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The Other June 4, 1989

How the events in Tiananmen Square drove the first free election in Eastern Europe from front pages around the world.

Credit: De Visu -


  • Poland never received full credit for helping close one of the darkest political eras in European history.
  • In 1989, two communist parties – China’s and Poland’s - took sharply divergent paths.
  • The Iron Curtain crumbled faster because of the smart way in which the Poles went about de-communizing their state.
  • Poland’s path in 1989 brought personal liberty and the cultural and economic enrichment of the entire planet.
  • The Poles showed East Germans, Czechs and Hungarians that the stakes weren’t as high as they had feared.
  • Many young Poles today seem to have little sense of the leading role their parents played in this global drama.

Twenty-five years ago, two communist parties thousands of miles apart were faced with a similar dilemma: How to loosen state control of the economy while maintaining unquestioned political authority.

On June 4, 1989, these two parties took sharply divergent paths. The Communist Party of China decided that economic liberalization had led to too much criticism of the party eroding its political power.

Believing that the country was on the verge of chaos, the CPC dispatched the People’s Liberation Army to restore order. And it did so, particularly in Beijing, with lethal force. China’s economic liberalization could proceed, but only on the condition that the supremacy of the CPC could not be challenged, even verbally.

The Polish miracle

On that same day, the Polish United Workers Party sanctioned a fair and reasonably free election, in which it expected to win enough votes to stay in control.

Instead, Solidarity, the free-trade union movement brutally suppressed eight years earlier by the Polish army, swept to a convincing victory that took even Solidarity’s leadership by surprise. But Poland’s communist hierarchy, led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski, after some hesitation accepted the verdict of the voters.

Economic liberalization would go forward under the direction of a democratically elected government. And Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, preoccupied with the crumbling of his own economy and political authority at home, did not even think about intervening.

Yet because of the horrific, headline-grabbing events in China, that other June 4 is one that few people outside of Poland remember, even though it marked the true beginning of the dissolution of communist power in Eastern Europe and eventually in the Soviet Union itself.

How Poland’s courage radiated

The first cracks that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall five months later are often ascribed to a series of events involving East Germans fleeing through Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

But the Wall might have stood for many more years were it not for that Polish election and the remarkable maturity and responsibility with which the Poles went about the process of de-communizing their state.

If a year earlier you had asked anyone who knew anything about Poland if such a smooth transition would be possible, the vast majority — including the Poles themselves — would have sadly shaken their heads.

Solidarity had been crushed on December 13, 1981, because the communist regime and the Soviet leadership decided the experiment of the first free trade union in a Soviet bloc country had gone too far.

Solidarity not-so-solid

But it is also true that Solidarity was a mess. Its fabled leader Lech Walesa had lost what little control he had managed in the previous year, and the country was descending into chaos. Economic activity was plummeting and long lines of people were waiting to buy even the most basic food items.

Old Polish stereotypes, mainly spoofing irrational individualism, played a part in the pessimism — à la “The Poles make great fighter pilots, but lousy bomber crews” and “If you get three Poles together in a room, they’ll create four political parties.”

But what had gone largely unnoticed in the years since martial law was imposed, is that the Poles had received a civic education that began to undermine that image.

Underground civic education as a key

An underground press, led by people like Helena Luczywo and Adam Michnik (founders of one of modern Poland’s most successful newspapers), blanketed the country with hundreds of thousands of flyers, leaflets and books.

But unlike previous dissident publishers in communist countries, these publications did more than pillory and ridicule the military regime, though they did that as well.

Instead, the Polish underground press became an instrument of mass civic education. Publications included everything from how a stock market works to the difference between the French and American presidential systems.

Needless to say, some of this material was dry as dust, but people ate it up because it was forbidden. In addition, the collapsed economy forced many Poles to work (often illegally) in the West, which exposed them to more liberal political cultures and systems.

When Solidarity and the Polish people got a second chance in 1989, their expectations about economic reform were far more rational than eight years earlier when the typical demand was for higher wages, more high quality food at lower prices and a shorter workweek.

Keeping their cool

Just as important, the animus in Polish politics had somewhat dissipated. The goal of putting their former communist rulers in prison faded to just putting them out to pasture.

The unexpected determination of the vast majority of Poles made possible the dissolution of communism in the rest of the Eastern Bloc.

The rulers of East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary had also been trying to figure out how to reform their economies without political upheaval and with no more success than Jaruzelski’s team. But they had feared the mass uprisings and aftermath of a loosening of the political reins.

But if the Poles could do it peacefully, even smoothly, maybe the stakes weren’t as high as they had feared. Perhaps political power was not a zero-sum game after all. It was that calculation — and the forbearance of Gorbachev’s USSR — that led to those breathtaking changes in the fall of 1989.

