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1. Poland in 1989

In 1989 in Poland took place a peaceful transfer of power, given by the communist government to the opposition, representing the striving for democracy and independence. This was possible thanks to the awareness by the communist authorities of the collapse of economic policies and the inability to continue exercising power with an increasing opposition from the people. The ground for these changes was prepared by the government talks with repre-sentatives of the Solidarity Trade Union, which took place from Sep-tember 16, 1988 in the conference center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Magdalenka. On the photo: unofficial talks of the oppositionists Lech Walesa (links) and Adam Michnik (center) with representant of the government general Czeslaw Kiszczak (right). Like “Polish man with Polish man”…

According to the findings of these discussions the Round Table was organized, at which sat representatives of the government, opposition and catholic Church. The term “Round Table” originates in the specific shape of that furniture that symbolizes the unity of the nation and the lack of distinction between the “we” and “them” (as the table had no opposite sides).

The Round Table talks 

 The Round Table 

The “Round Table” talks began on February 6 and ended on April 5. Its result was acceptance by communists the changes demo-cratizing the different fields of socio-political life. In the latter regard it was decided to hold elections to the Sejm (the lower house of the parliament) and the Senate (the newly restored higher house), ensuring, however, the communists should get 65% of the seats (claimed seats, there were only 35% free seats) in the lower house. Therefore, parliament was called “contracted”. The elections were held on June 4 (the first round, second occurred June 18) and all 35% of the free seats went to the opposition, and in restored Senate – as many as 99 seats out of 100. Since then June 4 1989 is therefore regarded by some as the symbolic date of the collapse of communism in Poland, what was triumphantly announced on television by actress Joanna Szczepkowska. In the picture: a famous poster encouraging for voting.

Other important dates that affected the final collapse of communism are:

August 24 – a mission of creating government was given to Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who became then the first non-communist prime minister after World War II.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki becomes the first non-communist prime ministry after WW II

 – December 28 – the adoption by the parliament so called Balcerowicz Plan, a package of laws amending the country’s economic system.

 – December 29 – changing by the parliament the name of the state which became the Republic of Poland on December 31, 1989, and replacing the term “socialist state” with “democratic state”; since then, the Polish state is defined as the III Rzeczpospolita.

In the article below: the year 1989 in the assessment of the journalist and columnist Stephen Bratkowski, a participant in the Round Table talks. There are excerpts of the article: “There is no one saying that no one spoke”.

“I think the year 1989 deserves its great historical myth. What has happened, the history still did not know: the transition from the totalitarian system and vassal to democracy and sovereignty – a preliminary peace agreement and only through continued wise steps, posed not by the day. This action violated the global status quo in relations between the two great camps, changed structure and alliances, brought sove-reignity to the nation, and all that – without war, without firing a shot”.This change was not preceded by a long process of gradual suppression of the conflict. On the contrary, the change was preceded by a desperate attempt to divert the course of the history by introduction of the martial law [1981], but – on the other side – the change was prepared by a tenacious resistance of the society, which thanks to the social movement Solidarity and the associations of elite opinion-makers have created their own representation, the operator able to conclude an agreement (with the invaluable mediation of the Church). It must be appreciated that the ruling class, which had all the elements of power – the secret police, army, administration and economic apparatus, had decided to recognize the choice of most of the nation of June 4, 1989 elections. Having Big Brother behind (true, cast in favor), peacefully, without jerking, but without enthusiasm – gave the power to democracy forces. (…) Loyalty of the generals to the new government ensured peace in the country by 1/5 of the nation, or the former ruling class, and the quick stabilization after a coup in Poland contributed decisively to the collapse of others people’s democracies and transformations in the former Soviet camp.”

The year 1989 laid the legal basis for the dismantling of the fundamental pillars of socialism: central control of the economy (non-market and dominated by public sector), the leading role of the Marxist-Leninist Party and “socialist internationalism” in foreign policy, a political alliance of people’s democracies under control of the Soviet Union. Dismantling this had to be gradual in the later years, and one of its major elements was “Balcerowicz Plan” – a plan drawn up by Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, who assumed major overhaul of all areas of the economy.


  • average salary: 107 000 zl
  • value of the dolar (in kantors): 2900 – 3000 zl

2. Poland after 1989 – major facts

November 25 / December 9, 1990 – the first independent presidential and general elections, won by Lech Walesa.

December 22, 1990 – swearing of the new president Lech Walesa (on the photo below); the last president of Poland (in exile) Ryszard Kaczorowski gives Walesa the insignia of state power.

Swearing of the new president Lech Walesa

October 27, 1991 – the first fully free parliamentary elections after World War II.

