Anna M. Cienciala (
History 557 Lecture Notes

Spring 2002 ;revised Feb. 2004, fall 2008. fall 2009.fall 2010, Feb-March 2011' Dec. 6, 2011; Jan. 20,2012.


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20A. Central and East Central Europe since the Fall of Communism.

Preface. (On the whole of E. Europe).

The collapse of Communism in Central [Germany], East Central and South Eastern Europe [Balkans] in the second half of 1989 can be compared to the collapse of the three Empires: the Russian Empire in spring 1917, then the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires in November 1918. In both 1918 and 1989, the peoples of Central and South Eastern Europe were free from foreign domination, while in 1989 and after they did away with communism as well. However, after 1989, they had to change not only their political system from one party rule to political pluralism, that is, democracy, but also change their economic system from a command economy to a free market economy: capitalism. The transition to the new politics and economics has proved to be a very difficult process, especially since the economies of most East European countries were in poor shape. Furthermore, the USSR, with which they did most of their trade, collapsed at the end of December 1991. Finally, they had little or no investment capital of their own, and did not receive an equivalent of the Marshall Plan (began in 1947), which put Western Europe back on its feet after World War II.

I. Overview of Political, Economic Change and Problems in East Central Europe.

Former dissidents provided political leadership before and during the revolutions, but found it difficult to organize viable and coherent political parties within a multi-party system. Most of the idealistic dissidents of the 1980s were replaced by professional politicians, many of whom were formerly members of each country's communist party. Most of them, however, were not ideological communists and they were the only people with political experience .

The change to democracy was easier than the change to a free market economy because these countries had been bankrupted by an economic system that ignored cost-effectiveness. Most of them also had large foreign debts to the West, plus they lost the Russian market where they had exported 50-60% of their goods. This market loss was due to the collapse of the Soviet economy which accompanied the dissolution of the USSR in late December 1991.

The German Democratic Republic shared all key characteristics with Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, but it was a special case because it was part of the German nation. A democratized East German state existed for one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It joined West Germany in a unified German state in October 1990.

The transition from communism to a free market economy and from a forced dependence on the USSR to independence, is considered by some specialists as largely complete by 1991, but by others as an ongoing process. The author of this text favors the latter view, considering the fact that privatization is still incomplete in 2012, even though the countries in this region have made great economic progress since 1989. Progress, was, however, accompanied by many difficulties, especially in Poland, where the first post-Communist government chose a more radical "shock therapy" in economic reform than was the case elsewhere.

Czechoslovakia, or rather the Czech Republic (the country split into the Czech and Slovak republics in Jan. 1993), pursued a more gradual transformation as did Hungary, which was ahead of both countries in having a well-organized banking system. In all three countries, as well as Slovakia, the pain and suffering due to unemployment and inadequate welfare safety nets helped ex-communist -- now mostly Socialist parties-- to increase their membership and voter support, although this petered out after a a couple of years. The only communist party to keep its old name and ideology survives today in the Czech Republic and usually wins 10-12% of the vote.

On the whole, unlike the Russian Federation, the democratic process seems irreversible in East Central and S.E. Europe. All of the above comments also apply to the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, which regained full independence with the collapse of the USSR in December 1991.

Although the Ukrainians overthrew communism in the "Orange Revolution" of fall 2004, Ukraine still has great economic difficulties and needs to develop a national identity shared by all it component parts: the western, the central, and the highly russified eastern industrial region. Ukrainian national consciousness is most highly developed in western Ukraine (former S.E. interwar Poland and before that, East Galicia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, earlier in pre-partition Poland. W.Ukraine includes Volhynia, formerly in old Poland, then in the Russian Empire, then in interwar Poland.) The election of Viktor F. Yanukovych as President (48.95% of the vote as against 45.47% for Yulia Timoshenko) in January 2010, has turned Ukraine once more much closer to Russia than was the case under his predecesso, Viktor A. Yuschchenko. In 2011, Yulia T.was arrested and sentended for financial misdeeds, but this was clearly a political trial. As of Jan. 2012, she is still imprisoned and her health is not good..

Belarus (part of old Poland, then Russian, then partly in interwar Poland) has been ruled since 1994 by the ex-communist former state farm director, President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who does not tolerate any opposition. In Dec. 2010, he rigged his fourth election as President and brutally repressed opposition demonstrators. The Polish government was the first to protest. Like the previous governments, it has tried to improve the lot of the Polish minority in Belarus and supports the dissidents and opponents of Lukashenko. He gets support from the Russian Federation under Premier Vladimir Putin.

It is worth noting that the territories of today's Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, most of Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine, were part of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth established in 1569, (see map below and Lec.Notes 1-2). The Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania, known as the Kaliningrad region, was created at the end of WW II. The Russian port city of Kaliningrad was formerly the old Prussian city of Koenigsberg (in East Prussia), which suffered almost total destruction in the fighting between Russian and German troops at the end of WWII.

[Map from Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations. Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, 1569-1999, New Haven and London, 2003; note the present borders.]

The Czech, Hungarian and Polish republics became members of the NATO alliance in March 1999, giving them a much needed sense of security vis-a-vis the potential revival of Russian imperialism.The ceremony took place in the Truman Library, Independence, MO, in the presence of the Foreign Ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, with U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright (who is of Czech descent), presiding. The celebration of NATO's 50th anniversary took place in Washington D.C. in April that year.

The government of the Russian Federation strongly opposed the entry of these states into NATO, but could not prevent it. The other East European states which later joined NATO were Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania (Russia especially strongly opposed their entry into NATO), as well as Hunagry, Slovakia, Bulgaria,Romania, and Slovenia. All these states entered the European Union [EU] and NATO in the years 2004-07. In early 2012, Russia still sees NATO membership of the former Soviet satellites as a threat to its security, while they see their membership as security against revived Russian imperialism.

Ethnic-national tensions and conflicts.

TV  allowed people all over the world to see the terrible ethnic-national wars in former Yugoslavia - between Serbs and Croats, also Serbs and Croats versus Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbs versus Albanian Kosovars in Kosovo. [See 20B].

The situation in East Central Europe has been stable, but there are some lesser ethnic-national tensions such as those between the ruling Slovaks and the Hungarian minority in southern Slovakia, also between the ruling Romanians and the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. There has been some tension between Hungary on the one hand and Romania and Slovakia on the other over the Hungarian Status Law. This gave people of Hungarian origin or descent some benefits if they come to Hungary for education or work. Both Romania and Slovakia saw this law as the thin end of the wedge for Hungarian revisionism (policy of revising frontiers), although the Hungarian government denied this goal. The issue was finally settled to mutual satisfaction in 2003 when the Hungarian government granted the same benefits to Romanian and Slovak workers in Hungary as to ethnic Hungarians from these countries.

    Another  contentious issue, this time between the Czech and Slovak Republics on the one hand, and the Germans and Hungarians expelled from former Czechoslovakia at war's end - and now their descendants - on the other, are the Benes Decrees. These decrees, issued by President Edvard Benes in 1945-46, deprived German and Hungarian citizens of prewar Czechoslovakia of their citizenship, property and right of residence because of their hostile activities against the Czechoslovak state in the period 1938-45. Exceptions were made for people who could prove that they had been loyal to Czechoslovakia -- which was generally very difficult. The most numerous expellees were 2,900,000 Sudeten Germans. German, Austrian and Hungarian politicians, as well as the press  of these countries, question the legality of the Benes decrees and demand compensation, while Czech and Slovak public opinion opposes it.

    The 8,250,000 Germans who fled or were expelled from postwar western Poland - formerly East Prussia and the eastern part of prewar Germany - made up a vociferous, organized group, but lost much of their influence after the German-Polish Treaty of November 14 1990, which meant official recognition to the postwar German-Polish frontier. However, there was some fear among Poles that Germans would buy out Polish land in formerly German areas once Poland joined the European Union. (Some Germans have been buying land through third parties, because it is illegal in Poland for foreigners to buy land without special permission.) There is, however, a Polish-German agreement that no land may be purchased by foreigners in Poland for a period of seven years after Poland's entry into the EU (2004 + 7).

Politicians sometimes make anti-Semitic statements and there are some anti-Semitic political parties and groups in various countries, but they are fringe phenomena. Residual anti-Semitism is just as much if not more present in fringe, extremist movements in Germany and Austria as it is, for eg. in Hungary and Poland. There is also some racism in France, although it is directed mostly at Moslem immigrants from North Africa .

There is widespread hostility to the Roma (Gypsies), who have been particularly targeted in the Czech and Slovak Republics (separated in Jan. 1993), although they are also subject to attacks by extreme right wing nationalists in Hungary. They are still cultural and social outsiders with whom most people in E. Europe do not feel any affinity. They have been emigrating West, mostly to France, Britain and Canada, which have restricted their immigration, and to Italy, where they are no longer welcome..

  Reflections on national states and nationalism in Eastern Europe.

Some western historians and political scientists agree with the British Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, who traces the ethnic-national problems of todayís Eastern Europe back to President Woodrow Wilsonís emphasis on self-determination at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Hobsbawm expressed this view in his book on world history 1914-91, where he condemned Woodrow Wilsonís insistence on self-determination. He wrote: "The national conflicts tearing the continent apart in the 1990s were the old chickens of Versailles once again coming home to roost."*

*[ Eric Hobsbawn, The Age of Extremes. A History of the World, 1914-1991, (New York, 1994), p. 31. See also an approving summary of Hobsbawmís view, that "it was the Wilsonian plan to divide Europe into ethnic-linguistic territorial states, a project as dangerous as it was impracticable, except at the cost of forcible mass expulsion, coercion, and genocide.,"  Ethnicity and Nationalism in East Central Europe and the Balkans, edited by Thanasis D. Spikas and Christopher Williams, Aldershot, 1999, pp. 80]

However, blaming the so-called Wilsonian principle of self-determination for interwar and recent ethnic-national conflicts in E. Europe can be criticized on the following grounds:

(1) Although Woodrow Wilson did support self-determination as the key principle in drawing up frontiers in E.Europe in 1919, these frontiers were not the result of his influence. In fact, they were drawn almost entirely on site by the former subject peoples of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, that is, those who were on the winning side, and this was done even before the Peace Conference opened in Paris on January 12, 1919.

The frontiers drawn up in Paris were (1)the Polish-German frontier: (a) there had been a Polish uprising in the former Prussian province of Posen, which showed the will of the Polish majority to belong to Poland (the Germans accounted for 34.% of the population in 1910), (b) Polish Pomerania, which the Germans called the "Polish Corridor" because it separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany (the Germans were 42.9% of the population in 1910); (c) the port city of Danzig, though predominantly German-speaking, was established as a self-governing Free City where the Poles had economic and cultural rights. This was a compomise between German and Polish claims.

(2) the frontiers of the new Austrian state, also the German-Danish, German-French and German-Belgian frontiers.[On the frontiers established in E.Europe after WWI, see Lec. Notes 10 ff.]

(3) The post 1919 national states of E.Europe were not the result of a Wilsonian plan or principle. They were, in fact, the Eastern European implementation of the ethnic nationalism that had developed in Western Europe during the 19th century, although it received recognition and support from Woodrow Wilson in 1919.

(4) Except for the mass exchange of Greek and Turkish populations in 1923-25 -- which was the result of the Greek defeat  by the Turks in war -- there was no mass expulsion of populations, or genocide, following World ar I.

Here we should note that:

(a) Genocide took place in Eastern Europe not after World War I, but during and after World War II. This was above all the Jewish Holocaust, but there were also great population losses among other peoples. *Therefore, some historians speak of  the Polish holocaust, the Russian holocaust, and the Serbian and Croatian holocausts during WW II.

*[On the intentional mass murder committed by Stalin and Hitler in Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, see Timothy Snyder. The Bloodlands. Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Basic Books, New York, 2010.]

