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Daria Czarnecka

Overthrow of Zhivkov's government on November 10, 1989

21 August 2015
Tags
  • 1989
  • fall of communism

Todor Zhivkov was a communist autocrat. He attempted to keep close diplomatic relations with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics when he became the First Secretary of the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1954, the Prime Minister (after destroying the opposition within the party) in 1962, and, finally, the Chairman of the Council of State in the years 1971 to 1989.

A plot by party activists and military commanders to organise a coup and move in a pro-Chinese direction was detected and thwarted thanks to Zhivkov's efforts. Zhivkov was also the author of the proposal submitted to Nikita Khrushchev in the mid-sixties to include Bulgaria in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Zhivkov's policy, high mobility of special forces, and comprehensive surveillance of society prevented any opposition in Bulgaria. Actually, movements supporting perestroika and glasnost, focused on human rights, not the opposition in the strict sense, were the main challenge of the Bulgarian government in the years 1987 to 1988. Their activity was inspired by the western standards of "green politics", and paid much attention to ecology, in addition to democratic slogans. The independent trade union "Podkriepa" (the equivalent of Polish "Solidarity") was founded as late as on 24 February 1989. The Turkish minority had the most destabilizing effect on the situation in the country.

In May 1989, the Turks living in Bulgaria began peaceful demonstrations against the policy of forced Bulgarisation introduced by Zhivkov. These quiet protests resulted in hysterical and brutal response of the government. Troops supported by tanks were sent against the demonstrators, and approx. 30 people died in the clashes. To contain the situation, the Bulgarian authorities allowed the Turks to emigrate. This led mass exodus - approx. 300 thousand people had left Bulgaria by August 1989. Further repressions by the government involved arresting the signatories of the "Letter of 121 intellectuals" (a protest against the anti-Turkish actions), and so the decree on "the mobilization of civilians in time of peace" was introduced.

The turning point for Todor Zhivkov was the CSCE International Ecology Conference "Ekoforum" which took place in Sofia between 21 October and 3 November of 1989. During the meeting, the Bulgarian environmentalists organized rallies where political slogans were also expressed. Despite initial resistance, the government had to capitulate. On 3 November 1989, the first legal demonstration was organized by the newly formed Bulgarian section of the Helsinki Committee. Eight thousand people participated in the event.

Nonetheless, the fall of Zhivkov did not entail changes in social mentality. It turned out that the party reformers and Gorbachev, who - despite public assurances of friendship - much disliked the Bulgarian autocrat, were Zhivkov’s biggest enemies. A new government was established as a result of a skilful coup led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Petar Mladenov. According to the official version, Todor Zhivkov resigned. Mladenov's team made Zhivkov and his associates fully responsible for social unrest and the crisis. Then, as a result of escalating demonstrations, Mladenov's government sat down for talks at the Round Table.

by Daria Czarnecka

Bibliography:
Axelrod A., Philips Ch., Władcy, tyrani, dyktatorzy. Leksykon, Warsaw 2000.
http://www.omda.bg/bulg/news/party/BKP.html [access: 3.11.2014]

 

 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Aleksandra Krzemień

The fall of the Berlin Wall

21 August 2015
Tags
  • 1989
  • East Germany
  • GDR
  • fall of communism
  • Berlin Wall
  • West Germany

After the Second World War, as a result of the policy adopted by the Great Powers, Germany was divided into two states. 
The western part was occupied by the Allies, while the eastern part found itself under the influence of the Soviet Union. Berlin, as the capital city of the Third Reich, was also eventually divided into the various spheres of influence of the victorious states.

The authorities of East Germany, failing to deal adequately with the wave of migration heading for the western part of the country, decided to curtail this unwelcome phenomenon by building a wall. It is estimated that in the period 1949–1961 around 2.6 million people left East Germany. In 1961 the authorities of East Germany began to implement a carefully guarded plan to build a wall. Later this wall came to function as a symbol of a divided Europe.

After many years of separation, 1989 finally saw the opportunity to overthrow the previous order and restore a normal state. In the summer of 1989 huge numbers of East German citizens began to seek refuge in West German embassies throughout the Eastern Bloc, with the intention of obtaining permits to travel to the western part of their divided country. This upheaval of the population and the general international atmosphere brought changes to the authorities of East Germany, beginning when Honecker lost power in November. Egon Krenz became the leader of the state; however, despite the intention to mitigate the situation, the country was hit by a wave of protests and he failed to weaken the impact of the events. On 4 November, at Alexanderplatz in Berlin, a manifestation initiated by the Berliner Ensemble group was joined by half a million people. They demanded freedom of choice and opinion, depriving the Socialist Unity Party of its leading position, dismissal of the Government, and permission for opposition activities.

On 6 November the mass escapes hit the news, which became possible because on 1 November East Germany allowed non-visa travel to Czechoslovakia, and on 3 November it agreed to open the border between Czechoslovakia and West Germany for East German citizens. On the weekend of 3 to 5 November over 10 thousand East German citizens, using various methods, travelled through Czechoslovakia to West Germany. The news spread through the media like wildfire: everyone was talking about “the symbolic fall of the Wall.”

While the events of 3 November were unprecedented, what was about to happen six days later would made 9 November a breakthrough point in the history of the world. The opening of the border between East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and later between Czechoslovakia and West Germany, was a road of no return. The border between East and West Germany was not meant to last much longer.
On 6 November the Council of Ministers published a draft act on travel abroad for a period of thirty days a year. However, the procedure for issuing the travel permit was so lengthy that it instigated a wave of protests. On the following day the Law Committee of the People’s Chamber turned down the draft and demanded the visa obligation be abolished for business and private trips.

On 7 November Stoph’s Government resigned, and a meeting of the Central Committee was summoned. During the meeting various topics were discussed, but on 9 November Egon Kranz put an end to the pointless discussions and insisted on addressing the issue of departures. Willi Stoph, as the current Chairman of the Council of Ministers, suggested that a provisional regulation should be immediately introduced concerning travel and permanent departures abroad from East Germany. Applications could be submitted without stating a specific reason for the departure.

A press release was planned for 10 November, yet on the same day Schabowski, who was in charge of the media and absent from the conference and hence not familiar with the exact arrangements, began to read long passages from the regulation during a press conference. In response to questions regarding the document, he stated that the regulation came into force immediately. He replied to the question whether this also concerned Berlin using a quotation from the document, “Permanent departures can take place at all border crossing in East and West Germany.”

After the conference, press agencies reported Schabowski’s statement regarding the opening of the borders.
None of the leaders of the Socialist Unity Party managed to foresee what was about to take place on the night of 9-10 November in Berlin. East Berliners arrived at the border crossings in numbers far higher than expected by the border army.

Initially some attempts were made to stop the crowds, but at 9 p.m. the Chief Department of the 4th Ministry of National Security ordered the stamping of identity cards of those people going to West Berlin. While this meant that they would be deprived of their citizenship, this did not seem to matter anymore. Finally the stamping was abandoned and thousands of people crossed the border of the divided city without any control. People around the country began to enthuse about this freedom regained after decades of oppression.

by Aleksandra Krzemień

 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Katarzyna Ścierańska

The Hungarian Revolution 1956

21 August 2015
Tags
  • Hungarian Revolution
  • 1956
  • communism
  • Eastern Bloc

The Hungarian Revolution, a nationwide uprising against the Soviet ruled communist system and the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic, broke out on 23 October 1956. The revolt lasted until 10 November and, despite its failure, is considered one of the most significant and tragic events in post-war Hungarian history and was the first crack in the Iron Curtain that divided the World into two hostile camps.

After 1945, Hungary was occupied by the Soviet Army and the country fell under Soviet in-fluence. Having destroyed all political opposition, the communists took power and established a new government, totally subject to the Kremlin. In 1949 Hungary became the People's Re-public of Hungary, with Mátyás Rákosi, 'Stalin's best pupil', as its authoritarian leader. A time of cruel political repression and economic and cultural decline of the country then began. Dur-ing the next few years, thousands of Hungarians were arrested, tried, executed or deported to Russia. Severe subjugation touched the education system and the Catholic Church. The hardline politics of the Hungarian government were thoroughly approved by Joseph Stalin. His death, on 5 March 1953, was a signal for change in the policies of communist regimes. In July 1953, Rákosi was replaced as Prime Minister by the reformist Imre Nagy. He gained popular consent, though the Kremlin distrusted him. Despite his removal from office, howev-er, it was far too late to contain the changes that had begun. After Khrushchev’s famous 'se-cret speech' of February 1956, in which he attacked the period under Stalin's rule, frustration with Soviet domination was primarily expressed by the Poles. In June 1956, the demonstra-tion of steelworkers in Poznan was roughly put down by the government. However, in Octo-ber 1956, the reverberation of these events in Poznan inspired a period of change and mod-erate liberalisation, known as the "October thaw". The Polish experience encouraged many Hungarians to hope for similar concessions for Hungary.

The revolt began in Budapest as a peaceful demonstration of students. On the afternoon of 23 October 1956, a crowd of approximately 20,000 young people gathered by the statue of Józef Bem, a Hungarian-Polish hero of the 1848 Revolution. A list of sixteen demands which included a declaration of independence, the demand for the withdrawal of Soviet troops and that Hungary join the United Nations was prepared and read out. By the evening, the manifestation numbered more than 200,000 participants. Rejected by First Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party Ernő Gerő, who expressly condemned the manifestation, the angered protesters decided to topple a 30-foot-high bronze statue of Stalin. The crowd surrounded the headquarters of the state radio station, hoping to broadcast their demands to the nation. At this time, the first shots were fired and the Hungarian revolution began.

At Ernő Gerő’s request, Soviet troops began arriving in Budapest and for the next few days fighting raged between the groups of poorly-armed young people and the forces of the Soviet army alongside the ÁVH, the State Security Police. On 24 October, Imre Nagy was selected as Prime Minister to satisfy the Hungarian protestors’ demands and to placate them with limited concessions. Nagy called for an end to the violence and promised reforms.

The spread of the uprising within Budapest and other areas of Hungary and the attacks at the Parliament caused the collapse of the government –Ernő Gerő fled to Moscow, Imre Nagy became Prime Minister and János Kádár First Secretary of the Communist Party. Fighting lasted for five days, culminating in the expulsion of the Soviet forces from Budapest on 28 October. On that day, Imre Nagy announced an unconditional general ceasefire and amnesty, as well as the end of the single-party system in Hungary. On 1 November, Nagy formally declared Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. The fighting slowly ceased, as the rebels waited for aid and support from the West, believing that Hungary was finally gaining independence. The happiness and hope didn’t last long – on the morning of 4 November, Soviet tanks entered the capital, beginning the ‘Operation Whirlwind’ intervention led by Marshal Ivan Konev. The insurgents put up disorganised yet formidable resistance that lasted until 11 November, when the forces of the Hungarian Army finally capitulated to the Soviets. Total casualties among the insurgents amounted to at least 2,500 killed and 20,000 wounded. In Budapest, 1,569 civilians were killed. The Soviets lost 699 soldiers and 1,450 men were wounded.

In the aftermath of the revolution, thousands of Hungarians were crushed by waves of severe repression. Many of them were arrested, brought before the courts, sentenced and executed. Approximately 200,000 fled Hungary as refugees. Imre Nagy, who had taken shelter in the Yugoslavian embassy in Budapest, was arrested, sent to Romania and executed in 1958. János Kádár was appointed the new Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Workers’-Peasants’ Government and General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party.

Despite the fact that the revolt was crushed, its consequences were long-lasting and significant for further decades – the Hungarian revolution proved that the Cold War was in deadlock and the Iron Curtain was about to fall. The Republic of Hungary was declared on the 33rd anniversary of the Revolution. 23 October is now celebrated as a national holiday in Hungary.

author: Katarzyna Ścierańska

Andrzej Włusek

Cuban Missile Crisis

21 August 2015
Tags
  • communism
  • 1962
  • Cuban Missile Crisis

ln the 1960s the leader of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, ordered the installation of missiles with the potential of carrying nuclear warheads in Cuba. This changed the relations between the US and Cuba, which became part of the direct confrontation between the two superpowers – the USSR and the US.

Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in 1959, and from that moment he wanted to break away from economic dependence on the United States. In order to achieve this, he signed a trade treaty with the USSR, and began buying Russian oil and weapons. He also decided to nationalize the entire petroleum industry, which had previously been controlled by the Americans and the British.

The effects of this policy were seen quickly, with Washington immediately announcing a commercial boycott of the island and broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba. The United States also began to seek ways to overthrow Fidel Castro. This was to be done by the use of batistianos, supporters of Fulgencio Batista, overthrown by Castro, trained from the spring of 1960 in camps organized by the CIA. The operation was already being prepared while Eisenhower was president, although it was the new president of the United States, Kennedy, who agreed to execute the mission.

