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Photo of the publication That old Soviet idea
Marek Kornat

That old Soviet idea

27 August 2015
  • Ribbentrop and Molotov pact
  • Poland
  • Molotov-Ribbentrop contract
  • 20th century history
  • Second World War

Poland’s decision to reject the Soviet demands as regards the Red Army passage did not matter from the perspective of Stalin’s motivation, yet it awarded him a pretext used by Soviet propaganda and historiography.

“Once it became obvious that Hitler pushes for a war, France and Great Britain tried to set up a front to counter the aggression and sent a delegation to Moscow so as to agree a programme for cooperation. The Soviets did not exclude a possible agreement, saying that they could accept the proposal under the condition that the Red Army troops (...) were allowed to move through Poland. Proud and suspicious, the government in Warsaw rejected the idea and the Soviets interpreted the response as a manifestation of distrust towards them. There might not have been any Ribbentrop-Molotov pact (and maybe the Second World War, either), had the Poles not believed so much in their own ability to counter the German troops. As regards the Soviet entry into Polish territory, the Soviet decision was understandable. Since Poland, as Germany intended, was to disappear, why would Russia not restrict the German expansion by taking a slice of the country for itself?” Such are the reflections presented a few days ago in the “Corriere della Sera” daily by the Italian writer, journalist and diplomat Sergio Romano.

Unfortunately, the successive “round” anniversaries of the outbreak or end of the Second World War make that old Soviet idea recur. Let us recall the fact then.

In the night from 11 to 12 August Allied military delegations arrived in Moscow to hold talk with the Soviets (the British headed by Admiral Drax and the French by General Doumenc), which meant that the efforts to negotiate a tripartite alliance treaty between Great Britain, France and the USSR entered into the decisive phase. The leader of the Soviet delegation in the Moscow talks Marshal Voroshylov demanded the use of Polish and Romanian territories for fighting with the Germans. He stated that as the USSR did not share a border with Germany, the Red Army was unable to take part in the war and deliver on the commitments it had made. On 18 August, the ambassadors of France and Great Britain to Poland presented the issue to the Polish government in Warsaw.

The Soviet demands concerning the Red Army “passage” through Poland and Romania were an unambiguous proof that the Soviets wished to break off the negotiations with the Allied Powers, as it would have been inconceivable to imagine that the Polish reply would be anything but negative. And indeed, such was the Polish stance communicated to the ambassadors of the Allies several times between 18—22 August. Already on 19 August, a German-Soviet economic treaty was signed in Berlin, and von Ribbentrop was invited to Moscow a week later. On Hitler’s personal request to Stalin, the hastened trip took place as early as 23 August. The talks in Moscow resulted in the well-known agreement concerning the division of the “spheres of interest” in Eastern Europe between both totalitarian powers.

To satisfy the Soviet demands would have been tantamount to an agreement to have the east of Poland occupied and a death sentence voluntarily signed. Upon the Soviet entry on Polish territory, Poland would have lost independence just as the Baltic States had lost theirs: having let in the Red Army in October 1939, they were unable to put up resistance in June 1940.

One must have no illusions concerning Stalin’s policy in 1939. His pronouncements concerning Poland and the Versailles order reveal his true intentions. The 7 September 1939 entry in Georgi Dimitrov’s Diary quotes Stalin’s very clear words about Poland: “Doing away with that country in conducive circumstances would mean one bourgeois fascist state less. What wrong would that be if as a result of shattering Poland we spread the socialist system over a new territory and population?” True, the Soviet dictator was forced in 1934 to proclaim his orientation towards cooperation with western democracies, yet this did not mean any fundamental change to the strategic principle: the notion that the Versailles order had to be demolished, put briefly. Highly important and suggestive remain his words from July 1940, where in a conversation with the British ambassador to Moscow Stafford Cripps the USSR leader said that before the outbreak of the Second World War no Soviet-British rapprochement was possible as his country focused on the demolition of the “old” balance of powers built after the First World War without Russia, while Great Britain fought for its retention. “The Soviet Union wanted to change the old system of powers (…), while England and France wished to keep it. Also Germany wanted to make a change in the power system and this joint wish to do away with the old system became the basis for the rapprochement with the Germans.”

