Most Important Event

December 6, 2009
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.


Round Table Anniversary

February 6, 2009

Mazowiecki, Kuroń, Wałęsa, Kwaśniewski...

Foreground (l-r): Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Lech Wałęsa. Background (l-r): Kuroń, Geremek, Kwaśniewski.

Today is a wonderful day. The 6th February 2009 is the 20th anniversary of one of the most important moments in European history. On the 6th February 1989, twenty years ago, the so-called ‘Round Table’ talks kicked off in Warsaw and so began the dismantling of the totalitarian regime in Poland.

Good vs. Evil
The Round Table talks were pretty amazing as they saw the communist government invite representatives of Solidarity (the anti-government, anti-communist, pro-democratic semi-legal opposition) as well as members of the Catholic Church (sworn enemies of communism) to the table in order to discuss the future. The very fact that all of these people were able, and wanted, to sit down and together discuss the future of their country was unprecedented on a European, and perhaps even global, scale.

Forces of Good
The members of the Solidarity opposition who sat at the Round Table (and in later years became key figures in Polish politics) included: Lech Wałęsa (leader of Solidarity), Bronisław Geremek (chief consultant to Lech Wałęsa), Tadeusz Mazowiecki (editor-in-chief of the weekly Solidarność), Jacek Kuroń (Solidarity advisor and founder of the Workers’ Defence Committee), Adam Michnik (Solidarity advisor and Workers’ Defence Committee member) and Lech Kaczyński (Solidarity advisor).

Forces of Evil
The governmental side at the Round Table included: General Czesław Kiszczak (member of the Politbiuro and Minister of Internal Affairs), Leszek Miller (member of the Central Committee of the Party) and Aleksander Kwaśniewski (Minister for Young People).  The infamous General Kiszczak is said to have played a fundamentally positive role in the talks. Leszek Miller and Aleksander Kwaśniewski, perhaps not huge players at the time, were set for dazzling careers in Polish politics in the years to come.

Wałęsa at the Table

Wałęsa at the Table

Repercussions
The talks were pivotal in the fact that they saw the bitterest of enemies sit down and constructively discuss the future of a nation on the brink of economic and social collapse. As a result, Solidarity gained a tangible foothold in Eastern European politics and led to the disintegration of communism throughout Europe. The Round Table not only began the erosion of communism within Europe, but the participants (including the much-maligned communists) actively worked towards the dismantling of a totalitarian regime that they realised no longer had a future.

Round Table Careers
The political legacy of the talks can still be felt today. Beginning with the Solidarity side, Lech Wałęsa went on to become President of Poland, Bronisław Geremek was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was Poland’s first post-war democratically-elected Prime Minister, Jacek Kuroń became Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Adam Michnik founded Poland’s first post-war free newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and Lech Kaczyński is currently President of Poland. As for the communists, Leszek Miller became Polish Prime Minster whereas Aleksander Kwaśniewski was President of Poland. Three Presidents, two Prime Ministers and a host of ministers is quite a legacy.


Bronisław Geremek 1932-2008

July 14, 2008
Geremek

Bronisław Geremek, former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs (1997-2000) and member of the European Parliament (from 2004) died yesterday in a fatal car accident when his car collided head-on with a van.

Geremek, who was a Professor of History and eminent scholar at, among others, the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Sorbonne, was a key figure in Poland’s drive towards democracy during the ‘Solidarity’ period acting as one of Lech Wałęsa’s chief advisors.

Professor Geremek also oversaw Poland’s entry into NATO and as Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs countersigned the NATO accession agreement in 1999.

Bronisław Geremek was respected and loved for his wit, wisdom and positive politics. He was honoured by a number of institutions. His honours include the Order of the White Eagle (Poland’s highest decoration); the Grand Cross with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany; honorary degrees from the Sorbonne, University of Bologna, Columbia University, University of Utrecht. Professor Geremek was also an Officer of the French Légion d’honneur.

He will be sorely missed.