Magazine Poland

On this Day, in 1989: Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Poland’s first non-Communist PM in 43 years

On August 24, 1989, one of the most important architects of the Polish Round Table Talks, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was picked by Lech Wałęsa to lead Poland’s new administration and became the first non-communist prime minister in Central and Eastern Europe in 43 years.

After rising through the ranks of the PAX Association, the only large Catholic organisation supported by the Communist authorities, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was eventually expelled from the association for criticising its conflicts with the Catholic hierarchy and loyalty to the communist authorities.

During the Polish October of 1956, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became one of the founders of the All-Polish Club of Progressive Catholic Intelligentsia, the predecessor of Club of Catholic Intelligentsia (KIK), the first all-national Catholic organisation independent of the Communist authorities in post-war Poland.

A small group of Catholics were allowed to run in the resulting Polish legislative election of 1957, among them Tadeusz Mazowiecki, with whom they formed the first form of opposition to the rule of the Polish United Workers’ Party within the Polish Sejm.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki remained a member of the Sejm until 1971, serving his second, third and fourth terms as a member of the “Catholic party”, until he left the Sejm to become the head of Warsaw chapter of the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia and one of the best-known Polish dissidents.

In the early 1980s, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was named editor-in-chief of the Tygodnik Solidarność magazine, published by the Solidarity movement. But after the weekly magazine was banned following the martial law declaration in December 1981, Mazowiecki was arrested and imprisoned. He was one of the last prisoners to be released.

Firmly believing in the process of taking power from the ruling Polish United Workers’ Party through negotiation, Tadeusz Mazowiecki played an active role in the Polish Round Table Talks, becoming one of the most important architects of the agreement by which partially free elections were held in June 1989.

While the Communists and their satellites were guaranteed a majority in the legislature, Solidarity still won all of the contested seats in a historic landslide before turning the tables on the Communists by persuading the Communists’ two satellite parties to switch their support to Solidarity, all but forcing General Wojciech Jaruzelski to appoint a Solidarity member as prime minister.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki was picked by Lech Wałęsa to lead the coming administration. He won a vote of confidence in the Sejm and thus became the first non-communist Polish prime minister in 43 years.

Wałęsa then decided to run for the newly re-established office of president and became Poland’s first freely elected head of state since the May Coup of 1926, and the first President of Poland ever elected in a popular vote.

Mazowiecki died in Warsaw in October 2013. He was remembered by Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski as “one of the fathers of Polish liberty and independence”.

Find out more about Central European history in our new On this Day series.