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The Warsaw Voice » Other » December 19, 2007
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Witnessing History
December 19, 2007   
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Roundtable Talks

The 1989 Roundtable talks were the starting point for the transformation of communist Poland. The negotiations between the representatives of the authorities of communist Poland, the democratic opposition and the Church, lasted Feb. 6-April 5. The talks were held by three main groups, dealing with the economy and social policy, political reform, and trade union pluralism. The talks involved 452 participants. The most important decisions of the Roundtable talks included:
  • creation of a Senate, with 100 senators, elected according to the majority principle (in the June 4, 1989 elections, the opposition won 99 of the Senate seats);
  • "contract" elections to the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, in which 60 percent of seats were reserved for the communist Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR) and its two satellite parties, the United Peasants' Party (ZSL) and the Democratic Party (SD); and 5 percent for pro-communist Catholic organizations; the remaining 35 percent of seats were subject to a free vote, and the opposition won all of them in the June 4, 1989 elections;
  • creation of the office of president of Poland, elected by the Sejm and the Senate for a six-year term. Communist leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski became the first president July 19, 1989, by a majority of one vote. Due to social pressure, Sept. 19, 1990 Jaruzelski submitted to the Sejm speaker a draft constitution that shortened his term of office and introduced general presidential elections.


Tadeusz Mazowiecki Government

The first non-communist government in Poland after World War II started work Sept. 12, 1989, under Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. It soon carried out many major reforms. The country's political system was changed, a full range of civic freedoms and a multi-party system were introduced, and the state emblem and name were changed from the Polish People's Republic (PRL) to the Polish Republic (RP). On Dec. 29, 1989, the constitution was amended-the preamble was removed, the chapters on the political and economic system were written anew, the position of trade unions was reinforced, and a uniform concept of ownership was introduced. These changes allowed an economic transformation to be carried out. The package of Mazowiecki government reforms, called "the Balcerowicz plan" after the name of its main author Leszek Balcerowicz, enabled the suppressing of hyperinflation, restructuring of the economy, and introduction of market mechanisms and privatization.

Mazowiecki government resigned Nov. 26, 1990, a day after the prime minister lost the presidential elections.

Balcerowicz Plan

The Balcerowicz Plan is the popular name for the package of sweeping economic reforms launched in 1990. It refers to the name of its architect Leszek Balcerowicz, deputy prime minister and finance minister at that time. The plan was designed to transform Poland's economy from a centrally planned into a market system. The country' hyperinflation was running high at an annual rate of 639.6 percent in 1989, foreign debt reached $42.3 billion, or 64.8 percent of GDP, there were acute shortages on the market and the economy was on the verge of collapse.

The plan comprised 10 laws. They removed guarantees for the existence of all state-owned enterprises, banned the central bank from financing budget deficit and issuing unlimited amounts of "empty" money, lifted credit preferences for state-owned enterprises, introduced zloty convertibility on the internal market and removed state monopoly in foreign trade. The reform plan led to a major reduction in inflation and the budget deficit, with a budget surplus recorded in 1990, the elimination of shortages on the market, a huge increase in currency reserves and the highest economic growth rate of all countries of the former Eastern Bloc.

However, critics say the Balcerowicz Plan contributed to a considerable fall in the living standards of large groups of people, particularly employees of unprofitable state enterprises and state-owned farms, and resulted in structural unemployment.

First Free Presidential Elections

The first general presidential elections were held Nov. 25 (first round) and Dec. 9 (second round), 1990. Six candidates were running: Solidarity trade union leader Lech Wałęsa, Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who represented the communists, peasant activist Roman Bartoszcze, rightist politician Leszek Moczulski, and Stanisław Tymiński, a mysterious businessman from Peru who had appeared on the political scene in Poland just a few months earlier. The first round of elections brought about a sensation: Tymiński won 23 percent of the vote, more than Mazowiecki (18 percent). In the second round, Wałęsa won with over 74 percent, and Tymiński scored 26 percent.

Warsaw Stock Exchange

After the collapse of the communist system in Poland, it was necessary to create a capital market infrastructure. The Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE) was set up in 1991. Seven brokerage houses took part in the first trading session, at which shares in five companies were traded. Investors submitted 112 buy and sell orders, while turnover totaled... $2,000. Today, the WSE is a fast-expanding market with 348 listed companies including 22 foreign ones. As of Dec. 13 this year the capitalization of the companies listed on the WSE was around zl.835 billion. The number of new flotations is high, showing how popular the Warsaw floor is. Seventy-seven companies debuted in Warsaw in less than a year, which was a record figure in the WSE's history.