(b) There was some population displacement after World War I (agreed expulsions of Greeks from Turkey, and Turks from Greece (see 3 above), also of Turks from Bulgaria. The mass expulsions of German populations in 1945-48 were possible because of German defeat in war, but were motivated by German policies in East Central. Europe before WW II (the Nazi use of German minorities in other countries) and during World War II, especially the expulsion of Poles from former W. Poland, annexed by Germany, to the "General Gouvernement," * also the use of two million Poles as well as Czechs from the Sudetenland, as forced labor in Germany. [After WW II, aside from Poland, Germans were also expelled from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and N. Yugoslavia - for map of expulsions, see Lec.Notes 17, Introduction].

*[On German deportations of Poles from former W. Poland, annexed to Germany, to the General Gouvernement (occupied Poland) in 1939-1941, see Philip T. Rutherford, Prelude to the Final Solution: The Nazi Program for Deporting Ethnic Poles, 1939-1941, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 2007.The author gives a brief, historical background for German-Polish relations, showing their place in the Nazi policies of expelling Poles and resettling Germans in their place. The view that this process was a prelude to the Jewish Holocaust is correct only in so far as the deportation procedures are concerned. As the author acknowledges, in these deportations the Germans wanted to get rid of ethnic Poles, although Polish citizens of the Jewish race, or faith, were also deported to German-occupied Poland. Nazi policy was to exteminate educated Poles, while total extermination was the policy toward the Jews, implemented after the Nazi invasion of the USSR in late June 1941.]

(c). We should also note the deportation of some 400,000 Poles to the USSR in 1939-41, while refugees and men conscripted into the Red Army raised the number of Polish citizens (Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Belarusians) in the USSR in 1941-45 to about 1,000,000. The postwar expulsion of the Polish population from territories lost by Poland to the USSR -- most of whom settled on prewar east German territory --was the result of Soviet westward expansion agreed to by the U.S. and Great Britain at the Big Three conferences of Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam.

d) The genocide and "ethnic cleansing" that took place in the wars in former Yugoslavia, 1991-95: the Serb- Croat-Muslim war in Bosnia, the Serb-Kosovar war, then Serb ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, 1999, were the result of two factors: (a) claims to the same land by two or three different ethnic nations, and (b) past nationalist conflicts and hatreds manipulated by their leaders.

Thus, none of the atrocities of World War II, or those in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, can be traced back to President Woodrow Wilson and his insistence on self-determination in 1919.

II. The countries of post-communist East Central (or Central) Europe,* BY COUNTRY

*[The State Dept. now uses the term: "Central Europe" for Germany, Austria, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia, but in these Lecture Notes, the last country is discussed in the section on S.E. Europe; the State Dept. uses the term "East Central Europe" for Belarus and Ukraine, while the author of these Lecture Notes applies it to Poland, Czechoslovakia -- now the Czech and Slovak republics -- and Hungary.]

A. Poland.

The Communists suffered a humiliating defeat in the elections of 4 June 1989 (see Lec Notes 19B). Once the results were known, the actress Jolanta Szczepkowska announced on TV: "Ladies and Gentlemen - Communism ended in Poland on June 4." Indeed, 160 out of the 161 Solidarity candidates who ran for the 35% officially contested seats in the Sejm (pron. Seym, Lower House of Parliament), won all of them in the first round. What was much more significant and unexpected -- was that people crossed off almost all communist deputies named on their ballots. Solidarity also won 99 out of 100 seats - all open for contest - in the restored Senate.

The Communists acknowledged defeat -- advised to do so by Mikhail S.Gorbachev -- while Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and his advisers agreed to a run off election which brought a few communists into the legislature.

On July 3, the KOR and Solidarity dissident Adam Michnik, the editor of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza (Electoral Paper), made his famous proposal: "Your President - our Prime Minister," proposing a Solidarity deal with the Communists. On July 14, Walesa, in accordance with the Roundtable Agreements, appealed for the immediate presidential election of a candidate from the party-government coalition. Everyone knew that the only candidate was Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski (pron. Voytekh Yaroozelskii). On July 19, the Sejm (pron. Seym -- parliament) gave Jaruzelski 270 votes against 233, with 34 abstentions. (Some Solidarity members deliberately cast invalid votes to lower the threshold of an absolute majority). Jaruzelski squeezed in with one vote above the mandatory minimum and became President of Poland. (He resigned in July 1990).

In August, the two satellite parties abandoned their coalition with the PZPR (Polish United Workers' Party), and joined the Citizens’ Parliamentary Club (Solidarity), giving the latter a majority. It was not surprising, therefore, that General Czeslaw Kiszczak (pron. Cheslaf Keeshchaak), former Minister of Internal Affairs, and then Mieczyslaw Rakowski (pron. Myecheslaaf Rahkofskee) failed to form a government.

President Jaruzelski turned to Solidarity Leader Lech Walesa for advice on who was to be appointed Prime Minister. They agreed on Tadeusz Mazowiecki (b. 192 7), a lawyer, journalist, devout Roman Catholic, co-founder of KOR (Komitet Obrony Robotnikow = Committee for the Defence of Workers formed in 1976), and editor of the main underground Solidarity newspaper. In the Sejm, 378 deputies voted for Mazowiecki, with 4 against and 41 abstentions. He announced the new government on September 12, 1989 with only 9 communists -- including General Kiszczak as Deputy Premier and Minister of the Interior, and General Siwicki as Minister of Defense - out of 21 ministers. The new government was approved by a majority vote of the Sejm (402 for, 13 abstentions). According to the Roundtable Agreements, the Communists should have held the ministries of the Interior, Defense, and Foreign Affairs, but held only the first two - and not for long. Krzysztof Skubiszewski, (pron. Kshyshtoff Skoobeeshevskee) professor of International Law,  Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, and never a party member, became Foreign Minister. Again, Gorbachev advised Rakowski  (the new head of the PZPR after Jaruzelski resigned the post when he became president) to accept the new government. The president's power was considerable, including the right to impose martial law, so presumably Gorbachev felt that he could well agree to the new Polish government.*

*[On Gorbachev's role in Polish politics at this time, see the study by Mark Kramer cited in Lec.Notes 19b.]

Adam Michnik 1999

New York Times Magazine, November 7,1999, pp. 70, 72

The Economy.

Meanwhile, before Rakowski's resignation as Premier on July 31, the Sejm voted to create a free market economy as of August 1. This meant that meat ration cards were abolished and all food prices were free. This led to a price increase of 264.3%, second only to price increases in former Yugoslavia. Thus, the new government faced a very difficult economic situation. It grew worse for a good while due to the "shock therapy"  or "the Balcerowicz plan" named after Minister of Finances, Leszek Balcerowicz. He issued a set of ten regulations in January 1990 aiming to restructure the economy - and prices jumped another 585.8% that year, again second only to former Yugoslavia. At the same time, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved the Mazowiecki governmentís reform plan and granted credits of $700 million, plus $1 Ĺ billion from the World Bank.

The new policy was meant to fight inflation, also to reduce foreign debt and the budget deficit. It achieved these goals but it also impoverished a large part of the population, leading to rising unemployment and therefore labor strikes. Indeed, the government had to impose price controls on flour and bread in late January 1990.

The old communist party, the PZPR, decided at its 11th Congress to dissolve itself  and did so on January 29, 1990. The vast majority of the delegates voted to create a new party: The Social Democracy of the Polish Republic (Polish acronym: SDRP). Alexander Kwasniewski, then 36 years old, a former youth activist, sports minister, and one of the chief party negotiators at the Roundtable Talks, became Chairman of the Partyís Head Council, while Leszek Miller, 44 years old, was elected Secretary General of the Executive Committee. The new party took over the assets of the old PZPR but lost 95% of them to later privatization. The minority delegates at the Congress, who supported Tadeusz Fiszbach, lst Secretary in Gdansk, 1980, formed the Polish Social Democratic Union. Unlike the SDRP , they proclaimed a complete break with the old PZPR, but did not manage to survive.

Local government elections took place on May 27, 1990, but only 42.27% of voters chose to vote. (In the U.S. an average 33% of those with the right to vote participate in elections). Presidential elections were held in December 1990, and Walesa won in the second round; he was elected President for five years. His most serious rival was an expatriate Pole who won enough votes to require a second round, while Mazowiecki lost by a large majority. Parliamentary elections were held on October 27, 1991, with a turnout of 43%, and produced a right-wing coalition headed by Jan Olszewski.

                                    Lech Walesa's Reflections on the East European situation in 1999.

 New York Times Magazine, November 7, 1999, p.81.

    Note that Walesa was angry at gains made by former communists, a sentiment widely expressed in Poland. He faulted the Western Powers for not establishing a Marshall Plan for Eastern.Europe, and blamed the economic catastrophe (of the transition period) on them. Indeed, millions of people lost their jobs.. 

Of course, the Marshall Plan for Western Europe after WW II stemmed from U.S. fear that economic chaos and poverty would lead to Communist electoral victories, especially in France and Italy which had large communist parties, and that this would open the way to Soviet domination of W.Europe. However, the USSR collapsed in late Dec. 1991, so there was no immediate threat of renewed Soviet domination over Western or Eastern.Europe. Therefore, the U.S. and W.Europe did not see the need to give massive economic aid to E. Europe.

The Polish-German frontier.

Germany was unified in October 1990. German Chancellor Helmuth Kohl at first opposed official recognition of the Polish-German frontier -- and thus the inclusion of Poland in the unification conference -- because he feared losing the votes of the descendants of those Germans who had come from the German territories awarded to Poland in 1945. However, he gave in to pressure from the United States and Britain, so Poland was represented in the third round of the conference, in July 1990, which dealt with Germanyís eastern frontiers.

The Roman Catholic Church.

While communist ministers were replaced by Solidarity supporters, and later by former communists, the Catholic Church exerted great influence on successive governments. This was especially visible on the issue of prohibiting abortion (with some exceptions), which had been voluntary since 1956. The church also tended to support right wing parties.

After the collapse of Communism people did not go to church as often as before, but the church remains a powerful influence in the country. Clergy support helps right-wing and moderate candidates in elections, although the Church declares that it does not take sides in politics. The Church has also regained most of the property it lost under communism and bought.


The Mazowiecki government was criticized later for not undertaking measures of "de-communisation," that is, verification of government officials and politicians to exclude from public life those who had cooperated with the Security Services under Communist rule. However, Mazowiecki followed the general line of toleration and avoidance of vindictiveness that was popular in leading Solidarity circles. Indeed, the opening of the Secret Police files in former East Germany and Czechoslovakia led to many abuses, and the succeeding Olszewski governmentís attempt to use them as a weapon against political opponents proved highly unpopular. (The right-wing government led by Jan Olszewski, resigned Dec. 1991.)

De-Communisation finally got under way in Poland in 1999. Each person holding or chosen to hold a political post had to declare whether he/she ever cooperated with the Security Police (SB). There have been a few cases when Ministers, who denied such work, were found to have lied and were forced to resign and so did a Bishop. It should be noted that "cooperating" with the SB can be interpreted rather broadly to gain political advantage for the accuser.

The elections of September 1993 brought in a preponderantly Left-wing government dominated by the Democratic Left Alliance (SDL) supported by the Peasant Party. This electoral victory reflected the dissatisfaction of the majority of Poles with the painful transition to a free market economy. Indeed, selected economic indicators for Poland in the years 1989-1993 showed a disastrous decline in production, consumption, employment and exports in the year 1990, although a significant recovery began in 1993.

