Our Prime Minister
Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki addresses lower house of the Polish parliament
September 12, 1989
It is difficult to pinpoint the beginning of the Third Polish Republic, but the following speech delivered by Tadeusz Mazowiecki on 24 August 1989 is one of the most frequently quoted moments. Poland’s communist authorities planned to incorporate “Solidarność” into the government in order to shift some responsibility for the tragic condition of the state onto the opposition. In this speech, the prime minister-in-waiting rejects this plan and vows to separate his coalition government from the legacy of the PRL party by drawing a “thick” line in the sand. These words had a defining impact on Polish politics.
Mister Speaker, Members of the House!
I want to form a government that is able to act for the good of the people, for the good of the nation, and for the good of the state. It will be a coalition government focused on delivering thorough reform of the state. Today, such a task can only be undertaken by a government that embraces cooperation between all the forces represented in this Parliament and by a government that is formed on new political principles.
The history of our country has accelerated. This change has happened because our society refuses to go on living as before.
We need to restore the normal tools and processes of political life in Poland. The transition will be difficult, but it does not need to be disruptive. On the contrary, such change will put us on the road to normality. The principle of combat, which sooner or later leads to the elimination of one’s opponent, must be replaced by the principle of partnership. Otherwise, we shall never move from a totalitarian system to democracy.
The state philosophy must be changed. The state cannot take care of everything, cannot guarantee everything. Rather, it should facilitate and regulate the activity of the people. Today, the most important role of government and of the administration must be to create new possibilities for collective and individual action by the people. I want to be the Prime Minister of all Poles, regardless of their views and beliefs. Those views and beliefs must not serve as criteria for dividing citizens into categories. I will do my best to make clear to everyone the principles that underlie the formation of this government. It is my personal duty to do that, especially to the Solidarity movement. It will help us in our endeavors to have the understanding of the church, which has always stood up in defense of human rights and has embraced the nation’s concerns as its own. The church has been and remains a stabilizing force in Poland.
The future government must be truthful with the public, it must create new mechanisms that allow the voice of public opinion to be heard. We will submit some of the problems we face for the judgment of the people. If sacrifices are necessary, then everyone must know what those sacrifices are, everyone must understand them and everyone must be in a position to take a view on the challenges ahead.
Members of the House, the most important issue for our people is the condition of the nation’s economy, which must be regarded as critical today. Everything that needs to be said has been said about how bad the economy is and why. The problem we must address today is how to get ourselves out of this situation. I am fully aware of the huge effort that repairing this economy will require of the newly-appointed government and of the whole of society.
The government’s long-term strategic goal is to restore economic institutions in Poland that have long been known and proven. By this I mean a return to a market economy and to a role for the state that is similar to that exercised in other economically developed countries. Poland can no longer afford ideological experiments.
Any changes that will determine the future prospects of the nation and of the welfare of our citizens are blocked today by inflation and by the lack of economic stability 1, manifested by shortages and long queues, by the state budget deficit and by an unsustainable balance of payments.
Restoring stability and controlling inflation are tasks of the highest economic, political, and social importance. We must recognize that instability and inflation have the potential to undermine Poland’s march towards freedom, by increasing social tensions. It is impossible to create conditions for the nation to work efficiently while inflation rages, and it is only by working efficiently that we will be able to impact our material well-being.
The government realizes the absolute and urgent need to tackle inflation. We will prepare the necessary program of measures, taking advantage of everything that has been tried so far in Poland and in other countries, making good use of the experience and expertise of international experts and financial organizations. In particular, we will immediately start to dismantle the monopolies that operate the food market. Their excesses are one of the reasons for high prices and they are an obstacle to rural development.
Fighting inflation and restoring economic stability has always been a risky undertaking for governments and it is painful for society. The government will ensure that the anti-inflationary measures it takes are economically effective. But it will, nevertheless, do everything it can to keep the pain this engenders to a minimum. However, we cannot promise that it will be completely painless. No responsible government could ever make such a promise.
The Poles themselves must solve Poland’s economic problems. The success of this endeavor will be determined by our own ingenuity, by our own work, by our own efforts, by our patience. This does not mean, however, that we are bound to stand alone in facing this difficult enterprise.
