|Little is known regarding
the early activities of the Slavic tribes that laid the foundations of the
Polish nation. According to some experts, a number of these tribes united,
about AD 840, under a legendary king known as Piast, but Poland does not
begin to figure in European history until the reign of Mieszko, reputedly
a descendant of Piast, which lasted from 962 to 992.
The Piast Dynasty
Mieszko converted the Poles to Christianity in order to compete better with the crusading and marauding Germans. During the reign (992-1025) of his son, Boleslaw I, the Christian church was firmly established in Poland. Boleslaw also conducted successful wars against Holy Roman Emperor Henry II and considerably expanded the Polish domain. He was crowned king by the pope in 1025. At his death, Poland extended beyond the Karpaty Mountains (Carpathian Mountains) and the Odra and Dniester rivers.
During the next three centuries Poland met with repeated misfortunes from internal disorder and foreign invasions. In 1079 Boleslaw II had the bishop of Kraków murdered and Poland was placed under a papal interdict. Boleslaw III, who reigned from 1102 to 1138, conquered the region of Pomerania, defeated the pagan Prussians, and defended Silesia against Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. On the death of Boleslaw III Poland was divided among his sons, and the kingdom subsequently disintegrated into a number of independent warring principalities.
In 1240 and 1241 the Mongols invaded and ravaged Poland. Meanwhile, the neighboring Baltic dominions of the Prussians had been subjugated by the Teutonic Knights, and German colonists, encouraged by the Polish princes, began to settle in the country. During the period of German colonization, large numbers of Jews, in flight from persecution in western Europe, took refuge in Polish territory.
Wladyslaw I of the Piast dynasty was crowned king of Poland in 1320. From 1305 to 1333, defeats were inflicted on the Teutonic Knights, and the kingdom was reunited. The power and prosperity of Poland increased tremendously during the reign of Wladyslaw's son Kazimierz III, also called The Great, which lasted from 1333 to 1370. Kazimierz was one of the most enlightened rulers in Polish history and the last of the Piast dynasty. He initiated important administrative, judicial, and legislative reforms, founded the Jagiellonian University in 1364, extended aid to the Jewish refugees from western Europe, and added Galicia to the Polish domains.
The Jagiellonian Dynasty
The second dynasty of Polish kings, the Jagiellonians, was founded by Jagiello, grand duke of Lithuania. In 1386 Jagiello married Jadwiga, queen of Poland, a grand niece of Kazimierz III, and ascended the throne as Wladyslaw II Jagiello. Roman Catholicism was introduced into Lithuania, a predominantly pagan country, by Wladyslaw, who was converted on his accession. In 1410 Polish and Lithuanian armies under Wladyslaw won a decisive victory at Grünwald over the Teutonic Knights, thereby raising Poland to a leading position among European nations. Thereafter, until 1569, a single sovereign usually ruled both states.
Under the Jagiellonian dynasty, which lasted until 1572, Poland attained great heights of power, prosperity, and cultural magnificence. Kazimierz IV, who ruled from 1447 to 1492, conducted a protracted and successful war (1454-1466) against the Teutonic Knights. In 1466, by terms of the Peace of Torun, which terminated the conflict, he secured West Prussia, Pomerania, and other territories. The landed gentry and lesser nobility acquired extensive privileges during Kazimierz's reign, mainly at the expense of the peasantry. The Sejm, a parliamentary body that evolved out of earlier assemblies of nobles and other social groups, began to assume greater importance. The succeeding Jagiellonian kings, notably Zygmunt I, were generally victorious in the military and diplomatic struggles of the period, despite some setbacks in the east. In 1569 Zygmunt II Augustus united the two realms of Poland and Lithuania. The country was officially termed the Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita). Protestantism, which made many converts among the nobility in the middle years of the 16th century, ceased to be significant after 1600.
With the death of Zygmunt II Augustus, last of the Jagiellonians, in 1572, the Polish nobility and gentry (Szlachta) successfully concluded a prolonged campaign for complete control of the country. A regime of elected kings was instituted with the power of election vested in the Sejm, then a bicameral body consisting of the lesser and greater nobility. One important aspect of this system was to be the liberum veto, which made it possible for any member of the Sejm to prevent the passage of legislation. The constitution also sanctioned the formation of military confederations of nobles.