“Operation Pluto” began on April 15 and ended in a fiasco. The Cuban authorities quickly and decidedly suppressed the operation and defeated all opposition on the island. At the end of 1961 Castro announced that he was a Marxist, which explicitly indicated his hostility towards the United States, giving the Soviet Union a foothold in Latin America and bases located only 160 km from the United States. Khrushchev chose to take advantage of the situation without delay, and began operation “Anadyr”, aimed at the deployment of missiles armed with nuclear warheads in Cuba. In addition, it was planned to station dozens of aircraft and 51,000 Soviet soldiers there.

The presence of Russian weapons in Cuba was discovered by the Americans in October 1962. Even if Castro intended to arm Cuba against potential military intervention of the US, Khrushchev had sent him weapons for a totally different purpose. As a result, the countries of the Organization of American States authorized the United States to deploy forces that might oppose the Soviet warships.

On October 22, President Kennedy publicly announced the plan to blockade Cuba. 180 warships patrolled the waters around the island, and invasion troops were prepared in Florida. Diplomatic overtures began, and on October 25 a Soviet agent used an unofficial channel to make a proposal indicating that the Soviet Union was interested in ending the conflict and withdrawing their missiles in exchange for a promise that Washington would not attack Cuba, either then or in the future. The White House found this difficult to believe because the behaviour of the Soviet embassy staff suggested an evacuation, as if an armed conflict was about to begin. On October 26, a letter was delivered from Khrushchev confirming the proposals, and on October 27 another message was sent in which he offered to withdraw the missiles from Cuba in exchange for withdrawal of American missiles from Turkey.

Finally, it was decided that, in exchange for the dismantling and removal of the Soviet missiles, the Americans would abandon the blockade and ensure that in the future the island would not become a target of invasion. Kennedy also agreed to the request of the Soviet Union regarding the withdrawal of American missiles from Turkey. By November 2 the Soviet missiles were removed from the island, and the blockade was lifted on November 20. By the end of April 1963, the United States withdrew its missiles from Turkey, and a crisis that could have led to a war between the two superpowers was resolved.

As a result both sides came to an agreement regarding rapid communication in similar situations in the future. On the other hand, this event provoked the initiation of an arms race. Without a foothold in Cuba, the Soviet Union had to start an intercontinental ballistic missile program, which prompted the United States to adopt the same concept. The end of the Cuban missile crisis reduced the risk of war while in the long term inspiring the continued development of the military potential.

 

Andrzej Włusek

 

Bibliography:

Peter Calvocoressi: World Politics, 1945-2000. Warsaw 2002

Krzysztof Michałek: Amerykańskie stulecie. Historia Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki 1900-2001. Warsaw 2004

 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Andrzej Włusek

Soviet invasion of Poland 1939

21 August 2015
Tags
  • Stalin
  • Second World War
  • 1939
  • Hitler
  • Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

On 17 September 1939, about 1 million troops of the Belarusian and Ukrainian Fronts of the Red Army crossed the eastern borders of Poland, thus violating the non-aggression pact of 1939. The Soviet invasion of Poland began.

On 25 July 1932, Poland and the USSR concluded a non-aggression pact in Moscow, which was meant to last until 1945. Since then, Polish foreign strategy was to lead a policy of balance, therefore not to make alliances with any of the two big powers: neither Germany, nor the USSR. The Polish foreign minister, Józef Beck, did not believe that Joseph Stalin would get politically closer to Adolf Hitler. One of his closest associates said that Beck believed that the dispute between Germany and the Soviet Union would last forever. In that situation, the Hitler-Stalin agreement of 1939 was almost completely unexpected, with the Soviet aggression of 17 September 1939 taking the Polish authorities, military and members of society by surprise. This was of such a scale that many people and soldiers were under the illusion that the Red Army was coming to their aid.

Soviet propaganda played a significant role in creating such an illusion, and it was even the more effective because the Soviet aggression occurred during a period of already significant fatigue and despair resulting from the German offensive.

The invaders continued to repeat that they came to help, and cries "Beat the Germans" were heard everywhere. The propaganda fulfilled its purpose to such an extent that in some places the Soviets were greeted with flowers and cries of joy. During the same period, Molotov summoned the Polish ambassador in Moscow and told him that "as the Republic of Poland had ceased to exist" measures had been taken to protect the residents of western Belarus and Ukraine.

In this situation, the general staff decided not to fight and instead to negotiate with the Soviets in order to reach Hungary and Romania. However, some units such as the troops of the Border Protection Corps, continued to fight. The directive was intended to minimise the number of soldiers being taken as prisoners and thus to create the possibility of remobilizing them outside the country.

Unfortunately, these attempts were largely unsuccessful. General Władyslaw Anders, commanding the Nowogrodzka Cavalry Brigade as they fought Soviet troops near the village of Władypol, on 27 September began a march towards the Hungarian border. A group of Border Protection Corp troops from the Polesie area, commanded by General Wilhelm Orlik-Rückemann, fought dozens of skirmishes and two major battles. At Szack it crushed the 52nd Rifle Division of the Red Army, and then disbanded following the battle of Wytyczno on 1 October.

Following the Soviet aggression, according to various sources between 200,000 and 250,000 Polish soldiers were taken prisoner; however, the number that had been killed is unknown. The Red Army suffered about 10 thousand soldiers killed, wounded or missing. This was the beginning of one of the darkest scenarios in Polish history. In September 1939, Polish prisoners began to be murdered in an action that intensified later and culminated in that most terrible of crimes in Katyn forest. The extent of the war crimes committed by the Soviets on Polish officers is estimated at over 8,000 people. There were also mass deportations of Poles, and in the years 1940-1941 about one million people were deported to Russia as part of the genocidal deportations of the Polish population.

In Brest on 22 September, Kombrig Semyon Kriwoszein and the German General Heinz Guderian watched a joint parade of German and Soviet armoured units. On 28 September, following the capture of Warsaw, Hitler and Stalin believed the campaign in Poland to be over. Both countries reached a common border, although this had to be revised due to the fact that Germany took more Polish territories than defined in the secret agreement. For this purpose, a special treaty on borders and friendship was signed, known as the second Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, in which the Soviet Union agreed to give Germany the eastern part of Mazovia and the Lublin province in exchange for Germany agreeing that Lithuania would be in the Soviet sphere of influence. Thus the partition of Poland was sealed as a division of spheres of influence in the Baltic countries.

By Andrzej Włusek

 

Bibliography:

Jerzy Łojek: Agresja 17 września 1939 [Aggression of 17 September 1939]. Warsaw 1990

Karol Liszewski: Wojna Polsko-Sowiecka 1939 [Polish-Soviet War 1939]. London 1988

Norman Davies: God's Playground. A history of Poland. Kraków 1993

 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Daria Czarnecka

August Agreements in Poland

21 August 2015
Tags
  • communism
  • August Agreements

As a result of a veritable wave of strikes which swept across the whole of Poland in August 1980, the communist authorities took the decision to begin negotiations with the opposition. Those talks resulted in the conclusion of four agreements, which came to be known as the August agreements.

The first one was signed on 30 August 1980 at 8:00 in Szczecin. Marian Jurczyk (President of Szczecin Inter-Factory Strike Committee [Międzyzakładowy Komitet Strajkowy w Szczecinie, MKS Szczecin]), Kazimierz Fischbein (Vice-President of MKS), Marian Juszczuk (MKS Szczecin), Kazimierz Barcikowski (vice-president), Andrzej Żabiński (Deputy Member of the Political Office and Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party [KC PZPR]), and Janusz Brych (1st Secretary of the Voivodeship Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party [KW PZPR] in Szczecin) signed the protocol regarding the conclusions and proposals of the Szczecin Inter-Plant Strike Committee for the Governmental Committee. Forcing the authorities to make guarantees regarding economic and social matters was a huge success for the protesters. They were granted, inter alia, the right to receive full remuneration for the period that they were on strike and it was guaranteed that they would not be punished for taking part in the strike. The communist authorities did leave a backdoor here for themselves, enabling them to circumvent that provision: it was stipulated that any "political crimes committed" would be punished. Additionally, permission to erect a plaque by 17 December 1980 commemorating the victims who perished in December 1970 in Gdańsk was granted, and people dismissed from work in the 1970s for their participation in opposition activities were allowed to return to their jobs (every such instance was to be considered separately by the management and trade unions). By 1 November 1983, family allowance was to be made equal to those paid within the Polish Army and Civic Militia. Wages were to be increased for everyone by one classification level and the lowest old age pensions and disability pensions were also to be raised. The government announced that the time people needed to wait to be assigned an apartment would be shortened to five years. A modified version of the Shipyard Employee Charter [Karta Stoczniowca] was also introduced.

However, the communist authorities did not consent to the creation of free and independent trade unions. The phrases used in the arrangement did not even take the possibility of such associations being organised into account. Provisions regarding limiting censorship were also vague and the only promise made in terms of the relations between state and church concerned greater access to the media.

The second agreement was concluded on 31 August 1980 at the Gdańsk Shipyard. The document was signed by Lech Wałęsa (President of MKS Gdańsk), Andrzej Kołodziej (Vice-President of MKS Gdańsk), Bogdan Lis (Vice-President of MKS Gdańsk), and members of MKS Gdańsk: Lech Bądkowski, Wojciech Gruszewski, Andrzej Gwiazda, Stefan Izdebski, Jerzy Kwiecik, Zdzisław Kobyliński, Henryka Krzywonos, Stefan Lewandowski, Alina Pieńkowska, Józef Przybylski, Jerzy Sikorski, Lech Sobieszek, Tadeusz Stanny, Anna Walentynowicz, and Florian Wiśniewski, in the OHS room of Lenin Shipyard; representatives of the government were: Mieczysław Jagielski (Vice-President), Zbigniew Zieliński (Member of KC PZPR secretariat), Tadeusz Fiszbach (President of the Voivodeship National Council in Gdańsk [Wojewódzka Rada Narodowa w Gdańsku]), and Jerzy Kołodziejski (Voivode of Gdańsk).

It should be noted that the Gdańsk agreement was formulated in a clearer manner and was consistent with more political proposals than the one signed in Szczecin. It contained a provision regarding the creation of new, independent, and self-governing trade unions based on a founders' committee from MKS Gdańsk. Those were to be recorded outside of the register of the Central Council of Trade Unions [Centralna Rada Związków Zawodowych] and were to be granted the right to give opinions on key social and economic decisions, including the division of national income. The provision regarding refraining from prosecuting those who took part in the strike contained no additional terms and conditions. The government undertook to prepare a draft Censorship Act within 3 months and guaranteed that the Sunday Holy Mass would be radio broadcast.

Employees dismissed from work after the strikes in 1970 and 1976 were to be re-employed automatically after submitting a relevant application.

Court decisions made with regard to political cases were to be reviewed and strict observance of civic rights was to be introduced.

In exchange for all this, the newly created trade unions were not to become political parties and were to adhere closely to the rules stipulated in the Constitution of the Polish Peoples’ Republic.

On 3 September 1980, the third agreement was concluded, ending the strike at the “Manifest Lipcowy" hard coal mine in Jastrzębie Zdrój. On behalf of MKS, the protocol was signed by: Jarosław Sienkiewicz (president), Stefan Pałka and Tadeusz Jedynak (vice-presidents), Jan Jarliński, Piotr Musiał, Andrzej Winczewski, Marian Kosiński, Roman Kempiński, Mieczysław Sawicki, Kazimierz Stolarski, Ryszard Kuś, Wacław Kołodyński, Władysław Kołduński, Grzegorz Stawski; on behalf of the government: Aleksander Kopeć (vice-president), Andrzej Żabiński (Deputy Member of the Political Office and secretary of KC PZPR), Włodzimierz Lejczak (Minister of Mining), Wiesław Kiczan (Secretary of KW PZPR in Katowice), Mieczysław Glanowski (Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Mining), Zdzisław Gorczyca (1st Deputy of the Voivod of Katowice), and Jerzy Nawrocki (Chancellor of the Silesian University of Technology). The document confirmed the Gdańsk agreement and, additionally, abolished the continuous three-shift system of work used in mining. The authorities also undertook to present a resolution to the Sejm lowering the eligibility age for old age pension for miners. An important agreement was the introduction on 1 January 1981 of free Saturdays and Sundays, although the wording of the relevant provision lacked clarity and resulted in a number of conflicts at the beginning of 1981. As far as social and life-related matters are concerned, recording pneumoconioses as occupational diseases was also important.

The last of the August agreements was concluded on 11 September 1980 at the “Katowice” foundry in Dąbrowa Górnicza. It confirmed the agreements preceding it. Those documents not only improved the social and life-related situation of Poles – they also contributed to changing their mentality for good. A wall of social solidarity was erected around the people on strike and the new trade unions, thus heralding the commencement of a political transformation.

By Daria Czarnecka

 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Anita Świątkowska

Outbreak of Second World War - 1 September 1939

21 August 2015
Tags
  • Second World War
  • 1939

1 September 1939 is one of the most tragic dates in all of our history. That date is recorded in history books as the beginning of a hell on earth that men created for their fellow men. Mass executions, concentration camps, exterminations of people – a vast ocean of blood, pain, and tears.

