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Introduction  

In the course of every nation’s history, there comes a time when the people take a decisive stand on the government. In this instance, people call on the government to serve them as opposed to ruling and goading them. This marks the beginning of a revolution. In a revolution, an oppressed people, rise up against the very agents of their misery and oppression. On this event, the definition of government, is radically shifted from power over the people, to power of the people. In this event, the people reclaim their power and dictate on how they seek the government to operate on their behalf. France had the French Revolution of 1789-1799. In this revolution, the French people questioned the divine claim to leadership by the monarchy. They overthrew it and after a period of lawlessness and disorder, formed the basis of democracy as is known to this day. The USA[1] had the American Revolution. In this revolution, the people of the USA reclaimed the right to self rule and determination away from the King of England. They also rejected the aristocratic claim to power for a more representative form of governance. Russia had the Russian revolution in 1917. In this revolution, the people of Russia did away with the monarchial Tsars that had ruled them for a long period. Even though the Russian revolution was followed by civil strife under dictators such as Josef Stalin and the oppressive communist regime, it proved to those in power and the people themselves that a redundant government could be done away with.

Background

Even though historians are sketchy about calling it a revolution, the people of Polland underwent a similar transition. It may not have followed the bloody routine and a period of civil strife, however, in 1989, the people of Polland, underwent a Polish Revolution. The interesting bit with history, is that it is at times marred by the human error. In the book, The Polish Revolution by Timothy Garth Ash, the author,visits the critical role, Polland played in the achieving of the 1989 Autumn of the Nations. Before the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the disintergration of the USSR, Polland through extensive dialogue and diplomacy, had reformed and revolted against the USSR and the communist regime.

Polland had always drawn its identity from the USSR[2] in fact, it had always been considered as a satellite state of the USSR. The Polish army was awash with Russian Generals. The USSR also continuously kept engaging in both the internal and external affairs of the Polish state. Essentially, it was Russia’s puppet state whose creation and constitution, was based on the Soviet blueprint of USSR. In order to give Polland a form of identity as an independent state, Russian dictator Joseph Stalin formed and registered the Union of Polish Patriots. At this time, Polland had been completely ravaged by World War II. Fighting and occupation of German and Russian forces during the World War II left the country with little if any economic  activity that would give it a measure of self-sustainability. Given its financial misery, Polland came to be completely independent on USSR for both its existence and its legitimacy as a country.

At this time, the USSR was at the height of its global power. Communism was its main ideology. Unlike the United States of America and its capitalist ideology, the USSR forcefully maintained the communist ideology in its satellite countries such as Polland, the countries that formed it such as Czech and much of Eastern Europe. The USSR was both and economic and militant hegemony. This left most of the Eastern European countries without much choice. They either had to abide by the Soviet policies or face possible repercussions for not doing so.

The Polish Revolution by Timothy Garth Ash

The unique bit about the book, The Polish Revolution, is how the author Timothy Garth Ash represents it. It is compiled in three editions, each edition, compiles the latest development in Polland as a country after the fall of communism. This include, economic, social and poilitical acts and melodramas that the country followed. The book in its self, the complete three editions, covers twenty years since the time Polland under the Solidarity party was able to negotiate for the withdrawal from USSR into being its own independent state. The first edition covrs the period of martial law in Polland in 1981 after the populous were beginning to become in complacent with the communist regime. The second edition covers the historic and monumentous round table discussions that culminated in the end of the communist regime in 1989. The third edition follows the intrigues the young nation faced and how it addressed those intrigues. The record of the Solidarity Party is also visited and compared to the communist regime it took out of power. Being a Professor in History, the in depth coverage ad understanding that Timothy Garth Ash shows is very impeccable and impressive. In fact, his writing style refrains from casting blame. Rather, with an understanding of history, Professor Garth intrudes to the reader that mistakes and political dramas such a fall outs in the Solidarity Party were unusual for young nations. This is also true for the social let down that the Polish people expressed towards the Solidarity movement. To them, it was a party that was to lead them

The Polish Revolution by Timothy Garth Ash: First Edition

            In the typical communist fashion, the ruling party in the Polish state held monopoly power. The creation of political parties outside the ruling party was outlawed. Considering that the ruling party was under the control of the USSR, the agendas of the USSR took precedence over the agendas of the Polish state. Not only that, the ruling party had been reduced to a figurehead by the USSR government. This means that before any decision could be made, the USSR government had to be consulted. The bureaucracy and red tape involved was frustrating not only to the people of Polland, but even to those in the government itself.at most instances, the Polish government was left idle as it waited for the USSR government to arrive at a decision. In most instances,it involved the sending of emissaries to the USSR to describe the broader picture and dimensions involved to the USSR government. Considering the size of the USSR[3], the population it had and international politics that were always a key feature in it operations, the securing of an audience was a task by itself.