Wars and Polish Decline
For two centuries after these developments, the political, economic, and military position of Poland deteriorated. Successive and generally disastrous wars with Sweden, Russia, the Ukrainian cossacks, Brandenburg, and the Ottomans led to the loss of important Polish territories and the devastation of much of Poland. In 1683 Polish and German armies under the command of Jan III Sobieski defeated a vast Ottoman army at the gates of Vienna, halting a serious threat to Christendom in central Europe, but his victory was unable to halt Poland's decline. Early in the 18th century the Russian Empire opened a systematic offensive against declining Poland. Supplementing military force with bribery and intrigue, the Russian rulers gradually reduced neighboring Poland to impotence. Widespread political corruption among the Polish nobility accelerated the drift toward national catastrophe. Through shameless bribery of a faction of the Sejm and armed Russian intervention, Frederick Augustus II, elector of Saxony, was placed on the throne of Poland in 1733 as Augustus III. These events brought on the conflict known in history as the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1735). Although sections of the Polish nobility subsequently united around a program of national salvation, Poland was unable to withstand the next Russian onslaught. In 1764 Russian troops entered Poland and forced the enthronement of Stanislaw II Augustus, a paramour of Catherine II, empress of Russia.
Partitions of Poland
Russian expansionism, as exemplified by these events, caused profound alarm among the European powers. The Ottomans immediately declared war on Russia. Prussia and Austria, fearful of a general European conflict and coveting Polish territory, submitted a proposal to the Russian government for the partition of Poland.
The First Partition and the Polish Commonwealth
The Russian government agreed, and in 1772 the treaty of partition was concluded in Saint Petersburg, Russia. By the terms of this document, Russia, Austria, and Prussia acquired large portions of Polish territory, amounting to about one-quarter of the total area of the country. A constitution, which established safeguards against Polish resurgence, was also imposed on the nation by the partitioning powers. Consent of the Sejm to the treaty was obtained largely by bribery.
Despite the political restrictions surrounding the Commonwealth, Poland progressed in several domestic fields in the decade following the first partition. The national education system was secularized and completely modernized. A movement for constitutional reform also developed during this period, but the Polish nobility frustrated effective action. Relations between Russia and Prussia deteriorated rapidly after 1786. With encouragement from Prussia, Polish patriots in the Sejm instituted sweeping governmental reforms in 1788 and began the draft of a new constitution. A document proclaiming Poland a hereditary monarchy and strengthening and liberalizing the government was adopted, in the face of violent opposition from a section of the gentry, on May 3, 1791.
The Second and Third Partitions
Shortly afterward the leaders of the disgruntled nobility and Catherine II reached a secret agreement providing for the restoration of the old order. The Polish conspirators organized the Confederacy of Targowica in May 1792. Supported by Russian troops, this organization immediately began military operations against Poland. The Polish army, led by Prince Józef Poniatowski, resisted for more than three months, but the government, abandoned by Prussia and confronted by overwhelming odds, soon capitulated. Russian armies occupied all of eastern Poland, and early the following year the Prussians occupied the western portion of the country. These territorial seizures, which further reduced the area of Poland by two-thirds, were formally sanctioned in a second territorial partition, ratified in September 1793.
In 1794 the Poles embarked on a revolutionary war for the recovery of their lost territories. Under the leadership of Tadeusz Koßciuszko, who had fought in the American Revolution (1775-1783) and who assumed dictatorial powers, the hastily formed Polish armies won a series of victories over the Russians, notably at Raclawice. By the summer of 1794 large sections of Russian-occupied Poland had been liberated and the Russians had suffered a humiliating defeat at Warsaw. A variety of factors, however, including dissension among the Polish high command, the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Russians, and Prussian and Austrian intervention, rendered the Polish cause hopeless. In October 1794 the Russians won a decisive victory at Maciejowice. Russian forces under Field Marshal Aleksandr Suvorov entered Praga, a suburb of Warsaw, in November and massacred much of the population. Warsaw then surrendered, and the remnants of the revolutionary armies surrendered within a few weeks. After settling sharp differences on division of the spoils, the victorious powers concluded treaties between 1795 and 1797 on the third partition of Poland. By the terms of the treaties, the Russian Empire received about half of the remaining Polish territory, and Prussia and Austria each received about a quarter. With these events, the Polish state disappeared from the map of Europe.
