Opposition in PRL
Leszek Cichoblazinski talks to Prof. Dr. Andrzej Chwalba, historian at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
Leszek Cichoblazinski: - After 1945 Poland was the only communist country in which an anti-communist opposition was active on a large scale.
Prof. Andrzej Chwalba: - We are deeply convinced about it but for example Lithuanians are of a different opinion. Another example is Latvians. But Lithuania and Latvia were incorporated into the Soviet Union. Their occupation was much severe than ours. The social protest and underground movement in Lithuania and Latvia ended only in the 1960s, which people in Poland do not know about. But one must also say that in Poland the post-war opposition against communism, in spite of many Polish victims during the Nazi and the Soviet occupations, and in spite of the mass political immigration through the green border after 1945, was enormous. The Soviet authorities had to use a lot of regular forces and some NKWD divisions against the Polish independent underground. The Polish troops (KBW) and UB [Office of Security] co-operated with them. Because of the great advantage the resistance of the post-AK [Home Army] organizations, national-independence groups and WiN [the conspirational "Freedom and Independence' Association] were broken. In the autumn of 1948 the social resistance against communism in Poland was very weak. But the Polish characteristic is the existence of the Catholic Church, powerful institution that was independent of the communist state. Various opponents of the system found shelter under the banners of the Church. And this is the main unique feature of Poland in the background of other communist countries.
- Let us talk about the opposition of the 1970s and the 1980s because this was also a Polish phenomenon.
- And there was also the opposition of the 1950s, almost completely forgotten. The anti-Stalin opposition in the early 1950s did not have a direct post-AK character. There were many, mainly youth, organizations all over Poland and they were created in grammar schools, universities and factories. As a rule they were small conspirational circles consisting of several people. Thus the young people took the baton from their older colleagues from the Home Army. The young conspirators tore communist flags off, destroyed portraits of Stalin and Bierut, wrote anti-Soviet mottos on walls, distributed appeals and bulletins. The youth of the early 1950s was very active as opposed to the older generation that accepted the existing situation to some extent. The UB officials grumbled that the anti-communist ideas began reaching even the members of the youth organizations, including those from Nowa Huta.
- Can we speak about opposition in the late 1950s as well?
- We had October '56 and earlier we had June in Poznan. But the October movement aimed at modifying communism, rejecting its nastiest elements. It was an independence, socialist movement but not an anti-system one. There were national, patriotic contents in it. In Poland there did not appear any stricte anti-communist and independence units like they did in Hungary. The Polish anti-Moscow parties were not restored on a large scale. Hungarians did not believe any communists, neither Stalinists nor the moderate party, and they organized a big anti-Moscow uprising and these days we are celebrating its 50th anniversary. The fact that there was no uprising in Poland was a good thing because the Hungarians sacrificed their blood. Let us remember that three thousand Hungarians were killed in fights against the Soviet army, almost 200,000 had to escape to the West and the repressions and bloody terror continued. The modern history, the big losses of World War II and of the Warsaw Rising warned Poles against radicalism of independence. In that period a certain state of social satisfaction was reached in Poland. The so-called Soviet advisers were chased away, the Soviet troops were reduced. As compared with Stalin's period the liberties that appeared were treated as quite large values and benefits, even if most of them ended in the 1960s. Let us remember the relative liberties of the Church, the return of Primate Wyszynski from Komancza, the creation of five clubs of Catholic intelligentsia, the fall of many cooperatives and the green light for individual farmers, the relative pluralism in the field of culture and art as well as the lack of bloody repressions. Therefore, during the times of Gomulka, regarded as an anti-Soviet communist, there was almost no opposition in Poland, apart from March '68 and the environment of 'Ruch'. The opposition appeared in the years 1975-76 due to the protests against changes in the constitution of the Polish People's Republic (the leading role of the Polish United Workers' Party and eternal friendship with the Soviet Union). Until the end of the system, until the year 1989, the opposition was a constant factor of political life. Actually, it was a phenomenon because there was no opposition in other communist countries.
- What were the effects of the activities of the opposition? After all the opposition in other communist countries was much weaker or did not exist at all and nowadays these countries have similar political situation like Poland.
- Good question. All credit goes to 'Solidarity' for the fact that many Central European countries can build democratic order and free market economy. One should remember that. But the quality of opposition in post-communist countries varies. No other country in this region has such strong elite, originating from the anti-communist opposition. The appearance of the opposition made the system increase the scope of liberties. On should look at it not only from the present perspective but also from the perspective of those times. It was in Gierek's times that we had the opinion 'Poland is the funniest barrack in the communist camp'. Our neighbours bought our papers and turned their TV antennas to Polish stations. The liberties in culture and science were much bigger than in other communist countries. Polish workers in the 1980s could travel around the world almost without any limits if the could overcome financial barriers. But during the same years workers in many communist countries were assigned to their places of work just like Polish serfs were assigned to the land. The opposition, naturally apart from the Church, contributed to all those things, which is completely understandable. Therefore, after 1990 Poland used 'her time' best of all communist countries because Poland formed the best opposition structures in spite of their weaknesses, resulting from the conviction that the system would fall so fast. These are the reasons I would defend the achievements of the opposition and social resistance against the communist system from the contemporary perspective and from the time in which we lived then.