Primary Sources

The Catholic Church's role in the Roundtable Talks


In following letter, a Solidarity activist writes to Józef Cardinal Glemp, the head of the Roman Catholic church in Poland, to inform him of difficulties in setting up much-anticipated Round Table talks with the Communist regime. The correspondence provides some insight into the complicated relationship between Solidarity and the Catholic church. On the one hand, opposition leaders clearly saw the church as an ally, sharing the same basic principles and objectives. On the other hand, the church needed to serve as an honest broker, a “national” institution capable of mediating between Solidarity and the regime. The content of Stelmachowski’s letter also illustrates the differences in objectives that complicated the setting up of the Round Table talks and that remained a stumbling block even after they got underway. For the regime, the highest priority was achieving consensus on how to tackle Poland’s economic problems. Creating pluralistic institutions was secondary, perhaps even a distraction, and any attempts to stir public demonstrations were seen as a sign of bad faith. For Solidarity, by contrast, gaining legal recognition and guaranteeing the future survival of independent associations was paramount. Any “consensus’ on economic policies would be repudiated by the opposition’s grassroots supporters unless steps toward genuine pluralism were forthcoming.

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Andrzej Stelmachowski to Jozef Glemp, 24 October 1988, trans. Jan Chowaniec, A. Stelmachowski Papers, Cold War International History Project, Documents and Papers, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

Your Eminence,

In view of the prospect of Your Eminence’s talks with Gen. W. Jaruelski, I feel it is my duty to inform you about a crisis which has arisen in connection with the “Round Table” negotiations and the prospect of [their] breakdown at the very start.

First I am going to describe the difficulties which we have encountered.

a) Contrary to the impressions we received from preliminary talks held on 31 August and 15 and 16 September that the authorities were ready to come forward towards Solidarity’s position, an acute press campaign has been intensified (particularly in Trybuna Luda), in which it is incessantly repeated that the Round Table talks can not lead to the re-legalization of Solidarity. This campaign, conducted through the central party daily, gives an impression that the authorities not only do not intend to convince their own “hardliners” on matters which were to be discussed at the Round Table, but that since that time they themselves have hardened their position, creating a general impression that now, after setting up the Rakowski government, they are less interested in the Round Table.

b) Despite arrangements agreed upon with Mr. Czyrek, that each side decides on the composition of its delegation to the Round Table, we have encountered an attempt to interfere with the list presented by Mr. Wałesa. . . . Lech Wałesa takes the position that the principle of mutual non-interference into the composition of delegations should not be violated. However, in a letter that he sent over a week ago to General Kiszczak, he stated that he would see to it that the whole Solidarity delegation will abide by all arrangements and prove the will for a sincere and honest dialogue.

c) An objection has been raised that Solidarity representatives have been meeting with extreme opposition circles, such as the KPN, Fighting Solidarity, and others. This charge is biased and exaggerated on purpose. That meeting was not directed against the Round Table but was aimed at making sure that those groups would not undermine the idea of the Round Table meeting and the position which Solidarity intends to take at it. . . .

Another charge that was raised was that [we are responsible for] street disturbances in Gdansk, which took place on Sunday, 16 October, when ZOMO [military police units] made it impossible for a group of demonstrating youth to pass through from the Saint Brigid church to the NMP [another church]. Such events, which were also influenced by ZOMO’s attitude, testify not so much to “inspirations” from the Solidarity side but rather to radicalization of the young generation.

Procedural difficulties and charges put forward by the authorities are—it seems—of a fallacious nature. The real obstacles are as follows:

1) The question of goals of the Round Table. Mr. Czryek has formulated them (in personal conversation with me) as an attempt to form a Council for National Understanding, which would deal with all controversial problems. In our opinion, the Round Table should adopt guiding resolutions on major questions and the proposed Council for National Understanding should deal with the implementation of those resolutions and technical matters, if need be.

2) The question of union pluralism. . . . The most important element here is a statement by General Jaruzelski himself, published in today’s press, in which three premises for the implementation of such pluralism are being defined. The most distressing one is economic, which the General has defined as: “achievement of indispensable, fundamental economic equilibrium so that some kind of spontaneous social pressures [claim bidding] would not endanger a highly complex reform process.” This means sticking to the theory that economic reform can be realized without social support (in any case a meaningful number of workers), and union pluralism is a sort of luxury, which should be realized later on.

3) The question of social pluralism. Last week Mr. Czyrek questioned the advisability of setting up a team for social pluralism (despite the fact that earlier such a team had been envisaged) explaining that some social organizations like the Polish Literary Union, Union of Artists, or the Journalists’ Union of the Polish People’s Republic do not want to sit at the same table with representatives of the previous regime’s unions. Admittedly, he later expressed a willingness to re-activate the government-church negotiating group, which had been preparing a draft law on associations, with the possibility of some enlargement of its composition. However, an important question arises, which is whether the reserve shown will adversely affect the drafting of the projected law on associations.

4) The question of post-strike repression. Some time ago the Church representatives became guarantors of job restitution for all those who had been dismissed from work for their participation in the August strikes. At a meeting on 15 September, General Kiszczak very solemnly promised to withdraw all repression. That promise has brought about positive effects on the seacoast (in Gdansk and Szczecin), while in Silesia jobs have not been restored to 114 miners, and in Stalowa Wola to 2 people. A communiqué of the press bureau and the Episcopate on this question was confiscated by the censorship office last week and it has not appeared in the national mass media.

In this situation I would be extremely grateful to your Eminence for an explanation of the essential prospects for the realization of both “pluralisms” (trade union and social). The whole thing can be reduced to the question: “Are the reforms (economic and political) to be realized jointly with an empowered society, which also means with Solidarity—or without out?’ If the prospects are not encouraging, I don’t see the purpose of further preparatory talks, which would only serve narrow purposes, instead of [those of] society.

With expressions of a son’s devotion,

Andrzej Stalmachowski

How to Cite this Source

"The Catholic Church's role in the Roundtable Talks," Making the History of 1989, Item #537, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:24 pm).