The Triumph of Solidarity

The white and red colors of the national flag of Poland have remained constant since the birth of the modern state of Poland in 1918. But the people of Poland have been changing more rapidly than any East European country since the emergence of the Solidarity movement in 1980. Lech Walesa organized the shipyard and dock workers into a powerful labor movement that was suppressed Dec. 13, 1981, when General Wojciech Jaruzeluski declared martial law. However, it continued to grow as an underground anti-communist organization. Walesa received secret aid from Pope John Paul II, the Reagan administration, and the AFL-CIO in the United States led by Lane Kirkland. The printing press proved to be a more powerful weapon than the sword, as Poland was deluged with books, magazines, newspapers, video documentaries, and radio broadcasts. Reagan lifted U.S. sanctions against Poland on Feb. 19, 1987, and the Pope praised Solidarity on his trip to Poland in June. At Gorbachev's urging, on April 5, 1989, the Polish Communist government legalized Solidarity. In June 1989, Solidarity dominated the parliamentary election by taking 161 seats in the Sejm and 99 seats in the Senate. Walesa organized a coalition government with reformers in the United Peasants and Democratic parties that controlled 264 of 460 seats in the Sejm. The crown and eagle symbol returned to the flag of Poland, elements of a coat of arms used since 1295 to symbolize self-rule. Tadeusz Mazowiecki of Solidarity became the first non-communist prime minister in East Europe since 1948. Walesa would serve as President in Dec. 1990, had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, but in May 1996 would declare his intention to return to his old job in the Gdansk shipyards.

The most important cause of the end of the Cold War was not Ronald Reagan or George Bush or Gorbachev or the Pope. It was the grass-roots resistance to communism by the people of Eastern Europe. Movements like Solidarity were the real reason that communist governments found themselves undermined and vulnerable and it was the mass of working men and women in Europe that made possible the free elections, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the disappearance of the Iron Curtain that signified the end of the Cold War.

Azerbaijanis protest in Baku 1989
President Bush meets privately with Solidarity Leader Lech Walesa of Poland, 11/14/1989 (NLB-WHPC-P8046(27)) from NA
Reagan and Gorbachev 1987

Monument to Solidarity in Gdansk, from Polish Homepages

Walesa visits the Reagan Library May 21, 1996, from the Polish Press Agency contact sheet 21_01st

Walesa visits the Reagan Library May 21, 1996, from the Polish Press Agency contact sheet 21_01st


Revised 5/5/04 | Cold War policies