The term monopoly power was not only limited to the political arena and military. It included all spheres of life within the Polish state. Only the state controlled media was licensed. This means that the state reserved the right of information to the citizens. Given the obvious discourage of private ownership of property, secular employment could only be secured in the state agencies. In essence, the state had complete control of the citizens and they simply had to comply. As Professor Timothy points out in The Polish Revolution, the state may have had control of the people, but it had not repealed their desire for liberty. Rival political parties were outlawed, however, trade unions were not. The Solidarity movement was a trade union movement comprised of millions of Polish workers. Given the apparent weak base of the ruling party without USSR aid, the Solidarity party was quickly gaining favor from the people. Its leadership under Lech Walesa and others who had served in the government was decisive and in touch with the people of Polland. This led to people supporting it in scores. From left wing politicians to scholars, intellectuals and the Roman Catholic Church.

Seeing the vast influence of the Solidarity movement[4] the Polish government under Prime Minister General Woycieck Jaruzelski declared martial law. This was aimed at quelling the revolutionary movement. Lech Walesa was imprisoned along with other activists. In fact, at the heigh of the martial law, the army shot at protesting miners killing many. Under the Warsaw pact, Eastern European countries[5], received joint military training and military maneuvers from the USSR. Essentially, this means that these regimes were dependent on the USSR military aid. This created a situation as Professor Timothy points out in The Polish Revolution, where the USSR could simply overthrow any government that failed to comply with it. In fact, prior to the declaration of martial law, the leader of the Warsaw pact, had visited General Woycieck Jaruzelski in Poland. During the visit, he had strongly advised the General to deal with the Solidarity movement. As The Polish Revolution points out, that majority of the Polish army was Russian trained including General Woycieck himself, a coup was not out of the question. This prompted him to declare martial law in order to protect his interest.

The Polish Revolution by Timothy Garth Ash: Second Edition

In this second edition of The Polish Revolution Timothy Garth, visits the 1989 Autumn of Nations in relation to Poland. In this edition, the fall of the Berlin wall is critically looked at. The iconic image of the collapse of communism is the fall of the Berlin Wall. This makes East Germany, rather than Poland, the manifestation of a peaceful revolution from communism. However, as The Polish Revolution clearly shows, the walls did not fall; rather, the gates were opened by nervous guards overwhelmed by a crowd of riotous East Germans. In a November 9 1989 press conference, East German politburo member Guenter Schabowski remarked that East German authorities should open the gates since East German citizens were leaving anyway. As Professor Timothy explains in The Polish Revolution, Hungary had opened up its Austrian frontier. East Germans, would enter Hungary then proceed to West Germany through Austria. This was ironical given that the Berlin Wall had been erected to keep them off West Germany. By the time Hungary was opening up its Austrian border, it had denounced communism through a negotiated peaceful process as had already happened in Poland. In essence, Poland was the pioneer Eastern Europe to shun communism. As The Polish Revolution points out, Poland not East Germany should be the face of the rise above repressive communism.

By 1989, the USSR was rapidly losing the cold war. It was increasingly becoming difficult to keep up its financial, political and military activities both on itself and Eastern Europe countries. Globally, the USA had gained the upper hand in undermining the USSR in the cold war and had firmly anchored itself as the global superpower rather than the USSR. Unable to maintain its firm hold on its satellite states, and advance its interests in its allies in the Middle-East, the influence of Russia was quickly waning out. Fights in the Afghanistan had ended up in it losing, it was also a period that was marked by civil strife both within the USSR and in its satellite states. Simply put, the USSR needed a new mode of thinking and operating. As the second edition of The Polish Revolution shows, Mikhael Gorbachev upon assuming the helm of USSR leadership, saw this went ahead to clarify it. In a statement in December 1988, Mikael Gorbachev went ahead to announce that the Soviet Union would not defend communism in satellite states by force.