One should repeat after the German historian Martin Broszat that Hitler found in Stalin a partner for waging a total war of destruction, a “partner equally eager to treat foreign territories lightly”. Because of this, “Hitler’s way of thinking in terms of dividing spheres of interest on vast areas which he tried to propose to the English in vain, met with a mutual sentiment (...).” This, in turn “must have been a potent stimulus and incentive to start just in Poland the implementation of the nationalist-socialist concept of a new large-scale system of relations in terms of territory and population.”

Poland’s decision to reject the Soviet demands as regards the Red Army passage did not matter from the perspective of Stalin’s motivation, yet it awarded him a pretext used by Soviet propaganda and historiography. Currently, the propaganda of Putin’s Russia makes use of such ideas. In Russia, history was and still is a political tool. What remains more striking is the fact that the Soviet version of the interpretation as to the reasons for the outbreak of the Second World War keeps finding believers outside Russia.

In the summer of 1939, the Soviet Union and the German Reich, two totalitarian powers, struck an agreement. Although it would not be long-lasting, it was definitely real. The Polish government could be nothing more than a passive observer of the developments. No Polish policy was able to take the Soviet authorities away from their intention to pursue cooperation with Germany in order to secure new territories in Eastern Europe. No Polish policy was able to prevent the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, or to change the inevitable course of the events leading to the war.

Photo of the publication The Romanian Revolution

The Romanian Revolution

21 August 2015
  • 1989
  • Romanian Revolution

In mid-December 1989 events in Timisoara launched the revolution which resulted in overthrowing the long-term Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. Before the dictator and his wife were sentenced to death and executed, over a thousand people were killed and several thousand injured in riots.


Based on timeline prepared by dr. Florin Abraham

On 14 December, on discovering the authorities’ intention to implement the Court’s decision to evict Reverend Laszlo Tokes, 30-40 parishioners of the Reformed Church protested in front of his house on Timotei Cipariu Street in Timisoara. The head of the local Militia decided to halt the eviction to avoid further tension.

However, on 16 December, Nicolae Ceausescu ordered Militia and Securitate forces to re-establish order and evict Reverend Tokes. The officers were met with resistance of hundreds of protesters gathering around the Reverend’s house and shouting anti-Ceausescu slogans. The intervention resulted in violent clashes which led to even more unrest: people gathering and tearing down portraits of Ceausescu and red flags, building barricades and breaking windows in town centre shops. As a result, tear gas was used and several protesters were arrested. Laszlo Tokes was evicted on the following day. This did not put an end to the protests, on the contrary: military units coming into the town for a victory parade were attacked by a crowd of 4,000 people shouting slogans against the regime. The law enforcement services responded with tear gas and water jets, while the army used tanks and opened fire.

The clashes continued after Nicolae Ceausescu had left Romania for an official visit to Iran. Facing the remobilisation of protesters, the authorities declared a state of emergency. As the demonstrations in Timisoara escalted, on 19 December the troops were sent to the town’s biggest industrial factories, in an attempt to keep the situation under control. Meanwhile, an anti-Ceausescu manifesto signed by SLOMR, a Romanian free trade union, was announced in some cities in Transylvania (Sibiu, Alba Iulia, Sebes, Deva, Targu Mures, Brasov, among others), calling people to strike.

On 20 Decemeber Timisoara went on general strike. Ioan Lorin Fortuna, one of the protest leaders, initiated the formation of the revolutionary committee called the Romanian Democratic Front (Frontul Democratic Român - FDR). FDR representatives held talks with the Prime Minister Constantin Dascalescu, laying down their demands: an inquiry into the killings which took place on 17 December and release of those arrested; resignation of Ceausescu and his government and the formation of a National Salvation government; guarantee of free press. On the same evening, Nicolae Ceausescu, who had by then returned from Iran, delivered a televised speech in which he condemned the events in Timisoara and accused foreign countries of involvement in Romanian domestic affairs.