“Destroying Poland is our priority. Our goal is not to reach any specific point, we need to destroy the vital force behind the country. Even if there is to be a war in the West, the destruction of Poland is to be the first objective we set for ourselves. This decision needs to be taken at once in view of the season of the year. I will state some cause underlying the outbreak of the war for propaganda purposes. Whether it is credible or not is of no concern to us. The winner is never asked if what he said was the truth or a lie. As far as starting and fighting a war is concerned, there is no law – victory is the decisive factor. Be brutal and be without mercy.” These were the words of Adolf Hitler at a council of commanders on the day preceding the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, under which Poland was to be divided between the Third Reich and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Then, without declaring war, the army of the Third Reich entered the territory of Poland.

On the first day of September, on that fateful morning / German enemies attacked Poland without any warning (…) [Dnia pierwszego września roku pamiętnego/ wróg napadł na Polskę z kraju niemieckiego (…)]. These are the words of a song dating back to the period of the German occupation. It was a favourite of street performers and it describes what happened on that day of September 1939 perfectly well.
Military activities started at dawn on 1 September 1939, the decisive assault of the German army commencing at 4:45 a.m. However, the surviving memoirs, diaries, and military reports indicate that the invasion of Poland was preceded by numerous German airstrikes targeting Polish cities. This was described by, among others, Władysław Pobóg-Malinowski, Stefan Rowecki, and Felicjan Sławoj-Składkowski, the then Prime Minister, the latter mentioning an aerial attack on Ostrów Wielkopolski and Poznań at 4:15 a.m. Then, around 4:40 a.m., pilots from the 1st division of the 76th Immelman dive bomber regiment attacked Wieluń. This attack continued, with short interruptions, until 1 p.m. Civilian facilities were the main targets, and this attack was unreasonable in military terms as there were no army units in Wieluń and the strategic significance of the city was scant. This was an attack against helpless civilians and it was meant to spread panic among them. This act was made even more atrocious by the fact that a hospital was also bombed, in spite of the Red Cross symbol plainly visible on its roof.

After that, at 4:45 a.m., the Schleswig-Holstein battleship opened fire at Westerplatte. The commander of Westerplatte, a Polish Military Transit Depot, was Major Henryk Sucharski, with Captain Franciszek Dąbrowski serving as his deputy. The defenders of Westerplatte bravely fought against the German forces for seven days (they were expected to resist for no more a dozen or so hours) and the "Westerplatte still fights" message, broadcast on Polish radio, helped to boost the morale of Polish troops.

The defence of the Polish Post Office in Gdańsk is another example of a heroic struggle against the invaders directly related to 1 September 1939. On that morning, the German forces attacked the postal building using artillery and machine guns, expecting to take it quickly by surprise. However, their assault was driven back by the employees with the use of machine guns and grenades, forcing the attackers to bring artillery and armoured vehicles to the building. The assailants then tried to enter the post office through a hole in the wall of an adjacent building. When this assault also failed, the building housing the post office was set on fire. Having successfully defended themselves for 14 hours, the brave defenders were eventually forced to give up.

At the beginning of the war with Poland, the Germans had 1 850 000 soldiers, 11 000 artillery pieces, 2 800 tanks, and 2 000 aircraft. Poland had half of that number of soldiers (950 000), less than half that number of artillery (4 800), a quarter the number of tanks (700), and a fifth the number of aircraft (400). The advantage the Germans had along the main lines of attack was even greater than that.

Adolf Hitler, the Chancellor of the Reich, delivered a speech to the German parliament at 10:00 a.m. on 1 September 1939. He justified the attack on Poland with alleged provocations on the part of Poles. He presented the assault as a punitive expedition, aiming to punish the wilful extravagancies of Poles against the German minority in Poland and the Reich itself, undertaken by a grand nation which would not stand being spat in the face. Hitler presented limited objectives only, striving to convince countries of the West that they should remain calm and refrain from intervening. Meanwhile, the Poles continued their forlorn defence, hoping that their allies would aid them soon, while the Polish government asked countries allied with Poland to fulfil their obligations and begin armed opposition against the invader.

The Germans planned to make their invasion of Poland a “lightning war” – they wanted to rapidly break through Polish defences, then to surround and destroy all major Polish armed forces. German troops were to carry out a concentric attack from Silesia, Eastern Prussia, and Western Pomerania, heading towards Warsaw. In their plans, the Germans assumed that their troops should reach the Narew, the Vistula, and the San rivers within a week, and that the Polish army would have been destroyed by then. Poland's military situation was made even worse by the length of the border with Germany – measuring around 1 600 kilometres after the Third Reich took over Moravia and entered Slovakia. This allowed Germany to attack Poland from the west, north, and south.

Marshal Edward Śmigły-Rydz was very much taken aback by the outbreak of the war. He, like the Polish authorities, was convinced that it would be possible to avoid an armed conflict with the Third Reich thanks to a military decision aimed at clearly demonstrating Polish intentions.

On 1 September 1939, Ignacy Mościcki, the President of Poland, made an address to the people of Poland in which he urged them to defend the freedom and independence of their country, to stand united, and to concentrate around the commander-in-chief and the army. In addition, Mościcki decreed that Śmigły-Rydz was to succeed him in the event that the country had no president before peace was made.

In his address to Polish soldiers, Marshal Śmigły-Rydz wrote that it was time to carry out their soldierly duties and that the existence and future of Poland were at stake. He added that, regardless of the duration of the conflict in which Poland was forced to take part, and regardless of the losses, Poland and its allies, Great Britain and France, would emerge victorious in the end. The latter two countries, as it turned out, failed to provide Poland with their support.

By Anita Świątkowska

 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Daria Czarnecka

The Slovak National Uprising

21 August 2015
Tags
  • Slovak Uprising
  • 1944

The Slovak National Uprising (Slovak: Slovenské národné povstanie, abbreviated SNP) broke out on 29 August 1944 in Banská Bystrica. It was organised by Slovak resistance movement in order to stop the German occupion of Slovak territory and to overthrow the collaborationist government of Jozef Tiso.

Due to the Red Army offensive and the German troops entering the territory of Slovakia with the aim of disarming the Slovak Army, the following order was issued at 8 p.m. on 29 August, 1944, at the initiative of the Slovak National Council: Začnite s vysťahovaním (proceed with the expulsion). This was Lieutenant Colonel Ján Golian, Chief of the Ground Staff of the Slovak Army and commander of the underground Military Centre in Slovakia, giving the prearranged signal to begin the anti-Nazi uprising.

Golian, who advanced to the rank of general on 5 September, 1944, became the military commander of the uprising. He held the position until 6 October, 1944, when he was replaced by Major General Rudolf Viest, who had slipped into the country from London via the USSR. Supreme authority belonged to the Slovak National Council, which from September 1944 was headed by Professor Vavro Šrobár and Karol Šmidke. They served as co-chairs of the Slovak National Council. Banská Bystrica, seized on 30 August, 1944, was chosen to be the capital city, and it was here that the political and military headquarters were established.

The insurgents fought mainly in the eastern part of the country as well as in mountainous areas. The uprising failed to spread to the whole of Slovakia and Bratislava, with the area of hostilities being restricted to an area of approximately 20,000 km2 1.7 million people. The insurgents did not manage to join forces with the Red Army and the Czechoslovak Army Corps, which were halted at Dukla Pass. An additional factor weakening the strength of the insurgent forces was the fact that the Germans managed to disarm the core of the Slovak Army - two infantry divisions that were, according to the plan created by the insurgent leadership, intended to secure Dukla Pass, a key location necessary to establish a connection with the Soviet forces.

The Slovak forces consisted of 18,000 soldiers from partisan units and the Slovak Army, which had reached a strength of 46,000 after mobilization and which led to the creation of the 1st Czechoslovak Army. The Uprising also gained support from the USSR - the 2nd Czechoslovak Independent Airborne Brigade was deployed in the territory occupied by the insurgents, weapons were dropped by parachute, and a Czechoslovak air regiment was sent to an airport controlled by the rebel forces. The insurgents were armed with 46,000 rifles, 4,000 submachine guns, 2,700 machine guns, 200 cannons and mortars, 24 tanks, 4 assault guns, 3 improvised armoured trains, and an air regiment (34 aircraft). It is estimated that about a quarter of the soldiers were unarmed.

These poorly armed guerrilla units faced German forces consisting of about 48,000 soldiers: two Volksgrenadier divisions, the 14th and 18th Waffen-SS divisions, the 36th “Dirlewanger” Grenadier Division of the SS supported by the Slovak Hlinka Guard, the SS Jagdgruppe 232 Slowakei, as well as the Abehrgruppe 218. The disproportionate advantage in weaponry and training allowed the German troops to take Banská Bystrica on 27 October, 1944. It was here, on 30 October, 1944, that the collaborationist president Rev. Jozef Tiso celebrated a Mass in thanksgiving for the suppression of the uprising.

The last meeting of the Slovak National Council and the 1st Czechoslovak Army Staff was held in late October. It was decided that the army would transition to guerrilla warfare, and regular combat ultimately ceased on 1 November, 1944. The commanders of the uprising, the generals Golian and Viest, were taken into captivity and their subsequent fate remains unknown although there are many theories concerning the circumstances of their deaths. The majority of the Slovak Army was either captured or scattered.

The new partisan command moved into the area of the Low Tatra Mountains. In early November 1944 the headquarters of the General Staff of the insurgent forces were established at the mouth of Lomnistá Valley. The living conditions, in the face of the approaching winter, were extremely severe. German reprisals and guerrilla warfare continued until the liberation of the Slovakian territory by the Red Army and the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps.

Aside from the Slovaks, the participants of the uprising represented 27 nationalities, including 3000 Czechs, 800 Hungarians, and 250 Poles. 1,720 insurgents were killed, 3,600 wounded, 10,000 captured in regular combat, and up to 12,000 killed or recorded as missing in the course of the guerrilla warfare. The Germans suppressed the uprising at a cost of 4,200 deaths, 5,000 wounded, and 300 captured.

By Daria Czarnecka

Bibliography:

Jašek Peter, Kinčok Branislav, Lacko Martin, Slovenskí Generáli 1939-1945, Prague 2013.

Kościelak Lech, Historia Słowacji, Wrocław 2010.

Slovenské národné povstanie 1944 súčsť európskej antifašistickej rezistencie v rokoch druhej svetovej vojny, ed. Peknik Miroslav, Bratislava 2009.

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Daria Czarnecka

Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia

21 August 2015
Tags
  • communism
  • 1968
  • Prague Spring
  • Warsaw Pact

The liberalisation process of Czechoslovakia commenced on 5th January, 1968, when Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Czechoslovakia Communist Party. Dubček was an advocate of profound social, economic and political changes – this led to the Prague Spring. However, this “socialism with a human face” soon became a threat to the ruling party.

The opposition was becoming bolder and bolder in its demands and a manifesto entitled Two Thousand Words, authored by Ludvik Vaculik, who was encouraged to write it by employees of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, and signed by many prominent people from the worlds of culture and politics, was also of no little significance. In the document, disquiet with conservative communist members remaining in the party was expressed, as well as an urge for even more sweeping reforms involving active participation of the general public. Czechoslovak communists, obviously, found this distressing. Moscow also began expressing its concerns about the stability of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia more vigorously.

During a meeting of leaders of the Warsaw Pact in Dresden in March 1968, the situation was openly referred to as the “Czechoslovak counter-revolution.” The Prague Spring was spoken of in the worst terms by Walter Ulbricht and Władysław Gomułka. The latter, himself faced with student strikes, zealously voiced the concurrence of his political opinions with those of Moscow. Subsequent meetings of the “Warsaw Five” (without representatives of Czechoslovakia present) took place in May and June 1968. It was then decided that military exercises, codenamed “Szumawa,” would take place within the territory of Czechoslovakia from 18th June to 2nd July to exert pressure on the leaders of the country. Those became a prelude to the largest military operation in Europe since the end of WWII.

After operation “Szumawa” was over, the transfer of the 24th Guards Motor Rifle Division (24 Gwardyjska Dywizja Strzelców Zmotoryzowanych) from the region of Lviv commenced and the division was then to be deployed in the Cieszyn, Bielsko-Biała, and Pszczyna region. The armies of Poland, the German Democratic Republic, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Hungary, and Bulgaria, all gathered near the Czechoslovakia border, commenced "Cloudy Summer '68" (“Pochmurne lato 68”), a military operation which was then smoothly transformed into Operation Danube. Iwan Jakubowski, a Soviet marshal, was in charge of the entire operation, his command centre located in Legnica.
Initially, the intervening forces consisted of 250,000 soldiers and 4,200 tanks but the total number of soldiers and tanks involved in the operation eventually increased to 450,000 and 6,500 respectively. There was a Polish military contingent there as well, consisting of 24,000 officers and soldiers, 647 tanks, 566 transporters, 191 cannons and mortars, 84 anti-tank guns, 96 anti-aircraft guns, 4,798 cars, and 36 helicopters. Such great involvement of Polish forces made this the largest post-war operation of the Polish People's Army until December 1970.

