Primary Sources

Warsaw Embassy Cable, Conversation with General Kiszczak


For the United States government, the rapid changes unfolding in Poland were a source of hope and excitement but also considerable anxiety. In principle, American diplomats could only welcome the prospect of pro-American, pro-market Solidarity politicians playing a key role in a new Polish government. And yet any change that seemed too much of a threat to Soviet interests held the risk of provoking an internal crackdown or external intervention that would undo previous progress. The reaction of the Polish population to the changes underway was also unpredictable. While Poles had clearly voted for change in the June elections, would they end up turning against a new government if promised ‘reforms’ led to even more economic hardship?

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U.S. Embassy Warsaw to U.S. Secretary of State, "Conversation with General Kiszczak," 11 August 1989, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

[From: American Embassy Warsaw; To: Secretary of State; Date: August 11, 1989]

2. Summary: General Kiszczak asked me to call on him today and gave a rather alarming review of the current political situation. He explained that Solidarity’s latest proposal that it take over the government in coalition with the Peasant Party and Democratic Party (which are formally allied with the Communists) was unacceptable to the senior officers of the army and police and to the Czechs, E. Germans, and Soviets. He said he was prepared to subject his proposed new government to intense months if economic reforms were not being carried out to the full satisfaction of the opposition. He noted that Wałęsa had formally and repeatedly promised him Solidarity support when he was a candidate for president but now was suddenly opposing his candidature for the premiership. He strongly hinted that “everyone in Poland” assumes Solidarity is acting under Western orders or influence.

I responded by restating our support for the Roundtable Agreements and denying that the US government had inspired Solidarity’s latest tactical move. We regarded the composition of the government as an internal Polish matter. Kiszczak also offered some startlingly gloomy views on Gorbachev’s prospects in the Soviet Union. I left with the clear impression that Poland is entering a period of very serious crisis. . . .

4. Kiszczak said he took on the formation of a government at Jaruzelski’s urging after Malinowski and Baka had refused unless an all-party coalition could be formed. Kiszczak described his own role in the Roundtable and the preparations for it and said that Wałęsa had three times in front of witnesses promised him the support for the presidency of 60 to 80 percent of the Solidarity deputies and senators. He had not been able to make good his promise. Now Wałęsa had not responded to Kiszczak’s telephone invitation to talk and had suddenly declared himself against his premiership and for a new coalition of Solidarity, the ZSL [Peasant Party], and the SD [Democratic Party].

5. Kiszczak said pointedly that he was surprised by the current position of the opposition, which he regarded as breaking the deal made at the Round Table. The opposition is full of euphoria, and he fears they are making a mistake which will upset the delicate, in fact very delicate, balance in Poland. He knows for a fact that 100 senior officers of the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Defense have been meeting and have expressed deep fears about future developments. Right now any rapid changes would be deeply detrimental to the Round Table agreements. It will take six months to two years for party veterans to get used to having a vocal and critical opposition in being. Kiszczak is very concerned over the wave of political strikes now threatening. It is only a short step to bringing people into streets with unpredictable results. A repetition of the Chinese events would be a true disaster in Poland. He, Kiszczak, has been in positions of authority for 44 years and knows what tragedies can result and what such another series of events would mean for Poland.

6. The Czech, E. Germans, and above all the Soviets are very concerned with the course of events in Poland. Their views must be considered. Military intervention is not the problem. Poland is a nation of 40 million with a fragile economy. A reduction in Soviet deliveries of 2 million tons of oil or 100,000 tons of cotton or even iron ore would exert intolerable pressure. Kiszczak strongly favors privatization and worker share holdings in enterprises but time is required to restore the Polish economy. The West could not feed 40 million Poles. He estimates that only about 7 percent of Polish production is fully competitive today on world markets. . . .

7. Poland must move ahead, Kiszczak continued, and the task is even more urgent because of the growing evidence that Gorbachev is in trouble. Kiszczak recently visited the Soviet Union. He says the economic situation there is deteriorating rapidly. Perestroika is increasingly perceived as a failure. . . . If Gorbachev fails, the next government will not be more liberal. Poland’s new institutions must be put into place rapidly. . . .

12. The clear message conveyed is that a Solidarity government is not acceptable at this time although they are more than welcome to take over a number of ministries. There was also the very thinly-veiled appeal to the US to restrain the opposition’s thrust for power, something which is probably beyond our capacity now even if we chose to try. I fear that food shortages and price increases here have taken the situation right to the brink, and it will take all of the efforts of cooler heads on both sides to avoid a crisis with unpredictable consequences.

Davis, US Ambassador

How to Cite this Source

U.S. Embassy Warsaw, "Warsaw Embassy Cable, Conversation with General Kiszczak," Making the History of 1989, Item #401, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:27 pm).

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