On 21 December 1989, the FDR leaders read the Proclamation to 100,000 demonstrators from the balcony of the Opera House. In all the major towns of Transylvania, workers were striking in solidarity with Timisoara. The law enforcement forces were trying to dissuade people from openly protesting. At noon in Bucharest, hoping to win the popular approval of his policy and regime, Nicolae Ceausescu organized a public rally with the participation of tens of thousands of people. He addresses the crowds, promising increase in salaries, pensions, social aid and state allowances for children, but the people fled from the square. Troops were mobilized in the city to protect the Secretary General of the Party and his wife. The law enforcement forces intervened violently against the demonstrators, who shouted anti-Ceausescu slogans in several places in Bucharest, using tear gas and water jets, arresting people and even shooting at them. Military units were also mobilized in all the protesting towns in Transylvania, in order to intervene against the demonstrators.

On 22 December in all main towns of Romania, people took to the streets to continue the protests. General Vasile Milea, Minister of National Defence, refused to carry out Nicolae Ceausescu’s order to shoot the demonstrators and committed suicide. Nicolae Ceausescu declared a state of emergency throughout the country on national television and radio. The Army and Militia forces refused to shoot at people and took the side of the revolutionaries. Towards noon, the revolutionaries occupied the public television building.

At 12:06, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu fled the Central Committee building by helicopter. Soon the revolutionaries took control over the building and removed Romanian Communist Party flags. Petre Roman announced the victory of the revolution from the Central Committee balcony. At 12:55, actor Ion Caramitru and poet Mircea Dinescu announced the victory of the revolution from the Romanian public television studios. The public radio building were also occupied by demonstrators, who began broadcasting the revolution live. Appeals were made for calm and for ceasing of confrontations with the forces still faithful to the former regime. All over the country, big crowds of people gathered in the streets in support of the revolution.

Army was ordered to support the revolution and prevent further violence. Some former Securitate agents were attacked by angry revolutionary mobs in Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca and Harghita County. A formation of the National Salvation Front Council, the revolutionary structure that would guide the country during the coming months and organize free elections, was announced and all the structures of the former regime were dissolved. Acts of terror later became widespread throughout Bucharest and the entire country, especially in strategic areas such as airports, ministries, military buildings, public television and radio. Military units were in disarray and began attacking each other.

Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were captured at Targoviste after their brief flight and taken into custody by the Securitate. They were transferred from the Targoviste Securitate headquarters to the military unit under the command of Colonel Andrei Kemenici.

Television continued to broadcast live events near the Central Committee, including various military units opening fire. At 23:00, Ion Iliescu presented the Statement of the National Salvation Front Council to the Country (CFSN). The document summed up the objectives of the revolution: to institute the democracy, freedom and dignity of the Romanian people, to dissolve the institutions of the Ceausescu regime, to ensure power is taken by the CFSN and the Superior Military Council, which will then create local branches in order to provide local government.

During the night, fighting continued in Bucharest among unidentified group and all over the country, people were killed in the exchange of fire. Terror acts continued in the next days all over the country, resulting in several dead and injured, among both civilians and the military. The CFSN adopted exceptional measures calling for an immediate ceasefire in the country, the trial of the Ceausescus, the confiscation of weapons from civilians and the unification of the armed forces. On 24 December the CFSN leadership and the military decided to briefly try Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu and sentence them to death, with immediate execution.

On 25 December 1989 at Targoviste, the Exceptional Military Court accused Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu of genocide (64,000 deaths during their regime), undermining state power and the national economy and diversionist acts. They were sentenced to death and all their possessions were confiscated. At 14:50, Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were shot dead by a firing squad. The Romanian Television broadcasted the news of the Ceausescus’ execution in the evening. At night, a short video was aired on Romanian Television showing the trial and execution of the Ceausescus. The CFSN decided to annul all the honours and titles awarded during their rule. Terror attacks diminished in intensity all over the country. The CFSN appointed Petre Roman as Prime Minster of the provisional government.

