History Of Poland In The 20th Century Europe
Present Poland’s economic situation in the inter-war period (1919-1939)
On 11 November 1918 after 123 years Poland gave back its independence. The Second Polish Republic was founded, and it will last until 1939. Even though the Second Polish Republic existed for only 21 years, it managed to carry out several reforms which in the end led to intensive development of the country.
In 1919 Poland was country with diversity in terms of ethnicity, economy and culture which was a result of Polish territory being divided among three different countries during last century. Country was confronted with many difficulties. Because of the World War I, Poland was suffering from serious damage. Russians moved factories from Polish territory to Russian, and Germans took equipment form Polish factories. Polish lands which during last century belonged to different countries, didn’t have the same economy system.
It was necessary to integrate three different economy systems and replace it with new system and make new markets. There was huge difference in development between east and west part of the country. Poland also didn’t have a sea port. Gdansk was the Free City and Poles couldn’t use it freely. There was also no direct train connection between Warsaw and Poznan, or Lvov and Krakow, nor railway line connecting Silesia with the coast. Besides this, there were also differences in legal system, traditions, habits and attitude to the state.
Another important problem was currency. One of the first tasks for the Government was currency unification. Because of division of Polish lands, there were few currencies in circulation. Among them Polish mark was only currency which was used only in Poland. In 1919 Minister of Treasury (today’s Ministry of Finance) Józef Einglich made project that was concerning foundation of Polish Bank (Polish: Bank Polski) as national institution and he introduced “lech”, dividing into 100 groszy, as future Polish currency. Sejm accepted that, only changed the name of the currency into “zloty”.
However Polish zloty as single currency in Poland will be introduced in 1924. In the meantime, the Government was working on induction of Polish mark into all Polish lands. There was problem with financing because currency reform asked for money and Poland didn’t have national treasure which could spend in order to conduct the reform. Another big problem were inflation and Polish-Soviet war. Treaty in Riga in 1921 influenced on Polish inflation. Increase in money emission became bigger than budget deficits. Shops were full, but prices were high. But inflation also had positive effects. It made the export easier, domestics prices and wager were growing but slower than foreign currencies. With time, country covered by inflation became competitive on market thanks to cheap production cost, but soon Poland became faced with hyperinflation.
Władysław Grabski is one of the most known names from the inter-war period. From December 1919 to November 1920 he was fulfilling duty of the Minister of Treasury. He wanted to conduct two reforms. First reform was treasury and second was currency reform. Treasury reform had to balance state budget so that deficit doesn’t cause inflation increase, and currency reform was related to removal of the effects of the first reform. In January 1923 he was elected again, in July he resigned, but in December he was elected one more time. Because of damage that caused inflation, now he had to conduct both reforms at the same time. Reforms that wanted to fight the inflation caused problems in economy system. Moreover, Germany as biggest Polish trade partner in 1925 started custom war. Many companies collapsed, people lost their jobs, and Polish zloty started losing on its value. In November 1925 Grabski resigned.
Next year negative effects of reforms started to disappear, and the good economic situation and economic policy made the Polish zloty one of the most stable European currencies. Zloty was stable, export had increased, trade balance improved. Poland got foreign loans thanks which the Government could conduct reform, often called second stabilisation. The prosperity from 1926 to 1929 contributed to moderation of the country. Minister of Industry and Trade Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski is one of the most known names from that period. It is time when sea port in Gdynia was built, railway line between new sea port and Silesia was also built, new factories were opened and armament industry developed. Unfortunately, world crisis that started in 1929 soon came to Poland and had deep effects on Polish economy.
After the end of crisis, in 1935 Kwiatkowski presented a 4-year economic plan called Central Industrial District (COP) which started in 1937, but it didn’t end because of the World War II. Plan was to build different factories around country, create new working places and increase number of people working in industry. Another important argument for founding COP was necessity to produce modern military equipment. Most of the investments were financed from public funds. The government wanted to strengthen Polish private capital. Companies that cooperated on COP could count on tax breaks. In almost 3 years around 107 000 new work places were opened, rise of Polish industry was around 30%. Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski had plans to conduct new economic plans, but in 1939 came new war and Polish dynamic economy growth was stopped.
Another important reform was agricultural. In 1939 around 70% of population lived in village and most people were living in poverty. By 1924 Poland regulated export of the goods from country to abroad that first wanted to contribute to the development of domestic agriculture and industry. From 1930 until the beginning of the war Poland applied import bans or regulated import of specific goods in order to protect Polish farmers. Agricultural reform wasn’t a complete success.
