Ten Years After 1989: Adam Michnik

Ten Years After 1989: Adam Michnik

Any great social change unleashes great expectations. And therefore, of course, it leads to great disappointments. In 1989, a variety of individuals and social groups pinned their varied hopes to a change of political systems. For some it meant the coming of freedom—for intellectuals and trade unions, for religion, and for the nation as a whole—after many decades of subjugation. This is why many can say that at least some of their dreams have been realized. I myself belong to those who subscribe to the thesis that the decade of the nineties has been marked by the most magnificent changes to have taken place in the course of the last three hundred years of Polish history. From a dictatorship, Poland has turned into a democratic country; from a satellite into a sovereign state; from a lawless state into a state of law; from an economy of shortages into an economy of markets and growth. At the same time, Poland has managed to maintain political stability, to improve its image and its position in the world, and, finally, to enter NATO, making our country—which had lived for a century in the whirlwind of history—a safer place.

How was this possible? In the first place, the international constellation was favorable to us. The great changes taking place in the Soviet empire, correctly associated with the name of Mikhail Gorbachev and his perestroika, opened room for maneuver in the satellite countries. The policy of the United States, inspired by President Jimmy Carter’s philosophy of human rights, made it possible to push the Soviet empire into a position of axiological defense; President Reagan’s description of the “Evil Empire” gave strength and courage to the people fighting for freedom against communist dictatorships.

Communism lost because it had exhausted its capacity for development, while at the same time being unable to build mechanisms for self-correction. Of decisive significance, of course, was the fight against dictatorship, led by dissidents like Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vaclav Havel and János Kis, Lech Wal´Ása and Jacek Kuron´, and paid for through years of suffering and repression. And then later on, at least in Poland, a major contributing factor was a capacity to compromise that characterized the people of the anticommunist opposition as well as a part of the Communist Party.

One cannot overestimate the importance of the Round Table compromise, which took place in the first months of 1989. The aim of the Round Table was to assure stability for the period of transformation. This is why the ruling powers consented to a fully democratic election to the Senate and why the opposition, in return, agreed to reserve 65 percent of the seats in Parliament for people of the old regime. The election to the Senate brought an overwhelming victory for the Solidarity camp, whose candidates won ninety-nine out of a hundred seats. This delegitimized communist rule and opened the way fo...