THE POLISH ROUND TABLE TALKS

SATURDAY, APRIL 10, 1999

V     THE POLISH ROUND TABLE REVISITED: THE ART OF NEGOTIATION
2:00-5:00 pm

Opening Remarks:
· Lee Bollinger
, President, University of Michigan

Panelists:
· Lech Kaczynski
, Professor of Law at the Catholic Theological Academy in Warsaw, Solidarity activist, participant in the Round Table for the opposition
· President Aleksander Kwasniewski, President of Poland, participant in the Round Table for the government
· Adam Michnik, Editor-in-Chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Solidarity activist, human rights activist, participant in the Round Table for the opposition
· Bishop Alojzy Orszulik, Bishop of the Diocese of Lowicz, Professor of Canon Law, participant in the Round Table as an observer for the Catholic Church
· Grazyna Staniszewska, Member of Parliament, Solidarity activitist, participant in the Round Table for the opposition

Discussion Moderators:
· Brian Porter
, Assistant Professor of History, University of Michigan
· Maciej Wierzynski, Chief of Polish Service, Voice of America

Closing Remarks:
· Brian Porter
, Assistant Professor of History, University of Michigan

COMMUNISM’S NEGOTIATED COLLAPSE:
THE POLISH ROUND TABLE TALKS OF 1989,
TEN YEARS LATER

Panelist:
Adam Michnik, Editor-in-Chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, Solidarity activist, human rights activist, participant in the Round Table for the opposition

