The Establishment of the Third Republic of Poland
Leszek Cichoblazinski talks to Prof. Dr. Andrzej Chwalba, historian at the Jagiellonian University, Krakow.
LESZEK CICHOBLAZINSKI: - The preamble to the Constitution of March 1921 defined strictly what the partitions were and what the Second Republic of Poland was with reference to the recent past. What was the obstacle that our present fundamental statute does not refer to the Polish People's Republic (PRL) as the March Constitution referred to the partitions?
PROF. ANDRZEJ CHWALBA: - In fact, the Constitution of 1921 had such a clear message. But the Second Polish Republic was formed from the ruins of the partitioners whereas the situation in Poland in 1989, and after this date, was different than in the years 1918-21. The Third Republic grows from the Polish People's Republic. There is even an opinion that the Third Republic is a clone of the PRL. Because of that the PRL elite became, equally with the Solidarity elite, the elite of the Third Republic. That's why, it was impossible to work out and include a critical evaluation of the PRL in the Constitution of the Third Republic. The post-communist camp was too strong and influential, which was made evident in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
- But why?
- Because the birth of the Third Republic was the consequence of the contract, preceded by the compromise between the Solidarity movement and the communists. Let us add that the majority of Polish society accepted that contract. Relatively few circles protested against it and those circles were found only in big cities, headed by Krakow. The circles embraced mainly young people, members of the Independent Students' Association (NZS) or the young members of Fighting Solidarity. They wanted a quick decommunization, departure of the Soviet troops from Poland, they wanted immediate and full independence. In the spring of 1989 they brought about violent clashes with the units of the ZOMO, Poland's security police. However, the effects of those actions were poor. The demonstrators did not hamper the motions of the Round Table Agreement and the contract elections in the June of 1989. In Poland there was no place for a revolution against the compromise. Generally speaking, people were glad that there the Solidarity Union existed legally, that something was going to change in Poland and there would be free elections. The radical representatives of the independent movements miscalculated their abilities. The reality of that period was against them. Consequently, there were no events that could be called 'a foundational myth' of the new Polish state and the representatives of the radically expressed option of independence was not actually present when the legal-constitutional order of the Third Polish Republic was constructed. The Third Republic could really look like an improved PRL or a PRL with some democratic polish.
In 1989, the leaders of the Polish opposition, the Solidarity movement and then the Citizens' Parliamentary Club (OKP) concluded that it was extremely dangerous to organise a revolution or anti-Soviet uprising in Poland, taking into consideration the disproportion of forces. But from its very beginning the Solidarity movement chose a peaceful, and planned for years, way to reach the objectives of its programme. In the underground discussions the theoreticians of the movements that advised non-violence, the Polish thinker Edward Abramowski or the Hindu Gandhi, were admired. It was advisable to build structures of the society that was independent from the communist authorities, to build a system of diarchy. Let us remember that the strongest social Polish institution the Church supported that way, being realistic about the situation. The Church did not favour anti-communist revolution. That's why the Polish politicians of the Solidarity movement looked at the example of Finland, the country that was politically dependent on Moscow, but had internal autonomy and market economy. Briefly speaking, the thoughts of evolutionary course of historical process were strongly rooted in the mentality of the Solidarity elite. Therefore, they could not get rid of that mentality in the years 1988-90.
- Who were the politicians?
- It is hard to mention any names because all leaders of the Solidarity movement, leaders of the conservative party, the Christian democrats, the liberals and the nationalists thought and acted like that. Even Leszek Moczulski, the leader of the KPN (the Confederation for an Independent Poland), categorically rejecting the PRL, did not take into account an open revolution against the Soviets. It was thought that the situation ordered to see a peaceful way to get rid of communism. And finally, the Pope encouraged them to choose that way. He indicated, 'Let us wrest what we can, including things from the spiritual sphere, from the system'. That's why, the Round Table in that form and character was not, and is still not, a surprise to me as a historian. The Table Agreement grew out of the climate and discussions of those years, of the Solidarity movement, of the Church and the communist environments. The situation in Poland in the 1980s was stalemate. Actually we dealt with diarchy: official communist authority and unofficial solidarity one. The Solidarity movement was too weak to defeat the communists and the communists were too weak to defeat the Solidarity. Jaruzelski attempted to split the Solidarity movement by taking some of its politicians into his government, but fortunately, his attempts failed. In that situation, the Polish communists, without the support of Moscow that had its own difficulties, being isolated by the Western countries and John Paul II's protest against their dominion, decided to find a way out by sounding out some compromise with the Solidarity movement and with the Church. The effects of that compromise, made in 1989, have cast a shadow over Poland since then and complicated the political life of the country, which actually is very complicated already.
- Can one evaluate the significance of the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to the papacy in the context of the fall of communism?
- The communist system would fall anyway, but John Paul II speeded up that fall to a considerable extent... people straightened up, felt confident and stopped being afraid. That means that the Pope created fundamental conditions for the phenomenon of the 20th century, i.e. the Solidarity movement. Nevertheless, it is hard to evaluate the spiritual influence of the Pope in detail since these issues are immeasurable. However, it is worth remembering that the Pope's words also reached the Polish people's intellects. Therefore, one must acknowledge that he influenced their determination and conviction, at least some part of the Solidarity leaders, that communism was deeply inhuman and unjust. Thanks to that, apart from other things, the Solidarity movement endured during the marshal law because John Paul II constantly supported the solidary spirit of endurance. Naturally, the Solidarity movement did not survive as a whole since it was hard that as many as 10 million 'sabres' were on alert. This movement must have been smaller but it endured all the time, even in small towns, and the Pope strengthened it spiritually all the time. John Paul II encouraged the Polish Church to be open to the Solidarity movement but many priests feared that if they did so they could be manipulated by those Solidarity activists who had leftist, secular, and even anti-Church views. John Paul II said, 'Do not be afraid of opening yourselves to people who have a different attitude towards faith because they might be with us later'. One should assume that John Paul II had a positive influence on Gorbachev's thinking about Poland and the Solidarity movement. He could have had a positive influence on Russia's choice of reforms. But until the Russian and Vatican archives are opened it is hard to say what influence he really exerted.