Following the plans prepared for the invasion, the troops of the Warsaw Pact were divided as follows:

• Army Group North, commanded by Iwan Pawłowski (with the command centre in Legnica) was to enter Czechoslovakia from the territory of the German Democratic Republic and Poland, taking over the northern and western part of the country, paying particular attention to occupying the Karlovy Vary-Plzeň-České Budějovice triangle. The North Group consisted of the 1st and 11th Soviet Guards Tank Division (1 Gwardyjska Armia Pancerna and 11 Gwardyjska Armia Pancerna) and the Second Polish Army (2 Armia Wojska Polskiego) – created on the basis of the Silesian Military District and commanded by Florian Siwicki, brigadier general.

• Army Group South, commanded by Konstantin Prowałow, colonel general (command centre in Mátyásföld near Budapest), was to enter Czechoslovakia from Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, and Transcarpathian Ukraine, aiming to occupy Slovakia and southern and central Bohemia, including Prague. This force included the 20th and 38th Soviet Guards Army (20 Armia Gwardyjska and 38 Armia Gwardyjska), attacking from GDR, and 36th Soviet Air Army (36 Armia Lotnicza) and 8th Hungarian Motor Rifle Division (8 Dywizja Strzelców Zmotoryzowanych).

The intervention was also supported by Soviet airborne forces, i.e. 7th and 103rd Guards Airborne Divisions (7 Gwardyjska Dywizja Powietrznodesantowa and 103 Gwardyjska Dywizja Powietrznodesantowa). Their tasks included the taking-over of Prague and Brno. Interestingly, certain troops of the National People's Army of GDR which were supposed to take part in the Operation and enter Czechoslovakia, i.e. 7th Dresden Panzer Division (7 Dywizja Pancerna z Drezna) and 11th Halle Motor Rifle Division (11 Dywizja Strzelców Zmotoryzowanych z Halle) did not actually take part in July 1968, despite having been mobilised for it. There were only a few German officers and a group of soldiers from the 2nd Communication Troop (2 Pułk Łączności) at the command centre of the Warsaw Pact military forces.

On the night of 20th/21st August, 1968, intervention forces entered Czechoslovakia. An unsigned letter published by the Soviet press was used as a pretext for the operation. In the letter, Czechoslovak leaders asked USSR for help, also in the form of a military intervention. The letter was at first considered a fake but a copy of it received by Václav Havel in the 1990s was signed by representatives of the Stalinist faction of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Armed operations in Bohemia and Slovakia raised numerous voices of protest, the most dramatic and tragic of them being the self-immolation of Ryszard Siwiec, a former soldier of the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa), at the 10th-Anniversary Stadium (Stadion Dziesięciolecia) during a national harvest festival (dożynki ogólnokrajowe).

Operation Danube was a success in political and military terms. Despite social opposition and manifestations, the voice of the Prague Spring was silenced. Additionally, a contingent of Soviet troops remained in Czechoslovakia. The invasion resulted in 500 casualties among the Czechs and Slovaks and around 400,000 people emigrated from the country in two subsequent waves. As for military losses sustained by the Warsaw Pact: 12 soldiers were killed and 25 were wounded. Non-combat losses: 90 people killed or subsequently deceased and 62 people wounded or injured.

Daria Czarnecka

References:

Polska a Praska Wiosna: udział Wojska Polskiego w interwencji zbrojnej w Czechosłowacji w 1968 roku. Pajórek L. Warszawa 1998.
Wokół Praskiej Wiosny. Kamiński Ł., ed. Warszawa 2004.
Praska Wiosna. Kwapis R. Toruń 2004.

 


 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl. Polish version available at: http://historykon.pl/inwazja-ukladu-warszawskiego-na-czechoslowacje/

Daria Czarnecka

The Warsaw Uprising – 1 August 1944

21 August 2015
Tags
  • Second World War
  • Warsaw Uprising
  • 1944

On August 1, 1944, the underground army in Warsaw was comprised of 36,500 mobilised Home Army soldiers - including about 32,500 in Warsaw and about 4,000 in suburban areas.


The beginning of “Operation Bagration” on 22 June 1944 in the territory of Belarus resulted in the quick defeat of the German Army Group “Centre”. In the summer of 1944, the 1st Belorussian Front was located near Warsaw. Based on the military situation, the Commander of the Home Army (AK) made the preliminary decision to call for an uprising in Warsaw. The operation was to be aimed militarily at the Germans and politically at the Soviet Union.

Despite conflicting opinions among the ranks, the General Headquarters made the final decision on 31 July 1944 to begin fighting in the capital by setting the “W-hour” for 5.00 p.m. on 1 August 1944. This strategic decision was affected by the threat of Warsaw being turned into a fortress, temporary abandonment of the city by the occupying civil authorities, and the call for active combat against the German forces broadcast on the evening of 29 July 1944 by Radio Moscow in the Polish language. It was also reported that the Red Army troops had liberated some locations near Warsaw: Radość, Miłosna, Okuniew, Wołomin and Radzymin.

On August 1, 1944, the underground army in Warsaw was comprised of 36,500 mobilised Home Army soldiers - including about 32,500 in Warsaw and about 4,000 in suburban areas. The reason for such low numbers was hasty mobilisation. It should also be noted that the levels of training among the AK soldiers varied widely in quality. Troops experienced in fighting the Germans, like Kedyw and other branches of the AK District, had the highest combat value.

In the first days of the Uprising, the insurgent attacks designated as part of the offensive actions were clearly a failure. Important sites that fell into the hands of Polish forces were the Prudential building, the power plant in Powiśle, German warehouses in Stawki, the court building in Leszno, the Town Hall at Theatre Square, the detention centre on Daniłowiczowska St., the Military Geographical Institute building on Jerusalem Avenue, the office of the Municipial Transport Company on Świętokrzyska St., Czechoslovak Legation on Koszykowa St., several school buildings converted into barracks as well as the railway building in Praga. Assaults on the airfield of Okęcie, railway stations and bridges were not successful. In the days following the Uprising, Wola and Ochota became the first districts to be lost, assaulted by the brigade of General Oskar Dirlewanger that was comprised of criminals and poachers and assisted by the police forces of SS-Gruppenführer Heinz Reinefarth. The SS units together with the Ukrainian RONA led by Kamiński massacred civilians in the Wola district. Ochota was also not spared.

From 12 August 1944, the insurgents held the following isolated districts: Stare Miasto, Śródmieście, Czerniaków, Mokotów and Powiśle. Despite some scattered successes such as capturing the PAST building, the Uprising was actually being finished off. The situation was also influenced by the fact that the Red Army stopped its offensive operations, the Allied planes with supplies for Warsaw could not land in the zone controlled by the Soviets, and the airdrops were inaccurate. The heroism of the insurgents could neither withstand the overwhelming enemy forces nor endure shortages of supplies, especially of weapons.

In the face of the tragedy that befell fighting units and civilians, the Commander of the Home Army began mediation with the Germans. As a result of the capitulation order signed on the night of 2 October 1944, the Uprising finally came to an end. Some troops were taken into captivity (in accordance with the decisions of the Home Army they were granted veterans rights), but many soldiers integrated with the civilian population and left the city. About 10,000 Home Army soldiers were killed, in addition to 6,000 who went missing and 20,000 injured. About 15,000 Home Army soldiers were captured by the Germans. The number of casualties among the civilian population remains unknown. It is estimated that 150,000 to 200,000 civilians died during the Uprising. According to the testimony of von dem Bach-Zelewski, the German losses in Warsaw were as follows: 10,000 killed, 7,000 missing and 9,000 wounded - 26,000 soldiers in total. However, those figures are disputed by many historians. As far as material losses are concerned, the authors of the “Report of War Losses in Warsaw”, prepared in 2004, estimated the entire material losses incurred by the city and its citizens during World War II at 18.2 billion pre-war zlotys (according to the value of zloty in August 1939), i.e. USD 45.3 billion (current value).

by Daria Czarnecka


LITERATURE
Władysław Bartoszewski, Dni walczącej stolicy [Days of the Fighting Capital] Kronika powstania warszawskiego [Chronicle of the Warsaw Uprising], Warsaw 2008.
Jan M. Ciechanowski, Powstanie Warszawskie [The Warsaw Uprising]. Zarys podłoża politycznego i dyplomatycznego [An Outline of the Political and Diplomatic Ground ], Pułtusk-Warszawa 2009.
Marek Getter, Straty ludzkie i materialne w Powstaniu Warszawskim [Casualties and Material Losses in the Warsaw Uprising], “Biuletyn IPN”. 8-9 (43-44), August – September 2004.
Raport o stratach wojennych Warszawy [Report of War Losses in Warsaw]. Warsaw, November 2004.


This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Daria Czarnecka

Dissolution of the Warsaw Pact - 1 July 1991

21 August 2015
Tags
  • 1991
  • fall of communism
  • Eastern Bloc
  • Warsaw Pact
  • Treaty of Friendship

The Warsaw Pact, formally the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, was signed in Warsaw on 14 May 1955 and was meant to be a political-military alliance of countries belonging to the Eastern Bloc under the leadership of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Its legal and international legitimacy was to be the Bucharest Declaration, and the very creation of the Pact was to be a response to the so called progressive militarization of West Germany and its integration into the structure of NATO. The formal principles of the Warsaw Pact were outlined in 1955 by Nikita Krushchev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The Pact entered into force after the presentation of the ratification documents to the Government of the Polish People's Republic by the last of the contracting parties, namely the People's Republic of Albania – this took place on 4 June 1955. The Parliament of the Polish People’s Republic (PRL) ratified the Pact with the Resolution of 19 May 1955. Interestingly, it was not consistent with the Constitution of the PRL, which stated in art. 25.1.7: "The Council of the State [...] ratifies and terminates international agreements". The Warsaw Pact was intended to last for 30 years. Its validity for a subsequent 20 years was extended on 26 April 1985.

Although described as the Warsaw Pact, the organization’s headquarters were located in Moscow. This resulted in the subordination of member states’ army staff to the 10th Management of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the USSR, which then served as Staff of the United Armed Forces. The Supreme Commander was the Marshal of the Soviet Union, who was also the First Deputy Minister of Defense of the USSR. Apart from the USSR and PRL, the following countries were members of the Pact: the People's Republic of Albania (which suspended its membership in 1960, and finally left the Pact on 12 September 1968), the People's Republic of Bulgaria, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the German Democratic Republic (which existed within the military structures from 1956, and left the Pact on 25 September 1990), the Romanian People's Republic, and the Hungarian People's Republic. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia never joined the Alliance.

The military doctrine of the Warsaw Pact was purely defensive in theory. It was to be a counterweight to, and a shield against, the “imperialist threat" from NATO, in particular the United States. Until 1965, the doctrine of the Warsaw Pact was dominated by Soviet tactics providing for massive nuclear missile attacks in conjunction with rapid occupation of territory in order to prevent the enemy from warfare. The Warsaw Pact Command allowed for the possibility of advance nuclear attacks in the event of an imminent threat of attack on the territory of any of its member states.

Strategic objectives changed in the years 1966-1980. The possibility was accepted that there could be a gradual development of acts of war, starting from conventional operations, through to the limited use of nuclear weapons and the large-scale use of weapons of mass destruction. The use of nuclear weapons would only occur if they were first used by NATO troops. Consequently, there were provisions for a strategic attack on enemy territory, breaking resistance and capturing economically important areas.

Another change in the doctrine occurred in the 80's, when the concept of maintaining constant readiness to conduct various activities was developed. The Warsaw Pact army had to be ready to conduct a world war (with or without the use of nuclear weapons), and to conduct a number of local conflicts with the use of conventional weapons. Finally, the possibility of the implementation of pre-emptive nuclear attacks was excluded. However, the possibility of conducting wide-ranging defense activities was accepted.

The Warsaw Pact structures included: the Political Advisory Committee, the Committee of the Ministers of Defense, the Technical Committee, the United Command of the Armed Forces, and the United Armed Forces. The Political Advisory Committee consisted of prime ministers, foreign ministers, defense ministers and leaders of the communist parties of the signatory countries of the Agreement. Their task was to develop a set of consolidated views on issues related to the common strategy against political-military threats. The Committee of Ministers of Defense had to work out joint military procedures, training systems, exercises and military manoeuvres. The Technical Committee dealt with the modernization of weapons and equipment of the Pact forces.

The United Armed Forces consisted of quotas issued by individual countries belonging to the Warsaw Pact. The size of these quotas was fixed every five years in bilateral agreements between the Soviet Union and the Pact states. On the Polish side, there were: the 1st General Military Army and 2nd General Military Army, numbering five divisions each (these constituted the first army operations group and were used during the "Danube" Operation), the 4th General Military Army (three divisions), two reserve divisions and the 3rd Aviation Army. In total, there were 15 army divisions, including five armored divisions, which constituted the Polish Front.