Poland Under Foreign Rule
The Polish people remained under the yoke of foreign masters for nearly 125 years after the third partition. During the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), the French Emperor Napoleon I, who had promised to reestablish Poland, obtained substantial help from the Poles, thousands of whom served in his armies. In 1807, by the provisions of the Treaty of Tilsit, he created the duchy of Warsaw, consisting originally of the territory taken by Prussia in 1793 and 1795. Two years later Napoleon forced Austria to cede Western Galicia to the duchy. Aside from granting the state a liberal constitution, Napoleon did little else for the Poles who enthusiastically supported his campaign against Russia in 1812.
In 1815 the Congress of Vienna, which drafted the general European peace settlement after Napoleon's downfall, created the Kingdom of Poland (also called the Congress Kingdom of Poland), consisting of about three-quarters of the territory of the former duchy of Warsaw, with the Russian emperor as king; established Kraków as a city republic; and distributed the remainder of Poland between Russia, Austria, and Prussia. Alexander I, emperor of Russia, granted the new kingdom a liberal constitution in 1815, but Polish nationalists soon initiated a powerful movement for independence. On November 29, 1830, this movement culminated in the outbreak of armed insurrection. The Poles expelled the imperial authorities and in January 1831 proclaimed their independence. In the ensuing war, the Poles kept the Russians at bay for several months. However, the Russians won an important victory at Ostroléka in May 1831 and took Warsaw in September.
The constitution, the Sejm, and the Polish army were abolished in the aftermath of the rebellion. The Poles were deprived of civil liberties, their country was robbed of literary and art treasures, and severe measures were taken to Russianize public institutions and administration. Other abortive insurrections and nationalist demonstrations occurred in various parts of Poland in 1846, 1848, 1861, and most notably in 1863. After the insurrection of 1863 the Russian Empire, intensifying its program for the Russification of the Polish lands under its rule, introduced the Russian language in the schools, restricted the use of the Polish language, and interfered with the activities of the Roman Catholic Church. Culturally, politically, and economically, the parts of Poland under Russian rule were transformed into mere provinces of the Russian Empire, losing almost all vestiges of their former autonomy. The Poles in Prussian Poland were subjected to a policy of Germanization (although not as severe as in the Russian zone); Poles in Austrian Poland were treated more liberally, and they developed their own leaders and political life.
Conscripted into the armies of Russia and the Central Powers, Poles fought against Poles in World War I (1914-1918). After the downfall of the Russian Empire in March 1917, the provisional government of Russia recognized Poland's right to self-determination. A provisional Polish government was subsequently formed in Paris, France. In September 1917 the Germans, then in complete control of the country, created a regency council as the supreme governmental authority of the so-called Polish kingdom. With the collapse of the Central Powers in the fall of 1918, the Poles moved swiftly toward statehood. In November Poland was proclaimed an independent republic, and Józef Pilsudski became the temporary head of state.
The Post-World War I Period
The Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, granted Poland a narrow belt of territory (the so-called Polish corridor) extending along the Wisla River to the Baltic Sea, and large sections of Poznan and West Prussia. The treaty also awarded Poland important economic rights in the free city of Danzig (now Gdansk). After a war with Soviet Russia in 1920, Poland regained historically Polish territory from Belarus and Ukraine. In the west, the Poles acquired sections of Upper Silesia in 1921 and 1922, following a direct vote by the electorate.
In the two decades following the war, the foreign policy of Poland was largely determined by fear of Germany and the USSR. A defensive alliance with France was arranged in February 1921, and alliances were subsequently signed with Romania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. In 1932 Poland concluded a nonaggression pact with the USSR. A similar agreement, effective for ten years, was concluded with Germany in 1934. Both these treaties guaranteed Poland's borders. Under the guidance of Foreign Minister Jozef Beck, Poland pursued a policy of balance in its relations with Germany and the USSR.
Following the adoption of a permanent constitution in March 1921, domestic developments were marked by incessant strife between Poland's conservative and leftist political factions. Failure of the new state to protect the economic and political rights of the Jews, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Germans, and other minorities included in its population also caused constant friction and turmoil. Some concessions to the demands of certain of the minorities were legislated in 1924. In December 1925 a measure was enacted providing for distribution to the peasantry of 20,234 hectares (50,000 acres) of land each year.
