Most Important Event

Soaring Eagle?

Soaring Eagle?

It occurred to me that it has been twenty years since Poland regained its freedom way back in 1989. Twenty years of ‘transformation’ (as Polish people like to call it) have fashioned the country that we now call Poland. I wonder whether everything that has happened over these twenty years is a consequence of the baggage of communism. Could some things have been avoided? Could Poland have taken a different route? Below is a list of (what I think to be) the most important events in Poland of the last twenty years (in chronological order):

Defining Moment?

Defining Moment?

Round Table Talks (5th April 1989)
A constant bone of contention between Law and Justice (PiS) and Poland’s other political parties. This is the moment when the communists decide to sit down and discuss with Solidarity the future of Poland.

Rydzyk Radio (9th December 1991)
Radio Maryja is founded in Toruń. After a mere three years this local Catholic radio station, the patron of which is controversial cleric Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, obtains a licence to broadcast nationally helping it later become the voice of right-wing Polish Catholicism.

War Upstairs (4th June 1992)
Jan Olszewski’s weak minority government is toppled by President Lech Wałęsa who, fearing a backlash and possible coup d’etat following Antoni Macierewicz’s much-maligned Vetting Act, decides to put an end to the Olszewski-Kaczyński-Macierewicz madness.

Charitable Change?

Charitable Change?

Orchestrating Help (3rd January 1993)
Jerzy Owsiak sets in motion what will later become the largest and most celebrated charitable event in Polish history. The very first Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity raised $1.5 million, an unprecedented sum in a country new to such events.

Russians Leave (17th September 1993)
In what turns out to be a major coup for Lech Wałęsa and a welcome surprise for Poles, Russian President Boris Yeltsin agrees to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland. In mid September, President Wałęsa bids farewell to the last of the Russian soldiers.

Poland Joins NATO (12th March 1999)
Finally, after years of oppression, Polish people around the world breathe a sigh of relief when Minister of Foreign Affairs Bronisław Geremek signs Poland’s NATO membership agreement.

Changing Europe?

Changing Europe?

Poland Joins EU (1st May 2004)
Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader and Prime Minister, Leszek Miller signs the paperwork in April 2003, the referendum takes place in June 2003 and within less than a year, Poland becomes a fully-fledged member of Europe’s finest club.

Death of Hope (2nd April 2005)
The death of John Paul II marked the end of an era for many. During his papacy he travelled to more countries than any previous Vicar of Rome. For Poles, his death also marked the passing of their chief flag-bearer, spiritual leader and beacon of hope.

Poland Going Euro (18th April 2007)
Much to the amazement of all concerned, Michel Platini, head of UEFA, announces that the joint bid by Poland and Ukraine to host the European Football Championships in 2012 is victorious. Poland’s future is looking brighter…

Soaring Higher?

Soaring Higher?

Buzek Tops (14th July 2009)
Former Polish Prime Minister takes the helm of the European Parliament becoming Poland’s first ever President of the European Parliament. Although not a particularly powerful post, it demonstrates Poland’s increasing influence in the EU.

It occurred to me that it has been over twenty years since Poland regained its freedom way back in 1989. Twenty years of ‘transformation’ (as Polish people like to call it) have fashioned the country that we now call Poland. I wonder whether everything that has happened over these twenty years is a consequence of the baggage of communism. Could some things have been avoided? Could Poland have taken a different route?

Some may argue that such questions are always futile and lead to nothing but frustration. I disagree. They may help us re-evaluate the reasons why certain decisions were taken, why leaders, politicians and media personalities did what they did, how this affected society, and how, in the future, we might be able to avoid some of the needless mistakes that were made.

Below is a list of (what I think to be) the most important events in Poland of the last twenty years (in chronological order):

Event No. 1: The Round Table Talks (5th April 1989)

A constant bone of contention between Law and Justice (PiS) and seemingly Poland’s other political parties. This was the moment when the communists decided to sit down and discuss with Solidarity the future of Poland.