During the existence of the Warsaw Pact, only one military operation, the "Danube" Operation, was executed. The military intervention known as the Prague Spring was carried out on 21 August 1968 as part of that operation. This was the fulfillment of Brezhnev doctrine. Interestingly, it was not carried out by all countries of the Pact - Romania refused to participate in the operation. 750,000 soldiers, 6,300 tanks and 800 aircraft took part in the intervention, and it is thought that about 200 people were killed.

At the end of the 80s, mirroring changes in the Eastern Bloc, the Warsaw Pact began to change. At a summit in Bucharest in 1989, it was decided that Brezhnev doctrine would be abandoned. A year later, the Member States agreed that USSR Army troops stationed on their territories should leave. An agreement to cease military cooperation within the Warsaw Pact was signed in Budapest on 25 February 1991. The political structures of the Warsaw Pact were dissolved in Prague on 1 July 1991. This was tantamount to the final dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.

By Daria Czarnecka

 

Bibliography:

Jerzy Kajetanowicz,Polskie wojska operacyjne w systemie bezpieczeństwa państwa w latach 1955-1975, Zeszyty Naukowe Akademii Obrony Narodowej 2008 No. 2 (Polish Army operation troops in the state security system in the years 1955-1975, Scientific Papers of the National Defense University 2008, No. 2 );

Jerzy Kajetanowicz,Polskie wojska operacyjne w Układzie Warszawskim, (Polish Army operation troops in the Warsaw Pact) Poligon 2011 No. 5.

Jerzy Kajetanowicz,Wojsko Polskie w Układzie Warszawskim 1955-1990, (The Polish Army in the Warsaw Pact 1955-1990) resources of the general military forum "Bezpieczeństwo", http://www.serwis-militarny.net/opinie/

Ryszard Kałużny,Układ Warszawski 1955-1991, Zeszyty Naukowe Wyższej Szkoły Oficerskiej Wojsk Lądowych 2008, No. 1 (The Warsaw Pact 1955-1991, Scientific Papers of the Higher Military Academy of Land Forces 2008, No. 1);

Leszek Pajórek,Polska a "Praska Wiosna", (Poland and The Prague Spring) Egros Publishing House, Warszawa 1998, p. 65;

Leszek Pietrzak,„Myśmy was wyzwolili a wy przedstawiacie nam jakieś rachunki". Krótka historia Układu Warszawskiego, ("We liberated you, and you are presenting us with the bills." A brief history of the Warsaw Pact )http://wpolityce.pl/polityka/113516-mysmy-was-wyzwolili-a-wy-przedstawiacie-nam-jakies-rachunki-krotka-historia-ukladu-warszawskiego

Journal of Laws of 1955, No. 30, item 182 and 183

Protokół sporządzony w Pradze dnia 1 lipca 1991 r. o utracie mocy Układu o przyjaźni, współpracy i pomocy wzajemnej(Dz.U. 1993 nr 61 poz. 289) Protocol drawn up in Prague on 1 July 1991 on the termination of the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (Journal of Laws of 1993, No. 61, item 289)

Oświadczenie Rządowe z dnia 25 maja 1993 r. w sprawie wejścia w życie Protokołu sporządzonego w Pradze dnia 1 lipca 1991 r.(Dz.U. 1993 nr 61 poz. 290) Government Statement of 25 May 1993 on the entry into force of the Protocol signed in Prague on 1 July 1991 (Journal of Laws of 1993, No. 61, item 290)


This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Andrzej Włusek

The Poznań Uprising of June 1956

21 August 2015
Tags
  • 1956
  • communism
  • Poznan Uprising

The system of "people's democracy" imposed by the communists introduced central authority. One consequence of this was the 6-year plan, which had unfavorable consequences for Wielkopolska. After its completion, the standard of living in Wielkopolska was lower than the average level nationwide. Working conditions worsened - there were shortages in food supply, non-food convenience products and access to accommodation. The citizens of Poznań held traditional values ​​and could not ignore their "socialist reality" –this gave birth to a sense of dissatisfaction and led to protests.

The tipping point came on 27 June, with the Government’s decision to renege on promises to increase wages, return wrongly accrued payroll tax, and change the piecework payroll system that was based on inflated standards – they blamed this about-turn on the deteriorating condition of state finances. It did not take long for the effects of that decision to be seen. The next day, at 6:30 a.m., the crew of the Józef Stalin Plant (formerly the Hipolit Cegielski Plant) in Poznań decided to announce a strike and take to the streets. Alongside workers from other plants, they prepared banners with economic demands ("We demand bread", "We're hungry"), and the crowd moved towards the castle in the center of the city,  where the city’s National Council (MRN) had its headquarters.

Gradually, the demonstration, initially of an economic nature, began to escalate into a political uprising - independence, religious, anti-Communist and anti-government slogans were raised. At around 9:00 a.m., the crowd of about a hundred thousand people gathered near the buildings of the MRN and the Regional Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (KW PZPR), demanding that representatives of the authorities come out to the striking crowd. Despite attempts by the local authorities to encourage people to disperse, the protesters stayed on the spot and the slogans transmitted from a radio transmission car, which had been taken over by the strikers, became even more aggressive. They called for the overthrow of the system and for the prisons to be stormed. At around 10 a.m., a group of people broke into the government buildings and the buildings of the Citizens Militia police, where it is likely they got hold of weapons.

Spurred on by rumors about the arrest of workers, the crowd moved to Młyńska street to take the prison located there. Despite the military enforcements sent by the command of the 10th Regiment of Internal Security (KBW), the building was invaded by the demonstrators. All the prisoners were freed and the crowd got hold of more firearms. The crowd, now further encouraged, and armed, decided to occupy the building of the Provincial Office for Public Security. It was then that the shooting started. The head of the office, Lieutenant Colonel Feliks Dwojak, obtained permission to use weapons against the crowd, who were attempting to storm the building. Gunshots were fired between the security officers and a group of about 200 armed demonstrators – this lasted until the afternoon.  As a result of this fight, many people were injured. The 13 year old Roman Strzałkowski, who became a symbol of this "Black Thursday", died.

The authorities decided to introduce cadet divisions with armored vehicles to secure the key buildings. These soldiers, who did not have permission to use weapons, became an easy target for the protesters – they pelted them with bottles of petrol and commandeered two tanks. At this point, at about 1p.m., the government forces were given permission to use weapons. As a result, at about 5p.m they managed to secure the building of the Provincial Office for Public Security.

The wave of unrest spread throughout the city. Plundering of buildings, government and also private, began. Several MO police stations were plundered and disarmed. Railway stations were taken over.

In Warsaw, nobody knew what to do next. Only once reports arrived from Poznań, was a delegation with Prime Minister Cyrankiewicz sent. A substantial number of soldiers were also dispatched. At 4p.m., two armored divisions and two infantry divisions - more than 10,000 soldiers - began to enter Poznań.
The suppression of the uprising, which lasted until 30 June, was commanded by Army General and Deputy Defense Minister Stanisław Popławski.

It is thought that 73 people died in the fighting. Hundreds of participants were injured and about 700 people were arrested. Five soldiers from the Polish Army, one soldier from the KBW (Regiment of Internal Security), three officers from the UB (Security Office) and one police officer were also killed.  

The Poznań Uprising of June 1956 was the first mass occurrence of the workers rising up against the communist authorities in Poland. The events in Poznań, as well as demonstrating the strength of people's power, also announced the collapse of the idea of ​​Stalinism in Poland. For most sober-minded party activists the necessity for rapid change became evident.

By Andrzej Włusek

Bibliography:

Jerzy Eisler, Polskie miesiące czyli Kryzys(y) w PRL, Warszawa :  IPN - KŚZpNP, 2008

Edmund Makowski, Poznański czerwiec 1956 : pierwszy bunt społeczeństwa w PRL, Poznań :  Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2001

Andrzej Leon Sowa, Historia polityczna Polski 1944-1991, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2011

Ryszard Kaczmarek, Historia Polski 1914-1989, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa 2010 

 

 


This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl. Polish version of the text is available at http://historykon.pl/poznanski-czerwiec-1956-roku/

 

Andrzej Włusek

June 1953 - workers' strike in East-Germany

21 August 2015
Tags
  • communism
  • East Germany
  • GDR
  • SED

Much has been said about the protests and demonstrations of 1956 in Poland and Hungary. But it wasn’t only in these countries that upheavals took place. Three years earlier, on 17 June 1953, a workers’ uprising broke out in the German Democratic Republic. About a million people across 700 towns took part. This date is very important for the history of freedom in Germany.

 

On 7 October 1949, in response to the changes in the situation in Germany, Moscow declared the sovereignty of the German Democratic Republic, which had been established in the areas of the Soviet occupation zone. Full power was given to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), and in 1950 Walter Ulbricht became the General Secretary of the SED.

In the first half of 1953, the total centralization of power in the hands of the SED, repression by the security apparatus, and errors in planning, contributed to an increase in dissatisfaction. The increase in technical standards for workers, which in fact resulted in a reduction of real wages, was a particularly acute problem. Moscow was aware of the situation.

It was recognized that the policy of the "accelerated construction of socialism", implemented in the GDR since 1952, was flawed, and the SED was advised to take measures to curb the pace of reforms and improvements. On 9 June, under pressure from Moscow, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the SED adopted a resolution on the "New Course", which concluded that there were mistakes in pushing the "construction of socialism" in relation to peasants, artisans and the intelligentsia. However, the increase in technical standards for workers was not abandoned. These decisions did not satisfy the workers. A publication of 16 June 1953 poured fuel onto the fire. The Tribune – the press organ of the regime trade unions – printed the following: “a dangerous and reactionary theory and practice harming the effective fight to raise work productivity, which proclaims that the increase in standards will entail a reduction in earnings has emerged… [This hostile notion of a reduction in earnings] must be smashed."

It did not take long for the effects of these incompetent words to be seen. On the same day, angry construction workers from the construction site on the Stalinallee architectural complex in Berlin abandoned work and moved towards the offices of trade unions in a spontaneous march. Along the way, they were joined by other construction workers. However, when they reached their destination, it turned out that the office was closed. They therefore headed towards the nearby building of the Council of Ministers. The crowd began to shout for Ulbricht or Grotewohl to appear. It took a few hours for the minister of industry to come out to the protesting crowd and assure the people that the resolution had been withdrawn. This calmed the protesters, who slowly began to disperse.
Soon, trucks with loudspeakers proclaiming the words of the latest resolution began to drive through the streets of Berlin. It was worded in such a way that it did not clearly point to the fact that the increased technical standards had been withdrawn. The demonstrators began to gather again. They managed to take control of one of the vehicles that had been driving around the city and called upon everybody to join a general strike.

On 17 June, the protest began to gain momentum. Most of the workers did not resume their work and instead marched off towards government buildings. The mood was rebellious, propaganda posters and government notice boards were destroyed along the way.
The news of the protests spread rapidly throughout the country, creating a nationwide rebellion. The situation began to get out of control. While, initially, the demands were of an economic nature, soon political and national demands, and those for freedom, gradually began to predominate. The authorities did not know what to do and seemed paralyzed by the situation.

The crowd broke into the headquarters of the Stasi, demolishing it and setting it on fire. The government buildings were captured and looted. Kiosks that promoted the regime's newspapers were set on fire. Several prisons were captured. Several alleged secret agents were caught, some were abused and a few were even killed. The movement was spontaneous and had no leaders. All its actions were uncoordinated. Despite this, the government failed to act.

Seeing that the situation was growing out of control, Moscow ordered an uncompromising suppression of the riots by Soviet troops stationed in the GDR. Tanks appeared on the streets of Berlin and other cities.

Russian soldiers used live ammunition. About 20 protesters were shot, though generally the soldiers shot only at the pavement, and not directly at people. However, this was still a dangerous tactic that caused many casualties. Some historians argue that up to 300 people died. On the side of the regime, three SED officers and 40 Soviet soldiers were killed, most of them shot for refusing to fire at people.

In the days that followed, the GDR authorities regained control over the state. The regime realized that it had no support among the people and Ulbricht began repressing the population. The movement of 17 June was officially blamed on the activities of U.S. agents.

The Berlin uprising ended in total disaster and strengthened Ulbricht's position. He capitalized on the situation and got rid of his main rivals in the party. However, Moscow’s perception of the GDR had changed definitively. The USSR ceased seeing the GDR as a source of cheap, or even free products, and as a country that paid it huge reparations in cash or in kind. To maintain that form of relationship after the uprising threatened the GDR with economic collapse.

From the beginning of 1954, the Soviet Union stopped collecting compensation. This allowed East German society to breathe out a sigh of relief. In addition, Moscow granted the GDR a loan in Western currencies, which enabled the purchase of urgently needed raw materials and goods from the West.

The uprising of 17 June was the first serious instance of an act of the people against the communist regime in the Eastern bloc. Only three years later, the Poles and Hungarians followed this example.