The world is watching the changes taking place in our country with friendliness and hope. The government will be vigorous in seeking the greatest possible economic support for Poland from the international community, in all possible forms and in accordance with existing procedures and customs. We will not seek privileges denied to others in a similar situation to us. However, we will expect the highest possible support for the efforts we will be making to heal the economy. Governments alone do not create the economic prosperity of nations and do not pull them out of economic crises, people do. Indeed, many a government has effectively crippled its country economically by suppressing its people and trying to command and control everything and everyone. However, there were and there are governments capable of unlocking the dormant economic power of talented and hard-working people.
My greatest desire is that the current coalition government will create the conditions for the Polish people to revive their country economically. We need to put in place the sort of legal and economic infrastructure that will give entrepreneurial people a sense of security so that they have the confidence to act. And we need to put in place the sort of legal and economic infrastructure that will enable everyone to find both a purpose in their work and an economic return for their labors.
Members of the House, the issue of law and the rule of law is of fundamental importance. For the last forty-five years, the law in Poland has been used as a partisan instrument, subordinate to the political objectives of the moment. Citizens have not had the sense of freedom that the law should bring. Nor have they been aware that the law is meant to protect them and that it is the same for all.
It is essential to introduce the rule of law in Poland and to extend the rights accorded by international treaties, agreements and conventions to everyone. Citizens must have a sense of freedom, of security and of participation. They can have this sense only in a law-abiding state, where every action of the authorities is based upon the law, and where legislation, its content, and the interpretation of its articles reflect a certain social sense of justice. Only law which aims at the common good can gain social respect and authority. We will not form a new army or a new police force. Rather, the point must be to create a legal framework and legal guarantees within which these services must operate. We must do so in such a way that everyone feels that these institutions are there to serve the public – a sentiment that must also be felt by those serving within the army and the police force.
The professional administration can act effectively only when appointments to it are based on competence for the job, when its staff are bound only by loyalty to the state, and when it is not constrained – as our professional administration has been in the past – by loyalty to particular political parties.
Nowadays, an irreplaceable role is played by the mass media, and especially by radio and television, in conditioning relations between a government and its citizens. Broadcasters must be pluralistic institutions today. I believe that a transition from monopoly service provider to a pluralistic market in this area is essential.
Members of the House, I am convinced that Poland can fulfil an important role in the political, economic, and cultural life of Europe. Yet the extremely difficult economic situation our country faces is not conducive to optimism – nor is it more encouraging in the arena of international relations. There is a growing societal gap between Poland and the highly developed countries. This accentuates the sense of fatigue that Polish people feel, something which also manifests itself in emigration, especially by our young people.
Poland’s friends should understand that time is of the essence. It is of no use to wait until we are sinking. For reconstruction of the Polish economy will not only serve our country, it will also benefit the entire European community. Europe is a single entity, encompassing not only the West, but also the East. We feel positive about the ongoing changes in the Soviet Union. We fully understand their importance, not least because they may provide new political opportunities in our country.
We want to maintain good-neighborly and friendly relations with the Soviet Union 2. For the first time, there is a chance that relations between our nations may be based on friendship and cooperation between our societies, and will not be restricted to one political party. This is a great opportunity that must not be wasted. We also understand the significance of the obligations resulting from the Warsaw Pact 3. To all its members, I declare that the government I will form will respect this Pact.
Members of the House, the change in Poland’s political situation is determined today by the fact that the new government is being formed on the initiative of Solidarity, and in agreement with the United People’s Party and the Alliance of Democrats 4. This is, of course, perceived today as an extraordinary event. But the possibility of forming a government consisting of any of the political forces represented in Parliament must in future become the norm in our national political life.
The government I will form is not responsible for the legacy it inherits. However, this legacy shapes the circumstances in which we must act. We must draw a thick line in the sand and separate ourselves from the past. We will be responsible only for what we will now do to get Poland out of its current state of collapse. I am aware that for my compatriots today, the most important question is whether things can ever be better. I assure you that, together, all of us will respond to that question.
The success of the future government depends on whether it is accepted and understood by Polish society. The social and political forces represented within Parliament as well as all those that exist outside its walls, must define their positions in the face of the new situation confronting us. It is a challenge for everyone, especially for the younger generation, which must recognize the great opportunity that lies before it in addressing the tasks ahead.
The government alone will not heal any-thing. We must do this together, for Poland will only be different, if we all truly want it to be so.