Event No. 2: Rydzyk Radio (9th December 1991)

Radio Maryja is founded in Toruń. This local Catholic radio station, the patron of which is controversial cleric Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, obtains a licence to broadcast nationally three years after being founded later becoming the voice of right-wing Polish Catholicism.

Event No. 3: The Change Upstairs (4th June 1992)

Jan Olszewski’s weak minority government is toppled by President Lech Wałęsa who, fearing a backlash and possible coup d’etat following Antoni Macierewicz’s much-maligned Vetting Act, decides to put an end to the Olszewski-Kaczyński-Macierewicz madness.

Event No. 4: Orchestrating Help (3rd January 1993)

Jerzy Owsiak sets in motion what will later become the largest and most celebrated charitable event in Polish history. The very first Great Orchestra of Christmas Help raised $1.5 million, an unprecedented sum in a country new to such events.

Event No. 5: Russians Leave (17th September 1993)

What turned out to be one Lech Wałęsa’s major coups and much to the joyous surprise of the whole country, Russian President Boris Yelcyn agrees to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Poland. In mid September, President Wałęsa bids farewell to the last of the Russian soldiers.

Event No. 6: Poland joins NATO (12th March 1999)

Finally, after years of oppression, Polish people around the world breathe a sigh of relief when Minister of Foreign Affairs Bronisław Geremek signs Poland’s NATO membership agreement.

Event No. 7: Poland joins the EU (1st May 2004)

Left Democratic Alliance (SLD) leader and Prime Minister, Leszek Miller signs the paperwork in April 2003, the referendum takes place in June 2003 and within less than a year, Poland becomes a fully-fledged member of Europe’s finest club.

Event No. 8: Death of Hope (2nd April 2005)

The death of John Paul II marked the end of an era for many. During his papacy he travelled to more countries than any previous Vicar of Rome. For Poles, his passing marked also the passing of their chief flag-bearer, spiritual leader and beacon of hope.

Event No. 9: Poland Going Euro (18th April 2007)

Much to the amazement of all concerned, Michel Platini, head of UEFA, announces that the joint bid by Poland and Ukraine to host the European Football Championships in 2012 is victorious. Poland’s future is looking brighter…

Event No. 10: Buzek Tops (14th July 2009)

Former Polish Prime Minister takes the helm of the European Parliament becoming Poland’s first ever President of the European Parliament. Although not a particularly powerful post, it demonstrates Poland’s increasing influence in the EU.

4 Responses to Most Important Event

  1. Jim says:

    I think joining the EU trumps joining NATO; the latter brings less direct change to the ordinary Polish person’s life, unless they’re a soldier, and history should have taught the Poles that military alliances with the West are always best taken with a pinch of Wieliczki’s finest salt. But the EU has opened borders, raised prosperity, and brought Poland back to mainstream European civilisation for the first time since 1795.

  2. Raf Uzar says:

    I’d tend to agree, although for me the turning point was the big sit-down: Wałęsa & co vs. the evil Commies. I’m pretty sure that without that Poland would be a very different country.

  3. Jim says:

    Oddly enough, that now seems inevitable in the light of history. Gorby had weakened the USSR by negating the Brezhnev doctrine; the Hungarians had already started unhooking the Communist party from the reins of government in late 1988; Jaruzelski and Kiszczak were, whatever you might say about them, pragmatic enough to realise that the jig was up. It would have fallen sooner or later.

    Poland was one of the most important factors in the dissolution; but it wasn’t the only one, and (in terms of the late ’80s) not even the first one.

  4. Raf Uzar says:

    Agreed. Poland (and the roundly-shaped negotiations) could never have moved forward had it not been for the Ruskies and the murmurings of ill content amongst the masses in the rest of Central/Eastern Europe.

    Hindsight is a wonderful (yet tainted) thing, however, my point is that there were several possible options and I believe the Round Table was probably the best of all these choices.

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