Andrzej Włusek

Bibliography:

Jerzy Serczyk, Podzielone Niemcy, Adam Marszałek Publishing House, Toruń 1993
Erhard Cziomer, Zarys historii Niemiec powojennych 1945-1995, PWN Publishing House, Warszawa-Kraków 1997
Władysław Czapliński, Adam Galos, Wacław Korta, Historia Niemiec, Ossolineum Publishing House, Wrocław 2010


This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl. Polish version of this article is available on http://historykon.pl/czerwiec-1953-niemieckie-powstanie-robotnicze/

 

Daria Czarnecka

First transport to Auschwitz Concentration Camp

21 August 2015
Tags
  • Holocaust
  • Shoah
  • Second World War
  • memory of the Holocaust
  • Auschwitz Concentration Camp

An idea of establishing a concentration camp in Auschwitz arose in late 1939 in the Office of the SS and Police headquarters in Wroclaw (der Höhere SS-und Polizeiführer Südost), which was headed by SS Gruppenführer (SS-Group Leader) Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski.

 

Military barracks were thought to be the best place to set up the camp, as prisoners could be housed in them immediately. The chosen barracks were outside the compact built-up area of Auschwitz, which lay in the Zasole district, in the fork of the Vistula and the Sola rivers. This location would both enable the possible expansion of the camp (if necessary in the future) and ensure the isolation of prisoners, and their whereabouts, from the outside world. A convenient rail link between Auschwitz, Silesia, the General Government, Czechoslovakia and Austria was another advantage. This would ensure the swift transport of the prisoners without any significant logistical problems. In addition, the railway line did not need any reconstruction, which reduced the cost of setting up the camp.

Following an audit, SS Oberführer (SS-Senior Leader) Glücks confirmed the barracks in the Zasole district as the location of the camp, on the condition some sanitary facilities were replenished and some changes were made to its construction. Having fulfilled these conditions and settled negotiations with the Wehrmacht (the area was formally held by the army) a quarantine camp (das Quarantänelager) was intended to operate there immediately.
Finally, on 8th April 1940, Air Force General Halm agreed to lease the Auschwitz barracks to the SS and to conclude an agreement on their transfer to SS jurisdiction.

As the result of a second inspection of Auschwitz on 18th April 1940, headed by SS SS Hauptsturmführer (Chief Assault Leader) Rudolf Höss, on 27th April Himmler gave the order to establish the concentration camp in the former artillery barracks.) Höss, formerly Schutzhaftlagerführer (Protective Custody Camp Leader) in KL Sachsenhausen, was nominated as the first commander of the camp.

According to a Reichsführer SS order, the existing complex of buildings would be transformed into the camp as soon as possible. The camp was mainly constructed by prisoners brought from KL Dachau as so-called ‘external commandos’ (Aussenkommando), as well as Jews and civilian workers. They did the initial work, such as building a fence around the camp, and also renovation and construction work. Gradually the so-called ‘zone of interests’ (Interessengebiet) expanded. People living in this area were sent to work in Germany or were displaced. Most houses and outbuildings were demolished within the zone. The aim of the establishment of the Interessengebiet was to prevent prisoners from both establishing contact with the Polish civilians and from escaping.

The first prisoners in KL Auschwitz were German criminals brought from KL Sachsenhausen by Rapportführer (Report Leader) Gerhard Palitzsch. They were given numbers, from 1 to 30, and were designated ‘prisoner functionaries’ whose role would be to supervise the rest of the prisoners.

On 14th June 1940, the day recognized as the date of the establishment of the camp, the first transport of 728 prisoners arrived in KL Auschwitz from the prison in Tarnów. The prisoners received prison numbers from 31 to 758. These were mainly young people, so-called ‘Sikorski tourists’, who had been detained while trying to cross the Polish-Slovakian border. This group of ‘tourists’ had been attempting to travel via Hungary or Romania to the Polish Army, which had been reconstituted in France. Those captured by the Border Protection (Grenzschutz) became first prisoners of one of the biggest German nazi death conglomerate. As the area of the camp had not been sufficiently prepared, the group was placed in the former buildings of the tobacco monopoly company. Their time there was intended to be a so-called quarantine period for the newly settled.

On 8th June 2006 The Polish Parliament passed a resolution in which 14th June was established as the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of the Nazi Concentration Camps. The Parliament undertook the citizens' initiative forced for many years by the Christian Association of Auschwitz Families (Chrześcijańskie Stowarzyszenie Rodzin Oświęcimskich). The association is also the main organizer of events commemorating the first transport to Auschwitz. Every 14th of June, at the ‘Wall of Death’ in the courtyard between blocks 11 and 10 in KL Auschwitz, people lay flowers and former prisoners leave their messages to young people.
The establishment of the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of the Nazi Concentration Camps is also an attempt to break the stereotype of ‘the Polish camps of death’, as it also shows the multitude of nationalities that experienced the Nazi concentration camps.

Daria Czarnecka

 


This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl.

 

Małgorzata Korwin-Mikke

The tragedy in Tiananmen Square

21 August 2015
Tags
  • communism
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Chinese Communist Party
  • Mao Zedong

The Gate of Heavenly Peace, which towers over the huge square, has witnessed many important events of the largest and most populous country in the world.

Tiananmen Square, that is Squareof Heavenly Peace, located in the centre of Beijing, the capital city of China, is the biggest public square in the world (800x300 meters). From the Square through the Gate Supporting Heaven, Chengtianmen in Chinese, we can enter A Forbidden City, that is an Ancient Palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Gate and the Square were built in 1417, during the reign of the Yongle Emperor of the Ming dynasty. At first it was in a shape of a typical paifang, that is a traditional element of the Chinese architecture. It was destroyed and rebuilt couple of times, and its current form was shaped during the reign of the Qing dynasty in the 17th century and it was given name of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, which is famous till today.

From a terrace on the top of the Gate on October,1st 1949 Mao Zedong announced the establishment of People’s Republic of China. During celebrations of public holidays the highest representatives of authorities sit there.

At the end of 1960s the Gate was in a very poor condition. On Prime Minister Zhou Enlai’s instruction, in 1969-1970 it was covered with scaffolding and disassembled in secret, and then it was rebuild with traditional techniques and materials.

Since 1949 a huge portrait of Mao Zedong has been hanging above the main entrance of the Gate. After Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 a portrait of him was temporarily hung instead of the portrait of Mao, whereas after Mao’s death in 1976, in token of mourning a black and white photograph of him was hung instead of the portrait. There were couple of attempts to destroy the portrait – among other things in 1989 it was poured with paint, and in 2007 there was an attempt to set it on fire.

The tradition of hanging portraits and slogans on the Gate dates back to the times earlier than rise of the People’s Republic of China. From 1925 the portrait of Sun Yat-sen, the first President of China, a founder of Kuomintang and an actual leader to death, hung above the entrance of the Gate. Next, the portrait of Chiang Kay-shek (from 1945) hung there, however in the period of the Japanese occupation of Beijing the slogan „Let us build a New Order in the Eastern Asia” was placed under the roof of the Gate.

The Gate of Heavenly Peace towering over the huge Square was a witness of many important events of this biggest and most populous country in the world.

In the times of the Empire it played a role of a connector between the Forbidden City and an outer world. From its top a sculpted phoenix was put on a rope in its beak down, imperial edicts, results of state examination were announced there and military expeditions were bid goodbye. Once a year from the left part of the Gate an imperial official carried out a review of death sentences, which poured in Beijing; in case the death sentence had been approved, it was executed instantaneously. The Emperor himself appeared on the Gate very seldom; when he happened to turn up, he was accompanied by several thousand host.

Until 1911 China, that is the Middle Kingdom, remained the Empire. But throughout the 20th century it struggled with internal fights, and increasingly weak reign of last Emperors of the Qing dynasty could not ensure peace in this country of huge space, where not only the influences of the adjacent countries like Japan and Russia but also of European countries – France and Germany clashed. When in 1908, after the Guangxu Emperor’s death and then the Cixi Empress’s death, a 2-year old Puyi was seated on the throne everything started to fall apart. In 1911 an uprising in Wuchang broke out. This triggered the Chinese revolution. In Nanjing an assembly of representatives of revolutionized provinces proclaimed the People's Republic of China and elected Sun Yat-sen a provisional President. On February 12th, 1912 an edict on dethronement of the Qing dynasty was publicized and the Republic was proclaimed. With different turbulences the Republic survived as long as till 1945.

The following years were no longer kind to China, long-term reign of Mao Zedong, the cultural revolution, the Gang of Four, all of this left its mark on the people, on the Chinese economy as well as on the culture.

In 1950-1952 in China a land reform was performed. Within the frames of the reform 47 million hectares of land was divided among 300 million of peasants, property of Japanese and German Kuomintang’s bureaucracy and of foreign companies was nationalized. The property of the Chinese bourgeoisie was not nationalized. Chinese Communist Party, which governed the country, planned a smooth transition from capitalism to socialism. Within 15-18 years they intended to carry out preliminary industrialization of the country, collectivisation of agriculture and nationalization of industry and trade, but comrade Mao was impatient and wanted to do all of this much more quickly. In 1958 he initiated a policy of accelerated transformations, also known as "the Great Leap Forward”, but both an attempt to obtain substantial increase in production of steel by melting it in small, primitive furnaces and formation of people's communes resulted in rapid deterioration of the economic situation and famine. The government continued to manually steer the huge economy, but it only led to division in the management of Chinese Communist Party. The followers of the reforms focused around Liu Shaoqi, from 1959 a leader of Chinese Communist Party, and Deng Xiaoping, a Secretary General of the Central Committee and Deputy Prime Minister, contrary to the opponents who concentrated around Mao Zedong. In 1966 Mao Zedong`s followers gained vantage, announced "the cultural revolution", and Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping were removed from power. The reign in China was taken over by a small group of people focused around Mao Zedong and his nominated deputy marshal Lin Biao. The reign outside a built-up areawas taken over by the army. "The cultural revolution” disorganized the life of the country and caused massive casualties. Military clashes between Chinese and Soviet forces occurred on the Ussuri River in 1969.

After Lin Biao’s death in 1971 Prime Minister Zhou Enlai made an attempt to partially resign from the aims of "the cultural revolution", which was supported by Deng Xiaoping, who became a Deputy Prime Minister again in 1973. Their attempts faced objection of a radical faction of the party’s management. After Zhou Enlai’s death in January 1976, Hua Guofeng became Prime Minister. In April 1976 in Tiananmen Square there were first in People’s Republic of China mass people’s manifestation demanding abandonment of a policy of building communism and class struggle, put up by Mao Zedong. Deng Xiaoping was removed from power again.

After Mao Zedong’s death in September 1976 the fight in the management of Chinese Communist Party aggravated. The leaders of the radical fraction, gathered around Jiang Qing, a Mao Zedong`s widow, as well as the whole so-called Gang of Four, were removed. At Chinese Communist Party convention in 1981 people made a critical assessment of Mao Zedong’s achievements they also disproved of "the Great Leap Forward" and "the cultural revolution". Nevertheless, Chinese Communist Party management could not take the liberty of disapproving Mao totally, like it happened in the USSR after Stalin’s death. Except Mao Zedong there was nobody in China whose achievements could be referred to, therefore he remained an important ideological symbol in China. For the Chinese most of all his merits count: unification of the country after the series of civil wars and preventing China from being dependent on The Soviet Union.

In 1977 Deng Xiaoping returned to the position of Deputy Prime Minister and Vice-President of the Central Committee, the followers of departure from „the cultural revolution” gained vantage and most important positions in the country were held by Zhao Ziyang, who was in favour of the reforms, Prime Minister to 1987, and Hu Yaobang a leader and Secretary of the Central Committee ofChinese Communist Party. The cultural revolution was disapproved of, most people repressed at that time were rehabilitated, "opening to the world" was proclaimed and a socialist market economy was initiated. Family farms in the agriculture were restored, a private sector revived, special economic zones were created, and in 1979 investment of foreign capital was allowed in 14 waterside cities of China.

The internal reforms were accompanied by the reforms in foreign policy. As early at the turn of the 60s and the70s the People’s Republic of China started to gradually exit the isolation. In 1971 it took Taiwan’s place in the UN Security Council. In the 70s the contacts with the US revived and in 1979 both countries established diplomatic relations. In the 80s there occurred a normalization of relations with the USSR.

After 14 years the position of Secretary General of Chinese Communist Party was reactivated, this position was held by Hu Yaobang. A year later he was elected a leader of the Central Committee, and after liquidation of this position he was in charge of the party still as Secretary General. Very quickly he gained popularity as a follower of both the reforms and liberalization of social life. In 1986 he proposed separation of the state administration from the party’s administration. However, at the end of 1986 after the protests of students, who demanded democratisation of public life, the party’s management perceived him as the main culprit of the demonstrations. On January 16th, 1987 he was forced to resign from the function of Secretary General of Chinese Communist Party, yet he was allowed to keep a position in the Political Office of the party. Zhao Ziyang took up the position of Secretary General. Nonetheless, the inflation, the increase of costs of living and inhibition of the political reforms aroused the discontent of the society.

