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The Legacy of Polish Solidarity

Social Activism, Regime Collapse, and Building of a New Society


Edited By Andrzej Rychard and Gabriel Motzkin

Polish Solidarity was a phenomenon combining a trade union, a social movement and general ideas of freedom and solidarity. Led by Lech Walesa it contributed greatly to the evolution of the old system and to its final collapse in 1989, followed then by the end of the communist regimes in all of Central Europe. Today we celebrate the 25 th anniversary of these peaceful revolutions. What is left of Solidarity? What is still important? How did it evolve and how did it contribute to the collapse of the old system, and to the building of the new? These are the questions the authors, leading specialists on social movements, institutions, structures and social change address in this book.
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The Many Lives and Deaths of the Solidarity Movement


The majority of analyses of the Solidarity movement limit themselves to the period 1980–81, when Solidarity was a ten-million strong social and freedom movement that for various reasons had taken the organizational form of a trade union. The dynamic of this movement was smashed on the 13th of December 1981 by the introduction of martial law. The experiences of other protest movements in countries of the communist bloc until that time had indicated that Solidarity could not survive confrontation with the naked military-ideological power of General Jaruzelski (additionally enjoying the support and confidence of Moscow). Nevertheless, things turned out differently. Several years later it was precisely the activists of illegal Solidarity with Lech Walęsa at their head who would bring about the Round Table Agreement (Spring 1989), as a result of which began the peaceful process of the collapse of, and exit from, the communist system. From the political point of view Solidarity can be regarded as both the main agent bringing about this process and its main beneficiary, not only bringing about and consolidating democracy, but also having the opportunity to form the next two successive governments (the so-called “Solidarity governments”), raising its leader Lech Wałęsa to the office of president. Solidarity also achieved success as a national liberation movement which led Poland to regain full sovereignty. As a trade union organization, re-registered in April 1989, Solidarity faced completely new challenges connected with the processes of building democracy and of radical free-market economic transformation....

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