym Andrzej Albert. Among his published works are Contemporary Polish History 1914-1993 (in Polish, multiple editions), Land Reforms in East Central Europe after World War I (Polish Academy of Sciences, 1995), and (with Jan Kofman) Transformation and Post-Communism (Polish Academy of Sciences, 1997).
7 October 2001
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