Can the victory of the opposition in partly free elections on 4 June 1989 be acknowledged as the beginning of the Third Polish Republic? Yes, and no. Because although the communists were defeated, they were still holding the authority for a long time

Before there were elections, there had been strikes in 1988. They showed that the opposition (the society) and the authority are weak. So much weak that a form of compromise is needed. However both parties thought about it as a way to deceive an opponent.

Communists wanted to maintain their influential position, the opposition – wanted to take over at least part of the authority. And each of the parties achieved its aim. The results of the elections on 4 June 1989 did not turn out to be explicit: they gave the opposition the victory over communists, but they did not give real authority. Communists, despite being weakened, maintained the authority. They gained the majority of votes in the Sejm and a possibility of blocking changes.

Crossed out, not crossed out

Talks at the round table arouse controversies before the beginning of talks, during them and after them. – There was not any consciousness how it would finish or what area of freedom would be like which will be caused by the talks at the round table – says Mieczyslaw Gil, a member of the opposition at that time and today the senator of the Law and Justice party. – For us the most important thing was the reactivation of ‘Solidarnosc’ movement. However the main creator of the round table talks was the authority of that time.

The results of the elections, and, in fact, their first electoral round, were surprising for everybody. Candidates of the solidary representation – the Civic Committee – gained nearly all places in the parliament. In the first round the opposition gained 160 out of 161 its contracted seats in the parliament and 92 senatorial seats. Most oppositionists did not conceal their joy. The authorities’ representatives were thinking what to do not to lose influence on the course of events. The issue of the so-called national list turned out to be helpful, created to make the accession to the Sejm easy for communist leaders.

It seemed impossible that more than a half of electors would cross out all surnames on this list, but only two of them were saved on the list and only by accident because not everybody had crossed out carefully. Over 30 mandates were supposed to be vacant which caused a situation that in the parliament the majority of coalition was maintained, which would elect gen. Jaruzelski a president.

They found a method

However, the authorities found a method, they were pressing on leaders of the Civil Committee of Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Bronislaw Geremek. And they agreed to the change of electoral law …..during the elections. On 18 June, during the second electoral round, despite earlier findings, regime candidates could again apply for vacant seats. The matter seemed to have been agreed.

However today this matter negatively influences the evaluations of results of the elections on 4 June. Mieczyslaw Gil considers this permission as a big mistake. The opposition, in his opinion, has agreed to the allowances which would not permit for finishing the old system explicitly.

– It was a shock for me and the first disappointment. And a red warning light appeared– says Adam Borowski, one of the previous leaders of the radical ‘Fighting Solidarity’, supporting candidates of the opposition. – Our leaders betrayed us, the victory was to turned out to be a failure.

Gray voters also noticed it. The electoral attendance in the second electoral round was nearly a trace, 25 per cent. Nearly three times less people went to the ballot box, than during the first electoral round.

As it was later evaluated, leaders of ‘Solidarnosc’ were not prepared for such a high social support, for such a victory. There was a fear of powerful reaction of authorities and the appearance of an authentic and radical social movement, attempts of departing from the round table contract were being paralyzed.

Is it worth celebrating?

Is it worth celebrating the day 4 June as the day of freedom and victory? Yes, and no – thinks prof. Ryszard Terlecki, a historian and the parliamentarian of the Law and Justice party. Yes, because it is necessary to celebrate a day connected with regaining independence after the collapse of People’s Polish Republic. No, because the day of 4 June is also associated with the lost chance for quick overcoming of communism.

– A discussion about what day to celebrate in relation to regaining independence is still going on – says prof. Terlecki. There were various suggestions: the beginning and ending of round table debates, the first free presidential elections, the date of passing insignia of the presidential authority by president Ryszard Kaczorowski to Lech Walesa, novelization of the constitution changing the name of the country from the People’s Polish Republic into the Polish Republic., finally the day of 4 June.

As it concerns this last day, its significance is weakened not only by a consent to the national list, against electoral logics, but also the election of Jaruzelski for president, allowing communist gen. Kiszczak and Siwicki for the government of Mazowiecki, finally – postponement of free elections for the Sejm. As prof. Terlecki thinks, all dates have their flaws. But if one is to choose something, it is worth pointing to 4 June, though. – Besides that, it was also the last accord of August 1980. Poles said ‘no’ to communism again – emphasizes the historian.


"Niedziela" 22/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl