Scholar Interviews

Padraic Kenney: One crucial moment of 1989?


It’s quite clear that the Polish roundtable of 1989, from February to April of 1989, is an incredibly important moment. The idea of Solidarity activists, so many of whom had been in prison just a few years earlier, sitting down at a table to negotiate with those who had put them in prison and being able to speak freely on television. What the Solidarity negotiators did is whenever they were interviewed on television, they would have little Solidarity logos. They would wear them sort of up here because they were concerned that Communist-run television would zoom in on their heads or anything to avoid that shot. They would get Solidarity right up there so that they could convey to their viewers. That was an incredibly powerful moment, and again more so than we might expect a negotiation would be.

What I see happening is the elites believe that they were in control of change and that you negotiate with people with whom you think you can reach some kind of agreement. And it turns out that they don’t really reach the agreements that they think they do and they’re wrong in what actually is going to happen. They really do misjudge things in every country.

The crucial moment in 1989 I would say is the evening of June 4th, 1989, when a spokesman for the Communist Party in Poland says on television “we accept the results of the election” because they certainly didn’t have to. They certainly could’ve said the kind of thing that Slobodan Milosevic says in October of 2000. Oh we need to look over these results. There are problems with them, we’re going to turn this over to the electoral commission and they’re going to certify the results in two weeks. And during that time, you’ll play with the ballot boxes. They could’ve done that and they didn’t. And that really is a crucial moment of the revolution of 1989.

How to Cite

Padraic Kenney, interview, "One crucial moment of 1989?." Making the History of 1989, Item #587 (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm)