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A Great Day for Poland

Article by Christopher Walsh June 4, 2013 //   3 minute read

What a moment it must have been for the people of Poland as they lined up to vote on June 4, 1989. 

They had suffered under totalitarian dictatorships (Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union) since 1939, and then in the 1980s were subjected to brutal crackdowns and martial law.

This day was different; it represented an opportunity for Poles to take back their country from despots and determine their own future.  No doubt there was skepticism about the prospect of real change.  After all, the Solidarity labor movement, which was the country’s most prominent democratic force, had been banned from participating until six weeks prior to the elections.   But the Poles’ faith and determination were rewarded. 

In a stunning rebuke of Poland’s Communist leadership, Solidarity scored an unprecedented victory, winning 99 out of 100 seats in the Senate.  Solidarity also won every seat they were permitted to contest in the Parliament’s lower house (fearing defeat, the Communists reserved 65 percent of the lower house seats for themselves).  Decades of resistance against the Soviet-backed regime in Warsaw had evolved over time, starting with isolated worker revolts in the 1960s and 70s, and transforming into a nationwide movement with Solidarity in the 1980s.  It culminated in a ballot box revolution on June 4, 1989.

While it doesn’t attract the spotlight in the same way as the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland’s June 4, 1989, elections were a significant milestone in Central and Eastern Europe’s struggle for freedom.  As the first Iron Curtain country to transition from Communism, Poland was a particularly weighty nail in the Soviet Union’s coffin.   The changes in Poland emboldened activists in neighboring East Germany, Czechoslovakia and the other nations within the Warsaw Pact.  Two years later, the entity President Ronald Reagan named the “evil empire” would be extinct.

The Freedom Collection remembers the accomplishments of those brave men and women who brought liberty to Poland.  During the month of June, we’ll release new interviews with heroes from the Solidarity movement.   Stay tuned and check out interviews with those members of Solidarity already featured on the Freedom Collection: Bogdan Borusewicz and Czeslaw Bielecki.

Christopher Walsh is the Program Coordinator for the Freedom Collection.