Ladies and gentlemen, the argument about the Round Table is one that accompanies all of the conflicts of our epoch: ethnic, religious, and social. This is the same manner in which the British and French supporters and opponents of the executions of the kings discussed, this is the way the Spanish and Argentinean opponents of the dictatorship discussed, this is the way white and black opponents of the Apartheid discussed. This is, finally, the argument between Israeli and Palestinian supporters and critics of peace negotiations. Those who favor the peaceful way of resolving conflicts are always faced with similar questions and charges. How can one think about making a pact with an enemy? How can one seek a compromise with someone who should be punished for their crimes? And usually the answers given are similar. You have got to come to terms and seek compromise with the enemy, precisely because he is an enemy. There is no need to negotiate with friends. What is the real choice here? Either a war, easy to provoke, and which can last permanently, or a difficult path towards peace based on compromise. But a compromise always leaves something to be desired. To be able to live in peace and freedom, it is necessary to replace the language of war by the language of peace, and this was the attempt that Poland undertook ten years ago. The underground Solidarity was divided; there was the wing that was against negotiations no matter what, and there was another wing that was eager to negotiate with communists, no questions asked. As I recall my own view, I had a sense of opposing both sides. I was very much in favor of the tough opposition in the underground, at that time, in order to obtain a decent compromise for the future. Many of the leading politicians of Solidarity reasoned the same way in those underground times: Lech Walesa, Zbigniew Bujak, Mazowiecki, Geremek, Jacek Kuron, Frasyniuk, and also Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski, all those people who later on pursued their different paths. I often hear accusations that by having chosen the logic of compromise, I have betrayed my own biography. That’s why I want to start commenting about my own case. While in prison in Gdansk, I wrote a small booklet Takie czasy (These Are the Times), which was smuggled from the prison and published in the underground press, and that’s what I wrote: “Solidarity should reject the philosophy of ‘everything or nothing,’ both in regard to the Soviet Union and to Polish communists, both in regard to partial changes and to pluralism that has to be created in the civic life. Because I claim stubbornly that unless the international situation changes, the compromise in Poland, with the democratic reform as its ensuing consequence, is not only realistic a perspectives, but actually it’s the only solution available. For communists, it will be a way of achieving legitimacy, while for us it will be a path towards decent life. Pursuing the compromise and evolutionary changes, we’re allowing for a situation in which the communists will bow under social pressure and agree to at least partially free elections to local governments and the Sejm. And the communists will do that not because of their love of democracy but because of calculation. Such reform will be more favorable to them than the permanent continuation of the cold civil war.” And I also wrote this, in the same booklet, in prison, in ’85, while I was waiting for my sentence: “This could be a solution: enabling the Polish society to truly elect thirty percent of its representatives to the Sejm. And yet, those same thirty percent on one electoral voting list, next to Siwak and Urban, could only lose their authority.” I apologize for quoting myself. These days, however, there are so many politicians in my country who suffer with amnesia or who make up new biographies that it is useful to reach for the arguments I quote now. In those debates about the Round Table, which there are numerous in Poland, there is a constant claim of ill will, slander, betrayal, machinations, manipulations. My feeling is that for short-term gains, there is some tendency to falsify contemporary Polish history. Such insinuations make the dialogue impossible. They help to create an image of a traitor and enemy, rather than of a polemicist and critic. And, ultimately, what really was a great, impossible to predict, success of Poland, its bloodless getaway from communism, is often presented now as a misfortune for our country and a source of its present problems. I claim that this kind of false historiography engenders false policies. There are two myths that accompany the debate about the Round Table. The first myth, popularized by politicians and columnists associated with the former communist party, talks about the benevolence of the party leaders, who simply turned the power over to the opposition as soon as it became possible. The second stereotype talks about the conspiracy of “the reds with the pinks.” However, there was neither benevolence nor conspiracy. The strategic goal of the communist party was to gain a new legitimacy for the communist rule in Poland and abroad, and allowing some form of legalized opposition was to be the price for that. The strategic goal of the Solidarity opposition, on the other hand, was legalization of Solidarity and launching the process of democratic transformation. After years of repression, in ’88 it became clear that the strategy of martial law has failed. In May and August a wave of strikes showed that Solidarity was still a durable element in the Polish political arena and that it was necessary to talk with Solidarity. On the other hand, under martial law, Solidarity was a community rather than a labor union, a myth rather than an institutionalized political movement. Its strength was its logo, which really affected the collective societal memory, and its leader Lech Walesa, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. But in truth, in many work establishments, and in actual underground structures, Solidarity was weak. That is true that in comparison with dissident communities in countries of the former eastern bloc, Solidarity appeared to be powerful. We, however, knew that the multimillion union of ’81 had been reduced to only a sliver of its