Today in class, I asked the students to give me the reasons they think communism ended in Poland. Almost all of them focused on Gorbachev and his reforms, and while this is a valid reason, they did not look at the organic, homegrown reasons for this event.
Poland was the first of the Eastern European countries to embrace a multi-party state and it was not an overnight affair. There were numerous tribulations that led to an end that did not have an eye-popping climax. Instead, the Polish voters went to the polls and elected Solidarity into power after a series of roundtable negotiations with the Communist Party.
Some of the more thoughtful students provided further answers that went further back in time than Gorbachev and provided indigenous reasons for the change:
– The naming of the Polish Pope John Paul II gave the Poles a sense of international support
– Awarding Lech Walesa the Nobel Prize in 1983 did the same thing
– Lifting of martial law in 1985
– The use of non-violence among the oppositions to the socialists structure
– Reconsistitution of Solidarity in 1987 that did not face government opposition
– The roundtable talks among Solidarity and Communist Party officials
While one student astutely noted that the 1989 elections were not entirely legitimate (if they had been, there would have been far fewe communists in the government) it was a peaceful transition to democracy that proved to be a model for other countries in the Warsaw Pact.