Primary Sources

Warsaw Embassy Cable, Election '89: Solidarity's Coming Election


In the following report, the American Ambassador to Poland (John R. Davis, Jr.) outlines possible outcomes of June 4 elections and what consequences might follow from each. Although the analysis reveals a general expectation that the regime would perform poorly, considerable uncertainty remains over whether this will translate into a clear mandate for Solidarity. The cable underscores two dynamics in the American reaction to this unprecedented event: first, the absence of any firm predictions as to the likely outcome of the elections (or their potential impacts). Second (and as interesting), the American diplomat shows some sympathy for the concerns that a dramatic Solidarity victory could be undesirable, since it could alarm both domestic hardliners and ruling circles in Poland’s neighbors.

To see the associated Teaching Module on Solidarity Comes to Power, click here.


U.S. Embassy Warsaw to U.S. Secretary of State, "Election '89: Solidarity's Coming Victory: Big Or Too Big?," 2 June 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

[From: US Embassy Warsaw; To: US Secretary of State; Date: June 2, 1989]

Summary: The first essentially free election in the socialist bloc will give the Polish nation a clear and unhindered chance to vote for or against representatives of the current regime. The one-sided campaign, in which Solidarity has emerged as a genuine and capable political party, has defined the election in terms of a plebiscite. The stakes are enormous. Anxieties and uncertainty dominate expectations, while the absence of either objective data or precedent make confident predictions impossible. As a matter of faith, however, we assume nearly-total Solidarity victory. . . . Total victory, or something close to it, including a possible rejection of the national list list [ostensible consensus candidates not affiliated with a party], will threaten a sharp defensive reaction from the regime. The position of the leading party reformers would be endangered. Sharper and even possibly military responses can not be entirely ruled out. Even in the moderate scenarios of post-electoral developments, the party is bound to be transformed by its failures.

11. Gebethner [a Warsaw professor consulted by American diplomats] sees five different possibilities: first, Solidarity could simply fail to mobilize significant support and would win fewer than half of the seats for which its candidates are contending; second the distrustful and skeptical population would simply stay home and the turnout would provide a mixed result, but with no mandate for either side. Either of these possibilities would be a serious failure for both sides and would mark the failure of the Round-Table itself. Luckily, he sees little chance that either will occur.

12. The third possible scenario is that Solidarity will receive a modest positive result, perhaps only around 60 percent of the vote and a similar percentage of the available seats. This result also would not be the best for either Solidarity or the regime; Solidarity for obvious reasons, and the regime because its hoped-for partner will have proven too weak to provide the necessary social support for the hard choices ahead. The regime’s high-stakes gamble would not have failed, but also would not have been worth the effort.

13. The fourth possible outcome is that Solidarity will achieve a significant victory, defined by Gebethner as about 75 percent of the Senate and most, but not all, of the Sejm seats available to it. Nearly all of the national would be accepted, with perhaps a few rejects. In Gebethner’s view, who it must be noted was on the regime side at the Round-Table on political reform, this fourth scenario is by far the most preferable. Solidarity would have proven its broad social support—enough to give credibility to its significant legislative role. But not enough to threaten the survival of the present regime. Both sides would win because the reformers in both camps would have been confirmed and strengthened. . . .

16. The fifth and most dangerous scenario in this analysis is nearly total Solidarity victory. This Gebethner defines as 85 percent of the Senate or more, nearly all of the 161 Sejm seats reserved for independents and the rejection of all or most of the national list. This possibility, he said, was “real.”

17. [The resulting] Senate heavily dominated by the opposition presumably would assure consistent veto of all legislation that is unacceptable to Solidarity (guided by its new party discipline).

21. The fourth scenario, in which Solidarity achieves a significant success while not threatening immediately fundamental regime interests, is preferred by almost everyone in the hierarchies of both Solidarity and the regime. Unfortunately, not all opposition candidates agree. [Some] like Syzmanderski, simply deny that this is a time for moderation. He believes the opposition has the communists by the throat and should slit it “with a long, sharp knife.” This vigor begs a serious question. Is Solidarity prepared or able to govern on its own even if it achieved—and was permitted to retain—that degree of total victory? Many in the opposition believe it is not capable of such a task. Solidarity needs the regime, or part of it, as desperately as the regime now needs Solidarity. The enormously challenging tasks ahead and the great pain that must be imposed on the population during a time of reform and transition simply require the broadest possible participation and the greatest possible expertise at the top.

22. Without a doubt the strongest motivation for supporting the fourth scenario is the specter of utter catastrophe that haunts the fifth. For some, this fifth vision rides a pale horse indeed. Some rational, solid party liberals even sound somewhat hysterical when discussing it. Reykowski said it would be “a complete disaster for the nation.” Wiatr said this scenario posed a mortal threat to the authorities, and the result could be “a military coup d’etat, civil war, or both.” Others have spoken about the possibility of martial law, or overt military government.

23. Other observers are more modest in their warnings of disaster, arguing that the real chaos would be in the party itself. Gebethner, for example, told us that the groundwork had already been laid for a Social Democratic party to emerge from PZPR after the election, no matter what the result; only the speed of its emergence to be determined by the size of the party’s failure.

Davis, US Ambassador

How to Cite this Source

U.S. Embassy Warsaw, "Warsaw Embassy Cable, Election '89: Solidarity's Coming Election," Making the History of 1989, Item #367, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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