25 Years of Freedom: Key Facts and Dates
June 3, 2014
June 4, 1989—Poland’s first partially free parliamentary elections are held as a result of the Round Table talks, an unprecedented agreement between the communists and the democratic opposition. Under the agreement, 65 percent of the seats in the lower house are set aside for the communist Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) and its satellite parties: the United Peoples’ Party (ZSL) and the Democratic Party. The election to the newly reestablished Senate is fully democratic. The opposition, led by the Solidarity trade union, wins in a landslide and takes all the lower-house seats available to it along with 99 of 100 seats in the Senate.
July 19, 1989—Deputies and senators convene at a joint session to elect the president of Poland, an office restored under the Round Table agreement. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the man who imposed martial law in Poland Dec. 13, 1981, is elected by a majority of one vote.
Nov. 12, 1989—After the PZPR’s failed attempts at forming a government, the first noncommunist government emerges, with Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister. The defense and interior ministers hail from the communist party.
Jan. 1, 1990—The country’s official name is changed from the People’s Republic of Poland to the Republic of Poland, marking the end of the communist era.
Jan. 1, 1990—A set of reforms begins aiming to transform Poland from a centrally planned economy to a free-market economy. Devised by deputy prime minister and finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz, the reforms became known as the Balcerowicz Plan.
Sept. 19, 1990—Pressured by the public, President Wojciech Jaruzelski proposes for his term to be cut short and for the next president of Poland to be elected in a popular vote.
Nov. 25, 1990—The first round of presidential elections is held. Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa advances to the second round together with dark-horse contender Stanisław Tymiński, a Peru-based Polish businessman who nobody had heard of in Poland before the election campaign got under way. Incumbent Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki does not make it to the second round.
Dec. 9, 1990—Wałęsa beats Tymiński in the second round with 75 percent of the vote.
Dec. 22, 1990—Wałęsa is sworn into office. Ryszard Kaczorowski, the Polish president-in-exile, symbolically hands over power to Wałęsa.
Jan. 12, 1991—Jan Krzysztof Bielecki becomes the prime minister of a new government after Mazowiecki’s Cabinet resigns in the wake of the prime minister’s defeat in the presidential elections.
Jan. 29, 1991—The communist PZPR decides to disband. Some of the party’s members would later found the Polish Social Democratic Party (SdRP).
Oct. 27, 1991—The country’s first completely free parliamentary elections are held. The new deputies and senators hail from 29 parties, 11 of which win only one seat in parliament each. As a result of this fragmentation, no government is formed for almost two months.
Dec. 23, 1991—Jan Olszewski becomes the prime minister of a new right-wing government. From day one, Olszewski is conflicted with President Wałęsa.
June 4, 1992—Olszewski’s Cabinet collapses after a list of alleged communist security service informants leaks to the media. The list, compiled by Interior Minister Antoni Macierewicz, contains the names of 64 ministers, parliamentarians and other officials, including President Wałęsa.
July 10, 1992—A new center-right government is formed, with Hanna Suchocka as prime minister.
May 28, 1993—The Suchocka Cabinet collapses after a vote of no confidence is passed in the lower house by a majority of one vote. The president dissolves the parliament and calls an early election.
Sept. 19, 1993—A parliamentary election is held, with new rules in force: parties for the first time need to win at least 5 percent of the vote in order to get deputies into the lower house. Postcommunist parties win and a new government is formed, with Waldemar Pawlak, leader of the Polish People’s Party (PSL), as prime minister.
March 1, 1995—Pawlak fails to survive a parliamentary vote of no confidence. The lower house appoints a new government the following week and Józef Oleksy from the postcommunist Polish Social Democratic Party (SdRP) becomes prime minister.
Nov. 5, 1995—The first round of presidential elections is held. Lech Wałęsa runs for reelection and makes it to the second round along with SdRP leader Aleksander Kwa¶niewski.
Nov. 19, 1995—Kwa¶niewski achieves a sensational second-round victory, with 52 of the vote, against Wałęsa’s 48 percent.
Feb. 7, 1996—A new left-wing government is formed, with Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz as prime minister, after Oleksy is forced to resign following accusations of spying for Russia. The allegations are never proven to be true.