It is true that the decline of the GDP in Poland was comparable to Hungary in 1990-92, running at about 17%, and lower than the decline in Czechoslovakia, which was close to 23%, while the Romanian GDP was reduced by about 32% and the Bulgarian by almost 28%. However, this was little comfort for the Poles. *

*[see Kazimierz Poznanski, Polandís Protracted Transition. Institutional Change and Economic Growth, 1970-1994,  Cambridge, 1995, p. 193. For an excellent, recent study, see Richard J. Hunter, Jr. Leo V. Ryan C.S.V, "The Ten Most Important Economic and Political Events Since the Onset of the Transition in Post-Communist Poland," The Polish Review, vol. LIII, 2008, no. 2, pp. 183-216. It is summarized and updated in The Sarmatian, Univ. of Texas, Houston, TX, September 2008.].

The new left-wing government failed to improve the living conditions of the majority of the population, so it fell in the elections of September 1997, which saw the victory of the "Solidarity Electoral Action" (Polish abbreviation: AWS), a coalition of right and center splinter parties put together by Solidarity leader Aleksander Krzaklewski (pron. Kshaaklefskee). He blamed the former communists, "atheists" and such for the hardships suffered by the workers in the transition period. He also stressed traditional Catholic dogma and demanded a significant place for the Catholic religion in Polish life. These slogans were in line with those of right wing parties.

In the meanwhile, in December 1995, Walesa lost the presidential election by a very small margin to the ex-communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski, (pron. Kfaasnyevskee) who used American election campaign tactics. He was re-elected President in 2000 and was the most popular Polish politician of his day, while the right-wing coalition suffered extensive fragmentation and lost the election of 2001 to a left-wing coalition (SDL). This coalition was very unpopular with the Polish people, who suffered unemployment of an average 17-18%. (East German unemployment stood at about 22% but welfare payments, funded by W.Germany, were very high). Also, the trade unions, including Solidarity [now only a trade union] that represented workers in  state-owned, inefficient and debt ridden industries, frequently demonstrated against the government. The most vocal protests were by the coal miners because the government was shutting down inefficient and unproductive mines. Coal miners used to be the elite of the Polish working class and were very well paid. Many were now unemployed and found it difficult to take up other work. Farmers also demonstrated, demanding guaranteed payments for their produce.

[President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Premier Leszek Miller and Russian President Vladimir Putin, then visiting Poland, just before the dinner in his honor at the Presidenttial Palace, 16 January 2002. From Anna Bochwiec, III RZECZPOSPOLITA W ODCINKACH - the Third Republic in Segments.]

The economic situation greatly improved with Poland's entry into the European Union in 2004. This brought greater foreign investment and allowed many Poles to work in other EU countries, thus lowering unemployment at home. In fact, by 2006, about half a million Poles were estimated to work in Gt. Britain and Ireland, while many also worked in Germany. A shortage of skilled labor was noted in Poland while demand for foreign labor dropped in W. Europe. Some Poles began returning home in 2007, and many more did so when the economic crisis hit W. Europe in 2008-09.

The political situation also changed. In fall 2005, the right-wing Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PIS = Law and Justice) party won a significant number of votes in the parliamentary elections and Lech Kaczynski (pron. Lekh Kachynskee) was elected President for 5 years. He promised not to appoint his twin brother Jaroslaw (pron. Yaroslav) as Premier, but soon did just that. The PIS formed a coalition government with two right wing splinter parties: The Samoobrona (Self-Defense) a small peasant party led by Andrzej Lepper and the Liga Polskich Rodzin (League of Polish Families) led by Roman Giertych, (grandson of prewar and wartime National Democratic leader Jedrzej Giertych, and named after Roman Dmowski who led the National Democrats until his death in Jan. 1939).

The Kaczynski brothers had started out in politics alongside Lech Walesa in Solidarity, held high office under him as President, but were dismissed and then turned against him, Now they implemented populist, nationalist, right-wing policies. They planned to carry out the "lustration" (verification of non-cooperation with communist security services) of all central and local government officials (est. at 700,000!) and even demanded the lustration of people well known for their opposition to communist rule, including those cleared earlier.

The only parliamentarian who now refused to undeergo lustration was Bronislaw Geremek. He had, indeed, been a communist but resigned from the PZPR over the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the meanwhile, he had been an adviser to Solidarity and was imprisoned under Martial Law. After the fall of communism, he became Foreign Minister and was elected to the European Parliament, where he was highly respected.When he refused lustration under the aegis of the Kaczynski government, he had been cleared twice before of the charge of cooperation with the Security Police (He died in a car accident in July 2008).

[The twins, Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, during the Parliamentary Session of 29 November 2001, from Anna Bochwiec, III RZEPOSPOLITA W ODCINKACH.)

The PIS-led coalition was already in disarray when it lost the elections in fall 2007. A moderately right wing party, the "Platforma Obywatelska" (pron. Plaatformah Obyvatelskah -- Civic Platform), led by Donald Tusk -- a native of Gdansk with a degree in History and a co-founder of the "Liberal Democratic Congress" in 1991), won a significant number of votes. He had run for President and lost to Lech Kaczynski in 2005. Tusk created a coalition government with the Zjednoczone Stronnictwo Ludowe (ZSL = United Peasant Party), whose leader, Waldemar Pawlak, became deputy Premier (he had been Premier in 1992 and 1993-95).

Lech Kaczynski, however, remained as President (elected for 5 years in 2005). He conducted his own foreign policy, constantly stressing Polish grievances against Germany, Russia, and the European Union, as well as pushing for closer Polish relations with the United States. In the Russian-Georgian War of Aug. 2008, he took the initiative in organizing a meeting of Polish, Ukrainian, and Baltic Presidents in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, where he made anti-Russian statements not cleared with the Polish government. He insisted that, as president, he had the power for make foreign policy although under the Polish constitution such power belongs to the Cabinet.

In 2005-07, when the Kaczynski-led coalition was in power, they managed to appoint right wingers to leading positions not only at the IPN (Institute of National Memory) but also in Polish public media, especially state TV, all of which continued to publicize their views on domestic politics and foreign policy in 2008-09. They also continued their earlier campaign against Walesa, focusing on the charge that he was a Security Police agent from Dec. 1970 to sometime in 1976, and perhaps even later. This charge was first circulated by the Security Police in 1983, in an effort to prevent his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but he received it and his wife Danuta collected it for him. Walesa has always rejected the charge and was cleared of it in the 1990s. He does admit signing a piece of paper for the Security Police after being arrested as one of the strike leaders in the Gdansk shipyard in Dec. 1970. He has said he did so to get out of jail and return to his family.

In over almost half a century of communist rule, many people signed agreements to "cooperate" with the Security Police for one reason or another (generally job-related), but this is not the same thing as actually doing any damage to anyone else. Most honest people simply tried to avoid harming others in their co-called cooperation. The Kaczynski-controlled media, however, identified Walesa as "agent Bolek," who appears in many Security Police documents of the early 1970s. A collection of documents titled SB a Walesa (The Security Police and Walesa), produced by two right wing historians, Slawomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk was published in June 2008 by the Polish Institute of National Memory IPN. (See Lec.Notes 18a). Walesa said he would take the authors to court, but in September stated that he would wait for the law to be changed. He did, however, bring a law suit against President Lech Kaczynski for defamation, but when it came up in court in November 2009, neither party was present and the court decided to postpone it for at least a month. (Result unknown)

General Jaruzelski was again subjected to a trial in October 2008. He was charged with "criminal acts" committed under Martial Law. (See Lec.Notes 18A for Martial Law and the trial.) At least 50% of Poles believe that he imposed martial law to prevent a Warsaw Pact Invasion. Many former Solidarity leaders believe that he should not face trial. He is still on trial, but defends himself very enegertically at age 91. He no longer appears in court because he is suffering from cancer. On Jan.l2, 2012. General Kiszczak, now 86 yearsold and ailing, was given a suspendec sentence of 2 years imprisonment for his part in the imposiition of Martial Law in Dec. 1981. He was charged with allowing the special police, ZOMO, to shoot workers in the Wujek mine, although he claims that he did not order the shooting and there is no document proving that he did.

While the controversy over the book on Walesa and the Security Police was ongoing, other events claimed Polish attention. On August 7 2008, the Georgian army moved into autonomous South Osssetia --officially part of Georgia but viewed as part of the Russian Federation -- and bombarded its capital, but were pushed out by a massive Russian counterattack. The Russians routed the Georgian army and helped autonomous Abkhazia -- with ports on the Black Sea, also officially part of Georgia, to attack the Georgians.

Russian troops advanced into the heart of Georgia and blew up an important railway bridge. An armistice was brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy - also president of the European Union -- but the Russians took their time to withdraw. Georgia received much verbal support from its western neighbors, W. Europe and the USA. The Russian government claimed to have acted in defense of Russian citizens in S. Ossetia -- to whom it granted passports en masse beforehand -- but recognized the independence of S. Ossetia and Abkhazia. It has also emphasized its view that it has a "privileged" role to play in states that were formerly part of the USSR -- which include Belarus, Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine, and the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, plus Central Asian states According to information made available in 2009, the Russians had been conducting "maneuvers" in S. Ossetia, while S. Os. militias had attacked Georgian villages. Thus, it can be argued that President Shakashvili of Georgia was deliberately provoked into attacking S. Ossetia.

The war had an instant effect on Poland. On August 20 2008,Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski ( pron. Raadoslaav Seekorskee) and the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed the "Missile Shield Treaty" and an agreement on Polish-U.S. military cooperation in Warsaw. American missiles were to be placed in northern Poland. Polish public opinion had opposed the missiles, but swung in their favor after the Russian invasion of Georgia. Sikorski also held out for U.S. financial aid to modernize the Polish armed forces, and managed to obtain it. The treaty involved the positioning of U.S. Patriot Missiles in Poland, while the radar installations were to be placed in the Czech Republic. The Czech government had agreed to these installations earlier, despite much public opposition as well as opposition by Russia. (The Czechs are to be protected, if necessary, by missiles launched from U.S. warships in the Mediterranian.)

The stated aim of these two"Target" treaties was to enable the U.S. to track and shoot down Iranian missiles aimed at the United States. (Their most direct trajectory is alleged to cross Poland.) Russia opposed the treaties and condemned them, warning Poland that it would now be targeted by Russian missiles. The missiles were to be put on site in Poland by 2012. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov visited Warsaw on Sept.8, 2008, and, while demanding respect for Russian rights to predominant influence in the territories of the former USSR, expressed readiness to accept the Missile Shield Treaty provided it was accompanied by real guarantees, which would have to negotiated. (The Missile Shield is still a point of contention between Russia and NATO, Jan. 2012.)

After Obama's electoral victory of Nov. 4, 2008, President Kaczynski's chancellery claimed that in his telephone conversation with President Elect Obama, the latter said he would continue the missile project. This was corrected by Obama's spokespeople who repeated his campaign statement that he would continue the project if it proved technically feasible. The head of President Kaczynski's chancellery said the statement was just an error in his line of work. Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski deplored the fact that, once again, he had to undo a presidential mistake

Polish-Russian relations improved in 2009-10. Indeed, on April 9 2010, Russian Premier VladimirPutin and Polish Premier Donald Tusk met at the Katyn graves of the Polish POWS shot there in April 1940, and both expressed the will for reconciliation. The next day, President Lech Kaczynski, flying with his wife and a delegation of 94 prominent Poles to a separate celebration of the Katyn anniversary -- crashed in the fog at Smolensk airport and no one survived. It is known that the airport control tower advised the pilot not to land at Smolensk, but proceed either to Moscow or Vitebsk. What is not known, is who made the decision to go ahead and land anyway. Although the Polish Air Force Chief, General Blaszczyk, was said to have been in the pilot cabin shortly before the crash, examination of the voice records had failed to identify his voice. (Ja. 2012). The report of the Russian investigation blamed the pilot; the Polish investigation, Dec. 2011, blamed both the pilot and the airport control. A meeting between experts from both sides might be helpful.

