The Roots of Solidarity: A Political Sociology of Poland's Working-Class Democratization
Breaking the Barrier: The Rise of Solidarity in Poland
Rok 1989: Bronislaw Geremek Opowiada, Jacek Zakowski Pyta (The Year 1989: Bronislaw Geremek Relates, Jacek Zakowski Asks)
Droga Do Wolnosci: 1985–1990, Decydujace Lata (The Path to Freedom: 1985–1990, the Decisive Years)
Wódz (The Chief)
Between Sesame Street and Twin Peaks, Polish television shows President Lech Walesa making his first ceremonial appointment of an army general. The new general is—a bishop. Around the corner from Pilsudski (formerly Victory) Square, a guardsman peers longingly into the new Mercedes showroom. The Palace of Culture, the most famous symbol of Soviet domination, now contains a large shopping mall. In front of it, a huge billboard advertises POLAMER, a Polish-American travel agency. The irony is so crude as to be somehow appropriate: kitsch beats kitsch. Down Nowy Swiat, a farmer snores in his vegetable truck, just a few yards from the freshly opened Christian Dior boutique. Everywhere, but everywhere, in the country as in the city, you see signs announcing a new hurtownia for this or that. Hurtownia means a wholesale warehouse, which means you pay less taxes, so every fledgling corner store is a warehouse now.
In this crazy wholesale warehouse which is Poland, with its German cars and American films, its general-bishops and wheeler-dealers, all the old certainties have gone; no new ones have yet replaced them. The shop windows are full, but for most Poles the familiar, myriad shortages of goods have been replaced by one great shortage, that of money. Here is a country in upheaval, full of extremes and contradictions, with casinos and lines of people on the dole, a triumphant Church and tons of pornography, a few new rich and many old and new poor; a country on the move, but in what direction? West? South? Or perhaps in several directions at once?
All over Warsaw you hear “Radio Z,” a new radio station offering pop music interspersed with advertisements and a little news. American style again. Between Christian Dior and the snoring farmer, a shabby staircase leads you up to the headquarters of “Party X,” a mysterious political party founded by Stanislaw Tyminski, the Polish-Canadian-Peruvian dark horse in last autumn’s presidential election. The Warsaw headquarters of “Party X” is—or appeared to be on Monday, April 22, 1991—one room in the offices of the Grunwald Association, a notorious extreme nationalist group which in the past almost certainly had close ties to unsavory parts of the communist party-state apparatus. In this room, when I visited it, there sat several poorly dressed, puffy-faced women and a computer. After some debate, one of these women agreed to give me—as a potential member—a “Letter X” intended for “members and sympathizers of Party X.”
On its first page this bulletin prints a “Declaration,” the beginning of which seems vaguely familiar. Translated from the Polish, it reads: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have bound them….” And after three paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, almost word for word, the Party X Declaration concludes with a paragraph saying, roughly, that this is just about where Poland is now, folks. On the next page a headline in fluent English declares, with reference to Jeffrey Sachs,…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.