Mr Poland throws a party

John Lloyd

It will prove very hard for Poland to find a way out of Communism, though not as painful, one hopes, as finding its way into it. But what we are now witnessing is the end: there is probably no way back, not even by armed force. This is a risky thing to write after the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981 and the recent brutalities of Tiananmen Square: total control both of the military and of all forms of political activity obviously makes possible an almost limitless exercise of power. But martial law, as Norman Davies has pointed out in The Heart of Europe, was introduced by the ‘core of the Communist establishment’, the Army leaders, because every other source of authority had been exhausted. They acted, as Warsaw Pact forces manoeuvred on Poland’s borders and off its coasts, to preserve Soviet power, secure in the knowledge that their action would be supported by that power. They could not be certain of that now. There is no longer a Communist backstop. If the Army is to be used again, it is unlikely to be by the present authorities.

As I write, the summit of power in Poland is being refused: General Jaruzelski, leader of the country and of the Polish United Workers Party, has told the Central Committee that he will not stand for the new post of President everyone thought had been fixed for him. He has proposed General Czeslaw Kiszczak, the Interior Minister, for the post, but for the moment Kiszczak has not got sufficient support, and Jaruzelski is thinking again. Some among the Solidarity Deputies to the new Parliament, meeting for the first time after they had secured 260 out of the 261 seats in the Senate and the Sejm open to their challenge, called on Lech Walesa to stand, but he won’t, saying Solidarity is bound by the Round Table agreement, which assigns the Presidency to the Party.

It was not supposed to turn out like this. Under the terms of the May Round Table agreement, Solidarity was to be legalised, and controlled elections were to take place for the 480-seat Sejm and a new 100-seat Senate. Only one-third of the Sejm seats would be open to challenge: the others would be reserved for candidates from the PUWP and its two inert allies, the Peasants’ and the Democratic Parties. In addition to the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ lists, there would be a third: a national list, consisting of 35 of the Party and Government’s main reformers, the men who had charted the new course. They would have no opposition: all they would need to be elected to Parliament was a minimum of 50 per cent of the national vote. Over all would be a President, from the PUWP, of course, who would have the same kind of powers as the French President – the Communists had de Gaulle and the Paris events of 1968 in mind. Fully democratic elections would not be held until 1993, after a four-year parliamentary term. The reformers in the Party expected the ‘system’ to last. Stanislaw Ciosek, the Politburo member who more than anyone was responsible for the electoral arrangements, told me in March that elections, now and in the future, would entail ‘a choice over who runs the system but not over the system itself’.

The Party was prepared for the fact that Solidarity would do well. Back in March, as the Round Table agreement began to take shape, it was assumed that the movement would get big votes in Gdansk, Warsaw and the other big cities: the party of the working class, it was thought, would do better in the countryside, where people were more conservative and where Solidarity was generally ill-organised. Bronislaw Geremek, a Warsaw intellectual and now the Solidarity parliamentary leader, fought a rural seat on the Polish-Lithuanian border. A Party organiser told him before the campaign that his cause was hopeless, a view Geremek was inclined to share. Solidarity had less than a month to prepare its candidates, its propaganda, its activists: the Government coalition had the resources, the personnel, the media already in place. It knew that it was unpopular – no Polish Communist can have many illusions on that score. But coalition candidates, it was conventionally thought, would get maybe one-third of the open votes; the national list would be voted in; Solidarity brought within the system; and 1993 was a long way ahead.

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