On April 15th, 1989 Hu Yaobang died from heart attack which he suffered a couple of days earlier during the session of the Political Office of the Party, in which the education reforms were being discussed. An official obituary presented him as a faithful and dedicated member of the Party, a prominent statesman, a political leader, etc. Despite the fact that at the time of death he was not a member of the supreme authority any more, under pressure from the public the government organized his funeral with all honours and participation of the supreme authorities of the Party. He was praised for restoration of political normality and for support of economic development after the cultural revolution. People demanded his rehabilitation, continuation of the political reforms, democratisation of the public life and cracking down with the increasing corruption. A rally of mourners was organized in the Great Hall of the People, and a line of mourners was 10 miles long. The reaction of the crowd surprised the Chinese leaders.

After the funeral crowds of people did no return home, though. In Square of Heavenly Peace there stayed tens of thousands students, and a couple of thousands of them started a hunger strike. Beijing workers supported them and after a few days the huge Square was occupied by several hundred thousand people. They demanded both further reforms and freedom of speech.

Press opinion pollof May 17th revealed that 75% inhabitants of Beijing supported the strike.

Zhao Ziyang was ready to talk to the protesters, but in the Party’s management circles an option to resolve the matter forcefully won, it was supported by most hardliners. Even Deng Xiaoping, actual leader of China, was in favour of using force. He disapproved of the protests which he found antisocialist, and referring to an example of Poland he stated that concessions led to further concessions. At that time a number of events followed: there was a fraction fight in the Party, public holidays on May 1st and May 4th, and from May 15th to May 18th Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, visited China.

On the following day after Gorbachev had left, Prime Minister, Zhao Ziyang, met the protesters in the Square, but they refused to cease the demonstrations. So, on May 20th the state of emergency was introduced in Beijing, but the attempts to disperse the students made by police and local military units failed. At night from June 3rd to June 4th 1989 a 300 thousands army brought in from the province at the authority`s behest that managed to disperse the participants of the protests with the use of tanks and fire from the machine gun. Most victims were killed in fights in Chang'an Avenue adjacent to Tiananmen Square. After the action had finished a communicate was announced that peaceable soldiers had been attacked by the students.

According to official data 241 people including the soldiers were killed, and 7000 people were injured. The Chinese Red Cross estimates the number of victims as 2600 people, and Human Rights Watch claims that approximately 30 people out of hundreds arrested at that time have still been imprisoned. Some protesters were sentenced to death.

The Chinese government disapproved of the protests as counterrevolutionary riots and banned all discussions about the events or commemorating the events. Due to shortage of information from that time from China, an exact course of events is unknown or unconfirmed, and the number of victims ranges from several hundred to several thousand. Even the participants of these events, who took part in the demonstration in Square of Heavenly Peace, were not able to tell an exact course of action of the protests due to the fact that their scale was so large. The protests did not have any shared leadership either, and different fractions of the Chinese opposition in those days own up to it, but they mainly stay now outside the reach of the Chinese jurisdiction.

In 2011 WikiLeaks revealed American telegrams, which indicated that the massacre actually did not occur in Tiananmen Square, which was also all the time denied by the Chinese, but at the Muxidi bridge, couple of kilometres westward. The assault of the army with the use of live ammunition ensued around 10.30 pm. The crowd gathered at Muxidi tried to escape toward s Tiananmen Square, but was stopped by barricades defending access to the very Square. The protesting people kept control over the Square as long as till the following morning, though.

Contradictory information reached the world, and one of most well-known pictures documenting the students’ protest was a photography taken by Jeff Widener from AP, which presented an unknown man called by the media an Unknown Rebel or a Tank Man, who on June 5th, 1989 barred way to a column of tanks returning from an action against the demonstrators. In 1990 the photographer was nominated to Pulitzer Prize for these shots.

On the next days the government carried out extensive arrests of the demonstrators and their followers, most foreign journalists were expelled and information on the course of events was strictly controlled in the national press, as the demonstrations took also place in several other Chinese cities. The police and security forces were reinforced. Officials who showed even a shadow of fondness towards the protesters were degraded or dismissed. Zhao Ziyang was substituted by Jiang Zemin. The political and economic reforms were withheld for couple of years, although Deng Xiaoping remained an actual leader.

The Chinese government revolted that the international public disapproved of the use of force towards the protesting people and it diminished both the scale of the protests and number of victims. Economic sanctions and arms embargo were imposed on China.

For a long time it was not allowed to carry out any discussions on the events or to commemorate them and attempts to organize either official or unofficial celebrations ended with repressions, and the international public received few mostly contradictory reports.

Yet a thaw within the frames of economic reforms ensued quickly. Even though Deng Xiaoping, their main advocate at the 5th Plenary of the Central Committee ofChinese Communist Party, in November 1989 resigned from all the public functions and retired, he kept a backstage influence on the state affairs. In 1992 he travelled to the south visiting Guangzhou (Canton), Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Shanghai. During his journey, in numerous speeches he approved of the conducted reforms and repeatedly exhorted to intensify both the process of marketization of the economy and the reforms. Thanks to the meetings held by Deng, at the 14th session of Chinese Communist Party in October 1992 "hardliners" were removed and new authorities were elected with Jiang Zemin in charge of them. This triggered revival and acceleration of the reforms, which within the following couple of years brought quick economic growth. China became the world`s power and it starts to take the lead away from the United States. There is a growing standard of living, hundreds and thousands of smaller and bigger companies produce millions of necessary and unnecessary goods purchased all over the world. Magnificent modern cities have been erected, thousands kilometres of roads and highways connecting biggest agglomerations called megapolis in which tens of millions of people live have been built, the longest in the world bridge over the sea which is 42 kilometres long has been erected, it connects the port city of Qingdao with an island Huangdao on the Jiaozhou Bay. Furthermore, the Chinese scientists have been lately thinking of constructing a rail link between China and the United States in the tunnel below Bering Strait, over 4 thousand kilometres in total.

A we look at China today – it seems that impossible does not exist for it.

In August 2005 Hu Jintao announced plans of Hu Yaobang’s rehabilitation, and on the 90th anniversary of his birth there were celebrations in Beijing, as well as in the Hunan province, where he had been born, and in the Jiangxi province, where he was buried.

The situation of the Chinese dissidents after 2005 has also been slowly improving. The government quietly pays compensations to the victims` families and at least a few families confirm that. A group „The Tiananmen Mothers” confirmed that before the 22nd anniversary of the events the officials of the Public Safety Office privately discussed the matter of payment of individual compensations. Victims` relatives still demand both public rehabilitation of all the people, claiming responsibility of the Chinese authorities for the events, punishing the people to blame and compensations for the whole group. Reportedly the offer to handle the matter quietly and to pay to individual families of the victims was rejected. „The Tiananmen Mothers” also want to overcome the taboo of silence on the events taking place 25 years ago.

For a long time Chinese intellectuals and dissidents have been calling on to open discussion. Among the latter there is Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who was imprisoned for 20 months for participation in the demonstrations, and then he spent three years in a labour camp and house arrest.

Victims of Tiananmen are commemorated in Hong Kong, where for many years tens of thousands of people with lighted candles have been participating in evening vigil in Victoria Park.

In the previous year Xi Jinping took power in China, so the dissidents again hope for another breakthrough in the perception of events of 25 years ago. Chen Xitong, a former mayor of Beijing, who is preparing a book about those events, claims that in Beijing this tragedy could have been avoided.

As I know the Chinese customs, reluctance to reveal the truth both in historical and in present-day times, I think the tragedy which took place in June 1989 in Square of Heavenly Peace will never be completely explained.

Małgorzata Korwin-Mikke

Bibliography:

Wikipedia: Protesty na Placu Tian’anmen

The Telegraph: Tiananmen Square protesters: where are they now?

The Telegraph: Wikileaks: no bloodshed inside Tiananmen Square, cables claim

Wikipedia EN: Hu Yaobang

Wikipedia PL: Deng Xiaoping

Wikipedia: Historia Chin

Picture gallery:

www.telegraph.co.uk


This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl. Polish version of this article is available here

Łukasz Nowok

Treaty of Trianon

21 August 2015
Tags
  • Great War
  • First World War
  • Treaty of Trianon
  • peace agreement

The story which lead to the the Treaty of Trianon started on June 28th, 1914 in Bosnian Sarajevo, which administratively belonged to the Austrian Empire.

On this day the archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, a heir to the imperial and royal throne, was assassinated. The assassination resulted in the outbreak of World War I, in which two powerful blocs clashed: the Entente and Central Powers. Among the latter the units of the Kingdom of Hungary, which was one of two main parts of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, played a significant military role.

The war

Having achieved some success in the first year of the war, the Austro-Hungarian units were stopped at L’viv foregrounds by the outnumbering them Russian army. However, as early as in May 1915 the Hungarian units succeeded in holding back Italians in the battle ofCaporetto. Eventually, using the support of Kaiser Wilhelm`s army, the Hungarians took up all territory of Romania and part of Serbia. A problem of the Imperial and Royal army was the battle on three fronts which led to bleeding out of the army, increasing aggravation of social mood and decrease of soldiers` morale. In addition to all of that,generaltiredness of the Monarchy nations with the war and provision of supplies to the army only worsened the situation of the fighters. Additionally to all the problems of the fighting Empire there also came the independence movements once again awakened in particular parts of the Monarchy.

The disintegration of the Empire

On November 3rd, 1918, after four years of bloody battles, on behalf of all the Monarchy the Imperial Staff signed a cease-fire with representatives of the Entente. At that time Members of Parliament, who represented particular nations belonging to the Monarchy, had already been submitting declarations on disconnection from Vienna and Budapest. The following days brought proclamations of new states built on the ruins of the Imperial–Royal Empire. As early as on October 31st the royal government in Budapest announced its disconnection from Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on October 14th, the government of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Vienna had agreed to conditional capitulation proposed by President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson; the capitulation was to be signed together with capitulations of other Central Powers.

Nonetheless, that did not solve the problems of the Kingdom of Hungary, which yet before signing the cease-fire had announced the disconnection from the Viennese government. Despite the fact that the Kingdom was not to blame for declaring war, in the future peace treaty it would be treated most severely of all the defeated. In Hungary, after disconnection from the Empire, local communists provoked both an outbreak of revolution and appointment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, which was the following of the model of Russia. The Allies determining a new order in Europe would not have either enemies or, all the more, communists in the Hungarian capital. With reference to the decision made by the victorious states two large operations destined to get rid of the communists from Hungary were simultaneously performed. In the first operation joint forces of the Czech Republic, Serbia, France and Romania carried out an offensive which pushed the communists to Budapest. The second action was a formation of a national army out of the Hungarian soldiers serving under the Imperial-Royal army. The last commander of Austro-Hungarian Navy and, at the same time, aide-de-camp of Emperor Franz Joseph, admiral Miklos Horthy was put in charge of the army. On November 16th, 1919 admiral Horthy entered the capital city of the Kingdom of Hungary on a white horse, at the head of the National Army. This officially put an end to the existence of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

Trianon

A government formed by Horthy faced a difficult task. On the one hand it was supposed to ensure safety and continuity of the Kingdom of Hungary, on the other hand however it was to tackle the peace treaty prepared by the winners. As early as on March, 1st 1920 National Assembly of the Kingdom of Hungary, composed mainly of the monarchists, found admiral Miklos Horthy worthy to receive the title of regent and to entrust him with all competences due to king. 131 out of 141 Members of Parliament and Senators assembled in the Parliament supported this decision. At this point a delegation to Paris to conduct peace talks was sent from the kingdom without a king. An ardent nationalist, count Albert Apponyi was in charge of it.

On June 4th 1920, in Grand Trianon Palace in Versailles the peace treaty, which officially put an end to Great War, was presented to the Hungarian delegation. From the Kingdom’s side count Apponyi was to sign it. Nonetheless, as soon as he had read the text of the treaty, he ostentatiously left the palace, thus implying that signing it was a disgracing activity. Eventually, under pressure from the Entete states representatives, at 4.32 pm the treaty was signed by a Hungarian ambassador in Paris and Minister of Health (both were members of the Kingdom’s delegation). Having signed the treaty both politicians withdrew from public life.

Not only did the treaty force the Hungarians to pay for war reparations, but it also unfairly punished them for the outbreak of war. According to the provisions the Kingdom of Hungary was supposed to waive nearly seventy per cent of its territory. Thereby only 93 thousand square kilometres out of previous 325 thousand stayed with Budapest. In addition, the number of people decreased from 21 million inhabitants to 8 million and almost 5 million Hungarians stayed outside the imposed borders. According to the treaty the Kingdom was cut by Transylvania, Slovakia, Croatia, Banat, Bačka, Trans-Carpathian Ruthenia and Burgenland. Only in Burgenland, however, in the face of a danger of people's uprising a plebiscite was carried out, by virtue of which Sopron and its surroundings came back to Hungary. Furthermore, the winners demanded from the Hungarians limitation of the army to 35 thousand soldiers and abolition of common military service. It was also forbidden to have aviation and navy, but the latter would be impossible after depriving the Hungarians of access to the sea. The amount of the existing armament factories was also limited, the Hungarians circumvent this ban, though. They significantly increased the production in the mills left to them, thanks to which as early as in mid-July they were able to send over one hundred million missiles destined for use in war with Bolsheviks to the Republic of Poland. Another provision of the treaty, which was meant to prevent Hungarians from striving for possible military development, was a ban on construction of multiple-trackrailway lines.

