Excerpt: Poland

Protagonists of a free eastern Europe


Even by East Bloc standards, communist Poland was
a poor, mainly agrarian country. In 1970 living conditions
were so bad that the Polish government had to
use force to quell the growing protest. Poland’s new
leader, Edward Gierek, tried to appease the population
by taking out loans in the West in order to improve the
country’s supply of consumer goods.


However, the weak Polish economy was barely able to
earn the interest on these loans. Goods like coal and
food were exported, bringing much needed foreign
exchange into the country. At the end of the 1980s
unrest and strikes broke out anew. Dock workers in
Gdansk (Danzig) founded the independent labour union
“Solidarnosc”. The government banned the organization
and imposed martial law, but by the spring of 1989 it
had no choice but to legalize “Solidarnosc” again. After
an election that was at least partially free, the first non-
Communist coalition government was formed in September
1989. The Polish labour union movement had
become the nail in the coffin of the communist system
throughout eastern Europe.




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