Neither Conspiracy Nor Benevolence: The Miracle Of

WARSAW: Ten years ago this month the first partially free elections in any Communist country were held in Poland: a crucial step on the road that began with the rise of Solidarity in 1980 and ended with the fall of the Wall in Berlin and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet system.

Those Polish elections were the result of a compromise hammered out during weeks of "Round Table" negotiations between the leaders of the Communist party and representatives of the Solidarity trade union. Paradoxically, however, the elections that ultimately ushered in the first non-communist government were not originally favored by the Solidarity negotiating team.

Later, the negotiations became an object of heated debate among politicians and commentators in Poland. Two myths came to the fore. The first concerned the benevolence of the Communist leaders who had supposedly ceded their power to the opposition at the moment democracy became possible. The second was about a conspiracy between the Reds and "Pinkos"-- the Communist leaders and the "soft" leftists who represented Solidarity at the Round Table talks -- that supposedly saved the Communists from total disgrace and allowed them to stage a comeback as a new party of the Left.

Both myths are just that: myths. A compromise - and this is, of course, what the Round Table was - is usually a result of some weakness on both sides. In 1989, the Communists had managed to make illegal and contain, but not to stamp out, Solidarity. A wave of strikes in May and August of 1988 brought home to Poland's politburo that the strategy of repression they had pursued since the introduction of martial law in 1981 was a failure. Solidarity, though weakened, proved to be a permanent fixture in Polish politics. To achieve social peace, the Communists had to talk to Solidarity.