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Poland's Road to Freedom. The election of 4 June
On 1 July 1945, the Council of National Unity, a Polish underground
parliament representing political parties working under occupation,
was dissolved. Prior to dissolving, the Council issued a manifesto to the
citizens, the so-called Testament of the Fighting Poland, containing the
sentence: 'Democracy is the rule of the majority selected in free general
elections through a five-feature vote'. It took nearly half a century for this
rule to finally become reality.
The elections agreed in Yalta were held as late as on 19 January 1947. The results, despite the compulsion and terror used during the electoral campaign (murders, arrests, prison sentences), were falsified anyway. The only opposition, the Polish Peasant Party and the Labour Party, officially won 15% of votes, obtaining 40 seats in the Sejm. The Democratic Bloc, composed of communists and their supporters, won by a landslide majority. The legal parliamentary opposition was marginalized and subsequently liquidated. From that moment the election farce was to continue until 1989.
An approach different to that of the opposition was taken by Freedom and Independence, an organisation operating between 1945 and 1948, that continued the traditions of the underground movement from the war and occupation period. The main goal of Freedom and Independence was to preserve the spirit of resistance and inform the free world about the situation in the enslaved Poland. Paradoxically, Freedom and Independence, which was a political movement, managed to assemble the majority of guerrilla units of the former military force - Armia Krajowa (Home Army), whose remaining soldiers had fought communists until the early 1950s. From that day, until 1990, the continuity of the Polish state was secured only by the Polish Government in exile residing in London.
The participants of bloodily suppressed mass social protests, which marked the consecutive decades of the Polish People's Republic, followed in the footsteps of members of active resistance. Workers in Poznań in June 1956, on the Baltic coast in December 1970, and workers of Radom and Ursus in 1976, not only demanded ?bread? and better living conditions, but also demanded inherent human rights: the right to dignity and freedom, including individual and national freedom as well as the freedom of religion.
The rights were manifested in large-scale pastoral congregations organized by the Catholic Church which gathered millions of people - novena celebrations, the millennium of the adoption of Christianity by Poland in 1956-1967, or Polish-born Pope John Paul II's pilgrimages to his homeland in 1979, 1983 and 1987.
The movement that managed to unite almost all the political trends (from the left-wing Workers' Defence Committee, to the pro-independence Confederation of Independent Poland) was Solidarity, established, among others, after successful strikes on the Baltic coast in August 1980. Solidarity was not only a trade union, but the first multi-million social movement officially, yet unwillingly, recognized by the communists. This movement represented all Polish working classes and, at the same time, embodied Poland's aspirations for independence.
The elections of 4 June 1989, as imperfect as they were, resulting from a political agreement between the communists and the political opposition reached during the famous Round Table talks, were the first parliamentary elections in the Polish People's Republic which were neither held under compulsion nor falsified. The outcome of the agreement took both sides by surprise ? Solidarity won 35% of the seats in the Sejm (all the seats allocated for the opposition) and 99% of the seats in the Senate (not limited by the agreement).
The events of 1989, which are symbolized by the 4th of June, are even today raising heated disputes among historians and politicians. For some, it represents a giant step towards democracy, the victory of reason and compromise on both sides of the political scene (authorities and the opposition). For others, this step was forced by the threat of a looming economic collapse and the changes in the Soviet bloc, and a chance for part of the Solidarity elites to take over power without being legitimized by the society as a whole.
As a result, a new parliamentary and governmental system was established and the third Republic of Poland came into existence. The first truly free five-feature election took place in 1991.
Jacek Żurek, PhD