To sum up, Second Polish Republic is period when country was confronted with many challenges. After being reborn after 123 years, Poland had to build its economy from scratch in time when most citizens were living in poverty. Enormous efforts were put into change of situation. Events that occurred in the first half were not helpful to Poland, but later reforms helped the country to grow. Poland would probably continue its economic development if the World War II didn’t stop it.
Present hopes connected with Gomułka’s raise to power in 1956
Władysław Gomułka, also known as Wiesław, is probably one of the most controversial political figures in Polish 20th century history and one of the most influential communist leaders in Poland. He started his career as an ordinary, physical worker in refinery and in 1956 he became the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Worker’s Party (Polish: Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, PZPR). From 1943 to 1948 he was the Secretary of the Polish Worker’s Party (Polish: Polska Partia Robotnicza, PPR). In 1956 he carried out hopes which gave him support of majority of the party and of the nation. Today Gomułka is considered as co-responsible or even responsible for all the good, but also all the bad that occurred in Poland while he was fulfilling the duty of the First secretary.
In 1940s Gomułka refused collectivization of agriculture and showed reserved attitude towards Moscow’s concept of creating Cominform (Communist Information Bureau). He was slightly in contrast to other Polish communists because he was fairly independent of Moscow. Because of that, he was sent to trial and later to prison. His persecution gave him considerable popularity among the Poles and eventually led him back to power in 1956.
In 1950s Poland was still dealing with effects after World War II. Country was slowly recovering from its loses and was getting used to new country boundaries. Generations of Poles that survived the war were aware what struggle against current regime can bring. Uprising in Hungary in 1956, or fear of revived Germany, strengthened their feelings. Protest in Poznan in 1956 helped Gomułka to come back to the political scene. After coming back to power, Gomułka was aware that first he needs to calm situation in the country. He was aware that he needs to promise to people what they want to hear. However, on speech from 24 October 1956, he gave signal that political system in Poland won’t change.
Changes that happened in the party were welcomed with big enthusiasm. After returning back to power, Gomułka enjoyed enormous social support that didn’t have any previous nor later communist leader in Poland. His name was in the beginning connected with hopes about political changes and improving living standard of the nation. Gomułka was consistent in his views. He was an autocrat, but also individual driven by own prejudices. He was self-educated and had poor knowledge, but he was a physical worker. Returning back to power was his personal triumph. Since he had come back to power, country experienced drastic transformation. Poles were aware that pre-war life won’t be possible, but they hoped Gomułka will make reforms within existing system.
People were exhausted because of the war and politics and they hoped Gomułka will help them recover. Gomułka had his own view of “Polish way to socialism” and first he started with changes that people liked. Most collective farmlands were returned to private ownership, terror was weakened, persecution of Catholic Church was stopped, political prisoners were freed. However, few communist’s aspect maintained, for example intellectual freedom remained restricted and no major economic reforms were conducted. Soon Gomułka’s Poland got reputation as one of the most open societies in Eastern Europe and it seemed situation is going to change to better.
Polish October, October 1956 or the Thaw (Polish: odwilż) is name for changes that happened in Poland in l950s. 1956 was year of changes and transition. One of symbols from that time period is release of cardinal Stefan Wyszyński together with other priests and bishops from prison, religion class returned to school. But most obvious change for everyday life was liberation of culture. American and west movies returned to cinemas, in bookstores people could buy books of Polish authors that couldn’t publish before, foreign authors were translated, music festivals were organized, psychology and sociology returned to universities as subjects.
Gomułka had his own concept of Polish road to socialism which wasn’t completely cohesive nor coherent. Political elements often were in contradiction to the real situation in the country. Unfortunately, reform foundations started to prove as too shallow, and after first hopes about freedom and democratization, Poland’s way to socialism begun to change. Hopes that Poles had with Gomułka’s return, with years were slowly fading out. His retrogressive policies soon led to dissatisfaction among the Poles. Reforms he wanted to conduct weren’t complete. Even though at the beginning most Stalinist features were eliminated, soon he started to implement his retrogressive policies. Elections from January 1957 gave people signal that they actually can’t count on deeper reforms or democratization.
To sum up, Gomułka’s personality deserves special place in Polish history and with reason he is considered as controversial politician. He was notable communist leader which didn’t agree with Stalin and he wanted to make Poland independent from Soviet Union. He was different than other Polish communist leaders. After Stalinism relaxing and actions in 1956, he presented great hope for Poland and Polish nation. With his first reforms it seemed things will change, but soon he started with his retrogressive policies and it was obvious that democracy want come soon to Poland.