former power. And yet, Solidarity still had retained some of its major trump cards. Public opinion support in the West. Solidarity had been discreetly supported by the Pope, John Paul II. Some bishops were giving their strong support to Solidarity. Besides, there was the logic of change within the Soviet Union, its political and economic inefficiency. Finally, Solidarity could also count on the distaste of Jaruzelski’s team for reintroducing some form of martial law. It appears that after the 13th of December ’81, the communist rulers of Poland tried to put in force, put in being, some sort of Kádár’s scenario: stabilization through repression, and modernization through limited reforms of the system. Underground Solidarity’s strategy at that time was simple: to survive the repressions and wait for better political circumstances. These new circumstances came with Gorbachev. The changes in the Soviet Union produced a new situation in which the Round Table became possible. That compromise was, as usual, the result of relative weakness of both partners. The authorities were too weak to trample us, and we were too weak to topple the authorities. And out of those two weaknesses a new chance arose for a new compromise resolution. And it appears that the primary role was played by the readiness of two persons, one, Lech Walesa and the other, Wojciech Jaruzelski. These two politicians were perhaps the only ones that had full credibility in their political communities. Nobody from the Solidarity side could risk such negotiations without Walesa or against Walesa, because it would have been considered a betrayal. And I think that on the other side, without Jaruzelski, such compromise wouldn’t have had enough validity. It must be said, at the same time, that each of these two partners differently understood the goal of the negotiations. Jaruzelski never hid his intentions. Already on the first of September ’88, when the second wave of strikes ended, he was thus speaking at the meeting of the Central Committee: “There are no losers and no winners. We have not backed off. We have now repeated the offer presented at the Sejm on the 28th of October in ’81. This was the resolution about creating the National Reconciliation Council, which was brutally rejected then. At that time Solidarity lost its chance and remained empty-handed. Today, we are saying: there is no place for Solidarity, which has once again proved that it’s a party of strikes, a party of troublemakers, but there is room for some people from the former Solidarity who would like to cooperate. “Of course, an element of this policy was creating a rift between the good and the bad Solidarity people. At the beginning of October ’88, at the meeting of the Central Committee, Minister Kiszczak said: “Constantly, together with comrade Ciosek, we have been warning Walesa that we only need people who believe in dialogue to participate in the Round Table, if we do not want the Round Table to fail. We were drawing a clear-cut picture before Walesa and his colleagues that political adventurers and hawks should be excluded from the talks. It seems that in no circumstances can we agree to the participation of Kurons, Michniks and the like.” But even this kind of approach was not approved by most of the leadership of the communist party. “Our enemies, our opponents are smart,” they said. “All of the fractions of the opposition are being put together by our opponents, they are winning propaganda gains, and this ruins our thesis regarding constructive and destructive opposition. Those are people who are acting out of some inspiration of external international centers and getting money from them.” These are General Kiszczak’s words. And Mieczyslaw Rakowski, the Prime Minister at that time, would say: “Today, we cannot accept reactivation of Solidarity. And all of our other proposals will not be accepted by Solidarity, representatives of Solidarity that is. Therefore, we have to ask the question: what next? In my view, if we do not agree to reactivate Solidarity, we should expect a political shock of a major scale, and because of this, we should start getting ready for some sort of confrontation, in great secret, of course.” All these quoted speeches, I think, point out to a clear picture. In the communist party leadership, despite their inner divisions, most people apparently did not want to reactivate Solidarity, but to break it into factions, and to take its activists over into the existing political infrastructure. And it seems to me that the attacks against some selected underground activists, like Jacek Kuron and myself, were motivated by this attitude. I remember those days. After the meeting between Lech Walesa and General Kiszczak on the 1st of September ’88 there, some anxiety appeared in our ranks. On the one hand, Lech Walesa stopped to be a private citizen, quote unquote, consistently boycotted by the authorities. On the other hand, however, we sensed some deceit in the government’s tactics, their vague position regarding legalization of Solidarity, unclear initial conditions, which practically blocked the path towards negotiations. All of this caused our distrust. We had many conversations then. In one of them, I heard from one of my friends, “What? You want to talk with the communists? It was tried before by General Okulicki and other leaders of the underground Poland!” We argued a lot. I remember another of my colleagues who explained to me that it’s not the communist authorities that will legalize Solidarity, but vice versa, Solidarity will lend legitimacy to the communist authorities. I remember a long conversation with a friend of mine, involved in the underground independent cultural activity, and for her the Round Table simply meant a betrayal of ideals, giving in to censorship, and giving up on true independence. I did not share these views but I understood these friends, because this sort of compromise could discredit us. It could! And it really required some sort of violation to one’s self, of one’s emotions and one’s memory. I remember how hard it was for me to overcome my own internal resistance and fears. I remember how much effort it took me to try to understand the reasons of our yesterday’s enemies, who now were to become adversaries and partners. Ever