Nov. 22, 1996—Poland becomes a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
April 2, 1997—A new constitution is adopted at a joint session of the lower house and the Senate.
May 25, 1997—Citizens approve the constitution in a referendum.
Sept. 21, 1997—Parliamentary elections. A coalition comprising the right-wing Solidarity Election Action (AWS) and the economically liberal Freedom Union (UW) takes power.
Oct. 31, 1997—Jerzy Buzek becomes prime minister.
March 12, 1999—Poland joins NATO.
April 15, 1999—The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) is established by members of the postcommunist Polish Social Democratic Party (SdRP). Before long the SLD becomes the dominant left-wing party in Poland.
Oct. 8, 2000—Incumbent President Aleksander Kwa¶niewski wins 54 percent of the vote in the first round of a presidential election and is reelected for a second term.
Sept. 23, 2001—The coalition of AWS and the UW suffers a crushing defeat in the elections and is left out of parliament. A left-wing coalition of the SLD and the Labor Union (UP) wins, with 41 percent of the vote.
Oct. 19, 2001—The SLD and the UP form a coalition government with the Polish People’s Party (PSL), and Leszek Miller becomes prime minister. The PSL is later ejected from the coalition, but the now minority Cabinet remains in office until the end of the parliamentary term.
June 7-8, 2003—Poles vote to join the EU in a nationwide referendum.
May 1, 2004—Poland joins the EU alongside nine other countries in the largest single enlargement in the bloc’s history.
May 2, 2004—Marek Belka becomes the new left-wing prime minister, replacing Leszek Miller.
June 13, 2004—Poland for the first time elects deputies to the European Parliament. The liberal Civic Platform (PO) party wins the election. In all, eight Polish parties secure seats in the European Parliament.
Sept. 25, 2005—The right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party wins parliamentary elections with 27 percent of the vote, while left-wingers have to settle for 11 percent, their worst showing in 16 years.
Oct. 9, 2005—Donald Tusk from the Civic Platform (PO) party and Lech Kaczyński from PiS win most votes in the first round of presidential elections. The constitution prevents outgoing President Aleksander Kwa¶niewski from running for a third term.
Oct. 23, 2005—Kaczyński defeats Tusk in the second round, at 54 vs. 46 percent of the vote, and becomes president.
Oct. 31, 2005—Following failed coalition negotiations with the PO, PiS forms a minority government, with Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz as prime minister.
May 5, 2006—PiS forms a government coalition with the radical Samoobrona (Self-Defense) and the far-right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR) party. The two parties’ leaders, Andrzej Lepper and Roman Giertych, become deputy prime ministers in the new government.
July 14, 2006—Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz is unexpectedly dismissed and replaced by PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, the twin brother of President Lech Kaczyński.
Sept. 7, 2007—The government coalition falls apart, parliament decides to dissolve itself, and the president calls an early election.
Oct. 21, 2007—The PO wins the early election with 42 percent of the vote, while PiS garners 32 percent. The Samoobrona and LPR parties fail to make the voter support threshold and vanish from parliament.
Nov. 16, 2007—The PO forms a coalition government with the PSL and Donald Tusk becomes prime minister.
April 10, 2010—A Polish government plane crashes near Smolensk, western Russia, en route to the 70th anniversary commemorations of the Katyn Massacre—the murder of over 10,000 Polish officers by the Soviet secret police in the spring of 1940. All 96 on board the plane are killed, including President Lech Kaczyński and his wife as well as government officials, high-ranking military officers and other public figures.
June 20, 2010—The first round of an early presidential election is held in the wake of the President Kaczyński’s death. The PO’s Bronisław Komorowski, the lower house speaker and acting president, advances to the second round alongside PiS’s Jarosław Kaczyński.
July 4, 2010—Komorowski wins the second round with 53 percent of the vote vs. Kaczyński’s 47 percent.
Oct. 9, 2010—The PO wins a parliamentary election with 39 percent of the vote and becomes the first Polish party since the fall of communism in 1989 to win two parliamentary elections in a row. The opposition PiS party comes in second with 30 percent of the vote. The coalition Cabinet of Donald Tusk remains in office for a second term.