The German Threat
Meanwhile, Poland had been in the throes of an almost continuous financial crisis. General instability and confusion led to frequent changes of cabinet. Following a coup led by Józef Pilsudski in 1926, Ignacy Moßcicki was installed as president; Pilsudski, as minister of war, gradually acquired complete control over the government in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1935 a new constitution was adopted formalizing his authoritarian regime. Pilsudski survived the inauguration of the new system by less than a month, and was succeeded by General Edward Smigly-Rydz.
The triumph of National Socialism (Nazism) in Germany and the expansionist policy of German dictator Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s posed grave dangers to Polish security. After the Munich Pact and the ensuing destruction of the Czechoslovak state in March 1939, Poland, which had received about 1036 sq km (about 400 sq mi) of Czech territory in the Munich settlement, became the next major target of German diplomacy. This development took the form of German demands, delivered late in March, that Poland consent to the cession of Danzig to Germany and yield important rights in the Polish corridor. Polish rejection of these demands was followed, on March 31, by an Anglo-French pledge of aid to Poland in the event of German aggression. On April 28, Hitler renounced the German-Polish nonaggression treaty. On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland after signing a pact with the USSR, an act that marked the outbreak of World War II.
World War II
The Polish army received no effective assistance from the West, and by mid-September German armies had overrun most of western and central Poland. On September 17, Soviet troops invaded Poland from the east, and the two invading powers divided the country between them. Enormous reprisals were exacted against the Poles throughout the German-occupied region. In the Soviet-occupied area, many thousands of Poles were forcibly deported to Siberia. In 1940 thousands of captured Polish army officers were murdered by Soviet security services. A mass grave containing many of the bodies was discovered later in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia.
Numerous members of the Polish government and the military forces succeeded in escaping from Poland during the final phases of German and Soviet military operation against the country. Most of the refugee Polish troops, numbering about 100,000, succeeded in reaching France, where they were regrouped into combat units. These units and others that were later organized in the USSR rendered valiant service to the Allied war effort in North Africa and Europe. In the meantime a government-in-exile, led by General Wladystaw Sikorski, had been organized in France. Following the collapse of France in 1940, the Polish government established headquarters in London.
The German armed forces occupied all of Soviet-held Poland during the initial phase of their attack on the USSR in 1941. During their occupation of the country, the German armies pursued a policy of systematic extermination of Polish citizens, particularly Jews, most of whom perished at Auschwitz (Oßwiëcim), Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibór, and other concentration camps scattered throughout the country. In April 1943 the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, rather than wait for destruction in the camps, rose in rebellion against hopeless odds. The Germans quelled the rising after three weeks of fighting. At the end of the war the estimated total of civilian casualties numbered more than 5 million, most of which was inflicted by the Germans. Polish military casualties in the war totaled about 600,000. The material losses suffered were similarly enormous.
The liberation of Poland from German domination began shortly after the Anglo-American invasion of France in June 1944. During June, July, and August the Soviet armies, taking advantage of the situation, inflicted a series of devastating defeats on the Germans in the east. Before the beginning of September the Soviet army, aided by contingents of Polish troops, had begun operations on Polish territory. In August 1944 Polish resistance forces, known as the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), took control of Warsaw, but the Soviets did not support them. The Germans recaptured the city by October and burned it to the ground after evacuating the population. The remains of Warsaw were occupied by the Soviet army in January 1945, and the last of the German invaders were driven from the country in March. In July 1944 the Soviet government had sponsored the formation of a Polish Committee of National Liberation, an organization largely dominated by Communists. The committee, which established headquarters at Lublin after the liberation of that city, proclaimed itself the provisional government of Poland in December 1944. After several attempts, a reconciliation between the Polish governments in London and Lublin was accomplished. In June 1945, after the Germans had been expelled, a coalition established a Polish Government of National Unity. This government was officially recognized by the British and U.S. governments in the following month, having gained Soviet promises of free elections at the Yalta Conference in early 1945.
