Mazowiecki’s Miracle

When Tadeusz Mazowiecki became Poland's first post-communist prime minister in August 1989, he took over control of a country that was politically and economically bankrupt. Though he was in office for less than 17 months, he managed to set Poland on a path toward democracy, economic recovery, and NATO and EU membership.

WARSAW – It was a hot day and a tense moment. As Poland’s first post-communist prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, laid out his government’s ground-breaking program, he wobbled and appeared to faint. While the packed parliament speculated nervously, Mazowiecki slipped out of a side entrance to get some fresh air in nearby Ujazdowski Park in central Warsaw.

“Who’s that?” a child playing in a sandbox asked his mother. “Nasz premier,” she replied – “Our prime minister.” That was not a phrase that had been readily used to describe Poland’s Communist leaders over the previous four decades.

When Mazowiecki returned to the podium, he apologized and, with his customary dry wit, suggested that the Polish economy was as unsteady on its feet as he was. He was right.