Poland suffered a great loss, for which both the Russian government and the Russian people expressed great sympathy. Lech Kaczynski and PIS, however, spoke of a conspiracy, blaming the Tusk administration for the catastrophe (allegedly because they did not purchase a new presidential plane, so Lech Kaczynski and his delegation flew in a senior, renovated Tupolev). The PIS leader and his spokespeople also distrusted the Polish and Russian investigations.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of PIS, managed to have his brother Lech and his wife buried in a crypt at Wawel Castle -- an honor reserved in the past for great Poles. He then supported a campaign to keep a cross in front of the presidential palace. This action took place before and after Jaroslaw Kaczynski lost the presidential election to Bronislaw Komorowski in June 2010. The cross was finally moved to St.Anne's Church nearby. PIS, however, carried out a large demonstrations in April 10 2011 but Polish public opinion seems to have lost much interest in the controversy since that time.

As of this writing (Jan. 20,Dec. , 2012), Jaroslaw Kaczynski still refuses to work with the elected President and government of Poland, charging it with responsibility for the Smolensk catastrophe. His people keep on demanding an international commission of investigation. Indeed, two members of PIS travelled to the U.S. in late 2010 and tried unsuccessfully to win the support of certain congressmen for this demand. The Russian report of Feb. 2011 put all the blame on the Poles, which created much anger in Poland. (For the Polish report see above). Unfortunately, some Poles believe the accident was a Russian conspiracy, and a film was made to "document" this theory.

PiS suffered a spectacular defeat in Polish Local Government elections held iin November-December 2010. President Obama received President Komorowski at the White House on Dec. 8, 2010, but the coverage of Komorowski could not compete with coverage with the 30th anniversary of the death of John Lennon and the Wikipedia Leaks. One of these leaks showed renewed US-W.European resolve to support Poland and theBaltic States in case of Russian aggression. Meanwhile, Komorowski received Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Warsaw on Dec. 6, 2010 and several Polish-Russian agreements were signed.

The Polish parliamentary elections were held in October 2011 and resulted in victory for the Civil Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO) and its allies led by Donald Tusk. He is the first post-communist, Polish Prime Minister to win a second term of office. It should, however, be noted that the PO and coalition parties won by a 10% margin, and that J. Kaczynski's party, PiS, still won about 30% of the vote. The PiS leadership fragmented after their loss. J. Kaczynski continues to accuse the Polish government of being subservient to Germany and Russia, claiming that PiS represents the Polish nation and its vital interests.

What is the Polish balance  sheet  for the 21 years following the collapse of communism?

Democracy is solidly entrenched,  privatization has made good though slow progress, and the country is far more prosperous than in 1989.  Although only 9.6% of workers were unemployed in June 2008, this went up to 13% in early 2011, the effect of global recession.

Hundreds of thousands of Poles took advantage of Poland joining the European Union [EU] in 2004, to seek work in Western Europe. The largest number found work in England and Ireland. Many began returning home in summer in 2008-09/ this exodus increasedespecially after the credit crisis, begun in the U.S.,, spread to Europe.

Four major reforms, implemented all at once after the communist collapse, caused much chaos, especially in the Health Service, which is severely underfounded and still remains so. There was much  civil unrest in the form of peaceful or even violent protests in the 1990s, e.g. by Polish farmers against the import of foreign foodstuffs . However, some political scientists argued that this demonstrated the strong hold that democracy has on the country.** Membership in the EU has greatly helped the farmers who knew how to use it.

**See: Grzegorz Ekiert and Jan Kubik, Rebellious Civil Society. Popular Protest and Democratic Consolidation in Poland, 1989-1993, University of Michigan Press, 1999. G. Ekiert is professor of Government at Harvard University; J. Kubik is professor of Political Science at Rutgers University].

On the whole, the picture is more positive than negative. Poland is economically better off than Russia and  most of the Balkan states, although it lags behind the Czech Republic. It was better off in 2010 than some W. European countries because only 40% of its economy depended on exports.

Polish economic progress is far from uniform. On the one hand, the key cities have prospered. Warsaw has been experiencing a massive construction boom for many years and has become a very expensive city. Krakow has become a great tourist attraction, for it has been spruced up and is a pleasure to see in comparison with the drab days of communism.The city of Lodz (pron. Woots), previously Poland's greatest textile producer, has transformed some of the old textile mills into large shopping malls. Poznan, Gdynia, Gdansk and Szczecin all demonstrate prosperity, while Wroclaw has become a "star" city.

Direct foreign Investment  has poured in, bringing better returns within 7 years than Paris or Berlin, where returns came after 20 years, at least until the financial crisis of fall 2008. The Polish economy grew by about 33% in the period 1995-2000, outstripping Hungary and the Czech republic. * Investment decreased precipitously, however,with the Western economic recession, but Polish exports grew by more than 30% since 2004, while exports to Russia alone rose by 75% and the foreign trade share of the GDP in 2008 was about the same.* The main obstacles to large scale foreign investment are the complicated and painfully slow Polish legal procedures and the poor state of the roads.

*[On the upswing of the Polish economy, see Leo V. Ryan, CSV, and Richard Hunter Jr., "An Interim Report on the Polish Economy," The Sarmatian Review, vol. 28, no. 3, 2008, pp.1418-1421. For more detail, see their article in the Polish Review, v. 53 no. 2, 2008, pp. 183-216, and their recent work..


On the other hand, in medium and small, one-industry towns, the factories or mills have been disintegrating. The inhabitants live off  small welfare payments supplemented by their garden plots. One example is Tomaszow Mazowiecki (pron. Tohmaszoof Mazohvetskee), about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south-west of Warsaw. It used to be a textile manufacturing center, but no investor has appeared so far to buy up the outdated mills and modernize them. At the same time, another small town, north of Warsaw, Plock, which used to live off its oil refineries, managed to attract a U.S. Levis producer and acquired a private university, However, the Levis have now moved to Ukraine, where labor is cheaper. This is also true of the manufacture of other consumer goods. (One producer of luxury Polish leather goods, now has them made in China).This situation was greatly alleviated after Poland's access to the EU in 2004, which allowed Polish workers to seek work in other EU countries.

In general, heavy industry suffered greatly, with many workers either laid off or paid an inadequate wage, while tens of thousands of coal miners were laid off with one time benefit payments. The former Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, the cradle of Solidarity, later renamed the "Pilsudski Shipyard," was sold off in pieces to private investors and many former workers were laid off; some parts are still for sale. Before 2004 (when Poland joined the EU) it was estimated that overall, about 15-20% of the population had become wealthy since 1989 and another 15-20% managed to live well, which left about 55-60% living near or at the poverty level, while the welfare safety net is inadequate. This is not surprising, for welfare is only adequate in wealthy European countries like Britain, France, Germany. Holland, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries. Berlin and Paris are now attempting to cut back welfare payments and health benefits,as is London and the GOP in the US, but all are meeting with popular opposition in the process.

The farmers of Poland, still make up 20% of the employed population.The average farm has 5 hectares of land (about 12.35 acres), so it is too small to be efficient. The state farms were dissolved and many were bought up by private investors. However, the collective farms - even the well run ones - were left to rot, along with the people who worked them.

Private farmers borrowed heavily from the government to modernize and found it difficult to pay off their debts. They were hard hit in the early 1990s by western agricultural imports, which were cheaper than their own products due to European Union (UE) subsidies for agricultural goods. Therefore, they protested, sometimes violently, both against foreign food imports and against the lack of adequate, guaranteed, government prices for agricultural produce. Indeed, the main obstacle to Polandís entry into the European Union was EU unwillingness to subsidize Polish farmers, so the vast majority of P. farmers opposed entry into EU for fear they will not be able to compete with its products. The other obstacle was the need to adapt Polish laws to the EU legal system, but this is making progress. As mentioned earlier,well prepared farmers (those who did their paperwork on time) have received funds from the EU since Poland joined it in 2004. Some farmers' wives have found well paid jobs in W. Europe, especially as caretakers for older people, but there has also been much exploitation in W. Europe of workers without language and other skills. (In Italy, some were found working in conditions resembling German WW II labor camps.)

Higher Education and Research

As in all post-communist states, higher education and research have also suffered grievously in Poland from under-funding by the government, as have scholarly publications.


The Polish health service was reformed in such a way in 1999 that chaos still reigns. It will take both time and money to put the service in order. Meanwhile, private clinics are doing well.

Old Age Pensioners.

Old age pensioners and people earning low wages are often forced to leave their formerly subsidized apartments when private owners decide to sell the building, or rent out for higher prices.

The Ethnic makup of contemporary Poland.

Poland is more ethnically homogeneous than it has ever been, with minorities making up about 5-7% of the total population of some 40 million today*

*[see: Tadeusz Piotrowski, POLANDíS HOLOCAUST. Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic,1918-1947, Jefferson, N.C. and London, 1998, p. 260; Gabriele Simoncini, "National Minorities of Poland at the End of the Twentieth Century," The Polish Review, vol. XLIII (43), 1998, no. 2, pp.173-194].

However, minorities are much more visible than in the communist era. The German minority, located mostly in Silesia, has its deputies in parliament, also its own press and radio stations, while the  German language is taught  in schools by teachers brought in from Germany. There have been clashes with ethnic Poles when German and Polish Silesians built or tried to build monuments to their Wehrmacht (German Army) dead.All male Silesians were subject to conscription into the Wehrmacht, but those of Polish descent deserted to the allied armies, esp. the Polish 2nd Corps in Italy. Those sent to the Russian front were either killed in battle or, if captured,used for forced labor in the USSR (In summer 1994, the author of this text rented a one bedroom apt. in Moscow, said by a Russian neighbor to have been built by German prisoners of war.)

There was a latent fear in Poland that Germans would come in and buy up land in western Poland once the latter entered the European Union. For this reason, the Polish parliament passed a law prohibiting sale of land to foreigners for 20 years without government permission. (This is contrary to EU legislation and a compromise 7 years period after Poland joined the EU was agreed that year, i.e. 2004).

There is also a movement with roots in the pre- World War I and interwar periods demanding recognition of a "Silesian minority," which is neither Polish nor German. However, as of now, it is weaker than the recognized German minority which benefits from German financial support.*

*[see: Karl Cordell, Tomasz Kamusella and Karl Martin Born, "The Articulation of Identity in Silesia since 1989," in: Karl Cordell, ed., The Politics of Ethnicity in Central Europe, Houndmills, Basingstoke, England, and New York, 2000, ch. 7, pp. 161-187; K. Cordell is a political scientist specializing in German and Polish politics, also German-Polish relations, who was then teaching at the University of Plymouth, Great Britain; K.M. Born, a German scholar, was then a Senior Research Fellow there; Tomasz Kamusella is a specialist on the politics of identity in Silesia, who has taught at the University of Opole, Poland, worked in the Provincial Administration there, has recently been teaching at Trinity College, Dublin, and is now at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.. NOTE: Five of the eight chapters in this collective work deal with Silesia. The book has a very useful list of place names with Polish and German versions, a Chronology of Silesian history, maps, end notes to chapters and an index. See also, Kamusella, Silesia and Central European nationalisms : the emergence of national and ethnic groups in Prussian Silesia and Austrian Silesia, 1848-1918, West Lafayette, Ind. : Purdue University Press, c. 2007. His last major publication is: The Politics of Language and Nationalisms in Central Europe during the 19th and 20th Centures, Palgrave, Macmillan, New York, Dec. 2008]

There are only a few thousand Jews still living in Poland, mostly old people. They are joined now by young people who have discovered their Jewish roots. There is some residual anti-Semitism, but occasional acts such as painting swastikas on walls, or the destruction of headstones in cemeteries, are generally confined to extreme right-wing youth groups, which is also the case in other European countries.

There are legal conflicts over the return of private property to the descendants of Polish Jews. The Polish government takes the stand that religious property must be returned to religious bodies, but the return of private property cannot differentiate between Jews and non-Jews for many Christian Poles also lost their property either to the Germans in World War II, or to confiscation- nationalization by communist regimes after the war. It should be noted that no compensation has, as yet, been paid to Polish landowners who lost their estates in former eastern Poland, although efforts are being made to this end.