In October 1994, the WSE became a member of the World Federation of Exchanges, an organization which brings together the world's most important stock markets. Since June 2004 the WSE has been a full member of the Federation of European Securities Exchanges. This year, the WSE successfully launched the NewConnect market, designed to fund the development of young companies with a high growth potential.

Mass Privatization Program

The Mass Privatization Program began in December 1994 and resulted in the transformation of 512 state enterprises, which represented 10 percent of national assets at that time, into commercial companies. Around 27 million adult Poles took part in the program. Its main objective was to provide access for the enterprises to larger markets, capital and the latest technology. Every eligible Pole could receive a Universal Share Certificate, which could be sold to any other person or organization or exchanged for shares in 15 National Investment Funds (NFI).

The NFI assets were managed by Polish and foreign consulting companies, commercial banks and consortia selected through tenders. The certificates, distributed from November 1995 to November 1996, were collected by 96 percent of the eligible Poles.

Redenomination of the Zloty

In 1995, the National Bank of Poland (NBP) started the redenomination of the zloty. This was necessary due to hyperinflation in the late 1980 and early 1990s. In 1987, the highest denominated banknotes were those worth zl.10,000. Six years later Poland had banknotes worth zl.2 million in circulation. The NBP decided to redenominate the zloty by cutting off four zeros, that is 10,000 old zlotys were redenominated into 1 new zloty. At that time the Voice cost zl.30,000. The first new Polish banknotes were printed in Britain in 1994. Until Dec. 31, 1996 old zloty banknotes and coins were exchanged for new ones in all banks, and shopping and service outlets throughout the country.

Poland Joins NATO

After years of diplomatic efforts, Poland, along with the Czech Republic and Hungary, joined NATO on March 12, 1999. The ceremony was attended by the three countries' foreign ministers and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a long-stranding supporter of expanding the alliance to include Central European countries freed from the Soviet yoke. NATO membership was greeted in Poland as the crowning of efforts to secure the country's lasting security through membership in the world's strongest military bloc. Since then, Polish soldiers have served in NATO missions around the world. In recent years, the mission to Afghanistan has proved the most demanding.

... and the European Union

At an international summit in Copenhagen, Prime Minister Leszek Miller Dec. 13, 2002 completed negotiations with the European Union on the conditions of Poland's entry into the European Union. He signed the Accession Treaty April 16, 2003 in Athens, along with Foreign Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz and the head of the Office of the Committee for European Integration, Danuta Hübner.

In a national referendum June 7-8, 2003 voters gave their backing for Poland's entry into the EU . Voter turnout was 58.85 percent. The result was clear: 77.45 percent of voters supported accession and only 22.55 percent were against.

Miller's government formally brought Poland into the EU May 1, 2004. Together with President Aleksander Kwa¶niewski, the prime minister took part in a Dublin ceremony marking the EU's biggest enlargement, which saw 10 new members, eight of them Central European countries, joining the bloc.

The first European Parliament elections in Poland were held June 13, 2004.

Michał Jeziorski
Witold Żygulski



Big Names in Arts and Culture

Film director Krzysztof Kie¶lowski, 1941-1996, among those who created the so-called cinema of moral unrest, which was considered the leading movement in Polish cinema in the 1970s and 1980s. He received the European Film Award, formerly known as the Felix, for his Short Film about Killing in 1988.

Wisława Szymborska, born in 1923, poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator of French literature into Polish. Szymborska won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996 and was the fourth Pole to win the world's leading literary award, after Henryk Sienkiewicz (1905), Władysław Reymont (1924), and poet Czesław Miłosz (1980).

Ryszard Kapu¶ciński, 1932-2007, reporter, journalist, poet, and photographer, was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in literature in 2005. Kapu¶ciński is internationally known for works such as The Emperor, Shah of Shahs, Ebony, and Imperium. After science fiction writer Stanisław Lem (1921-2006), Kapu¶ciński is Poland's most widely translated author.

Andrzej Wajda, born in 1926, is one of the creators of the so-called Polish film school, a postwar film movement. Wajda has been a leading figure in European cinema for decades. He was given an Oscar for lifetime achievement at the 2000 Academy Awards.

Roman Polanski, born in 1933, is another outstanding filmmaker from Poland. He has been working abroad for many years. Polanski won a Golden Palm in the Cannes Film Festival in the best film category and received an Oscar for directing The Pianist at the American Academy Awards in 2003.

Rafał Blechacz, born in 1985, won the Frederic Chopin International Piano Competition in 2005, the world's most important contest for young pianists, held in Warsaw every five years. The young Pole also received awards for best mazurka, polonaise, sonata and concerto performance. Blechacz is pursuing an international career, releasing albums with major European record labels.
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