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The Warsaw Voice » Other » September 30, 2009
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Autumn of Nations
September 30, 2009   
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The radical political and economic changes that began in Poland with the collapse of communism in 1989 triggered democratic reforms across Central and Eastern Europe.

The Round Table talks

The Round Table talks between the government and the opposition, unprecedented in the history of the communist countries, began Feb. 6, 1989 and ended April 5. In all, 452 people took part in the sessions. The idea to hold talks between the communist authorities and the opposition had emerged a few years earlier, but the idea of the Round Table was first formulated on Aug. 31, 1988 during a meeting between the minister of internal affairs, Gen. Czesław Kiszczak, and Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa. The talks were to be held on condition that there would be a halt to the wave of strikes sweeping the country that were organized by Solidarity.

The negotiations were held among three main teams: for the economy and social policy, for political reform and for trade union pluralism. The ultimate results of the talks included changes to the Polish parliament: the formation of a Senate with 100 senators chosen in absolutely free elections (two senators from each province, three each in Warsaw and Katowice provinces), and elections to the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, in which 65 percent of the seats (299) were to be guaranteed for the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR, the communist party); its satellite parties, the United Peasants' Party (ZSL) and the Democratic Party (SD); and the procommunist Catholic organizations: the PAX Association, the Christian Social Union and the Polish Catholic Social Union. Thirty-five percent of the mandates (161 seats) could be contested by the opposition. The office of President of People's Poland was established, to be elected by the National Assembly to a six-year term. The law on associations was to be amended, allowing Solidarity to be registered.

The opposition was to be given access to the media, both audiovisual-programs on public television, TVP-and print. Tygodnik Solidarno¶ć weekly, which had been published in 1980-1981, was reactivated. Finally, the "Position on social and economic policy and system reforms" was adopted-though this gave few specifics regarding economic reform.

The June 4, 1989 elections

The 1989 elections marked the biggest flurry of political activity in Poland in two decades. The turnout in the first round on June 4 was 62 percent, a result that has not been repeated in any subsequent parliamentary, presidential or local government elections or any nationwide referendum. The elections were a huge success for Solidarity: just 40 percent of voters chose other candidates than those put forward by the Solidarity Civic Committee. Of 161 possible seats in the Sejm, Solidarity won 160 in the first round, as well as 92 seats in the 100-member Senate. The "national list," which was meant to assure Sejm seats for PZPR leaders, was virtually ignored, with two exceptions.

In the second round on June 18, which had government-backed candidates vying for 294 of the 295 unfilled Sejm seats, the voter turnout was much smaller, about 25 percent. The Solidarity Civic Committee won the final free seat in the Sejm contested by the opposition.

In the elections to the Senate, Solidarity won 99 seats out of 100 (92 in the first round, seven in the second). The only senator not linked to Solidarity was businessman Henryk Stokłosa.

On July 4, 1989, Mikołaj Kozakiewicz from the ZSL was elected speaker of the Sejm, and Andrzej Stelmachowski of the Citizens' Parliamentary Club (OKP) became Speaker of the Senate.

On July 19, 1989, the People's Poland National Assembly elected Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski (PZPR) president of People's Poland.

On Dec. 31, 1989, the Sejm passed legislation restoring "Republic of Poland" as the country's name with a crowned eagle as its emblem. This moment marked the end of the People's Republic of Poland and the start of the Third Republic of Poland.

The First Noncommunist Government

After an unsuccessful attempt by PZPR's Czesław Kiszczak to form a government, a government headed by Tadeusz Mazowiecki was appointed Aug. 24, 1989. It was the first noncommunist Cabinet in Poland and in any the countries that found themselves in the Soviet bloc in the aftermath of World War II. The government was approved by the Sejm and President Jaruzelski on Sept. 12.