Evaluate the Round Table of 1989
Year 1988 in Poland is remembered as a year with many strikes, demonstrations and protest against inflation, food rationing and supervision of freedom. As a solution to this situation, the authorities first wanted to renew martial law as they did in 1981, but in the end, they agreed to meet with the opposition, movement called Solidarity which was illegal at that time. This agreement was psychological breakthrough in contact between the authorities and the opposition. It opened door to democracy, freedom of speech and reforms that will led to collapse of communist regime in Poland. Both sides wanted to improve hard social and economic situations in the country, but they didn’t have same opinions.
From 6 February to 5 April 1989 in Warsaw was held series of meetings between the governing communists and Solidarity that is known in history as The Round Table. For this occasion, the Government ordered construction of special round table around which could seat 57 people. On the beginning of negotiations, authorities were prepared to make some changes, for example to legalize Solidarity but they weren’t ready to accept Solidarity as an equal partner. Seems that at the beginning they had different plans which later they were able to conduct. Talks were organized into three working groups – economy, social policy and trade unions. During meetings next was agreed: Solidarity was legalized as a labour union, partially free Sejm elections were allowed, Senate was restored as the upper house of parliament and had veto over decisions of the Sejm, reorganization of the highest state organs was made, the functions of the president of the state were introduced and the electoral law was changed.
Leaders of People’s Republic of Poland didn’t want to upturn Communist order. They preferred to incorporate Solidarity into existing power structure, but it wasn’t possible. Even though on the elections held in July Communists formally won, they had to acknowledge Solidarity’s legitimacy. Solidarity won 161 places in the Sejm and 99 places in Senate. Because of lack of public support for the regime and USSR influence in Poland reducing, in September Solidarity was able to form a minority government and Tadeusz Mazowiecki was confirmed by the Sejm as Polish Prime Minister. He was first non-communist Polish Prime Minister after 43 years. Soon round table became synonymous for arrival of democracy to Poland by means of dialogue. Success of Poland’s Round Table served as a model for dialog in few Communist countries.
This event was a big turning point for Poland which slowly opened door to democracy and capitalism, which would come sooner or later. It announced deep changes that will happen in Poland, and later in other communist countries. Poland started turning from communism and Soviet Union to democracy and European Union. Communism left Poland peacefully, not rough as for example in China, Romania or Yugoslavia. Also, Lech Wałęsa later stated that at that time there wasn’t any other solution except compromise with the Government.
He also stated that communism would definitely leave later and maybe even in blood. For politicians connected to previous system, the Round Table turned out as an end of their political and for most of them professional career, but one part of them was slowly losing their previous privileges. For Solidarity this was the end of their underground activities and the beginning of career in democratic Poland. Among people that were involved in negotiations, lot of them later became presidents, ministers, senators or generals in new Poland.
Later there were polemics about the value of the Round Table. Some Poles complain that the Round Table failed to punish communists for their crimes, that many communist functionaries gained wealth and authority in new state, while other agree it was huge success for Solidarity and big concession for communists. Some members of opposition were unhappy how Solidarity represented itself. Members of Solidarity were considered as betrayers and collaborates. In my opinion, after any political system or structure changes, especially if it was powerful for certain period of time, it is very difficult to “exclude” or “erase” everything that was connected to previous one. Both authorities and the opposition were aware that situation needs to change, and they have power to do it. Both sides had their vision of solution which wasn’t compatible.
They were at the edge of huge crisis and conflict, and dialogue and compromise were the only solution. Question is if opposition could get more from this agreement. Probably not because Communist already had to agree on more than they primarily planned, but in the end the Round Table led to elections which caused fall of communism in Poland. After many years of terror and hard living conditions, people were tired, and now they saw possibility to change it. If opposition decided to fight and start the war, they would probably lose or even if they won, lot of sacrifices and victims would happen. How the Round Table was successful, or unsuccessful, shows the fact that the Polish method of “solving” communism served as an example to other countries, and that Poland built its democracy on these foundations.
To sum up, as Lech Wałęsa said, dialog was the only solution of the situation in Poland in 1989. Communism would end sooner or later, question was only how. After country being exhausted from inflation, food rationing, terror, etc. people started to protest, and leaders, instead of renewing martial law, decided to meet with illegal opposition. After two months of meetings, they managed to make some agreements that led to partially free elections which in the end led to fall of communism. Communism started to leave Poland and democracy started to come, and all that by means of dialogue. Polish Round Table served as an example for other communist’s countries how to resolve situation in their society.
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