This announcement, should have effectively set off a chain of events across Eastern Europe towards abandonment of communism. However, it did not. Through an in depth understanding of people’s psychology and repressive regimes, Professor Timothy in The Polish Revolution, shows that the people took it will a pinch of salt. They were so used to broken political promises and repression that any statement from the Government always seemed untrue. Poland however, was the first to test the truth in Gorbachev’s statement. Remembering that Poland had always been a distant part of the Soviet Union, it is rumored that Polish operatives could have alluded to the government in Poland on the truth behind the statement. Or maybe, the people of Poland were simply so tired of the red tape involved with the Soviet Union, that they simply tried out their lack. This could be true or not true. No written record can adequately point this out. However, as The Polish Revolution carries on, one finds that Poland was the first state to call for a round table talks, between the then popular Solidarity and the communist regime. These negotiations, paved way to the first elections in June 1989.

As Timothy notes in The Polish Revolution it was seemingly obvious that the Solidarity Movement, was going to win in a landslide victory. However, all this seemed so untrue to the polish people. As Timothy’s interactions with  Adam Michnik and Jacek Kuron who were both in the Solidarity Movement showed, they were both not sure of the outcome. As it later happened, Solidarity won in a landslide and formed government under Tadeusz Mazowiecki on September of 1989.

The Polish Revolution by Timothy Garth Ash: Third Edition

             As it became reminiscent of other Eastern European countries, the move away from the communist regime was their main political agenda. After this, they were faced with no clear agenda on their way forward. After the formation of the independent Polish state, the Solidarity came under harsh criticism. The people ceased seeing it as an achievement and began viewing it as a compromise. Seeing the elite from the previous communist government still in power did not augur well with the people. To them the Solidarity Movement had done a discussion with self-serving elements from the communist regime and come to an agreement. To them that was not a revolution. Needless to say, no outstanding personality emerged in the Solidarity Movement after fall of the communism. Poland underwent a proliferation of political parties and its parliament at a time had a representation of over 70 parties.

In no case should this be seen as a failure by the people of Poland. Contrary, it was them charting and embarking on their own political journey. As Timothy Garth points out in this final edition of The Polish Revolution, Poland was simply following the course that every oppressed people take. It starts as a remarked unity by the people to fight against a common enemy, in this case communism. This is followed by a wave of celebration, optimism and nationalism after the goal has been achieved. After the celebratory mood dies off, the people begin extensive lobbying and talks as the next new government is formed. Finally, people realize that the dream of a new state that they envisioned was simply not going to be that easy to achieve. In the end, political fall outs characterize the new government until finally the people become so disillusioned that they are not sure what to make of their new situation. This is what happened in most of Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The people of Poland, as did those of the wider Eastern Europe, began being critical of the much hyped revolution they had embarked on. This was in relation to what they had achieved in the new order as compared to the old order and what their aspirations were. In the end, most tend to dwell so much on the miscomings of the new regime that they simply fail to appreciate how far as a nation they have come. Sadly, this is what happened in Poland. They had increasingly started questioning the Solidarity Movement and the bloodless revolution it kept on publicizing as having achieved for the Polish people. To them, it was simply a recycle of the old faces, who featured in the previous regime, to the new regime.

Conclusion

The very nature of history proves the dynamism of human nature and interaction. In the 1970s, no one could dare imagine that the Soviet Union would break up into 15 states. No one imagined that communism could at one time become an element of history. In the same sense, no one imagined that Poland would cease being a Soviet satellite state under the Warsaw pact and join the NATO[6]. True, democracy was not the Promised Land that they had imagined, however, under the Solidarity governance, increased social and political space was achieved. In fact, the economic situation and relevance of Poland as an independent state grew in bounds.

References

The Polish Revolution by Timothy Garth Ash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The United States of America

[2] The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

[3] Upon its disintergration, the USSR broke into 15 states

[4] At this time, it had over ten millin members

[5] Most of the Eastern Europe countries had been created under the influence and close hand of Stalin’s Red Army

[6] North Atlantic Trade Organization

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