since September ’88 we were clearly setting up the issues. The necessary condition was legalization of Solidarity and Lech Walesa had a perfect sense of how far we could push. He did not give in to pressures regarding any individuals’ participation but stubbornly insisted: “Solidarity first.” Because of his unquestioned authority in the opposition circles, the communist leaders gave in to his tough stand. Before that, though, for many weeks, there was a real war of nerves. We were hearing from Prime Minister Rakowski that Poles are actually more interested in a lavishly set table than a Round Table. There was also the decision to close down the Gdansk Shipyard, when we simply felt pushed to the wall; we just had to protest that. By the way, this was also when the weirdest scene of the twentieth century European history took place, when the Gdansk Shipyard workers were giving a loud cheer to salute Margaret Thatcher. Hard to think that the iron lady had so much support from those rebellious proletarians! There were other memorable speeches. There was a well-known speech of General Jaruzelski in Ursus, in which we were referred to in a discourteous manner. We saw it all as a certain general concept of incorporating some opposition people into the government in such a way that they would share the responsibility without sharing the power. From all those materials I’ve quoted abundantly here, and they are all secret documents of the Central Committee of the communist party published in 1994 by the publishing house “Aneks,” it appears that the breakthrough in the position of the authorities occurred actually in December ’88. On the 24th of November, the round table, prepared for the debates, was actually being taken apart, but on the 30th of November, there was a TV debate between Walesa and Miodowicz and that was a shock for the public, for public opinion. I will never forget it. All of my friends were anxious, worrying that Walesa would be literally eaten alive by Miodowicz, a trained demagogue, but I was quite sure that Lech will simply rip him apart, because on Walesa’s side was the right, and the truth. And I will never forget, and His Excellency Alojzy may also want to mention it here, when we were celebrating in His Excellency’s office when Lech came back from the television recording. Something really broke at that moment. Lech appearing on TV came out very calm, moderate and responsible, and he was unlike, so much unlike the government image of him as some sort of troublemaker that the authorities had to come up with something different. And indeed, in December of ’88 Mr. Rakowski phrased some of his famous questions regarding legalization of Solidarity, addressed to party activists. This was a turning point. This was the moment when we sensed some shift on the authorities’ side. In late December, a document was prepared. It was done by the Politburo prognosis team and wasn’t signed but I could sense that the rapacious pen of Professor Janusz Reykowski must have been at work. And this document says: “There is no indication that the issue of Solidarity will naturally dissolve. Solidarity is a fact. Solidarity exists; it exists despite our restrictions. There is no indication that restrictions will succeed in eliminating this phenomenon in the future. If so, why not start some discussion about legal existence of Solidarity? Our present position is, as a matter of fact, really focused on torpedoing the Round Table.” This is what the party analysts are saying about the party position, ‘torpedoing the Round Table.’ In some way, one or another, the Round Table has to lead to some sort of legalization of Solidarity. Legalization of Solidarity is a risk for us, but if we don’t do that, can someone guarantee its dissolution? We can either keep solidarity within the norms of law or set it, with its real potential, outside the norms of law.” And this was a position radically different with the entire policy line of the party. Therefore, it’s not surprising that during the December plenary meeting, a massive attack of party activists against the leadership occurred. Party activists did not want to re-legalize the hated Solidarity. When we analyze those days now, we have to see the conflict within the party apparatus, within the governing elite. And those who falsify that part of history for their own present political reason and claim that there was no such dramatic split, then they create false historiography, which, in turn, has to create false politics. Under those circumstances, on the 17th of January, there was a special session of the Politburo. In the minutes of that session we can read: “The First Secretary Gen. Jaruzelski said that the leadership was lacking confidence of the activists, and that creates a crisis situation. Either the Central Committee members,” Jaruzelski is saying that, “Either the Central Committee members will show confidence in the leadership, or the leadership should offer their resignation. And if the confidence exists, we have a right to demand implementation of the passed resolutions.” On behalf of comrades Rakowski, Siwicki, and Kiszczak, Jaruzelski announced that if they do not receive such a vote of confidence, they all going to offer their resignations. In other words, Jaruzelski, together with the two Generals and the Prime Minister Rakowski, made “an offer not to be refused,” like they said in the movie, The Godfather, to the Central Committee. An offer not to be refused, you either give your signature here, or your brains will be splashed on that piece of paper. In this manner, the path to Solidarity’s re-legalization was being opened, but we, the members of the opposition, had to pay a high price for it. We were to offer legitimacy to the system by taking part in the elections. The communist party leaders wanted change everything in a way that would preserve the status quo. Creating the so-to-speak contractual pre-agreed election formula in the elections for the Sejm was their way to achieve this, and it was the price we agreed to pay for Solidarity. I remember the inauguration of the Round Table very well, when I was forced by Professor Geremek to put on a suit and a necktie, and when, listening to snide comments of Walesa and others, I went to the Viceroy Palace in Warsaw. To