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Poland Relations in the 1970s and 1980s
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    When the "reform" regime of Edward Gierek came to power in 1970, it took conciliatory measures to enlist church support. The 1970s were a time of bargaining and maneuvering between a state increasingly threatened by social unrest and a church that was increasingly sure of its leadership role but still intent on husbanding its political capital. Between 1971 and 1974, the church demanded the constitutional right to organize religious life and culture in Poland, using education institutions, religious groups, and the mass media. Major protest documents were issued in 1973 and 1976 against the weakening or withdrawal of state guarantees of such a right.

    In 1976 church support for workers' food price riots began a new phase of political activism that would endure until the end of communist rule. In late 1977, a meeting of Gierek and Wyszynski, prompted by continuing social unrest, promised a new reconciliation, but the church continued its harsh criticism of state interference in religious affairs. In 1978 the selection of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Kraków as pope opened vital new lines of communication between Polish Catholics and the outside world and gave the Poles a symbol of hope in a period of economic and political decay. In 1979 the triumphal visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland boosted the Polish cultural self-image and turned international attention to Poland's political and spiritual struggles. The next year, the church lent vital moral support to the Solidarity labor movement while counseling restraint from violence and extreme positions. In 1981 the government requested that the church help it to establish a dialog with worker factions. Needing church approval to gain support among the people, the government revived the Joint Episcopal and Government Commission, through which the church gradually regained legal status in the early 1980s. In 1981 the Catholic University of Lublin reopened its Department of Social Sciences, and in 1983 clubs of the Catholic intelligentsia reopened in sixty cities. Twenty-three new church-oriented periodicals appeared in the 1980s, reaching a total printing of more than 1.2 million copies in 1989. Nevertheless, state censorship, paper rationing, and restriction of building permits provoked serious conflicts with the Polish government in the last decade of communist rule (see Politics and the Media , ch. 4).

    Wyszynski died in 1981. He was replaced as primate by the less dynamic Cardinal Józef Glemp, who attempted to continue the dual policy of conciliation and advancement of religious rights. By 1983 several activist bishops and priests had broken with an official church policy they saw as too conciliatory toward the regime. In a 1984 meeting with Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski, Glemp again attempted to obtain official recognition of the church's legal status as well as freedom for imprisoned dissidents. Later that year, the murder of dissident priest Jerzy Popieluszko by Polish security agents fueled a new confrontation between church and state. The Jaruzelski government, which had met with Glemp seeking the legitimacy that would come from renewed diplomatic relations with the Vatican, abandoned its conciliatory tone and returned to the pre-1970 demand that the church limit itself to purely spiritual matters and censure politically active priests. During 1985 and 1986, the church hierarchy replied with renewed demands for the release of political prisoners and for constitutional guarantees of free assembly. By the end of 1986, 500 political prisoners had received amnesty, and Pope John Paul II's second visit to Poland included a meeting with Jaruzelski--signals that relations were again improving.

    The last two years of communist rule brought intensified bargaining as social unrest continued to weaken the government's position. The church demanded that the government open dialogs with opposition organizations, arguing that social and economic problems could not be solved without considering all views. When national strikes hit Poland in mid-1988, the church attempted to arbitrate between labor organizations and the government and to prevent labor from adopting radical positions. The Polish Episcopate, the administrative body of the Polish Catholic Church, took part in the talks that began in September 1988 between Solidarity representatives and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Those talks ultimately led to restoration of Solidarity's legal status. In early 1989, round table discussions between church and state representatives yielded a new law on church-state relations passed by the Sejm (the lower legislative house) in May 1989. The religious freedom guaranteed by that law allowed the church to resume officially its role as intermediary between the state and society. The law also set the stage for organized activity by the Catholic laity never permitted in the communist era. The Vatican resumed full diplomatic relations with the Polish government two months later.

    Data as of October 1992

    NOTE: The information regarding Poland on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Poland Relations in the 1970s and 1980s information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Poland Relations in the 1970s and 1980s should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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