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Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom by Brian Porter-Sz̋cs

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11

THE END OF THE PRL, 1976–89

By any measure, the Solidarity movement of 1980–81 was astonishing. More than half of the adult population of Poland participated in peaceful protests that encompassed every imaginable worldview and ideology. Rarely has a historical phenomenon carried a more appropriate name. For more than a year the PZPR was in chaos as it flailed around for the best response to this most massive of mass movements. The army was eventually used to crush the challenge, but the trauma of martial law left both the opposition and the communists demoralized. Less than a decade later both the PZPR and the PRL itself were gone, and although it seemed obvious that Solidarity had caused its collapse, the story was a bit more complicated than that. The fall of communism in 1989 did not come about because opposition forces removed a hated regime from power. Instead, it was the result of a negotiated settlement between a weak communist party and an equally weak group of pro-democracy activists. Both sides were trying to escape from an economic and political crisis that had left them with few options, and the deal they worked out was met with uncertainty and ambivalence within Poland. Even though the Polish population was more politically mobilized than any of their contemporaries in the Soviet bloc, there was much less celebration in the streets of Warsaw or Kraków than there was in Berlin or Prague. It wasn’t at all obvious what the future would bring, nor was it evident which ...

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