On June 4th, 1920 the nation plunged into mourning. Bells rung in churches, funeral services were held, newspapers appeared with black edges resembling obituaries, on that day all offices, schools and shops were closed, at 4.30 pm all public transport stopped for five minutes, flags were lowered at half-mast as a sign of mourning. The flags stayed in this position as late as till 1938, when in cooperation with The Third Reich a revision of the disgraceful treaty was performed for the first time.

The times of Horthy

Both regent Horthy governing the Kingdom, and all nation did not reconcile with the conditions imposed by the Allies. A French Minister, Georges Clemencau, assured a possibility to revise the treaty according to both an ethnographic criterion and a status of the League of Nations. The first revision took place as late as in 1938, though, when after closer connection of the Kingdom with the Third Reich within the frames of Viennese arbitrationHungary obtained the border with the Republic of Poland at the cost ofCzechoslovakia, and two years later after the second arbitration they received the northern Transylvania at the cost of Romania. After World War II within the frames of the Treaty of Paris signed in 1947 Hungary lost its territorial acquisition again.

Until now the Treaty of Trianon has been treated as a symbol of national treason. For couple of years, on June 4th at 4.32 pm bells of all churches in Budapest have rung in token of mourning.

Łukasz Nowok

Daria Czarnecka

First partially free elections in the Soviet bloc – Poland 1989

21 August 2015
Tags
  • 1989
  • Solidarity
  • fall of communism
  • Eastern Bloc
  • elections

Situation in Poland in the late 1980s.

The aggravated economic situation both in the USSR and in the states of the so-called Eastern bloc in the mid-1980s caused a wave of social unrest. In 1986 the Polish authorities tried to mitigate the situation with such actions as the announcement of an amnesty for most political prisoners. The authorities also turned a blind eye to activity of the officially illegal Tymczasowa Rada NSZZ ‘Solidarność’ (Provisional Council of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union ‘Solidarity’). In1987 a so-called second stage of economic reform was propagated, though this did not protect society from price increases.

February 1st, 1988 saw the highest price increases in 6 years. This move induced strikes. On April 25th, strikes began in the city of Bydgoszcz, and other cities joined in one by one. At the beginning the strikers demanded that prices were lowered, but later they began to demand the legalization of ‘Solidarność’ (‘Solidarity’) and the reinstatement of workers dismissed for opposition activity. The strikes came as a surprise both to the communist authorities and to the opposition. The next wave of strikes broke out on August 15th in the Silesian coal mines. This prompted the government and the opposition to start talks. Their negotiations resulted in the organisation of the Round Table Talks, which lasted from February 6th to April 5th, 1989.

Preparations for the elections

As a result of the Round Table Talks, a number of decisions were taken that aimed at a gradual change of the political system and led to the first partially free elections since 1945. Among other points, the following was agreed upon: a change in electoral law; the establishment of the office of the President of the Polish People’s Republic; the abolition of the State’s Council and the creation of the Senate of the Polish People’s Republic.

The elections went down in history as ‘contractual elections’, or elections for the contract Sejm (Polish Parliament). The Round Table agreement specified that 65% of seats in the Sejm should be granted to candidates from the Polish United Workers’ Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, PZPR) and its allies, the Zjednoczone Stronnictwo Ludowe(United Peasant Party), Stronnictwo Demokratyczne (Democratic Party) as well as to Christian pro-government parties. Only non-party candidates could compete for the other seats. The elections to the Senate were to be completely free.

The elections to the Sejm of the Polish People’s Republic were to be general, equal, direct and confidential. Members of Parliament were to be elected from electoral registers in constituencies and from a national electoral register. A constituency covered the area of a voivodeship (or its part) and, depending on the number of inhabitants, it was to have from two to five members of Parliament. At least one seat from each constituency was to be given to a non-party candidate. Delivering a valid vote required the crossing out of names on an electoral card, with names voted for left un-crossed. Crossing out all names on the card also guaranteed the validity of a vote. The criteria for election to parliament were the receipt of  both the largest amount of votes and more than 50% of valid votes in a particular constituency. In cases where the second, 50%, requirement was not fulfilled, a second round of elections bewteen the candidates with the highest number of votes was to be held.

The electoral law concerning the Senate of the Polish People’s Republic was similar to the one for the Parliament. 100 senators were to be chosen in 49 constituencies corresponding to the areas of voivodeships. Providing a valid vote required the crossing out of names on an electoral card and leaving the chosen candidates un-crossed. Similarly to the elections for the Parliament, crossing out all names on the card also rendered a vote valid. The procedure for the selection of senators was the same as that for the selection of Members of Parliament.

Electoral campaign

Both political forces had a very serious attitude towards the elections. Both Komitet Obywatelski ‘Solidarność’ (the ‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee) and the communists wanted to win everything that could be won. The opposition’s strategy wascarefully thought-out and based on union activists and members of catholic intelligentsia dispersed in constituencies. Setting up regional units of Komitet Obywatelski ‘Solidarność’ (the ‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee) resulted in the formation of a social grassroots movement which supported ‘Solidarność’ (‘Solidarity’). The electoral campaign was very straightforward: the ‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee wanted to give the impression of a uniform and stable force, free from internal friction. The myth of ‘the Wałęsa team’ was created – and an important tactic here was the presentation of photographs of each of the candidates with Lech Wałęsa. The intention of this was to show the voters who was ‘one of them’ and who was ‘a stranger’. The next move, which was supposed to prevent a division of the electorate, was to present precisely the same number of opposition candidates as there were seats to hold. This gave ‘Solidarność’ an advantage over the divided Polish United Workers’ Party. ‘Solidarność’ organised electoral meetings attended by artists and actors. The meetings offered the participants not only political agitation, but also entertainment. Special ‘instructions’ on how to return valid votes were prepared and distributed, as most voters were accustomed to the practice of ‘voting with no crossing out’ and putting unmarked slips straight into ballot-boxes.

One problem for the campaign of the ‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee was the fact that it had limited access to mass media. The communists gave the opposition the right to only one one-hour long programme on the radio and to one half-hour long programme on TV. However, the programmes were either censored or their broadcast was suspended. Contrary to their intention, this acted more to the communist’s detriment than to the opposition’s. Newspapers played an important role for the opposition: ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’, created during the campaign, became the most powerful national journal and pushed pro-regime newspapers onto the defensive.

The ‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee was not the only organisation competing in the elections - small oppositionist parties such as ‘Solidarność Walcząca’ (‘Fighting Solidarity’),Unia Polityki Realnej (Real Politics Union), Konfederacja Polski Niepodległej (Confederation for Independent Poland) and Polska Partia Socjalistyczna-Rewolucja Demokratyczna (Polish Socialist Party – Democratic Revolution) also fought for seats. These parties had not participated in the Round Table Talks, so they did not receive any access to mass media. This resulted in their marginalization.

The electoral campaign ofthe Polish United Workers’ Party worked out very poorly compared to the carefully thought-out actions of the‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee. Their main focus was on the individual campaigns of particular candidates, as opposed to ‘the Wałęsa team’ campaign. The Party repeated the old pattern of party rallies in which lecturers monotonously read political clichés from sheets of paper written in a typical communist newspeak. Questions to the candidates were not permitted. The few exceptions here were the campaigns of Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Mieczysław Wilczeks, which were more dynamic and prepared in the ‘western style’.  

The communists tried to discredit the opposition through actions organized by Służba Bezpieczeństwa (the Security Service): posters were torn down, there was attempted intimidation of  opposition candidates, slanderous posters were hung - and these actions were blamed on the Komitet Obywatelski ‘Solidarność’ (the‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee). At the order of Janusz Reykowski, chief of the campaign for the Polish United Workers’ Party, the propaganda was intensified in the final week before the elections.

Elections and results

The elections were held on June 4th, 1989. They were not as successful as expected. The turnout of 62,7% was disappointing, as it meant that 10 million Poles out of the 27 million authorized to vote did not go to the ballot-boxes. This resulted from the progressive social apathy and lack of belief that the elections could make any difference. Nevertheless, in terms of the results, the opposition enjoyed total success. Out of 161 seats in Parliament, the opposition held 160 in the first round, and only one candidate went to a second round. In the first round of voting for the senate, 92 candidates of the‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee took seats and the remaining 8 went to a second round of elections. The total failure of the Polish United Workers’ Party was also due to the fact that members of the army and militia, andalso those in circles staffed by the party,voted for the‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee. On both sides of the political barricade the result of the elections caused the same concern. Everyone was afraid of potential social unrest, or even interference from Moscow. Therefore the‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee and the Polish United Workers’ Party decided to change the electoral law in order to make it possible for the Party members to be elected. This resulted in a decrease in trust of voters towardsthe‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee, especially among those who expected quick and effective changes in Poland.

In the second round of elections ‘Solidarność’ gained the remaining seats in Parliament, thus receiving 100% of all possible seats. In the Senate they took 99 out of 100 seats. Interestingly, the only candidate from the‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee not to gain a seat in the Senate, Piotr Baumgart, was the only candidate not to use a photograph of himself and Lech Wałęsa in his campaign. The turnout in the second round of elections was around 25% - this was caused by a loss of interest in the further contest in the face of the success of the‘Solidarity’ Citizens’ Committee.

As a result of the contractual elections, the opposition gained a significant influence on the Polish government. Despite the election (by one vote) of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the former communist leader, as President of the Polish People’s Republic, the opposition established the government, with Tadeusz Mazowiecki as the Prime Minister. The social trust in the government was significant, which gave the government the ability to conduct such difficult reforms as the Balcerowicz scheme.

By Daria Czarnecka

 


This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

 

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution

21 August 2015
Tags
  • Hungarian Revolution
  • 1956
  • Hungary

23 October marks the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, one of the key moments in 20th-century Hungarian history.

Like other countries in Central Europe, Hungary fell within the Soviet sphere of influence after the Second World War. In accordance with Moscow’s wishes and with the assistance of Soviet occupation forces, democratic institutions were abolished and replaced by a totalitarian dictatorship under general secretary Mátyás Rákosi.

The first acts of resistance in the Soviet bloc were the protests in East Germany in 1953, followed three years later by strikes and street protests in Poznań in June 1956. After the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956, Hungarian students were emboldened by the perceived thaw, and on 23 October organised a demonstration at the statue of Józef Bem in Budapest, in support of the striking Polish workers and the reforms of Władysław Gomułka. The demonstrators also demanded the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Hungary, the return of a multi-party system, fresh elections, freedom of speech and of the press, and the removal of the statue of Stalin in Budapest. The crowd of demonstrators swelled in number and headed towards parliament to hear a speech given by Imre Nagy, Mátyás Rákosi's opponent. The demonstrators cut out the communist coat of arms from the Hungarian flag, and this flag with a hole became the symbol of the revolution.

After Nagy’s speech, a crowd of several thousand gathered at the Radio Budapest building, calling for their demands to be broadcast. The state security services then began shooting into the crowd of unarmed civilians, and an armed conflict erupted. The same day demonstrators toppled the statue of Stalin in Budapest, and the conflict soon spread to other Hungarian cities. The next day Soviet tanks appeared on the streets of Budapest, although at several points in the capital, the revolutionaries managed to halt their advance. Snipers from the security forces continued to shoot at demonstrators from rooftops along Kossuth square near the parliament building and from the Communist Party headquarters on Köztársaság square, but after several days the revolution had succeeded. Soviet military divisions withdrew from Budapest, the Hungarian government introduced a multi-party system, commenced preparations to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, announced an amnesty for political prisoners, and declared Hungary’s neutrality.

However, it was only several days before the Soviet army invaded, crushing the revolution in early November after a series of vicious street battles in Budapest. Imre Nagy and the leaders of the revolution were lured into a trap and arrested, and as a result of the invasion over two thousand lost their lives, more than ten thousand were wounded and around 150,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. As an act of revenge, several hundred revolutionaries were executed by the Soviets, and mass arrests continued for months afterwards. Public discussion about the revolution was suppressed until the fall of communism, and only in 1989 did the process of rehabilitating victims began.

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution demonstrated Moscow’s resolve to retain its hold over Central Europe. At the same time the revolution was a milestone in the campaign to topple Soviet power, since along with the Prague Spring in 1968 and Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, it led to the end of communism in Europe.

23 October has been a national holiday in Hungary since 1989, and ceremonies are held throughout the country on this date to pay homage to the heroes of the struggle for freedom in 1956.

(TG)