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Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski (b. 1923) Polish general and statesman, Prime Minister 1981–5

Lech Wałęsa (b. 1943) Polish trade unionist and statesman, President 1990–5.


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Adam Michnik


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(b. Warsaw, 17 Oct. 1946)

Polish; dissident 1967–89, member of Sejm 1989–91 Michnik was born into a Jewish family. In his early years he was a Marxist who hoped that the Communist system in Poland would be able to reform itself. He lectured in history at Warsaw University until March 1967 when he was suspended during a purge of the University's Jewish staff. In January 1968 he was arrested for organizing student demonstrations.

In the early 1970s Michnik became an influential theorist about the relationship between state and society. He put forward the theory of ‘new evolutionism’, rejecting Communist-led reform as a sham and accurately predicting the gradual emancipation of civil society through a process of self-organization. He claimed that a self-organizing society must insist on ‘living as if it were free’ and worked to unite the previously antipathetic traditions of the lay left and the Catholic Church in Poland. In 1976 Michnik played a major role in the foundation of the Polish Workers' Defence Committee (KOR) and was a member of the dissident ‘Flying University’ which provided a non-Communist education to the workers. In 1980–1 Michnik was prominent on the radical wing of the trade union movement Solidarity. He was arrested after Jaruzelski's imposition of martial law in December 1981 and imprisoned until July 1986.

In January 1989 Michnik was a key Solidarity adviser in the Round Table talks which prepared the way for partially free elections, though Jaruzelski's regime had initially objected to his participation. Thereafter he became editor of Gazeta Wyborcza (‘Election Gazette’), the newspaper which Solidarity created to prepare for the elections. He was elected to the Sejm (parliament) in May 1989, and originated the compromise between Solidarity and the Communists, whereby there would be a Communist head of state but a Solidarity head of government. At the end of 1989, Michnik lost Wałęsa's support because of his alleged slowness in encouraging political reform. In summer 1990 he joined the Civic Movement-Democratic Action (ROAD), which was comparable to Western social democracy and opposed to Wałęsa. He did not stand for re-election in 1991, and devoted his career to being editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza.

Subjects: Social sciencesPolitics

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