get into the debate room, one had to go upstairs, and at the top there were General Kiszczak and Secretary Stanislaw Ciosek welcoming the guests. I managed to hide in the bathroom so as not to be seen by anybody to shake hands with the chief of police. I was simply afraid my wife will kick me out of the house. So I found a hiding place in the bathroom, waited for several minutes there, but as I emerged, Mr. Kiszczak was still there offering his hand in a handshake. You know, lights, cameras … and this was the way I lost my virginity! We had a sense of strangeness of our situation. Only two-and-a-half years before I had been released from prison, and there were my colleagues, friends from the underground, Kuron, Bujak, Frasyniuk, others. But at the same time, I was aware that some sort of historic shift was taking place which I was unable to define at that time. I understood one thing: the democratic opposition was finally taking a step over the threshold of legality. From that Viceroy’s Palace our path could only lead either to the Rakowiecka street prison or to the end of the communist system. During these negotiations, I still smelled out for traps and deceit, and yet step by step, I was able to notice the birth of a historic chance for my homeland. The Sejm elections were to be the key trap, since Solidarity deputies in the Sejm would have been a minority, so that’s why Solidarity activists were skeptical about those elections. I remember the dramatic meeting of the National Committee in Gdansk, where, together with Jacek Kuron, we were trying to persuade our friends that Poland was facing a great chance, and that we should take advantage of it, but we ran into tough opposition, even among our very close friends. And I don’t know how it would have ended were it not for Bronislaw Geremek, who broke out of his splendid isolation and brought his entire authority to influence the National Committee to get involved into the elections. We argued about procedures, electoral voting procedures but the main charge was that those who conducted the negotiations were not fully representative. And this is a valid charge. That was true. It’s my belief that step by step we were dismantling the communist system. Our adversaries thought that they would modernize the system through reforms, but we felt that we were pursuing a peaceful destruction. Well, the underground Solidarity was not a regular democratic structure because it couldn’t be and Lech Walesa’s views were always decisive, but at the same time, Solidarity had a deeply rooted democratic spirit within its culture, so there immediately appeared numerous internal arguments about who should propose candidates for the Sejm. All that was said about the arbitrariness of the process is true but I think it couldn’t be done differently. Solidarity’s chance was its legend and the legend of Walesa. Solidarity was weak, several, maximum several, thousand people in all of Poland. No fully democratic procedures were at that point possible. It was crucial to act quickly in order to create a reliable team that could win the elections. We pretended we were stronger than we really were. It was necessary to take a risk. We gambled that Solidarity’s strength would grow during the election campaign, and that its legend will be institutionalized. This was our bet and we won. Now, about Magdalenka. The great myth of Magdalenka. Magdalenka was a place where the most difficult, conflicting issues were being deliberated upon by an elite group. During the Round Table, I participated in all of these deliberations. And it really was fascinating to watch the former enemies sitting at the table and trying to find some sort of common language. It was clear to everybody, including General Kiszczak, that they were burying the old world. It was clear to everybody that in this new, unknown world, they will happen to live together, the former prisoners and the former jailers. Later on, a myth was coined that some kind of secret pact was signed in Magdalenka, and it still circulates as a stereotype. And like all stereotypes, it is resistant to argumentation. I can only say: nothing of the sort had happened, no secret conspiratorial agreements but it was a search for compromise in the most inflammatory, most difficult issues, such as unionization of production facilities working for the army, problems in mining, the issues of the Senate and the President. And we really fought hard about all these. And that’s it. There were no secret agreements. We went ahead to the elections and we won in a manner that simply frightened us by its scale. We didn’t know what to do with our victory, but what matters the most is that in those elections the communist system was rejected by the Polish nation. During the Round Table, we debated in what manner to continue, to keep going forward. I favored the Spanish path to democracy. I believed that just as in Spain, where the Franco’s elite and the republican elite were able to come to terms tactically, we should be able to do that, too. The accusation of betrayal came up later. Perhaps we will come back to this, but at this point I just want to say one thing. The Round Table compromise was possible because on both sides there were people who risked accusation of betrayal by their own communities. And that’s a reformers’ fate, that they go at a snail’s pace and they get banged on the head by their own extremists. But it’s only thanks to such reformers that we can trust that the philosophy of agreement has a future and that one can build that future on the conviction that only a Poland shared by those who fought against the People’s Republic, and those who served the People’s Republic can be a truly democratic Poland. If we exclude anybody, we will have to accept discrimination of some sort, which in the final analysis always results in lies and injustice. Thank God Poland has chosen another path. Thank you.

Back to session program Back to conference program

Panelist:
Lech Kaczynski, Professor of Law at the Catholic Theological Academy in Warsaw, Solidarity activist, participant in the Round Table for the opposition

Porter:
I also have one question … Sir. Sir, sir, … (Calms down an unidentified male from the audience).

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