There are positive aspects to the Polish-Jewish relationship. There is an annual festival of Jewish culture in Krakow and since 1989 "Marches of the Living" take place at Auschwitz (P. Oswiecim) to commemorate the victims of the Jewish Holocaust.  On May 2,2000, the President of Israel, Ezer Weizman and the President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, led the annual march.  Some 5-6,000 young Jews and 800-1,000 young Poles took part in the march. Kwasniewski called on the young Jews to put historical prejudice behind them and see the Poles as their friends. Both Walesa and Kwasniewski have expressed deep regret for crimes committed by Poles against Jews in World War II. Finally, Polish and Israeli historians have been working on new school text books which are to discuss the Jewish Holocaust in German-occupied Poland in a manner avoiding mutual hostility or recrimination. Polish school children now learn about the Jewish Holocaust at school. [On the Holocaust of Polish Jews in WW II, see Lec.Notes 16.]

There is some friction with the Ukrainian minority. While most of Polandís Ukrainians live on the western Baltic coast -- where their grandparents or parents were forcibly resettled from south-eastern Poland in 1947 in "Operation Vistula" -- the main point of friction is near the Polish-Ukrainian frontier in the town of Przemysl (pron. Pshemysl), which has a small but vocal Ukrainian minority. At the same time, while official Polish-Ukrainian relations are good, conflicts persist, e.g. over  the Polish military cemetery in Líviv (P. Lwow), where Polish soldiers and civilians killed in the Polish-Ukrainian war of 1918-19 are buried. (The L'viv City Council understandably dislikes honoring the Poles for defeating the Ukrainians at that time).

There is also friction in south-eastern Poland over the Ukrainian building of monuments to heroes of the Ukrainian Insurrectionary Army (Ukr. acronym: UPA), some of whose units (esp. the Bandera faction of UPA) murdered about 60,000 Poles in former Volhynia in 1943-44 to cleanse the area of Poles. Polish and Ukrainian heads of state have exchanged apologies for the past, but Ukrainian and Polish resentment lingers. In July 2003, the Polish and Ukrainian Presidents -- Aleksander Kwaniewski and Leonid Kuchma -- made conciliatory declarations on the Ukrainian Insurectionary Army (UPA) massacres of Poles in Volhynia in 1943 and Polish retaliation against the UPA. However, west Ukrainian opinion generally blames the Poles for murdering Ukrainians and is reluctant to acknowledge UPA crimes. Both sides also committed atrocities in East Galicia.The Poles, for their part, don't like to admit that the Home Army, in retaliation, carried out some atrocities against Ukrainians, and that Polish Communist Security Forces carrying out "Operation Vistula" in 1947 were also guility of atrocities.* Stepan Bandera is a hero to young West Ukrainians because he symbolizes resistance to the USSR/Russia. Former President Victor Yushcenko proclaimed Bandera a national hero, but this was cancelled by his successor, President Victor Yanukovych, who came to power in early 2010.

*[On the Ukrainian ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volhynia in World War II and Polish reprisals, see Lec. Note 19, Introduction].

Polish Relations with Lithuania and Belarus; Lithuanian and Belarusian minorities in Poland.

Official Polish-Lithuanian relations are good, but in the early 1990s the Lithuanian government discriminated against its Polish minority, which made up about 9% of the total population and is stil concentrated in the Vilnius [Polish: Wilno] region. This was mostly due to the fact that part of this minoritysupported continued union with the USSR when the majority of the Lithuanian population wanted independence in 1988-89. The local Poles feared Lithuanian discrimination and this, in fact, came to pass with Lithuanian independence in 1989-1990.

The situation has improved since that time, but in September 2008 the Lithuanian Post Office issued an envelope with pictures of Hitler, Pilsudski and Stalin, labelling them the murderers of the Lithuanian people. Jozef Pilsudski had Polish troops seize the then predominantly Polish city of Wilno (Lith. Vilnius, Rus. Vilna), in October 1920, which was passionately resented by the Lithuanians who claimed it as their capital on historical grounds. (It was the capital of medieval Lithuania.) Pilsudski was not, however, a dictator on the model of Hitler or Stalin, and he did not murder Lithuanians.* At that time, the majority of the city's population was about half Polish half Jewish, not Lithuanian. The latest source of friction is the demand by the Polish minority to use Polish diacritics (accents) on road signs in their areas -- a demand rejected by the Lithuanian government but supported by Warsaw.

* On the Wilno question in 1919-21, see lecture notes: The Rebirth of Poland.

Polish-Belarusian Relations.

Local Polish administration policyin the Bialystok region has at times been repressive toward the Belarusian minority there. The Polish government, however, generally supports the opponents of Aleksander Lukashenko, Belarusian President since 1994, fraudulently re-elected for the fourth time in Dec. 2010. The Belarusian government, in turn, makes it difficult for the Polish minority to have the Polish language taught in schools, and to have Polish priests and churches. Poland has given support to the anti-Lukashenko movement and offers asylum to those who request it.

Polish-Russian relations

These relations have been officially correct, although at times far from cordial. It took the Polish government -- under President Lech Walesa-- until 1993 to secure the withdrawal of the last Russian troops. They left behind devastated buildings as well as land ecologically damaged by gasoline dumps and military exercise areas (same in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and the former German Democratic Republic, now part of united Germany). Poland borders on Russia in the Kaliningrad region (former Koenigsberg in former East Prussia). Moscow has tried, but failed to obtain a "corridor" through Polish territory to this militarized port city. The Poles, however, have bad memories of corridors. Transport from Russia to Kaliningrad goes by sea, also by rail through Lithuania.

President Boris N. Yeltsin once told President Walesa, when visiting Warsaw, that Russia would have no objection to Poland joining NATO, but he must have been in his cups because the Russian government continued to object, though it had to accept the fact in 1999. Polish trade suffered greatly from the breakdown of the Russian economy when the USSR disintegrated in late 1999. It used to take some 50% of Polish exports, but in 2008 75% of Polish trade was again with Russia. (For more recent, favorable developments, see earlier discussion of this topic.)

Finally, there are serious Polish-Russian disagreements on interpreting the past. Some Russian historians continue to defend the Ribbentrop-Molotov Non-Aggression Pact of August 23 1939, with the German-Soviet Partition of Poland (Secret Protocol to the Pact). They claim the pact was mandated by Soviet security needs --even though it brought the German armies that much closer to Moscow. In October 2008, a retired Russian general came forward with 700 pages of documents allegedly showing that Soviet generals had proposed a massive Red Army strike at Germany in mid-August 1939-- if Poland agreed to their transit to the German frontiers. (The Sunday Telegraph, London, report of Oct.20, 2008). The enormous numbers of troops and machines involved in this alleged proposal would have meant the commitment of all Soviet armed forces against Germany. It is most unlikely, however, that Stalin would have risked a war with Nazi Germany in fall 1939, especially since he knew -- through his highly placed British agents and others-- that the French and British General Staffs had secretly agreed on a defensive posture in case Germany attacked Poland.

In fact, the Soviet-German partition of Poland led the Germans the outskirts of Moscow by late October 1941. They might have taken the Russian capital if there had not been an early winter, or if Hitler had left enough armored divisions near Moscow to defeat Georgy Zhukov's counter-attack of 6 December that year.* However, Hitler assumed Moscow would fall, so he sent these divisions to the Caucasus to seize Soviet oil production. German forces were also besieging Leningrad. 900 days later, the Red Army pushed the Germans away; it also defeated them in the Battle of Stalingrad, Feb. 1943, and decisively at the Battle of Kursk in July 1943. From that time on, the Germans were in retreat, but fought tenaciously to the very end.

*[See Andrew Nagorski's book: The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow that Changed the Course of World War II, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2007, also Rodric Braithwaite, Moscow 1941 : a city and its people at war , London, Profile Books, 2007.]


Poland's no. 1 trading partner today is Russia, from which Poland obtains most of its oil and gas. The Poles are now said to be seeking alternate sources of energy. Large deposits of shale oil and gas have been found, but it will take many years before Poland becomes independent of Russian oil and gas. Furthermore, Russia is expected to access large new oil deposits in its part of the Arctic, although this will depend on the availability of Western investments. It must also carry out badly needed repairs and rebuilding of the Russian infrastructure. Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that Polish-Russian trade will continue to develop; it increased by 40% in 2010.

In the fall of 2011, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin stated at a press conference attended by President Medvedev, that the two of them had decided some time ago to switch posts afte the next elections. These parliamentary elections took place on December 2011, just barely giving victory to Putin's United Russia Party, now with a much smaller majority in parliament. Demonstrations took place in Moscow against fraud used in the elections, and Mikhail Gorbachev called them unfair, calling for new elections. What worries the Poles is Putin's goal of restoring the former, multinational Russian Empire -- which ruled most of the Polish lands from 1815 to 1915, while the USSR ruled Poland through Polish communists between in 1945-1989.

The Katyn Issue in Polish-Russian Relations.

Since 1989, the Katyn Question has been the barometer of Polish-Russian relations.

On April 13, 1990, Mikhail S. Gorbachev admitted Soviet guilt for the Katyn massacre of spring 1940, and handed the NKVD files on prisoeners from the 3 special camps to General Jaruzelski, then President of Poland. An official Russian investigation began and it w s agreed that exhumations would take place at all 3 burial sites: Katyn, Kharkov and Mednoye.

On Oct. 14, 1992, President Boris N. Yeltsin allowed the publication of key documents showing Soviet guilt. He did this to show the criminal past of the Russian Communist Party, which opposed him and which he had banned. The party appealed to the Russian Constitutional Tribunal and he wanted documents to show its evil character. This was a great step forward toward the full truth about Katyn. Many documents on Katyn were given to President Lech Walesa of Poland and were published in Warsaw in late 1992.

While acknowledging in 1990-92 that the NKVD executed 21,857 Polish prisoners of war in spring 1940 by order of Stalin and his Polibureau,* some Russian historians continued to accuse the Poles of perpetrating a "Russian Katyn" by murdering  60,000 out of 100,000 Red Army soldiers taken prisoner in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-20, (mostly in summer-fall 1920), who did not return home. Polish historians, for their part, pointed out that about 65,000 Russians did go home. These Polish historians claim that most of those who died, fell victim to malnutrition and disease, especially the typhus epidemic, which also killed many Poles. Also, some prisoners joined "White Russian" units and fought against the Bolsheviks, while others escaped, melting into the Polish countryside. In early 2001, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski , then Polish Foreign Minister, presented Polish documents on the above question to the Russian government when he visited Moscow, but some Russian historians continue to write about a "Polish Katyn" in 1919-1920.

Some progress, however, has been made, at least by professional historians. Polish and Russian historians collaborated on a book on the Red Army men, prisoners of war, in Polish captivity. The Polish scholars came up with the figure of 16,000 dead from hunger and disease, while the Russians found 18,000. (2005).Both figures were nowhere near the 60-65,000 previously claimed by some Russian authors. We should also note that about 50% of Poles taken prisoners by the Bolsheviks did not return home. They probably died of the same causes as the Red Army men -- malnutrition and disease. This publication did not, however, stop some Russian authors from claiming in August 2008 that, while the NKVD did murder the Polish POWs -- this was a just retribution for the murder of Soviet POWs by the Poles in 1920.