Postwar Boundary Changes
At the Potsdam Conference, held after Germany's surrender in 1945, the Allied powers placed Upper and Lower Silesia, Danzig, and parts of Brandenburg, Pomerania, and East Prussia under Polish administration pending the conclusion of a final peace settlement. Of a population totaling about 8.9 million in the German areas assigned to Poland, more than 7 million were Germans. Most of the Germans fled the Soviet Army or were subsequently expelled to Germany. The eastern frontier of Poland was determined by the terms of a treaty concluded by the Polish and Soviet governments on August 16, 1945. On the basis of this document, which established the Polish-Soviet frontier considerably to the west of the prewar boundary, the USSR acquired a large amount of former Polish territory. The inhabitants of this territory totaled approximately 12.5 million. Of this number, nearly 4 million were Poles, most of whom were repatriated to Poland and resettled in the areas obtained from Germany.
The Emergence of the Communist State
Communist-Socialist strength in the government grew steadily during 1946 and 1947. In the 1947 parliamentary elections-denounced by the United States as undemocratic-the two-party coalition won more than 85 percent of the vote.
Beginning in September 1948 the Polish Communist Party purged itself of many thousands of so-called national Communists who were accused of approving Yugoslavia's defiance of the USSR. Among those jailed in the purge was Wladyslaw Gomulka, secretary general of the party and first deputy premier. In December the Socialists and Communists merged to form the Polish United Workers' Party, in which pro-Stalin Communists were dominant. Soviet Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky was installed as head of the Polish armed forces in 1949. Thereafter Poland appeared to be one of the most faithful satellites of the USSR.
Pro-Soviet Communist leaders then sought to implement industrial and economic goals for Poland in conformity with the economic and social system of the USSR. The major problem was the effort to collectivize agriculture, which was unsuccessful and later abandoned.
After the Vatican excommunicated all Communists in 1949, the Polish government confiscated many church properties, ordered the closing of church schools, and established a youth organization to counteract the influence of the church.
In the 1950s the government assumed supervision over the appointment of clergymen, requiring a loyalty oath of each candidate. Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, archbishop of Warsaw and Gniezno and primate of Poland, resisted the measure and was suspended from office.
During the postwar period, Poland became an active member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact, both Soviet-dominated organs. In 1952 Poland adopted a constitution modeled after that of the USSR but explicitly recognizing certain property rights.
During the liberalization that followed the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1953, Polish artists, intellectuals, students, and workers raised demands for government reforms and a greater measure of freedom from Soviet control. In June 1956 workers staged demonstrations in Poznan; the quelling of the uprising left 53 people dead and several hundred wounded. Leaders of the demonstrations received relatively light sentences. In October Gomulka, who had been readmitted to the party, was named first secretary with great popular support. Rokossovsky and other Stalinist officials in high Polish posts were dismissed, and Cardinal Wyszynski was freed from detention.
Gomulka became the dominant figure in Poland, steering a careful course between pro-Soviet and nationalist sentiments and introducing limited political reforms. In the 1957 elections, slates included some non-Communists and independents; moreover, there were nearly twice as many candidates as posts to be filled. By the early 1960s, however, Gomulka had tightened the party's hold on Poland and halted most of the reforms.
Popular discontent erupted once again in Poland in the spring of 1968, as demands by students and artists for greater freedom of expression were met by severe government repression. Student demonstrations began in Warsaw in March, at the university and at the polytechnic, and soon spread to the universities in Poznan, Lublin, and Kraków. The students demanded liberal reforms similar to those instituted in Czechoslovakia at the time. Seeking to stifle dissent, the government launched a campaign against Jews. Hundreds of Jews and reformers were dismissed from government, party, university, and newspaper positions, and many left Poland for the West or Israel. During the conferences in Warsaw in June and Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, in August 1968, the Warsaw Pact powers condemned the political and cultural reforms taking place in Czechoslovakia. On August 20 Poland participated in the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, sending a contingent estimated at 45,000 troops.
Reconciliation with West Germany
Early in 1970 economic problems prompted the government to make a major adjustment in its foreign policy. Hopeful of obtaining economic and technological aid from prosperous West Germany (now part of the Federal Republic of Germany), the Poles opened political talks with West Germany in January, and the Polish and German foreign ministers reached agreement in November. In December Chancellor Willy Brandt of West Germany went to Warsaw to sign the resulting treaty, in which West Germany formally accepted the postwar loss of 103,600 sq km (40,000 sq mi) to Poland and the establishment of the Oder-Neisse line as Poland's western frontier. In return, West Germany received informal Polish assurances that Polish residents who claimed German nationality (believed to number several tens of thousands) would be permitted to emigrate from Poland. Both sides agreed to settle disputes exclusively by peaceful means and to move toward full normalization of relations. Full relations were restored after the West German parliament ratified the treaty in May 1972.