The first CFSN plenary meeting took place on 27 December to elect its officials (President – Ion Iliescu, Vice-President – Dumitru Mazilu) and adopt the new symbols of the country. The new leadership of the country was acknowledged by most states, including the United States, Hungary and the Soviet Union. 

Photo of the publication Velvet Revolution day by day

Velvet Revolution day by day

21 August 2015
  • 1989
  • communism
  • 20th century history
  • End of Communism
  • Velvet Revolution
  • Soviet Union

On 17 November 1989 the intervention of security forces against the rally’s participants marked the start of the “Velvet Revolution”. The event took place on the 50th anniversary of the closing of Czech universities by the Nazi Germans. It was held under the auspices of the Socialist Union of Youth, an official youth organization. The Prague rally also involved students from the independent movement, Stuha (Ribbon).

It began at Albertov Street, where tens of thousands gathered to hear speeches. From there, the procession headed to Vyšehrad, where the official event ended at around 6 a.m., although people spontaneously headed to the centre of Prague, where the protesters were surrounded and brutally repressed by the security forces on Národní Avenue. According to an independent commission of inquiry, a total of 568 people were injured. One of the secret policemen (working in the student movement under a false identity) played the role of a dead protester during the demonstration. The alleged death of the student, published by the opposition news agency, played a significant role in arousing the public. University students entered the strike in response to the brutal crackdown.

November 17 

• A student demonstration, attended by tens of thousands of people, took place in Prague on the 50th anniversary of the closing of Czech universities by the Nazi Germans. In the evening, the demonstration was ended by brutal intervention on Národní Street. This intervention met with great public opposition.

November 18

• Students from Prague universities went on strike to protest against the intervention on Národní Street. The students were supported by Prague theatre actors who, instead of performances, discussed the intervention and the situation of society with spectators. In the days that followed, their colleagues from all over Czechoslovakia joined the Prague students and actors.

November 19

• The Civic Forum (OF), which became the umbrella opposition movement, was established in the Prague-based Drama Club (Činoherní klub). Its aim was to initiate dialogue with the Communist leaders. Václav Havel became its unofficial representative. Public Against Violence (VPN), a similarly- oriented opposition movement, was later established in Slovakia. 

• Thousands of people walked through the centre of Prague chanting anti-regime slogans and demanding punishment for those responsible for the intervention on Národní třída. Similar rallies took place in many Czechoslovak cities in the days that followed. 

November 21 

• The Chairman of the Federal Government, Ladislav Adamec, met representatives of the striking students and the Civic Forum for the first time. 

November 22

• For the first time, Czechoslovak television aired live speeches during the demonstration on Wenceslas Square. 

November 24 

• Miloš Jakeš and other members of the Communist Party leadership resigned at an extraordinary meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Karel Urbánek, a lacklustre member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, became the Party´s new Secretary-General. 

November 25–26

• Around 750,000 people attended mass rallies in support of the Civic Forum in Letna Park, Prague. Václav Havel and other OF representatives were not the only speakers. They were joined by Alexander Dubček and the Chairman of the Federal Government, Ladislav Adamec, who was, however, booed off stage. 

November 27

• The majority of workers joined the two-hour general strike under the slogan “The end of one-party rule”. 

November 29 

• The Federal Assembly of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic abolished the articles of the Constitution relating to the leading role of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in society and education in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism. 

December 3 

• Ladislav Adamec introduced the new government, which was dominated by members of the Communist Party. Its composition aroused great public resentment. The Civic Forum threatened to call a general strike if there was no change. 

December 4

• The borders were opened for Czechoslovak citizens, who could travel freely to Austria without exit visas or customs declarations. Up to 250,000 people visited Austria during the following weekend. 

December 7

• The entire federal government resigned, including Prime Minister Ladislav Adamec, who recommended that Marián Čalfa be appointed to form a new government. 

