What was it like?
Leszek Cichoblazinski talks to Prof. Dr. Andrzej Chwalba.
Leszek Cichoblazinski: - Professor Chwalba, what kind of political unit was the Polish People's Republic (PRL)? Was it a kind of slavery, a period of 'limited sovereignty' or perhaps, as some say, simply another incarnation of the independent Polish state? Can we form an objective definition of this political being called the Polish People's Republic?
Prof. Andrzej Chwalba: - For several years, in January, there have been debates in Krakow whether the President of Krakow should put flowers on the graves of Soviet soldiers. For those who thought that the gesture was necessary the PRL was born as the consequence of driving the Germans away and liberation. For the opponents it was not any liberation at all but an exchange of one occupation for another. The people who were connected with the communist authority thought that PRL was a Polish state but a communist one. The rest of the society claimed that it was 'their' country, subordinated to the Moscow headquarters.
For those in power it was their country and therefore, it is understandable that they are looking for positive features. Those who rejected this country are looking for as many negative features as possible. Both find what they look for.
From the formal and legal point of view the Polish People's Republic was a state since it had its own territory, borders and even, in the unchanged form, national anthem and flag, by the way it had those things as one of the very few communist countries.
It is worth mentioning here that after the First World War the Comintern, the Third International, a communist organization, with its headquarters in Moscow, and the communist parties were created, and in the world they were treated as sections, for example the German section, the Portuguese section, and the Polish section of the communist International. The way Moscow looked at the communist parties in European countries after World War II was the way of looking of the 1920s and the 1930s, according to which those were the sections of the big Soviet empire. Such a scenario was faithfully realized till 1956. Many a time it was one of the so-called Soviet advisors, in fact Soviet residents in a given town that decided where to build public toilets or children's playgrounds. Naturally, decisions in more serious matters, including economic and military ones, were taken as well.
The year 1956, which was a clear border, was the time when Poland drove the Soviets away, although their forces remained. The jaws that had clenched us earlier were still the jaws although they were slowly slackened off. The process was developing in Poland quicker than in any other communist country, and thus the phenomenon of Solidarity and the year '89 become more understandable.
- That means that after 1956 Poland was a state with communist authorities, which did not have social legitimisation, because there were no elections...
- It is hard to treat the rally at the Square of the Parades with the participation of Gomulka in the autumn of '56 as some kind of legitimisation. The decisions concerning strategic, economic and military matters were still taken in Moscow. Nevertheless, the range of the inner autonomy of the Polish communists was not small. Certainly, it was bigger during the times of Gomulka than during the times of Gierek. Gierek was more pro-Soviet because of his flirt with the West, the only thing being that these nuances were results of the game of the communist elite. The question is: What did the Polish people have, the people who were in principle the audience of the spectacle to which nobody invited them? Summing up, till 1956 the PRL was a formally existing state governed by Polish-speaking communists who had sovietised mentality. Therefore, one can say that it did not matter who was the head: whether Bierut or some other leader. All were Soviet apparatchiks. But after 1956 one cannot evaluate the communist apparatus in this way.
- How can one evaluate the economic growth in the PRL?
- What growth? What are we talking about? If there had been any growth this system would have lasted.
- But there was e.g. a process of industrialisation in Poland...
- It is true, gigantic metallurgical plants were built and there was heavy industry based on archaic technologies and that happened in the period when the Western countries were just leaving intensive industrialisation and developing services, thus entering the post-industrial phase.
- How can one evaluate the condition of Polish economy when communist fell? Before World War II the gross national product in Poland was comparable with the product in Greece or Portugal whereas in 1990 these countries that were the poorest countries of Western Europe had the product twice as big as Poland had. In that period some communist countries like Czechoslovakia or Hungary had a much better economy than Poland.
- It is interesting that in 1950, just after a hard and disastrous war, the gross national products in Poland and Italy were almost the same. Portugal and Greece were far behind us. Spain was even further because of the results of the civil war. Later it was worse and worse. We lost every decade, which was another step backwards in every way. The world and Europe were going forward quickly. In the history of the PRL the 1980s, Poland of Jaruzelski, were the worst years as far as economy was concerned. In 1990 only one post-communist country had a lower product than Poland, it was Romania. Even the Soviet republics like Ukraine, not mentioning the Baltic republics, had a better economy than the Polish one. Everywhere the communist system brought about civilizational havoc, destruction of economy, destruction of the ethos of work and ecological disaster.
In Poland this collapse was additionally deepened by a lack of political and economic imagination of the Polish communists, headed by Jaruzelski. One should also remember the debts of Gierek. It was him that taught people how to waste the national wealth.