Then and now

Many young Poles today seem to have little understanding of the leading role their parents played in this global drama. And Poles today are just as disillusioned with the political and economic realities of the 21st century as their fellow Europeans and Americans.

But the unexpected path that Poland took in 1989 led to the personal liberty of millions of people and the cultural and economic enrichment of the entire planet.

It is a major historical injustice that Poland never received the full credit it deserves for helping bring to a close one of the darkest political eras in European history.

That injustice is made even more painful by the fact that our collective memory of its achievement was obliterated by the decision of the communist authorities thousands of miles away to take another path.

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About Richard Hornik

Richard Hornik is the director of Overseas Partnership Programs for the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University.

Responses to “The Other June 4, 1989”

Archived Comments.

  1. On June 4, 2014 at 5:51 pm Dean Jackson responded with... #

    In fact, both Moscow and Beijing coordinated their divergent behaviors for a specific reason…

    “Q. In New Lies for Old, Golitsyn explained that the Sino-Soviet “split” was false, forming part of a deception designed to persuade the West that the world Communist movement was disunited. What is the current position?

    A. The Sino-Soviet “split” was indeed a classic Leninist dialectical deception which masked the continuing collaboration between the two most important and powerful Communist Parties in the world, in pursuit of the long-range strategy which was ratified, as Golitsyn explained in New Lies for Old [the correct wording used by Golitsyn is “Long-Range Policy”], at the Eighty-One Party Congress held in Moscow in November 1960. It was at that Congress that the Communist parties agreed to collaborate over a period of decades in pursuit of the objective of “convergence” leading to world government.

    Golitsyn is most frequently attacked for his assertion that the Sino-Soviet “split” was false, because this particular element of the deception strategy is the most sensitive of all. If the West were to become aware that in fact the Russians and Chinese have been working closely together all along, and are the closest of allies, it would recognize the grave danger it faces. But of course, we now have a facade which perpetuates the illusion of the “split.”

    The Tiananmen Square atrocity in June 1989 provided a clear signal to Chinese dissidents that political perestroika was not about to be permitted in China.* Golitsyn explains in The Perestroika Deception that the core demonstrators who appear to have been controlled and carried banners supporting the Chinese Communist Party suddenly marched out of the Square in formation. The shooting started after they had left; those who were killed were true dissidents who had traveled to Beijing to join in the demonstrations.

    The current spectacle is of “non”-Communism in Russia and overt Communism in China. This preserves the illusion of the “split,” and has provided the backdrop against which the two countries are collaborating in a coordinated military buildup of ominous proportions. The Russian-Chinese military agreement of 1993 has been followed by further accords, and the scale of China’s buildup is now causing serious alarm in Western defense circles, which still do not understand that the two countries are allies.” — The New American

    For those unfamiliar with this subject, the “collapse” of the USSR in 1991 was a strategic ruse under the “Long-Range Policy” (LRP). What is the LRP, you ask? The LRP is the “new” strategy all Communist nations signed onto in 1960 to defeat the West with. The last major disinformation operation under the LRP was the fraudulent “collapse” of the USSR in 1991.

    The next major disinformation operation under the LRP will be the fraudulent collapse of the Chinese Communist government. When that occurs, Taiwan will be stymied from not joining the mainland. This is why China is buying up gold all over the word. It is believed that China currently has 3,000 [metric] tonnes of gold. When China has 6,000 [metric] tonnes it will have the minimum gold reserves necessary for its currency, the yuan, to replace the United States’ dollar as the world’s reserve currency, that is after the fraudulent collapse of the Chinese Communist government (the United States gold reserves is approximately 8,133.5 [metric] tonnes).

    For more on the “Long-Range Policy”, read KGB defector Major Anatoliy Golitsyn’s books, “New Lies for Old” and “The Perestroika Deception” , the only Soviet era defector to still be under protective custody in the West:

    Google:’new lies for old internet archive’

    Google:‘the perestroika deception pdf’

    The following is an excellent brief three-page introduction to Golitsyn and his significance in understanding Communist long-range strategy:

    Google: ‘Through the Looking Glass by Edward Jay Epstein’

    *The fraudulent collapse of the Communist Chinese government is to take place at a later junction…

    “Since at least the early 1970s, the Communist party of China has been poised to create a spectacular but controlled “democratization” at any appropriate time. The party had by then spent two decades consolidating its power, building a network of informants and agents that permeate every aspect of Chinese life, both in the cities and in the countryside. Government control is now so complete that it will not be seriously disturbed by free speech and democratic elections; power can now be exerted through the all-pervasive but largely invisible infrastructure of control. A transition to an apparently new system, using dialectical tactics, is now starting to occur.” — Playing the China Card (The New American, Jan. 1, 1991).