December 8 

• The Civic Forum decided to nominate Václav Havel as Presidential candidate. 

December 10 

• The President of the Republic, Gustáv Husák, appointed a new federal government with representatives of both the OF and the VPN. He then announced his resignation to the Federal Assembly of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. 

December 15 

• Marián Čalfa, Chairman of the Federal Government, organized a secret meeting with Václav Havel in the Office of the Government, during which he offered cooperation in promoting Havel's Presidential candidacy. 

December 19 

• Marián Čalfa, Chairman of the Federal Government, presented a policy statement in the Federal Assembly of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and, on behalf of the government, put forward Václav Havel as candidate for President. 

December 21 

• The Extraordinary Congress of the Communist Party decided to dissolve the People's Militia, the Party’s paramilitary unit. 

December 28 

• Parliament passed the Co-optation Act to appoint new members. Among them was Alexander Dubcek, who became Chairman of the Federal Assembly. 

December 29

• The representative of the Civic Forum, Václav Havel, was elected President of the Republic at Prague Castle. The students ended their strike after his election.

Photo of the publication 3 October 1990 - Reunification of Germany
Andrzej Włusek

3 October 1990 - Reunification of Germany

21 August 2015
  • iron curtain
  • German Reunification
  • fall of communism
  • 1990

On 3 October 1990 the process of reunification of Germany was concluded and as a result the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany) joined the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG/West Germany) and Berlin was reunited into a single city.

After the end of the Second World War, the German state was divided into four occupation zones, controlled by France, Great Britain, the USA and the USSR. With the pulling apart of the USSR and the Western countries, and the beginning of the Cold War, the Allies agreed to combine their occupation zones into one state entity, the Federal Republic of Germany. The Soviet Union was not far behind and created its own dependent state, the German Democratic Republic. The city of Berlin, despite its location in the Soviet part, was split in two, with the western part being granted the status of a free city.

Germany would remain divided for many years. In 1952, however, Joseph Stalin suggested that the state should be unified. The western powers initially agreed, but on the condition that free elections be held in the united Germany, with which Stalin obviously disagreed. Eventually, the idea of unification collapsed and the Soviet Union decided to close all border crossings between the two countries and construction of the Berlin Wall began, deepening the division of the former state. 

Another opportunity for unification emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Despite the politicians from both sides having already moved closer together, the breakthrough only came with the holiday season, when crowds of East-German vacationers in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland sought asylum in FRG embassies, paralyzing their everyday activities. These acts were an obvious demonstration of public aversion to the regime. In order to relieve the tension in Hungary, the barbed wire guarding the border with Austria was removed, allowing the Germans to cross the “green border” and so enter Germany through Austria. This event foretold the lifting of the Iron Curtain.

On 7 October 1989, the 40th anniversary of the creation of the German Democratic Republic, the streets saw numerous demonstrations instead of grand celebrations. This climate caused Honecker to resign and, on 7 November, the entire SED Politburo followed suit. On 9 November, the border between the FRG and the GDR was opened to everyone, with no formalities required. In Berlin, crowds of people began to demolish the Berlin Wall. On 8 December, at the Congress of the SED, Prime Minister Modrow stated that the reunification of Germany should not be spoken of at all. Meanwhile at the Bundestag, Helmut Kohl – Prime Minister of the FRG, presented a 10-item plan for the reunification of Germany. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was quick to respond, saying that implementation of the plan was out of the question, since it infringed on the inviolability of frontiers guaranteed by the Helsinki Conference of 1975.

Thus a veritable battle for the reunification of Germany began. On 18 March 1990, elections were held in the GDR with the Christian Democrats winning over 40% of the votes. This encouraged Kohl to continue his efforts towards reunification. He announced a guaranteed exchange rate of 1:1 between the eastern and western Deutsche Marks, thus enabling the formation of a monetary union on 1 July 1990.

