Fifty years ago, a dispute between Polish workers and the communist government exploded onto the streets of Poznan with an estimated one-hundred-thousand Poles taking part. Earlier in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union, denounced the tyranny of former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Khruschev's comments set the stage for protests by the captive people of Central and Eastern Europe, then under the domination of the Soviet Union.
The protestors hoped that Khruschev's speech and the liberalization following it were a signal for their liberation. But the Polish communist regime responded by sending tanks into Poznan, killing some sixty people and wounding hundreds more.
But while the 1956 demonstration was suppressed, it marked the beginning of a movement for Polish freedom. In 1970, strikes in the port cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin were triggered by price increases and dissatisfaction with living and working conditions. Poland entered an extended crisis, marked by the decreasing authority of its Soviet-backed communist rulers.
In August 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, led by Lech Walesa, an electrician, signed an agreement with the government. The key provisions guaranteed the workers' right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike. After the Gdansk agreement was signed, a new national union movement, "Solidarity," swept Poland. It marked the beginning of the end of the communist regime. In December 1990, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.
President George W. Bush says that Poland has come "through occupations and tyranny and brave uprisings":
"In all the tests and hardship Poland has known, the soul of the Polish people has always been strong."
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Poznan uprising, the White House issued a written statement. It said: "As peoples around the world today continue to struggle for their liberty and for democracy, we pause to . . . . reaffirm that while liberty can be delayed, it cannot be denied."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.