The Gierek Regime
An economic crisis assumed major proportions late in 1970. Polish industry had fallen short of planning goals. Bad weather again contributed to a poor harvest and resulted in the costly import of grain. In addition, the prices of coal, food, and clothing were drastically increased. Outraged at the increases, Polish workers, mainly from the Baltic seaports of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin, staged demonstrations that led to riots, arson, and looting. A week-long state of emergency was declared, and the protests were forcibly suppressed with considerable loss of life.
In the aftermath of the rioting, party secretary Gomulka and other party leaders were removed from the Politburo (the executive committee of the Communist Party). Edward Gierek, a prominent Politburo member from Silesia, became party secretary. Prices were frozen at their previous levels, and in the early 1970s Poland enjoyed a period of political liberalization and economic prosperity based on foreign loans.
Improving relations with the West were symbolized by visits to Poland by U.S. presidents Richard M. Nixon in 1972, Gerald R. Ford in 1975, and Jimmy Carter in 1977. Also in the 1970s Poland began the repatriation of some 125,000 ethnic Germans to West Germany.
After a proposed price increase was prevented by strikes and demonstrations in 1976, political life stagnated and worker opposition developed. Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Kraków was elected pope as John Paul II in 1978. Living standards deteriorated, and hundreds of thousands of Polish workers responded to a large food price hike by going on strike in the summer of 1980. In August the country was paralyzed when workers in Gdansk and other Baltic ports conducted sit-in strikes in their shipyards for three weeks and started making political demands. At the end of the month the Communist authorities were forced into making unprecedented concessions to the workers. These included the right to strike, wage increases, the release of political prisoners, and the elimination of censorship. The recognition of the right to organize independent trade unions led to the formation of the Solidarity federation in mid-September. The ill and discredited Communist Party leader Gierek stepped down in favor of Stanislaw Kania shortly afterward.
The standoff between Solidarity and the Communist Party took place during a period of increased economic decline, and social discontent caused a growing number of dangerous confrontations. Partly because of Soviet pressure, the government was unable or unwilling to carry out the necessary reforms. In February 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelski was made premier, and in October he became the head of the Communist Party. To control the situation Jaruzelski used the demands of the Solidarity movement for economic improvements and greater political freedom as a pretext for imposing martial law. In mid-December the Solidarity organization was suspended, its leader, Lech Walësa, was interned. Thousands of other Solidarity activists were either arrested or interned, and approximately 90 activists were killed. All industrial and political opposition was banned and suppressed, and Communist Party reformers were also disciplined. Polish authorities retained many of the expanded emergency powers even after the lifting of martial law in 1983. Solidarity lost its mass base but survived as an underground opposition force with sufficient popular support to force gradual concessions from the regime. It was backed by the increasingly powerful Roman Catholic Church, which had been strengthened by papal visits in 1983 and 1987. The Jaruzelski government gradually loosened its grip on power and attempted to introduce economic reforms. These failed to gain sufficient social support, however, and were never completed.
The political and economic stalemate in Poland during the 1980s was broken by the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader in 1985 and the resulting liberalization of Soviet policy. Reform became possible in Poland. Spurred on by industrial unrest in 1988, Jaruzelski's reformist Communists and Walësa's Civic Committee negotiated an agreement in early 1989. Political and civic freedoms were conceded, Solidarity was re-legalized, and a freely elected Senat (upper legislative house) was established. Jaruzelski was elected to the presidency with Solidarity's approval. In the 1989 elections, Solidarity won 99 of the 100 Senat seats as well as the 35 percent of the Sejm (lower house) seats that it was allowed to contest. Although the political balance in the Sejm was now held by the Communists' minor party allies (the peasant and democratic parties), these parties refused to endorse the Communist police chief, General Czeslaw Kiszczak, as prime minister. In August Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a close aide to Walësa, formed a coalition government in which Communists controlled the defense and interior ministries. Mazowiecki, Poland's first non-Communist premier in more than 40 years, dismantled the Communist system and consolidated the transition to democracy. His influential finance minister, Leszek Balcerowicz, curbed the swelling hyperinflation and initiated Poland's rapid transition to a free-market economy.