Despite the German desire and efforts towards unity, the four powers remained responsible for Germany as a whole, as had been guaranteed to the Allies under the Paris Treaty on the Sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Germany, concluded on 23 October 1954. On 5 May, the “2+4 Conference” began in Bonn, involving ministers from East and West Germany and the Four Powers. It ended on 12 September 1990, after heated debates, with the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany”.

Item 1 of the Treaty stated that the united Germany did not and would not have any territorial claims against other states. The German army would be reduced to 370,000 and the Soviet troops would withdraw by 1994. In addition, the four powers renounced their responsibility for Germany. 

On 31 August, the governments of both German states signed the comprehensive “Treaty Between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic on the Establishment of German Unity” with effect from 3 October 1990. Parliamentary elections were held on 2 December 1990, and the results were as follows: Christian Democrats 44%, Social Democrats 33.5%, Liberals 11%, Alliance '90/Greens 4%, and Communists 2%. The two German states merged.

The unification caused the clash of two economic systems – socialism and capitalism. The situation in the eastern part, more sparsely populated and economically weaker, was much worse. This imposed a huge financial burden on Germany, and over the five year period between 1990 and 1995, the government spent twice the federal budget on the development of the former GDR. The program, known as “East German Economic Reconstruction”, had the aim of creating equal opportunities and introducing the eastern federal states to the free market. In the autumn of 2005, it was announced that the overall costs of reunification amounted to 1.5 - 1.6 trillion Euros.

Despite the reunification, the division into Ossis (“Easties”) and Wessis (“Westies”) was not eradicated, and continued to divide the citizens of this reunited state for years after the formal unification.


By Andrzej Włusek


W. Czapliński, A. Galos, W. Korta: Historia Niemiec. Wrocław 2010

Erhard Cziomer: Historia Niemiec 1945-1991. Kraków 1992

Jerzy Krasuski: Historia Niemiec. Wrocław 2008

This article was prepared in cooperation with Historykon.pl

Photo of the publication The Introduction of Martial Law in Poland
Katarzyna Ścierańska

The Introduction of Martial Law in Poland

21 August 2015
  • communism
  • Martial Law

13 December marks the anniversary of introduction of Martial Law in Poland. An authoritarian government, led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski and the Military Council of National Salvation (WRON), introduced severe political oppression in an attempt to crush political opposition. 

In 1980-1981 the Communist Party of Poland suffered from a substantial crisis. It could not cope with the expansion and pressure of ‘Solidarity’ movement, its growing popularity and demands to extract reforms from the government. The Party itself was divided by factional struggles and confusion in the leadership. Poland’s economy had practically collapsed. On the other hand, there was pressure of dissatisfied Kremlin and its threats of supposed armed intervention. Plans for reconsolidation of power were prepared in secret. General Jaruzelski - Prime Minister and the First Secretary of The Party - believed that without Martial Law, the military intervention was inevitable. His decision was an act of self-defence, necessary to keep the hold on the country.

On Sunday morning, 13 December 1981, millions of Poles awoke to find that the entire country was placed under a state of martial law. Appearing on television, in the only available channel, Jaruzelski said:

Today I address myself to you as a soldier and as the head of the Polish government. I address you concerning extraordinarily important questions. Our homeland is at the edge of an abyss. The achievements of many generations and the Polish home that has been built up from the dust are about to turn into ruins. State structures are ceasing to function. Each day delivers new blows to the waning economy.

Jaruzelski declared that his intention was to maintain “legal balance of the country, to create guarantees that give a chance to restore order and discipline” and “save the country from collapse”. For the Poles however, it meant putting an end to the hopes for political and civic freedoms. Thus started severe repressions – many people were arrested and imprisoned. Those who were not – were intimidated, forced to stop their activity or emigrate. For those who were already abroad, closed borders meant that coming back to the country was not possible at all. Multiple organisations and pro-democratic movements, including ‘Solidarity’, became illegal overnight. Moreover, the streets were filled with tanks and armed soldiers. Telephone lines were controlled, airports closed and mail regulated by censorship. Another restriction of freedom was an imposition of curfew. Similarly, the mass media, public transportation and educational institutions were placed under strict control. It was clear that the new regime wanted to mercilessly crack down on the opposition.

