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.
Communism had left Poland politically and economically bankrupt. Marxist ideology had become all but a façade; not even party apparatchiks pretended to believe it. Poland’s economy, close to outright collapse, struggled to meet citizens’ basic needs, let alone repay foreign loans.