*[Of the figure of 21,857 Polish victims,  14,552 were from the 3 special NKVD prisoner- of- war camps at (1) Kozelsk (murdered at Katyn near Smolensk);(2) Ostashkov (murdered in the NKVD jail, Kalinin, now Tver, and buried in nearby Myednoye); and (3) Starobyelsk (murdered in the NKVD jail, Kharkiv, and buried in the park nearby), while 7,305 others were murdered in NKVD prisons in western Belorussia and Ukraine. For the total figure and its breakdown, see: Note by Chief of KGB USSR, A. Shelepin to Nikita S. Khrushchev, March 9, 1959, in which Shelepin gave the numbers and suggested the destruction of the prisoners’ personal files (which seems to have been done) but keeping the records of the judgments by the Troika (Threesome) appointed to this task (apparently also destroyed), see KATYN. A Crime Without Punishment, edited by Anna M. Cienciala, USA; Natalia S. Lebedeva, the Russian Federal Republic; and Wojciech Materski, Poland, Yale University Press, 2007 (appeared in late January 2008; reprinted Sept. 2009). Four Polish volumes of Russian Katyn documents were published in Warsaw in 1995-2007. Two Russian volumes appeared in Moscow in 1997, 2001. All these volumes were edited jointly by Lebedeva and Materski. The Eng. lang. volume contains 122 documents selected from their work; Anna M. Cienciala wrote new introductions and gave additional information in the end notes. The book includes rare, wartime German air photos of the execution sites, expertly annotated by Waclaw Godziemba-Maliszewski. Corrections to the text, photo legends and notes appeared in the reprint.On the Polish-Russian volume on Soviet Prisoners of War who died in Poland in 1919-20, see: Kasnoarmyetsy w Polskim Plenu, 1919-1922. Sbornik Dokumentov i Materialov, [Red Army Men in Polish Captivity. Collection of Documents], (Moscow, 2005]. XXXfeb.17/11

Polish and Russian military cemeteries were opened in Katyn, Kharkov and Myednoye in summer 2000, with separate but neighboring burial sites for Poles as well as Soviet citizens, whose deaths were also Stalin's responsibility. The Soviet, later Russian, investigation of the Katyn Crime, begun in 1991, ended unofficially in September 2004 and officially On 11 March 2005, with the conclusion that Katyn was not a crime of genocide or a crime against humanity, but that high Soviet officials had overstepped their powers, which was a crime subject to the statute of limitations. Moreover, the persons accused, notably Stalin and Beria, were dead, so they were not subject to judgement.* This is accordance with Russian law. The victims' families and Polish public opinion were outraged by this conclusion. (A Polish investigation began in November 2004.)

*[It is worth noting that the Spanish government used the same arguments against a renewed investigation into the Fascist murders of Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. The judge leading the investigation, however, said these murders were violations of human rights and, as such, were not subject to the statute of limitations. He did agree to the government's claim that since the perpetrators of the murders were dead, they were not subject to trial and judgment. The Spanish investigation was discussed in the Polish weekly, Polityka, of Nov. 9, 2008].

Polish public opinion was outraged and the Polish Sejm (legislature) passed a resolution on March 22 2005 calling for Russian admission that Katyn was a war crime, a crime against humanity, and a crime of genocide against the Polish nation.They also demanded accessibility to all relevant documents, a trial, and the rehabilitation of the victims. Memorial also protested the closing and made the same demands except for classifying the crime as genocide. Memorial held that Katyn was a war crime and a crime against humanity, and that it constituted "political repression."

Meanwhile, Polish-Russian relations had deteriorated even further with Polish support of the Ukrainian "Orange Revolution" in late 2004, and then sympathy for Georgia in the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008. President Lech Kaczynski, acting on his own, even travelled to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. He invited the Presidents of the Baltic States and Ukraine there, and all declared their support for Georgia. This was deeply resented by Moscow, which also protetested the U.S.-Polish agreement to station Patriot Missiles in northern Poland as part of the projected missile shield against Iran.

The situation began to change when a new Polish government, elected in fall 2007, worked to improve relations with Moscow. President Putin, during a state visit to Warsaw in early 2008, finally called Katyn " a Stalinist crime," but the draft of a Russian history textbook for schools, while acknowledging it as such -- portrays it as justified revenge for the (alleged) Polish murder of Soviet prisoners of war in 1919-1920 and after (August 2008). As mentioned earlier, a projected Russian history textbook for schools presents Katyn as justified revenge for the alleged Polish murder of Soviet POWs in 1920.

On Sept. 1, 2009, Premier Putin met with Polish Premier Donald Tusk at Gdansk (Danzig) at celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the German attack on Poland, Polish resistance, and thus the outbreak of WWII. Putin condemned both the Secret Protocol to the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of Aug. 23, 1939, and the Katyn massacre.

In Feb. 2010, Putin invited Tusk to meet with him in Katyn on April 7, to honor the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre. Andrzej Wajda's film "Katyn" which had been shown to small audienes earlier, was shown on the Russian TV Culture channel on April 2 and on a mass audience channel on April 6.

Premier Vladimir Putin met at Katyn on April 7 with Polish Premier Donald Tusk. Putin knelt down to lay a wreath at the Polish altar; both Premiers made speeches and laid the cornerstone of a Russian Orthodox Church at the Russian cemetery. Putin again condemned the Katyn massacre, but emphasized that both Poles and Soviet citizens had suffered under Stalin.

Premier Donald Tusk did not speak of Katyn as "genocide" (a term used by the Polish Legislature in 2005, which also called the Soviet regime "genocidal" in a resolution passed on April 9, 2010). He appealed for the whole truth on Katyn to be revealed. (He meant accessibility to all relevant documentation). The Putin-Tusk meeting was seen as pointing the way to Polish-Russian reconciliation over Katyn. (For reports on Katyn, April 7, see New York Times and other major U.S. newspapers, also British newspapers, April 8-9, 2010, )

Polish President Lech Kaczynski was flying to lead a Polish memorial ceremony at Katyn on April 9, when his plane crashed in thick fog, just short of the landing strip at Smolensk airport, killing him, his wife, and many prominent Poles for a total of 96 dead. The shock was felt worldwide. The Presidents of many countries, including President Obama, announced they would attend the Kaczynski funeral on April 19.[See American, Canadian, and English press reports on the catastrophe and the funeral, April 10-16.] Most were, however, prevented from attending because most transatlantic and European flights were cancelled due to the clouds of ash floating westward after a volcano erupted in Iceland. [See major U.S. and British newspapers, April 10-16, 2010, esp. the British weekly, The Economist, for April 16-23 2010.]

The Russian government and people expressed deep sympathy for the Poles in their grief. President Medvedev attended the funeral of Lech Kaczynski and his wife in Krakow. On April 14, in an interview on Russian TV, Medvedev stated that there was no doubt that Stalin and his collaborators had ordered the murder of the Polish officers. (Most of the victims buried at Katyn were officers, but rank-and-file policemn made up one third of the total number of prisoners in the 3 special NKVD camps.) This statement was intended to counter the claims of various Russian nationalist circles, including the Russian Communist Party, which still insisted that Katyn was a German crime. On April 28, the key documents showing Soviet guilt for the Katyn crime were posted on the Russian government website. It is true they had been printed in major Russian newspapers on Oct. 14, 1992 (Yeltsin), but their posting on the official government website on April 28 was meant to tell Russian public opinion that there could be no further doubt of Stalin's guilt*

*[N.B. Since 1990, the word KATYN is used for all three murder sites for prisoners from the 3 camps, as well as for the prisoners murdered in NKVD jails in western Belorussia and Ukraine in spring 1940.]

In April 2010, President Medvedev publicly acknowledged that Stalin and his henchmen issued the order to shoot Polish prisoners of war. In May, he handed to acting Polish President, Bronislaw Komorowski, 67 of the 183 volumes of evidence collected by the Russian Katyn investigation. (They had been open to Polish scholars on site, but without copying rights, since fall 2004.)The two statesmen agreed that Medvedev would explore various procedures to classify the crime and rehabilitate the victims.The majority of deputies in the Russian Duma voted in favor of a resolution condmening Stalin for the decision to murder the Poles, and for the "moral rehabilitation" of the Polish victims. Several volumes of the Soviet Katyn investigation were handed over to Poland in December 2010.

It is too early to tell why the Russian Government has been making all these very friendly gestures to the Poles. It may be rewarding the Polish government for pursuing a policy of better relations with Moscow, including the lack of active involvement in Ukrainian and Georgian politics which had characterized the late President Lech Kaczynski. Also, it is seeking to improve Russia's image in the West in order to secure significant western investment in modernizing the Russian economy. Whatever the case may be, the official Russian attitude has clearly changed to stressing Soviet guilt for the Katyn massacre, but both sides have to reach agreement on classifying the crime and declaring the victims as innocent. In these matters, however, widespread Polish belief that Katyn was a crime of genocide encounters adamant Russian refusal to consider it as such. Russians treasure the memory of the "Great Fatherland War" against Hitler's racist Germany , so the idea of genocide is absolutely unacceptable to them. A solution might lie in both sides accepting the stance of the Russian Memorial Association -- which works to uncover Stalinist crimes -- that Katyn was a war crime and a crime against humanity, and that the Polish prisoners were the victims not of genocide but of political repression. A mixed commission of Polish and Russians scholars has published a series of papers on difficult problems in Polish-Russian relations, and Katyn is one of them. (Biale Plamy. Czarne Plamy [White Stains. Black Stains), ed. by Adam Daniel Rotfeld and Turkanov, Warsaw, 2010.


Poland's no. 1 trading partner today is Russia, from which Poland obtains most of its oil and gas. The Poles are now said to be seeking alternate sources of energy. Large deposits of shale oil and gas have been found, but it will take many years before Poland becomes independent of Russian oil and gas. Furthermore, Russia is expected to access large new oil deposits in its part of the Arctic, although this will depend on the availability of Western investments. It must also carry out badly needed repairs and rebuilding of the Russian infrastructure. Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that Polish-Russian trade will continue to develop; it increased by 40% in 2010.

In the fall of 2011, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin stated at a press conference attended by President Medvedev, that the two of them had decided some time ago to switch posts after the next elections. These parliamentary elections took place on December 2011, just barely giving victory to Putin's United Russia Party, now with a much smaller majority in parliament. Demonstrations took place in Moscow against fraud used in the elections, and Mikhail Gorbachev called them unfair, calling for new elections. What worries the Poles is Putin's goal of restoring the former, multinational Russian Empire -- which ruled most of the Polish lands from 1815 to 1915, while the USSR ruled Poland through Polish communists between in 1945-1989. What could not be accomplished by force of arms, is now being furthered by financial means.Since the economic recession hit the United States and Europe, Russian government enterprizes are buying up energy production and other key economic segments in the former People's Republics. It is not surprising, therefore, that Polish statesmen hope for the continued existence of a strong European Union led by Germany `and a strong NATO, with Poland continuing as a member of each.

Interpreting the recent past: Was communist Poland a semi-sovereign state?

There has been much discussion among Polish historians on how to characterize  communist "Peopleís Poland," 1944-1989: was it a semi-independent state, or a satellite? Should it be called the "Third Republic?.".

As we know, the Polish state which was partitioned in 1772-95 was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; (Commonwealth is a translation of the Latin Res Publica = Public Matter) which is called "The First Republic," even though it was a monarchy. The Second Republic was Independent Poland, 1918-1939. The term: "Third Republic" is now used mainly by right-wing Polish political parties to denote post-communist Poland in 1989-2005. The elections of 2005 brought to power a coalition of right wing parties led by "Prawo and Sprawiedliwosc" [Law and Justice] party headed by the Kaczynski brothers, but they lost the elections of October 2007 to the moderately conservative coalition of "Platforma Obywatelska" (Civic Platform) and the "Zjednoczone Stronnictwo Ludowe" (United Peasant Party), with Donald Tusk as Premier. Tuska and Po wonn again in October 2011.

Right wing historians deny Peopleís Poland any independence and condemn it wholesale, while left-wing sympathizers emphasize its national character and the positive aspects of its legacy, such as mass education and the resulting social advancement of workers and peasants. Finally, moderate historians see an increase of Polish Communist governments' elbow room in domestic affairs after October 1956.* Right wing historians also portray the Polish governments of 1989-2005 as dominated by communists. In fact, they included post-communists, the prime example being Alexander Kwasniewski, President in 1995-2005. He was very popular as president and is still seen as the best post-communist president of Poland.

