Chapter 19 - Taking on Soviet Imperialism in Poland and Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe. At this point, Reagan’s freedom strategy of support for anti-Communist resistance forces and dissidents behind the Iron Curtain included such leading figures as Solidarity’s Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Anatoly Sharansky in the Soviet Union. Throughout Reagan’s presidency he and his extensive public diplomacy reports often addressed the Soviet Union’s suppression of Eastern Europe’s rights and major violations of international law such as the Helsinki Accords and United Nations declaration and in such actions as the Soviet Union’s illegal annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Reagan’s freedom speeches and actions, including differentiated sanctions, pressured the Soviet leaders and their militant Communist puppets and proxies. Reagan, thereby, helped break the authority of Communist Party officials and secret police networks in the face of rising popular protests.

Winning the Cold War for Freedom and Independence. As Reagan long predicted, the whole “bizarre” mix of Communist imperial doctrines, totalitarian authorities and power centers, and the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain, could not withstand the consistent range of pressures mounted by the United States and its Western Allies. The Kremlin’s “Socialist Camp” spiraled into the peaceful collapse of the Cold War’s obsolete Soviet ideology, empire, Soviet Communist Party, and state.

1. Historical Context: Poland and Eastern Europe in Centuries of Conflict and a Central Front in the Cold War

The history of Poland and its neighboring East European nations is marked by centuries of struggle for self-determination against powerful enemies. In the twentieth century, Poland, in particular, was a major front during the First and Second World Wars and then through decades of Cold War. The intense conflicts there were pivotal turning points in Reagan’s freedom strategy for the liberation of Moscow’s captive nations and peoples, and the Soviet Union itself, from the totalitarian Communist ideology and regime at the heart of decades of Cold War conflict.

Pre-Soviet Polish History. Throughout its history, Poland faced invasions from Russia in the east and from Germany (or Prussia or the Teutonic Knights) in the west. Other invaders came from Sweden and Lithuania in the north, Austro-Hungary from the west and south, France (under Napoleon), and from other nations and tribes including Turks, Mongols, and Huns. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, Poland was partitioned three times by outside powers—in 1772, 1793 (followed by an uprising led by Poland’s national hero, Thaddeus Kosciuszko), and in 1795. In the nineteenth century, Polish revolutions against Czarist Russia in 1830–1831 and 1863–1864 were crushed by Russian armies, but gained wide international support far beyond Poland’s borders.

At the outset of the First World War in 1914, Poland was pulled in three directions. Czarist Russia promised the Polish people that Poland would be restored as an autonomous kingdom. Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary, whose forces were on Polish soil, sought to recruit Polish fighters against Russia. And Poles led by General Joseph Pilsudksi sought to secure a truly independent Poland. In November 1916, the German and Austrian governments proclaimed an independent Polish kingdom, but German forces continued to occupy and exercise control over all Polish territory. When a coalition of Russian political parties led by Democratic Socialists overthrew the Czar and forced his abdication in March 1917, their revolutionary new Russian Provisional Government on March 30 declared support for an independent Poland, including all lands in which Poles constituted a majority of the population.

Soviet Betrayals of Poland and Eastern Europe in the First World War. At this point, Lenin’s October 1917 Bolshevik coup (see Chapter 2) overthrew the short-lived, democratic-leaning Provisional Government headed by Alexander Kerensky, soon banned its parties, and forcibly established a single (Communist Party) totalitarian regime that blocked Russia’s newly developing democratic path for the next seventy years. In violently enforcing a totalitarian Marxist-Leninist blueprint, the Soviet leaders (Lenin, Stalin, and their successors) from the very beginning betrayed the peoples of the region seeking freedom and independence from foreign imperial rule. These people notably included Poland and other East European nations like Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the three Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Immediately following Lenin’s coup, he ordered Russian troops to cease fighting the German invaders, soon opened negotiations with the Germans, and on March 3, 1918, signed a separate peace between the Soviet Union and Imperial Germany—the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. In this Treaty, Lenin formally consigned Poland and all of the East European nations to German military occupation, while also abandoning the cause of Rus-

[Book pg. 458]