Edward Gierek, Polish Leader from Decade 1970-1980

Edward Gierek was born in a poor village in industrial Polish region Zaglebie in 1913. Please do not confuse Zaglebie with Silesia, for more details about both regions check links to information about different regions in Poland. People were joking that if the dog is waging a tail in one farm, its tail extends to the neighbor´s farm. His father was a miner and died in the mine´s accident when Edward was 4. Soon his family (his mather remarried) decided to leave to France. Edward started working since he was 12 first in a farm, later in potassium salt mine. When he was 17 he became a member of French Communistic Party. He was so active organizing strikes that French deported him to Poland in 1934, soon afterwards he was called to the army.

Edward Gierek

Soon after he left military he got married (1937) and soon after he left to work in Belgium. He was working as a miner in coal mine near Gent. After the war Edward together with his wife and two sons returned to Poland. He join the communist Polish United Workers´ Party and settled in Katowice (capital of Silesia).
In 1957 he became the party leader in Katowice. This was quite important position since Katowice region is one of the most industrial regions in Poland. Edward Gierek is responsible for initiating or continuing many big investments in this region (Sport and Concert Stadium "Spodek", Recreation and Entertainment Park. During his leaderships miners in Silesia had a privileged position, special shops, easier access to cheaper apartments, cars and even vacations. But the conditions of work and safety of work in mines did not improve greatly.

In March 1968 during students' protests in Warsaw and Krakow Gierek eagerly supported the government in Warsaw with leader Gomolka. Gierek warned the students in his speech that if anybody would try to mess up with the calm Silesian water - this water will break their bones.
In spite of that in December 1970, after the anti-governmental protests in Gdansk harbor caused by the announcement of the drastic food price increase just a week before Christmas, Gierek was chosen to be a 1 secretary of the Central Committee (KC) of the Polish Workers Party (PZPR). Supposedly, he did not allow for tanks to be sent to Silesia.

In the beginning he was well received. He asked people at one of the meetings: Will you help me (pomozecie?)? People repled with eagerness Yes, we will help you (pomozemy).

Gierek promised more openness to the West as well as internal reforms. He was alluring people with hopes for a better standard of living, Gierek launched a program to modernize Poland´s outdated industry, encouraging foreign investment and taking multibillion dollar credits from the West. Much of the money borrowed by the Gierek government was wasted on ill-considered industrial projects, and contributed to a $40 billion debt that is still being repaid 12 years after the end of Communist rule.
Rising prices, deteriorating living standards and human rights violations sparked dissatisfaction and strikes in 1976 and in 1980.

Gierek was also responsible for unpopular ammendments in Polish constitution. He institutionalized the leading role of the PZPR and a friendship with a Soviet Union. These ammendments were eliminated as soon as the opposition won the governmental elections in 1989.
Gierek resigned in the fall of 1980 as a result of anti-communistic worker protests that gave birth to Solidarity, the former eastern bloc´s first independent labor federation. One year later, blamed by other communist leaders for Poland´s mounting economic crisis, he lost his party membership. Since his retirement from politics, Gierek had lived at Ustron in southern Poland. He died on the 29th of July 2001.

Gierek and his cabinet were seen as people who took advantage of their positions. They were living a luxury lifestyle owning several houses, cars and boats, going hunting etc. The lifestyle that is very different from the life of an ordinary Polish citizen. The revealing of these facts was a shock for a public opinion since they were considered…communists.

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, August 2001 (article #42)

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