Communist Rule

The Western powers persuaded the Polish government-in-exile in London to merge with the provisional government that had been set up in Lublin under Soviet sponsorship. The coalition government, called the Government of National Unity, was formed in June, 1945, and was strongly pro-Communist. All large industries were nationalized, and the collectivization of farm lands began. In 1946 free elections promised by the Soviets were held. The Communists won by a landslide as police harassed and intimidated non-Communist politicians. The remnants of the Polish government-in-exile that had been based in London fled.

The Soviets, holding key positions in the government and economy, dominated Polish affairs. Polish Communists who were also nationalists, led by Wladyslaw Gomulka, resisted Soviet intervention, but were expelled from the party during 1948–49. In 1949 the Communists attempted to curtail the influence of the Roman Catholic church. Many members of the clergy were imprisoned, and church lands were seized.

In 1956 there were anti-Soviet riots in Poznań. Following a purge of Soviet sympathizers from the Communist party, a nationalist government was set up in October with Gomulka at its head. The Soviet Union threatened to invade Poland but accepted the new government after being assured Poland would remain an ally.

Under Gomulka's leadership, Soviet officers in the armed forces were replaced with Poles; members of the clergy were released from prison; persecution of the church was halted; and farm collectivization was reversed, with most of the land put under individual ownership. The Polish people were given greater liberty, and the nation established freer contacts with the West.

Gomulka became less liberal in his policies during the early 1960's. Most of the freedoms extended to the people in 1956 were withdrawn. The government subjected the church to more restrictions.

In 1968, students opposing the harsh rule rioted in Warsaw and other cities. Top government officials blamed Jews and liberals for fomenting the disorders, and thousands of Jews left the country.

In 1970 Poland signed a friendship treaty with West Germany. It opened diplomatic relations between the two nations and provided for German recognition of the Oder-Neisse Line. Also, widespread rioting by workers over worsening economic conditions caused Gomulka to resign.

Edward Gierek, the new premier, made plans to revitalize the economy through an industrialization program. To finance the program, Poland secured huge loans from western nations. Poor management and international economic problems in the late 1970's doomed the plan and left Poland deeply in debt. In 1976 the government announced price increases for food in an attempt to reduce spending for food subsidies, which made up a large part of the budget. Massive demonstrations erupted and the government cancelled the increases.

The position of the Roman Catholic church in Poland was greatly strengthened by the election in 1978 of a Polish pope (John Paul II) and his visit to Poland in 1979.

In 1980, higher food prices precipitated massive strikes throughout the country. To end the crisis, the government changed leaders and agreed to most of the workers' demands, which included the right to organize unions independent of government and Communist party control. The new unions formed a national federation, called Solidarity, headed by Lech Walesa, the leader of a major strike in Gdańsk.

For 16 months the Polish people, rallying behind Solidarity, enjoyed unprecedented political freedom. In late 1981, however, Premier Wojciech Jaruzelski, under increasing pressure from the Soviet Union, imposed martial law.

In 1982 there were scattered demonstrations in Poland against the government, but all were quickly suppressed. Solidarity and most other independent trade unions were outlawed. In 1983 Pope John Paul II made a second trip to Poland, urging government leaders to allow more civil liberties. In August martial law was lifted, but new restrictions on civil liberties had become part of the legal code. In 1985 Jaruzelski became president of Poland.

An agreement in 1989 between the government and Solidarity restored the union's legal status and permitted it to nominate candidates for a limited number of seats in parliamentary elections. Overwhelming victories by union candidates in those elections led to the formation of a Polish government not dominated by the Communists—the first such government since World War II.

In 1990 Jaruzelski resigned and, after Poland's first direct elections for president, was replaced by Lech Walesa. Since becoming a democracy, Poland has been dominated by two political blocs: Solidarity Election Action (a coalition of dozens of small parties) and the Democratic Left Alliance (the former Communists and trade unionists). Each has held the presidency and majorities in Parliament. A third party, the Freedom Union, emerged in the late 1990's, representing the new business class and many intellectuals and former dissidents. Throughout the 1990's, Poland sought closer ties to western Europe. In response to these efforts. Poland was invited to join NATO in 1997.

In 1999, Poland became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance of Western nations. In 2000, Kwasniewski was reelected president. In parliamentary elections in 2001, the Democratic Left Alliance won the most seats. The party formed a coalition government with the Peasant Party. In 2004, Poland joined the European Union (EU). The EU is an organization of European countries that promotes economic and political cooperation among its members. In elections in September 2005, the Law and Justice party won about a third of the seats in Poland's parliament. The party formed a coalition government with two smaller parties. That October, Lech Kaczynski, one of the leaders of the Law and Justice party, was elected president.