April 9, 1991 – September 17, 1993 – the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland after their 48-year stay. (Note the symbolic date September 17, when last Russian soldiers left Polish territory after a farewell ceremony with president Walesa – 54 years earlier, on September 17, 1939 Soviet Union occupied eastern territiories of Second Republic.)


Farewell ceremony of Soviet troops in the garrison Świętoszów

April 2, 1997 – enactment of the Polish Constitution, which states that the Polish political system is based on the separation and balance between the legislative (Sejm and Senate), executive (President of the Republic and the Council of Ministers) and judiciary (courts and tribunals), and the base economic system is a market economy based on economic freedom and private property

March 12, 1999 – adoption of Polish membership of NATO.

June 7-8, 2003 – a referendum on the Polish accession to the European Union:

  • frekwencja: 58.85%
  • za: 77.45%
  • przeciw: 22.55%



July 23, 2003, President Aleksander Kwasniewski signes the ratification document for the Polish accession to the European Union

May 1, 2004 – Polish accession to the European Union.

Worth to see:

 Polish history in the short animation, created by Tomasz Bagiński, 2010

Changes of the territory of Poland – created by Emil Markiewicz (the presentation has a few small inaccuracies)

 3. 1989 / 1990 in Europe

What happened in Warsaw (and started in Gdansk) in 1989 was like a holy spark which brought hope back into the hearts of the people in all Europe. That hope brought soon “Middle Europe” back on the maps. Here follows a summary of what happened in other European countries.

Prague: February 1989
Vaclav Havel is condemned up to nine months of prison sentence. The repression in Czechoslovakia is intensified.

Budapest: February 1989
The Magyars followed the Polish example. The communist party pronounces itself for a multiform political scheme. Free organizations are permitted. In May the start of the demolishing the “iron curtain” along EU-borders with Austria. This is the beginning of the end of that curtain. The official protests from Berlin (Eastern Germany) and Prague (Czechoslovakia) are sharp. See
: documentairy.

Dismantling of the Hungarian-Austrian border barrier

Budapest: September 1989
In September Hungary opens the border to Austria, for Eastern German (DDR) refugees. An enormous flow of refugees starts, mainly to Western Germany. The rail transport in the whole West Europe gets, in 24 hours, a complete new time table.

Berlin: October 1989
The Russian president Michael Gorbatchov visites Eastern Berlin and tells the rulers there: delaying the reforms will endup fatally. But the Eastern Germany premier Erich Honecker does not believe him and orders the police force in several cities to beat up demonstrants.

 Berlijn, October 7, 1989; celebration of the 40 anniversary of the GDR

Brussels: October 1989
EU-ambassades, especially the West-German ones, are over flooded with refugees. Particularly in Prague and Warsaw it leads to very unbearable situations. The EU-commission (The EU-government) shows then, a happy surprise to everybody in the EU, clearly its power. EU trains drive the “new citizens” straight through (then still) communist countries into the EU member states.

October – Eastern Germany
On October 9, 1989 a heavy armed police force/army stands in front of enormous group of demonstrators in Leipzig. A disaster threatens, but the secretary of the local party prohibits the violence. Few days later Honecker is replaced by Egon Krenz. He flies to Moscow to ask for support for reforms, but it is too late. From all over Europe people have been drawn to the wall in Berlin. On November 4 there is already largely a million more visitors than West Berlin had inhabitants and they kept coming.

Berlin, session of the People’s Chamber, the chairman Egon Krenz

Berlin: November 9, 1989
The incredible happens! The wall (the iron curtain) opens: Deutschland is again one country. In Western Europe the young older generations (influents by the sixties) were going mad. “The fruits of the 60-ties are here!” was the slogan and, when the older generation warned “who is going to pay the bill?”, the answer was: “We, Europe lives finally!”. The part “Western” was gone.

 Berlin Wall, December 1989, people awaiting the opening of the wall

Prague: November 17, 1989
Beginning of the velvet revolution. In December Husak swears in a not-communist government, where-upon he, the president, is dismissed. Alexander Dubček who tried, in 1986, to save “socialism with a human face”, became the chairman of the new parliament. Vaclav Havel became president. How big is a small nation that commits velvet revolution and then, after all, elects a poet as a president?

Vaclav Havel during the Velvet Revolution, Prague, November 1989

Sophia: December 1989
Hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians are taking part in the demonstrations for more democracy.

Bucharest: December 21-25
Ceausescu reacts with massacres on the demonstrations, but during a speech from his balcony he is shocked to be booed and on Christmas Day he and his wife are executed.