*[ An excellent, brief survey of the dispute over the character of "People's Poland" can be found in Andrzej Paczkowski, "Communist Poland 1944-1989: Some Controversies and a Single Conclusion," Polish Review, vol. 44, no. 2, 1999, pp. 217-225]

B. Czechoslovakia; the Czech and Slovak Republics.

The first democratic elections were held in Czechoslovakia in June 1990. They resulted in a resounding vote against communism because the people voted for the "Civic Forum" in the Czech lands and for the "Public against Violence" in Slovakia. However, these two coalitions soon differed over economic and constitutional issues.

The conflict over economics was between proponents of a speedy transition to the free market and those former communists and socialists - who wanted a gradual transition with built-in safeguards to maintain living standards. When Finance Minister Vaclav Klaus was elected head of the Civic Forum in October 1990, reforms for a fast transition began. The currency was devalued by 54.5% and privatization took off. Prices doubled in Jan. 1991. The budget was balanced in 1992. The effects of these reforms were harsh. Production and real wages fell and so did foreign trade, which resulted from the collapse of the Comecon (Communist Economic Cooperation bloc), especially the Soviet markets.

The Czech conflict with Slovakia was another result of economic reforms - for unemployment in Slovakia was over twice that in the Czech lands (10% versus 4%). Slovak heavy industry, especially armaments, depended heavily on the Soviet market, which deteriorated after 1989. No wonder  the Slovaks turned against the shock therapy implemented by V. Klaus. Economic suffering strengthened old resentments against the Czechs. These were manipulated by the former communist leader - and ex-boxer - Vladimir Meciar who emerged as a Slovak nationalist.

In the Czech lands, the elections of January 1992 swept away many idealists who had led the November-December "Velvet Revolution" of 1989. The elections brought in professional politicians. Klaus's ODS (Civic Democracy Party) won the largest number of votes in the Czech lands. Klaus was at logger heads with President Vaclav Havel, whose term of office ended in Dec. 2002. He was succeeded as President by none other than Klaus, but the Czech parliament elected him by only a one vote margin.

Jirina Siklova, smuggled books to Czechoslovakia from the West, - She became head of the Gender Studies Dept., Charles IV University, Prague.
[New York Times Magazine, November 7, 1999, p. 80.]

In January 1992, the Slovak National Council approved a declaration of sovereignty, though not independence by 113 votes to 24. Meciar wanted complete economic autonomy, which meant state subsidies for industry and slowing down privatization - neither of which Klaus would accept. He saw the Slovaks as impeding his reforms and pressed for separation. At the same time, Slovak opinion was turning more against the Czechs. Nevertheless, it is important to note that there was no absolute majority among Czechs and Slovaks in favor of separation; even in September 1991, when opinion polls showed only 46% of Czechs and 41% Slovaks were for it.

In fact, the agreement to separate the two nations was made by the politicians, Klaus and Meciar, both of whom opposed a plebiscite (referendum) on the matter. The Federal Assembly voted for separation on October 1, 1992, but failed to reach a 2/3 majority as mandated by the constitution. On November 25, 55 opposing deputies abstained, so a majority was achieved. Despite appeals by President Havel and the work of many Slovaks supporters of the union, the two parts of Czechoslovakia became separate states on Jan. 1, 1993.

In the Czech Republic, economic reforms continued and Klaus was the most popular leader in September1993 after President Havel. But a left-wing party, the CSSD (Czech Social Democratic Party), led by Milos Zeman opposed Klaus and his reform program in favor of slower transition and a larger safety net. Indeed, by 1996, the CSSD was close behind Klausís ODS (Civic Democratic Party), with 26.4% of the vote. Klaus and his party suffered setbacks in late 1996 and in 1997 due to financial and banking scandals. Finally, he was forced to resign due to another scandal (donations to his party) in 1998, but was elected President in December 2002 and re-elected in 2006.

The Czech economy is in very good shape; it has benefitted from large foreign investment, especially from Germany. It is the first country among the former Comecon (Communist Common Market) to be recognized as a "developed" country (2006). It also ranks first among former communist states in the Human Development Index. *Of course, we should bear in mind that Bohemia and Moravia had been the most industrially advanced regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Vaclav Klaus (b. Prague 1941), elected President in 2003, remains President of the Czech Republic. An economist and economic conservative, he is sometimes called "the Margaret Thatcher of Central Europe." He is an admirer of Vladimir Putin and pursues a policy of friendly relations with Moscow.The country is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy.

*[see: Czech Republic, Wikipedia, 2008).

In ethnic relations, we should note the rise of racism and xenophobia in the Czech  and Slovak republics, as instanced especially by discrimination against and attacks on the Roma  (gypsies). This led to mass Roma emigration, both legal and illegal, especially to Britain and Canada, so that both countries took measures to restrict it.

In Slovakia, initial economic hardship reduced Meciarís popularity, He lost power in spring 1994 but regained it in the September election that year. He soon established an authoritarian regime, which, along with acommunist- style economic policy, isolated the country from the West. He developed close ties with Russia, on which Slovakia depends for all of its natural gas and 80% of its oil, while exporting aircraft engines in return. The economic situation improved and Meciar manipulated Slovak nationalism to his advantage, so he was able to stay in power until October 1998.

The new government of Mikulas Dzurinda that came to power at that time launched an ambitious program of economic reform aiming at a rapid transition to the free market. On April 2000, Meciar was arrested by a Swat-like team which dynamited his back door to get into the house. He was charged with corruption (paying illegal bonuses worth $350,000 to his cabinet ministers), but released on bail pending trial. Dzurinda retained power after the parliamentary elections of Oct. 2002. Slovak economic development has been impressive and the country became a member of both the EU and NATO. It is, however, 100% dependent on Russian oil and gas.

 Slovak-Hungarian relations have had their ups and downs. Slovaks have pursued a policy of assimilation toward the large Hungarian minority in the southern part of the country, which has led to tensions with Hungary. *

*[See: Tunde Paskas, "The Influence of Language Policies on Slovak-Hungarian Relations in Slovakia," Analysis of Current Events, Nov-Dec.1998, vol. 10, nos.11-12, published by the Association for the Study of Nationalities in Eastern Europe and ex-USSR, pp. 5-6].

The new, democratic Slovak government that came into power in October 1998, worked to improve these relations, but  the Gabcikovo Hydrolectric Dam on the Danube river, started under communist rule, has been a problem. The Slovaks wanted to complete it, diverting the Danube river for their needs, while the Hungarians opposed it. The case was put before the International Court of Justice at the Hague, which decided in September 1997 that the two parties were to continue negotiations in good faith. The Slovaks almost completed their part of the dam, but could not put it into operation without the Hungarian completion of the lower dam, and the Hungarians were not working on that. In spring 2,000 a Swedish company was negotiating to buy the dam and pay the debts involved. The Slovaks completed their side of the dam, but the Hungarians have not done so with theirs.*

*[I am grateful to Leslie Dienes, Prof. Em. of the K.U. Geography Dept., for information on the Gabcikovo dam since 1997]. 

One positive development in Hungarian-Slovak relations is the 2003 agreement on the Hungarian Status Law [see Hungary, below]. However, the Language Law of 2009, imposing fines for using minority languages in Slovaka, has angered the Hungarians living in the southern part of the country.

C. Hungary. `

The Hungarians held their own "roundtable talks" from mid-June to mid-September 1989, but these did not lead to full agreement as in Poland. The "Alliance of Free Democrats" (SZDSZ) and their allies refused to sign the agreement on peaceful transition of 18 September 1989. They insisted on a nationwide referendum on holding parliamentary elections before popular presidential elections, so as to prevent the election of the popular reform communist Imre Pozsgay as President by the national assembly. They gained their point, for the referendum, held on November 26, yielded a small majority in favor of having parliamentary elections first.* This was after the formation of the first, majority non-communist government in Poland.

*[see Rudolf L. Tokes, Hungaryís Negotiated Revolution, Cambridge University Press, 1996, app. 7.1, pp.357-360]

The Hungarian Socialist Workersí Party (HSWP) held its 14th and last Congress on October 9, 1989. The majority of the delegates voted to dissolve the old party and replace it with the Hungarian Socialist Party (HSP). The communists formed their own HSWP led, as before by Karoly Grosz., but this proved to be a very weak party which lost out in the elections held in November.

In November 1989, the HSP Central Committee accepted a very liberal program: political pluralism, new, free elections to parliament, ending censorship of the media, endorsing a free market economy, and giving up control of ministries except for Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Defense.

(This was also agreed at the Roundtable in Poland, except that there, the first round of elections led, contrary to the agreement, to the defeat of all communist candidates for the lower house, so a run-off election was held which yielded a few seats to the communists and thei allies. The two parties formerly allied with the communists, however, abandoned them and joined the Solidarity bloc, resulting in a non-communist majority in the Sejm (pron. Seym = equivalent of the U.S.House of Representatives).

The largest Hungarian party to emerge in the completely free parliamentary elections of spring 1990 was the Magyar Democratic Forum. (MDF) with 24.7% of the vote. The MDF was slightly to the left of the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), which won 21.4% of the vote. Pozsgayís Patriotic Peopleís Front won only 1.87% of the vote. The HSP, successor of the communist party, won less than 4%, which was the required threshold for electing deputies.

Prime Minister Jozsef Antallís coalition government (MDF, Small Holders and Social Democrats) set a moderate course for the economy over the next two years, 1989-91, opposing shock therapy and restitution of land to previous owners. However, it cut subsidies to industry and raised prices, including a hike of 65% for fuel, but welfare expenses were increased to prevent unrest. Privatization went ahead, but at a snailís pace.

A new, extreme right wing emerged in the MDF, led by Istvan Csurka, a poet and Vice-President of the party. Csurka adopted a nationalist and anti-semitic stance. He even claimed there was "an international Zionist conspiracy" of Jews, communists and liberals in Hungary - as well as in the International Monetary Fund (!) He talked about "genetically inferior strata" of the population, pointing at the Roma  (500.000 in Hungary).

Antall made some concessions to the nationalists, notably allowing the reburial of Admiral Horthy in his home town in September 1993, and calling him a Hungarian patriot, but he expelled Csurka from the MDF. Furthermore, neo-Nazis and Communists were banned by law from wearing their emblems in public, and a law was passed guaranteeing minorities the right to use their languages in education.

Antall died of cancer in December 1993. His successor, Peter Boross, could not retain popular support for the MDF, which lost the elections in May 1994. The Magyar Socialist Party (MSZP) won the greatest number of votes, 33% , and formed a government under Gyula Horn. He followed a policy of national reconciliation in Hungary and with her neighbors, notably abandoning all territorial claims on Slovakia and Romania in return for guarantees of the rights of ethnic Hungarians living in those two countries.

In the economic sphere, Horn continued the austerity measures begun by Antall; this meant more unemployment and currency devaluation, which caused some unrest and a crisis in November 1995. Privatization of large companies went forward, accompanied by some scandals, as was the case elsewhere. The Hungarian GDP rose slowly and unemployment in early 2,000 was about 9%. Meanwhile, Hungary became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in late March 1996.

The socialist MSZP lost out in the elections of May 1998, even though it still won most of its previous vote. It lost power because the opposition managed to pull itself together. What emerged was a center-right coalition led by Victor Orban of FIDESZ (Union of Young Democrats ). This result was similar to the that of Polish elections in Sept. 1997, which also produced a center-right coalition.* Orban, about 39 years old, and Tony Blair of Britain, were then the two youngest Prime Ministers in Europe.

*[see: Ben Fawkes, The Post-Communist Era, 1999].

Laszlo Rajk, Jr., 1999, former dissident.
New York Times Magazine, November 7, 1999, p.75.

