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THE CURTAIN RISES: EASTERN EUROPE, 1989 : CHAPTER 4 POLAND : 'It's the End of an Age'--and a New Start : Solidarity's overwhelming victory moves the country into uncharted territory.

December 17, 1989

Two days after the vote, virtually everyone in a key political position in Poland, on either side of the political divide, knew that the country was moving into uncharted territory.

The results of the vote became fully known to insiders by Monday night, June 5, although official results were not to be released for another day. On June 6, Rakowski met over breakfast with his inner circle, and they had just been hit with the full scale of the disaster. The group was weary, and the sense of loss hung in the air. One participant, acid-tongued government spokesman Jerzy Urban, summarized the news.

"This is not just a lost election, gentlemen," he said, "it's the end of an age."

"We looked at the situation and came to the conclusion that a government should be formed by Solidarity," another participant, Labor Minister Ireneusz Sekula, said later. "But this was not a motion that was going to be accepted by the party."

They saw the situation as hanging in the balance and extremely dangerous. There were fears of a party rebellion--perhaps even of action by the army or police.

At the same moment that Rakowski and his colleagues were conferring, Kiszczak was meeting with representatives of Solidarity.

"He told us," Solidarity's Geremek recalled, "that the situation from the government point of view was very difficult. He asked us if it was our intention to take power. Our answer was that we would keep to the round-table agreements as they were established."

The part of the accord Geremek referred to was the agreed balance of power in Parliament--the 65%-35% split between the Communists and Solidarity. The ignominious defeat of the national list candidates threw the balance out. Now both the government and Solidarity were stuck with trying to find a solution.

On June 8, the Magdalinka group convened to work out the problem.

"You could feel the tension in the room," one Solidarity leader said. "Kiszczak opened the meeting. He said Solidarity had conducted a confrontational campaign, had violated the spirit of the round table. He said we should know that on that morning, the committee for the defense of the country was sitting and that some military units were on alert."

Walesa was ready with an answer.

"General, we have been through all this many times since 1981," Walesa said. "It is not our fault the national list lost. It lost because, for the first time, the people could make a choice without manipulation. That is why, when I had the chance, I marked out your name, not once, but so many times I had holes in the paper."

Walesa's comment, which brought a laugh from at least the Solidarity side, lowered the tension. And Solidarity made it clear it would accept any solution, as long as it had a legal basis. It was up to the Communists to find it.

The meeting went from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. In the end, 33 new candidates were simply added to the Communist ballot in the second round of the elections. It solved the immediate problem, but psychologically, a corner had been turned. In effect, Solidarity had bailed out the party.

As some pointed out, Solidarity paid a price with its supporters, most of whom wanted to see the Communists thrown out immediately. The task of the leadership, Geremek said, was "to avoid a triumphant tone." It was largely successful, but pressure was building from "mid-level" Solidarity activists and vociferous rank-and-file followers.

\o7 In Budapest, a solemn crowd estimated at 200,000 paid tribute to Imre Nagy, prime minister for 13 tumultuous days during the 1956 Hungarian revolt.

Convicted in a Communist show trial, hanged and buried face down in an unmarked grave in 1958, Nagy and four associates, executed with him, were reburied as heroes, on a day the authorities declared a "national day of mourning."

For more than three decades Nagy's name had been taboo in Hungary.

In Prague, in closing remarks to a Central Committee meeting of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, Milos Jakes, the party chief, said that pessimism and nihilism were creeping into the minds of Czechoslovak Communists for no reason.

\f7 The next problem to arise was Jaruzelski, who announced that he would not be a candidate for president, pointing out--correctly--that most of the public associated his name with the hated period of martial law and not with the reforms he had pushed through the Communist Party. The party immediately passed a resolution urging him to reconsider.

On July 3, a front-page editorial in the Solidarity newspaper argued that in exchange for giving the presidency to the Communists, Solidarity should be allowed to choose the prime minister and form the government. Now, in the Solidarity camp, the issue was openly debated.

After three weeks, Jaruzelski agreed to stand for the presidency. The parliamentary vote on July 19 was a cliffhanger: He won with the absolute minimum of votes--and only because some Solidarity members stayed away or actually cast votes for him. The narrowness of the vote was yet another important sign.

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