Introduction of Martial Law was a general strike for “Solidarity”. The trade union was made illegal and most of its leaders were interned. Those who avoided arrest started to reconstruct ‘Solidarity’ in the underground. The amount of social opposition was impressive. During the initial impositions of martial law, several dozen people were killed. The shipyards in Gdańsk and Szczecin were pacified, as well as the Lenin Iron Mill in Nowa Huta and Iron Mill in Katowice. In Katowice, on 16 December, happened the most dreadful incident, when six miners from the Wujek coal-mine were killed by members of the military police ZOMO.

< p>Foreign reactions to events in Poland were immediate. Soon after the announcement of General Jaruzelski, the news reached all corners of the World. If the Soviets reacted with a sigh of relief, the response of the Western governments was generally negative. The politics of the communist regime was particularly condemned by the United States and its President, Ronald Reagan. On 23 December, he made a special announcement addressed to the nation “about Christmas and the situation in Poland”. Reagan promised to continue shipments of food to Poland, but also imposed economic sanctions against the government of Jaruzelski, followed by the sanctions against the Soviet Union.

Martial Law lasted till July 1983 being officially suspended on 18 December 1982. All that time was a trauma for the Poles and democratic opposition. The situation of already run-down Poland drastically deteriorated and the country was pushed toward bankruptcy. The prospects for the future were dark, but it was only a matter of time before the ultimate fall of communist regime.

By Katarzyna Ścierańska

A. Dudek, Z. Zblewski, Utopia nad Wisłą. Historia Peerelu, Warszawa 2008.
Poland's Transformation: A Work in Progress : Studies in Honor of Kenneth W. Thompson, ed. M. J. Chodakiewicz, J. Radzilowski, D. Tolczyk, Charlottesville 2003.

Photo of the publication Overthrow of Zhivkovs government on November 10, 1989
Daria Czarnecka

Overthrow of Zhivkov's government on November 10, 1989

21 August 2015
  • 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

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

Photo of the publication The fall of the Berlin Wall
Aleksandra Krzemień

The fall of the Berlin Wall

21 August 2015
  • 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

Photo of the publication The Hungarian Revolution 1956
Katarzyna Ścierańska

The Hungarian Revolution 1956

21 August 2015
  • 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

Photo of the publication Cuban Missile Crisis
Andrzej Włusek

Cuban Missile Crisis

21 August 2015
  • 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



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

Photo of the publication Soviet invasion of Poland 1939
Andrzej Włusek

Soviet invasion of Poland 1939

21 August 2015
  • 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



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

Photo of the publication August Agreements in Poland
Daria Czarnecka

August Agreements in Poland

21 August 2015
  • 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

Photo of the publication Outbreak of Second World War - 1 September 1939
Anita Świątkowska

Outbreak of Second World War - 1 September 1939

21 August 2015
  • 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

Photo of the publication The Slovak National Uprising
Daria Czarnecka

The Slovak National Uprising

21 August 2015
  • 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


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

Photo of the publication Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia
Daria Czarnecka

Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia

21 August 2015
  • 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


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/

Photo of the publication The Warsaw Uprising – 1 August 1944
Daria Czarnecka

The Warsaw Uprising – 1 August 1944

21 August 2015
  • 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

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

Photo of the publication Dissolution of the Warsaw Pact - 1 July 1991
Daria Czarnecka

Dissolution of the Warsaw Pact - 1 July 1991

21 August 2015
  • 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



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

Photo of the publication The Poznań Uprising of June 1956
Andrzej Włusek

The Poznań Uprising of June 1956

21 August 2015
  • 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


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/


Photo of the publication June 1953 - workers strike in East-Germany
Andrzej Włusek

June 1953 - workers' strike in East-Germany

21 August 2015
  • 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


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/