Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first prime minister of Poland after the fall of communism, died early in the morning on October 28. He was 86 years old. He was one of the most prominent figures in anti-communist opposition and in Polish politics after 1989.
He was recognized for his work both in Poland and internationally. He had been awarded several distinctions, including the Order of the White Eagle, the highest Polish decoration, and the Vatican’s Order of St. Gregory the Great.
A Catholic in communism
Born in 1927 in Płock, Mr Mazowiecki went on to become an activist in Catholic organizations in post-war Poland. He published in several magazines issued by Catholic associations. In 1956 he co-founded the Club of Catholic Intellectuals and later the Więź (Bond) monthly, of which he became the first editor-in-chief.
In 1961-1972 Tadeusz Mazowiecki was a member of parliament of the Polish People’s Republic, part of a group of Catholic MPs named Znak (The Sign). Together with other members of that group he used the means then available to make a stance against some of the communist government’s policies.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Neil Bates
Advisor to Solidarity
In 1980 Mr Mazowiecki joined other intellectuals in publicly supporting the strike in the Gdańsk shipyard, which became one of the milestones on Poland’s road to freedom. He went to the shipyard and was later appointed to a council of experts by Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa. He continued to advise Mr Wałęsa throughout the 1980s. He was also one the opposition activists detained during martial law.
In 1989, when Solidarity and communist leaders agreed to hold round table talks, Mr Mazowiecki was an obvious participant and ended up as one of the key negotiators. He became one of the architects of the resulting accord that led to the partially free parliamentary elections that took place on June 4, 1989.
Prime minister in transition
Following political agreements after the 1989 elections, Tadeusz Mazowiecki became the first democratic prime minister of Poland after World War II. His government is credited with the first reforms in Poland’s transition period. Perhaps the best-known member of his cabinet was Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, who helped lay the foundations of the country’s free market economy.
In 1990 Mr Mazowiecki ran against his once-ally Lech Wałęsa in presidential elections and lost. Shortly afterward he resigned from the post of prime minister. He did not disappear from the political scene, though.
In 1992 he was appointed a special UN emissary to the former Yugoslavia after war there broke out. He stepped down from that position in 1995, saying that he felt helpless when international powers did nothing to prevent massacres in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He continued to perform various roles in Poland later and supported civic movements. Each year, on the anniversary of the 1989 elections, he would meet colleagues and supporters and raise a toast to freedom.
In October 2010, Mr Mazowiecki was appointed advisor to Poland’s President Bronisław Komorowski for domestic and foreign policy. After his death, the president announced a day of national mourning.
President of Poland
“A man has passed away who, in moments that were crucial to Poland, had the courage to be wise.”
Poland’s Prime Minister
“We are bidding farewell to an historic leader, one of the most eminent politicians of the 20th century, but also a very good man. Tadeusz Mazowiecki was a remarkable figure, and a strikingly humble person.”
Former President of Poland
“Tadeusz Mazowiecki was the best prime minister [since the fall of communism]. Calm, balanced, hard-working. He knew what is more important and what is not.”
“With his tireless dedication to freedom and self-determination, he made an unforgettable contribution to overcoming authority and injustice and also to unifying Europe. As prime minister of Poland at a time when Germany was undergoing big changes, he promoted and supported both the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of our country.”
European Parliament President
“It is with sadness that I learned about the death of Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a great Pole, committed European and a person of noble character. We have lost a freedom fighter, reformer, intellectual and statesman, who was instrumental in changing the history of Poland and Europe.”
European Commission President
Jose Manuel Barroso:
“A great Pole and European, one of the founding fathers of the new Poland and re-united Europe.”
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