The revolution of 1989 was a “people’s revolution” – unleashing rapid moves towards political pluralism. A groundswell of a broad spectrum of grass roots movements (worker, student, environmental, pacifist protests) gathered in the later 1980s, constituting the vaunted “civil society” that forced change from below. Civic opposition organized and forced political change through “round tables.” First, in Poland, the Communist government was forced to recognize the Solidarity opposition movement (persecuted and suppressed for much of the 1980s).
452 people from Solidarity, the Catholic Church and the Communist Party sat on a “Round Table” in the spring of 1989 and agreed on elections. In the June 4 Polish election (on the very same day the Chinese government crushed demonstrations with military force in Tiananmen Square), Solidarity won an overwhelming victory. One of its intellectual power-houses, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Prime Minister, while General Jaruzelski, as part of a round table compromise, staid on as President. The Communist Party had also been loosening its tight grip on Hungary during the 1980s. Reform communists came to power in 1988.
The events of 1956 were now called a “people’s uprising” rather than a “counter-revolution.” A Round Table also began to meet in Hungary on June 13, which led to the first free election in which the Communists lost power. The dismal economic situation and foreign indebtedness in Poland and Hungary contributed to force the Communist parties into making significant concessions that eventually would bring down their monopolies of power. Most remarkably, Gorbachev did not interfere with these changes.
PHOTO CREDITS: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP Votava; Cartoon: Ironimus, Die Presse, October 10, 1989; Votava.