Successful revolutionaries, Bucharest, the end of December 1989

Vilnius: December
Gorbachev flies to the Baltic States to pursue them from claiming their independence. He is not successful. The ghosts are out of the bottles! Hand in hand the Baltic people formed a human chain from the Baltic sea – the border with EU (Finland) to the EU-border in the south (with Poland). Singing:
let me in. The Soviet imperium started to fall in pieces after that time. Turkey, Belorussia, Ukraine and a few Caucasian states like Georgia asked for a membership or association with the EU.

Baltic Chain in Lithuania stretching to the Latvian border 1989

The EU-commission was afraid to overstress the EU on one hand, on the other hand a blunt no wasn’t right they thought. So, like they did for every state that wanted to join, they formulated the rules that had to be meet. Free press, free financial markets, no laws in conflict with EU-laws, free markets, guaranties to the human rights, and last not least, no discrimination, so a democratic parliament that asks for a membership and guaranteed respect to the EU institutions, etc. Except for Turkey (some moments) that states fell silent. Nevertheless all this started the discussion: “what are the cultural borders of Europe”? The Dutch have an easy answer for that. The borders in Europe are the Polair sea, the Atlantic ocean, the Mediterranean Sea. To the east it is less clear. But today the peoples definition of the cultural border in the east is: Europe is the area’s where cathedrals are dominant on the horizon and where there is a strict separation between Church and state. Not a bad result for a difficult public discussion.

Bonn: March 1990
The BRD proposes talks on a monetary union with East Germany, that is decisive. In the first free elections in the GDR in March, the CDU, with the D-mark, is the big winner. The East German Lothar de Mazier (CDU) forms a coalition government which (under Article 23 of the constitution of West Germany) asks for reunification. So on July 1, the German mark became also the currency in East Germany, but the problem of a full reunification remained. To arrange the status of a ‘new’ Germany a 2 plus 4 formula was devised. The 2 for Germany (East and West), the 4 for the big occupiers (United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union). The key question is whether a united Germany as a whole, not partial, will be a member of NATO (U.S. pre-condition). On the picture: the “united” mark

Moscow: July 1990
Half July brings the West Germany Minister of Foreign Affairs Han-Dietrich Genscher and the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to Moscow to meet the president of the Soviet-Union Mikhail Gorbachev. The Germans confirm that the German-Polish border will be accepted by Germany (pre-condition by USA, EU and Soviet Union). During a visit to the Dasja of Gorbatchov in the Caucasus they promised on behalf of the EU also financial aid from the EU for the retreating of the Russian troops. Gorbatshov, facing a serious crisis in his country, endorses NATO membership for the whole Germany.

Berlin, October 3
On October 3, 1990 the German reunification takes place formally.

Berlin, Reichstag, October 3, 1990

 The Baltics: January 1991
The year 1991 begins with the so called bloody Sunday in Vilnius. Soviet troops cruelly act against Lithuanian citizens protecting (with their bodies) a TV station.15 civilians are killed. After that accident the collapse of the Soviet Union accelerates. At the end of February desolves the Warsaw-pact itself. Boris Yeltsin becomes the president of Russia (not of the dying Soviet Union!). More and more Soviet countries want to secede. In August the Red Army in Moscow carries out a coup but fails in it. Thanks to internet the army was not able to control the flow of information (and the civil communication). Photo left: Russian tanks on the streets of Vilnius.

Photo: Yanayev down in Moscow, August 18-21, 1991

Moscow: December 25, 1991
Gorbachev resigns as president of the Soviet Union, it is the end of that union. People in the streets of EU states are happy singing into a New Year. (Frodo lives!)

Black pages

Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia): June 27, 1991
While all of Europe was watching to the “East” it payed less attention to the “South”. Unexpectedly the Serbian-Yugoslavian army marched into Slovenia and Croatia. Today there are horible stories known of what happened in that time. On the island of Brioni, and later, the juridical texts in The Hague, a peace arrangement was writen, but the EU did not want to enforce it upon the Yugoslavian states. After that a very cruel civil war started in the former republic of Yugoslavia.

 Juli 1991. Tanks of the Yugoslav People’s Army in Slovenia when it left the federation.

This time financial help and other help to the transition did not work. The EU failed. All states had their armies on alert facing East (the Soviet Union was very instable) and no one was willing to send, in that time, some of them to the South. A complicator was Russia, that supported Serbia. Only when the cruelties in Yugoslavia (means south-Slavia) reached the daily papers, military reactions started (in the beginning: too late, too slow, too small). The West wanted and dared, at that time, not to send troops to enforce that peace also. (Russia is too unstable), so the danger of having to fight on two fronts was to great Thus, the Balkans (again) created a big problem in Europe.

 Renata Głuszek / Han Tiggelaar

fotos: Vikipedia Commons, public domain,, DPA / Forum,, Renata Głuszek

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