This government included people from the democratic opposition as well as members of the PZPR and its satellite parties. The deputy prime ministers were Kiszczak, who was also Minister of Internal Affairs, Czesław Janicki from the ZSL, who was also Minister of Agriculture, Food Economy and Forestry, Jan Janowski from the SD, and economist Leszek Balcerowicz, who represented Solidarity and became the new Finance Minister. The PZPR retained the Ministry of Defense, headed by Gen. Florian Siwicki, the Ministry of Foreign Economic Cooperation, led by Marcin ¦więcicki and the Ministry of Transport, Navigation and Communication, headed by Franciszek Wiel±dek. The ZSL was given the ministries of Justice, Environmental Protection, and Health, and the SD got the Ministry of the Domestic Market. The other ministries were staffed by the former opposition and its leading representatives: Jacek Kuroń as the Minister of Labor and Social Policy, Jerzy Osiatyński as head of the Central Planning Office, Henryk Samsonowicz as the Minister of Education, Tadeusz Syryjczyk as the Minister of Industry and Witold Trzeciakowski as Minister-Chairman of the Economic Council. The Foreign Ministry was taken over by Prof. Krzysztof Skubiszewski, a politically unaffiliated lawyer who had the former opposition's recommendation. Journalist Małgorzata Niezabitowska was appointed the government's press spokesperson.

President Wałęsa

The first free presidential election in Poland took place in November 1990. Jaruzelski had resigned, after submitted a bill to the Sejm on Sept. 19 shortening his term and constitutionally establishing a general election for the office of president. Previously, presidents had been elected by the National Assembly.

There were six presidential candidates: Peasant Party representative Roman Bartoszcze; former communist Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz; Prime Minister Mazowiecki; Leszek Moczulski, who chaired the radical Confederation for an Independent Poland (KPN); the mysterious businessman Stanisław Tymiński, returning from emigration in Peru, and Lech Wałęsa. The first round caused a sensation: Mazowiecki was defeated by Tymiński, who addressed his campaign mainly to voters disillusioned with the changes since 1989. Voter turnout reached 60 percent. In the second round, with a slightly smaller turnout (about 53 percent), Wałęsa won more than 72 percent of the votes.

New Foreign Policy

The new internal political situation required a new foreign policy. In the initial period, the main focus was on border issues and creating a new framework for neighborly relations with Russia and Germany.

In the fall of 1990, Poland issued a memorandum to the Soviet Union calling for the immediate start of talks on withdrawing Soviet armed forces from Polish territory. Prime Minister Jan Krzysztof Bielecki held talks during a visit to Moscow in April 1991. The summer of 1991 marked the start of withdrawal of 40,000 soldiers of the Northern Group of the Soviet Armed Forces from Poland, where they had been stationed since the end of World War II. Meanwhile on July 1, 1991, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved. Subsequent stages of the withdrawal of Russian forces were preceded by intensive negotiations involving such matters as ownership of the military bases and environmental issues. The last Russian soldier left Poland in September 1993.

A historic meeting took place in November 1989 in Krzyżowa, Silesia, between Prime Minister Mazowiecki and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. During Mass, the two heads of government exchanged the symbolic sign of peace. A year later, on Nov. 14, 1990 Poland and Germany signed a treaty recognizing the border on the Oder and Neisse rivers. The treaty contained mutual pledges to respect sovereignty and territorial integrity and a statement that the two countries had no territorial claims against each other. It defined the foundations of cooperation between Poland and Germany in all major areas, created multi-level mechanisms of regular consultation, and regulated the issue of ethnic minorities in accordance with European standards set by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The agreement was preceded by the Two Plus Four conference on the reunification of Germany. This confirmed the provisions of the Zgorzelec Treaty signed between the People's Republic of Poland and East Germany in 1950, and the treaty between communist Poland and West Germany signed in 1970 in Warsaw, both of which concerned the inviolability of Poland's western border.

The Polish-German border treaty was signed in Warsaw by the respective foreign ministers, Krzysztof Skubiszewski and Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Poland ratified it on Nov. 26, 1991, and Germany on Dec. 16.
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