Friday, May 22, 2009



Katowice Coal Mine, Poland, 1981 
Speaking of the fall (or not) of communism ("All Rise," May 21, 2009), we are in the primetime of the twentieth anniversaries of the fall of the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. 
The year 1989 saw the second "Springtime of Nations." In astonishment, and uncertainty, the outside world, and even the political actors within the various members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, watched as events unfolded and limits were pushed. 
Now, twenty years later, the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, serves as a stand-in for all the regime changes that year. And the violent climax of the downfall of all the Soviet-bloc regimes in Eastern Europe came on Christmas Day, in Romania, when the just-deposed former leader Nicolae Ceausescu -- and his wife -- were executed by firing squad. 
But the Polish story should not be overlooked.  Timothy Garton-Ash believes "to this day that the Round Table - that is to say, the negotiated revolution - was a particularly Polish discovery, and is in a way Poland’s gift from 1989 to the world." 

The backstory includes the founding of the Solidarity trade union in Poland in August 1980, and its rise and rise until it was crushed in December 1981. When I took photographs all over Poland in the summer of 1981 (including the coal miners in Katowice, above), it was obvious how entrenched Solidarity was in the workplaces, and in society more generally.  At its height, there were said to be ten million members, out of a population of thirty-some million. 
That summer, and into the fall, there was nervous speculation as to whether the Soviet Union would invade; it was the era of Leonid Brezhnev and the Brezhnev Doctrine ('what we have, we hold'). But in the end, on December 13, 1981, Poland's own leaders imposed martial law.  Lech Walesa and other Solidarity leaders 
were thrown in jail. 
Solidarity came back to life again after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow and seemed to embrace the possibilities of reform in other communist countries besides his own.  Still, as Garton-Ash testifies, "You have to remember that nobody knew what would happen next and nobody knew what the Soviet Union would accept." 

No comments:

Post a Comment