In 1990 Solidarity split into two opposing groups, with one group supporting Walësa and the other supporting Mazowiecki. In November Walësa, Mazowiecki, and a maverick émigré millionaire, Stanislaw Tyminski, ran in a presidential election. Mazowiecki was eliminated on the first ballot while Walësa won the runoff against Tyminski. Walësa was unclear about how to define his office, however. This led to an ambiguous distribution of presidential, prime ministerial, and parliamentary powers in Poland's transitional "Little Constitution," adopted in 1992. Post-Communist Poland thus suffered from a confused, unstable, and conflict-ridden political process. Proportional representation adopted for the 1991 election produced a Sejm composed of a dozen significant political parties. Between 1991 and 1993 Poland was governed by a succession of short-lived parliamentary coalitions.
Poland established or renewed diplomatic relations with the European Community (now the European Union), the republics of the former USSR, the Vatican, and Israel, and signed cooperation treaties with the newly unified Germany and a number of other European states. The country joined the Council of Europe and negotiated associate membership of the European Union; full membership was promised by the year 2002. Full national sovereignty was regained in 1992 with the evacuation of most of the Soviet troops stationed in Poland. The withdrawal was completed in August 1993. In 1994 Poland became a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which was formed in 1993 to offer former Warsaw Pact members limited associations with NATO.
The September 1993 elections simplified the party system by excluding all but the six parties who succeeded in gaining the minimum electoral threshold of 5 percent of the vote (8 percent for coalitions). The Communists' successor parties, including the Social Democracy of the Polish Republic (SdRP) and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), benefited from popular dissatisfaction with the socioeconomic costs of the transformation and gained a large majority. Waldemar Pawlak, the PSL leader, became prime minister, but his government was harassed by Walësa and accused of trying to slow economic reform. In early 1995, Walësa threatened to dissolve parliament if the Pawlak government was not replaced. Betraying his intention to position himself for the 1995 presidential election, Walësa nominated a likely election opponent, Aleksander Kwaßniewski, for the position of prime minister. He was overruled by parliament and Józef Oleksy, a member of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and former Communist, was eventually nominated. Amid this atmosphere Pawlak's government lost a vote of confidence. Pawlak resigned as prime minister on March 1 and was replaced by Oleksy.
In the presidential election held in November 1995, Walësa, who had discredited himself among the Poles through his personal failings and political mistakes, was unseated by Kwaßniewski, a former Communist and the founder and leader of the SLD. Kwaßniewski pledged to continue the process of economic reform and to seek full membership for Poland in the EU and NATO. In a move intended to help heal the political rifts resulting from the election, Kwaßniewski resigned from the SLD later that month.
In January 1996 Prime Minister Oleksy resigned in the face of a formal investigation into allegations that he had been spying for Russia for more than a decade. Oleksy, Poland's seventh prime minister since the collapse of Communism, had once served in the Communist Party's Central Committee. Although he admitted to having a friendship with a Russian intelligence agent who had been stationed in Warsaw since the 1980s, Oleksy denied the espionage charges and declared his innocence. Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, also of the SLD, replaced Oleksy as prime minister in February. In April the military prosecutor investigating the charges against Oleksy decided to drop the case due to insufficient evidence of criminal activity.
In October 1996 the Sejm voted not to charge Jaruzelski and other former Communist officials with constitutional violations in connection with the imposition of martial law in 1981.
In 1997 a special parliamentary commission, dominated by left-wing former Communists, completed the task of drafting a new constitution. Following parliamentary approval of the document in April, a nationwide referendum was held in May in which 52.7 percent of voters approved the new constitution. A coalition of right-wing groups associated with Solidarity and some Catholics strongly opposed its passage, claiming some of its provisions were overly secular. A synthesis of seven competing versions, the 243-article charter delineates the powers of the presidency, guarantees basic civil rights, ensures civilian control over the armed forces, and commits the country to a market economy and private ownership of enterprise. Many of its provisions meet the prerequisites for attaining membership in the EU and NATO.