1970-1997: A POLISH CHRONOLOGY
December 1970 - An economic crisis causes the government to announce price increases. This sparks a wave of mass strikes which are put down by force. In ń, at the shipyard, as elsewhere, workers are shot and die.
by Peter K. Gessner
December 1979 - Lech Wałęsa and others, seeking to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the tragic events of December 1970, attempts to lay flowers at the spot where these events took place, just outside the shipyards gates. He is arrested, kept in prison for 48 hours and five days after being freed, dismissed from his job at the shipyard.
August 14, 1980 - Lech Wałęsa, the previously dismissed electrician, climbs over the Gdańsk shipyard wall to lead a strike over the illegal dismissal of another worker, Anna Walentynowicz.
August 31, 1980 - The Polish Communist government signs an agreement with the ń shipyard workers. It is a package deal which includes the establishment of free trade unions, freedom of information, access to media and civil rights.
The membership of the free trade union - Solidarność (Solidarity)- and those affiliated to it swells to ten million (in a country of 35 million that represents almost everyone of working age, including a million former Communist party members)
September 1981 - Meeting of Solidarity's First National Congress. The first freely elected national body since 1939, the Congress had tremendous influence. Its existence constituted an implicit challenge to the legitimacy of the Communist Government. On September 8, the Congress even passed a motion expressing solidarity with the downtrodden peoples of the Soviet block and to "all nations of the Soviet Union."
December 13, 1981 - A State of War (martial law) is declared by the government, the army in the streets, all communications within and without the country suspended, all the Solidarity leaders and 15,000 others arrested and sent to prison or interned in concentration camps. At the Wujek mine, the ZOMO police shoot and kill a number of miners resisting them.
December 1982 - State of War is lifted and, in July 1983, suspended.
October 1984 - Rev. Popiełuszko, a pro-Solidarity priest, is murdered, 200,000 people attend his funeral. On December 27, three policeman are tried for his murder and convicted. Though some senior officers are implicated, none is charged or tried. None the less, the trial demonstrates the limits of the government’s power.
Through the middle 80's, the country's economic ills got worse and worse. A vast economic migration of half a million joined the political refugees. In June 1987 the Pope visited Poland for the third time, talked to Jaruzelski, met with Wałęsa.
Spring 1988 - austerity measures cause widespread strikes. Solidarity call for a national strike for September 1. On August 27, the minister of the interior announces that the government will hold consultative talks with the opposition, i,e. Solidarity.
February 6, 1989 - the constitutive, or Round Table talks begin. The talks end harmoniously on April 9 with Solidarity and the Church regaining their legal status and an agreement for semi free elections in June - one third of the Sejm (lower house of parliament) and all the seats in the Senate to be freely contested.
June 4, 1989 - Solidarity wins all but one of the freely contested seat (one independent deputy is also elected). No Communist candidate gains enough votes to be seated in the freely contested Sejm seats. Thirty three of the Communist candidates standing for election to the seats reserved for the Communist party, fail to get the minimum number of votes necessary for election. Among them is the Prime minister and the Minister of the Interior. Moreover, Solidarity candidates won 99 of the 100 Senate seats.
July 1989 - The parliament elects Jaruzelski as President. Prior to his election, Solidarity explains on television this will be necessary to calm the Soviet Union.
Unable to form a Communist government or to get Solidarity to join in a coalition, Jaruzelski asks Solidarity to form a government.
September 12, 1989 - Tadeusz Mazowiecki, chosen by Solidarity as prime minister designate, forms a non-communist government.
January 1, 1990 - The Shock Therapy Plan is introduced; it was worked out by the Minister for the Economy, Harvard-trained Leszek Balcerowicz with the advice of Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs. It ends the government price controls and controls of international trade, it makes the currency freely exchangeable, it introduces the free-market and a new commercial law that makes it possible for people to set up business freely, it establishes the principle of privatization of state property and brings in overnight a whole host of other economic reforms. During 1990, prices rise 250% and real incomes fall 40%, but the basis for Poland's successful transformation from a planned economy to a free-market one is secured. Later, this leads to the country’s spectacular economic recovery.
January 1990 - The Communist party dissolves itself.
The Sejm votes to change the country's name from the Polish People's Republic to the Republic of Poland.
November 1990 - Wałęsa is elected President for a five year term in a universal suffrage election.
October 27, 1991 - First totally free elections to the Sejm. Because of proportional representation there is a premium on setting up your own party, for even if your party gets but a small percentage of votes, you are will be assured a seat. The Solidarity movement
fragments, no party has a majority, coalition governments are set up but are unable to keep all the component parties happy. A succession of governments follows with, as prime ministers: Krzysztof Białecki, Jan Olszewski, and Hanna Suchocka. The electoral law is amended so that a party must receive 5 % of the votes nationwide to have gain any representatives in the Sejm. For coalitions, the threshold is raised to 8%,
June 1993 - Hanna Suchocka's government barely survives vote of no confidence. Wałęsa dissolves parliament and calls for new elections.
September 19, 1993 - Election to the Sejm (lower house of parliament): only six parties gain enough votes to have representatives. The election is won by a coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance (Stronniciwo Lewicy Demokrasycznej - SLD - the post-communists) and the Polish Peasant Party (Poiskie Stronniciwo Ludowe - PSL). Waldemar Pawlak, leader of the PSL, becomes prime minister and forms government. He lacks charisma, gets into fights with President Wałęsa, etc.
February 1995 - Pawlak is replaced as prime minister by Józef Oleksy after a threat by Wałęsa that he would dissolve parliament and call new elections.
November 1995 - Presidential election pits Wałęsa against Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the leader of the SLD. The latter gets 5 1.7% of the vote and wins. He seeks to lead Poland into NATO and the European Union.
Literally at the 11th hour, just before leaving office, Wałęsa formally accuses Oleksy of being a Russian agent. Subsequent investigations failed to prove the charge, but in the interim Oleksy is replaced and Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz becomes prime minister.
March 22, 1997 - The Parliament passes a new constitution, to replace one created in 1952 by the Communist government. It is approved in a national referendum.
Since it is evident that only a united post-Solidarity, broadly based. party has any chance to garner enough votes in the coming election to be able to form a government, many splinter right of center parties coalesce under the Solidarity banner.
September 21, 1997 - Parliamentary elections return the post-Solidarity group and the Union of Freedom Party of Balcerowicz with sufficient number of seats in the Sejm to form a coalition government. The person chosen to be the prime minister, Jerzy Bużek, is a university president. The parliament passes, and Kwaśniewski signs, the Concordat, a treaty with the Vatican, long a bone of contention, granting the Catholic Church various rights.