The elections of April 2002 resulted in the victory of the left-wing alliance of the Socialist Party (MSZP) - 178 seats, 46.11% of the vote - and the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) - 20 seats, 5.18% of the vote. However, the alliance won only by a majority of 1% of the vote = a majority of 10 seats in the Legislature. The right-wing party FIDESZ made the greatest gains, winning 48.7% of the vote and 188 seats. This meant a divided country, with the left-wing alliance preponderant in Budapest and Hungary east of the Danube, while western Hungary was solidly right-wing, and FIDESZ also won supports in some eastern regions of the country. MSZP stands for social welfare and help to the worse off, but it also supports globalisation and foreign investment. * Hungary became a member of the European Union in 2004, along with Poland and the Czech Republic. Like those states, it also became a member of NATO in 1999.

*[ George Schopflin, "The Hungarian Elections and Beyond." End Note, R[adio] F[ree]E[europe[, R[adio] L[iberty], April 24, 2003]

** [RFE.RL. June 05, 2001; April 26, 2002]..

In 2003, Hungary gave up its stand for a privileged status of ethnic Hungarians from Slovakia and Romania in education and employment benefits in Hungary. It signed agreements with both countries giving ethnic Slovaks and Romanians the same rights if they came to study or work in Hungary.

The main economic problems in 2003 were the soaring budget deficit - about 8% of GDP in Dec. 2003 - due to raising the salaries of teachers, health workers and other state employees, as per the Socialists' election promises. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave "serious warning" about the deficit to the Hungarian government. The situation was made worse by declining foreign investment.

In September 2006, Premier Ferenc Gyurcsany, leader of the Socialists, (elected in Sept. 2004), admitted in a closed party session that the Magyar Socialist Party had been lying about the state of the economy for a year and a half, and that the economy had been kept afloat by loans.There were riots when this was leaked to the public, but they were put down brutally by the police. In Sept. 2008, on the second anniversary of the speech, there were riots again, but no injuries resulted from police action.The budget deficit has been reduced by cutting down the social services to below 5%, with a target of 3% in 2008.

Far right nationalists made a come back in 2009. A far right party, "Jobbik," won 15% of the vote after a campaign of aggressive anti-Roma (gypsies) and nationalist rhetoric, with violent criticism of the government. The party has a "national guard" which parades in hervy boots and uniforms. "Jobbik" provides a political framework for frustrated people who need a scapegoat for their own lack of success in life. The Nazi Party is, of course, a good model. Under the leadership of Viktor Orban (b. 1963), FIDESZ governs Hungary today and it has been shifting towards authroritarinism.

D. Note on the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania.

These three states had been ruled by the Knights of the Cross, and the Knights of the Sword; they were later part of Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth before becoming part of the Russian Empire in the 18th century (Lithuania from the late 18th century partitions of Poland). They enjoyed independence in the interwar period.

In August 1939, Hitler recognized them as being in the Soviet sphere of influence (Secret Protocol to Nazi-Soviet Pact, August 23 1939), and then handed most of Lithuania to the Soviet sphere in the German-Soviet treaty of Sept. 28, 1939. They had to accept Soviet garrisons in late 1939 and were annexed to the USSR in June 1940, as Hitler conquered France.

The peoples of the three republics "voted" in rigged elections for admission in the USSR as Soviet republics. Tens of thousands of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians were deported to Siberia, where many died. At home, local communists, acting under Soviet supervision. imposed the Stalinist political, economic and social system. In view of this treatment, it is not surprizing that most of the the people in each country welcomed the German army in June-July 1941, and even formed military units, including the SS, that fought on the German side against the Red Army.

Some Jews in the Baltic States cooperated with the Soviets, creating the misleading view that most of the were prio-Soviet. This led some Lithuanians and Latvians to participate in  killing or rounding up of the Jews, who were  placed in ghettos and deported to death camps. Together with Ukrainians, they provided the vast majority of  guards in the Nazi ghettoes and death camps for Jews in German-occupied Poland. When the Baltic States were re-annexed to the USSR in 1944-45, more deportations took place to Siberia and communism was imposed once again.

 In 1987, in the context of Soviet President Gorbachev’s "Glasnost" (Open discussion) a mass movement began in all three republics demanding the truth about the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23 1939, and mass demonstrations took place on its 50th anniversary in August 1989. Thus, in late August 1989, tens of thousands in all three republics joined hands to form a human chain to protest  the pact. National flags were hoisted and independence anniversaries were celebrated. Communist leaders became national leaders and worked for autonomy, then independence. Russian troops made a foray into Lithuania, but withdrew. All three states achieved independence at the time of the failed rightist putsch in Russia in August 1991.

It should be noted that Latvia declared independence unilaterally in May 1990, but Russian troops seized key installations in March 1991 and killed a few Latvians. However, there was an overwhelming vote for independence in a nationwide referendum in May that year and Boris S. Yeltsin, then President of the Russian Republic, recognized Latvia as an independent country in September, at the same time as he recognized Estonia and Lithuania. *

*[See: "Estonia, History," in: The history given at this site for Latvia and Lithuania does not cover these events, but the piece on Estonia is excellent and also mentions the other two Baltic States. See also: Taagepera, Estonia. Return to Independence, Boulder, CO., 1993, and later edition].

It is true that the sizable Russian minority - about 30% in Latvia and Estonia- has been a problem , but most of these people seem reconciled to staying put, especially in view of the difficult economic situation in Russia after the dissolution of the USSR in late December 1991.

In view of the new Russian policy, however, of giving passports to Russians living abroad (as in S. Ossetia and Abkhazia prior to the war with Georgia in August 2008), the Estonians as well as the Latvians must be worried about the considerable percentages of Russians (whose grandparents and great grandparents came in after WW II) in their populations. There is some fear that Moscow might use them as Hitler used the Sudeten Germans in 1938 to begin the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.

In June 2002, the Estonian parliament voted to condemn the crimes of the Soviet and German "occupation forces" in Estonia from 1940 to 1990. This meant that the Estonian Soviet Republic was viewed as an occupied state -- a fact denied by Russia which claims the elections of 1940 expressed the people's will to become part of the USSR. (The same claim is made by Moscow regarding Latvia and Lithuania, although all three "elections" were rigged, as were those in former eastern Poland in October 1939.)

The Estonian parliament did not condemn individual communists, but it condemned the NKVD and its successor, the KGB, for carrying out Soviet terror measures in the country. It also stressed the fact that both the Nazi and Soviet occupiers repressed or deported over one fifth of the total population of Estonia. Estonians, however, know that it was the Soviet authorities which deported their people to Siberia and caused most of the suffering.

Of the three countries, Estonia has achieved the most striking economic development because it started out as the most prosperous of all Soviet republics, had a clearly defined reformist elite, and managed to secure significant economic help from Finland, especially in reducing its fuel dependence on Moscow. It also carried out economic shock therapy. By 1993, it had reduced its exports to Russia to 17% and its GDP began to grow by 4% p.a. By 2006, it was the most prosperous of the post-Communist states.

Latvia  and  Lithuania faced more economic difficulties because their industry, developed by Russians, was tightly integrated with the former USSR, especially Russia. Therefore, disconnecting industrial production from Moscow caused much suffering. All three are members of the European Union suffered from the economic recession which hit the U.S. and Europe in 2008-09. All three are also members of NATO.


It is estimated that 17% of the Latvian population was deported to the USSR in 1949-52. Furthermore, due to the massive Russian influx into Latvia after World War II, Latvians now make up only about 57% of the population. As in Estonia, the Russians formed an economically privileged strata, with their own schools and community life, which was naturally resented by the natives. These people also remembered the brutal Soviet occupation of 1940-41, and the equally brutal period following the re-annexation of the country to the USSR at the end of World War II.

It is not surprising, therefore, that independent Latvia wished to reduce the political role of this large minority. Thus, the Latvian naturalization law of 1994, required five yearsí residence and a knowledge of Latvian, which proved too difficult for most older Russians; also, Russian officers were excluded. (However, Russians resident in Latvia before 1940 acquired automatic citizenship). The effect of this law - violently attacked in Russia and strongly criticized in the West - was that 21.2% of the electorate was non-Latvian, amounting to just over one fifth of the whole. However, in May 2002, the Latvian parliament passed a law stating the candidates running in elections need not possess the highest level of proficiency in the Latvian language, and this has been praised by western officials. It remains to be seen whether, and if so how Russia will use Russians elected to the Latvian parliament for its own ends.
The Latvian economy developed slowly, not only due to the industrial disconnection from Russia, but also to slow privatization which did not begin until 1995. However, the political system is firmly pluralistic and democratic.


Lithuania had also suffered greatly under the Soviet occupation in 1940-41. Small partisan units in the forests resisted the Soviet occupation for a few years after World War II. It was and is a predominantly Catholic country, where an underground religious opposition and "Samizdat" (self-publishing = underground books and press) emerged in the 1970s. Lithuanian communist leaders were among the first to jump on the nationalist band wagon in 1989, but were soon replaced - though only for a short time - by much more nationalistic leaders, first among them Vytautas Landsbergis, a leader of the "Lietuvos Persitvarkymo Sajudis" (Lithuanian Reform Movement), Sajudis for short (formed June 1988). He became President in 1991.

The first non-communist governments focused their attention on repressing the Russian and Polish minorities - each representing about 9% of the population - mainly because they had opposed Lithuanian independence for fear of later discrimination against them

The economy was in shambles, due not only to the disconnection from Russia, but also to very slow privatization and the decline of agricultural production resulting from the speedy dissolution of state and collective farms, even the well managed ones, without measures to help new private farmers. Economic suffering led to the election victory in November 1992 of the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party headed by the ex-communist leader Algirdas Brazauskas, who became President. He implemented a more conciliatory policy toward Russia and continued the privatization of the economy, so that the GDP began to rise from 1994 onward. A right-center government was elected in 1996, but Lithuania lagged behind its Baltic neighbors in economic development.*

In the next presidential elections, Brazauskas - who supported good relations with Russia - lost to the young Rolandas Paksas, who struck a more independent note. He came out in favor of Lithuania joining both NATO and EU. It is not surprising that he did not find favor in Moscow. It was found, however, that Paksas was in cahoots with the Russian Mafia , which ended his career.

The current president of Estonia, Thomas Hendrik Ilves was born in Stockholm, Sweden, but raised and educated in the United States. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, obtained a Ph.D. in Political Economy inrussia, 1988, and went on to complete a special foprogram for senior executives at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. Latvian President, Valdis Zatlers, is a physician.

All three Baltic States are now members of the European Union and NATO -- a fact much resented by Moscow.


Bibliography on Lithuania

Alfred Erich Senn, Lithuania Awakening, Berkeley, CA., 1990 [traces national movement in Lithuania from August 1988 to late 1989. A.E. Senn has also recently published a book on developments in Lithuania in 1989-90].

same, Lithuania 1940. Revolution from Above, Amsterdam, New York, 2007.

Same, Gorbachevís Failure in Lithuania, New York, 1995.

Saulius Suziedalis, Historical Dictionary of Lithuania (Lanham, MD.,1997).,

Bibliography on the Baltic States.

Walter R. Iwaskiw, ed., Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: country studies, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress/ Washington, D.C., Division of the Army, 1996. (See also individual country published after 1996).

Romuald J. Misiunas, Rein Taagepara, The Baltic States. Years of Dependence, 1940-1990, revised and expanded ed. [of R.J. Misiunas earlier work by Taagepara], Berkeley, CA, 1993..

Graham Smith, ed., The Baltic States: the national self-determination of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, New York, 1994,

Joseph I. Vizulis, The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939: the Baltic Case, New York, 1990.

See also articles in: Nationalities Papers; Problems of Post-Communism;, East European Quarterly,and journals devoted to Baltic countries (see Hist. 557, Bibliography, part I., periodicals)..