Poland’s first prime minister after the fall of communism
Tadeusz Mazowiecki: Born: April 18th, 1927;Died: October 28th, 2013
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who has died aged 86, was Poland’s first post-communist prime minister. Photograph: Reuters
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who has died aged 86, was Poland’s first post-communist prime minister. One of the country’s leading Catholic intellectuals, he had a central role in restoring the democracy which had been absent from the country’s political life since shortly after the second World War.
In 1980, Mazowiecki became an adviser to the Solidarity trade union. Eventually Solidarity agreed partially democratic elections with the ruling Polish United Workers’ (communist) party, in which it and its allies were guaranteed a majority of the seats.
However, of the limited number it was allowed to contest in June 1989, the union’s candidates won all in the lower chamber and almost all in the senate.
As one of the key figures in Poland’s pro-democracy movement, Mazowiecki was a natural candidate the following September for taking the helm of the government formed by Solidarity and two smaller parties that had broken away from the communist-led alliance.
He also had the backing of Nobel peace prizewinner Lech Walesa, who had plans for a different political path. “I prefer to be a prime minister in a British fashion rather than in a French one. Poland needs a strong government and a strong authority,” Mazowiecki reportedly told Walesa after the trade union leader proposed that he form the new government.
Mazowiecki wanted to indicate that he would be taking a proactive role in his new capacity by making sure the government was at the centre of decision-making, rather than just executing policies determined by Walesa.
However, Walesa’s idea of the role Mazowiecki should be was quite different. Numerous arguments ensued between the two and their respective supporters.
When Mazowiecki came to office in 1989, Poland’s inflation rate stood at more than 300 per cent. Looking for fresh ideas to restart the economy, he turned to his deputy prime minister and finance minister, the liberal economist Leszek Balcerowicz. His free-market reforms, involving the shutting down of inefficient state-run enterprises and privatisation on a large scale, were endorsed by Mazowiecki and other senior Solidarity officials, and succeeded in slashing inflation and stimulating economic growth.
However, many accused the government of ignoring the needs of the poor and stoking unemployment.
In December 1990, Mazowiecki and Walesa faced each other in Poland’s first free presidential election since before the second World War.
Mazowiecki was the loser, coming in third in the first round and being beaten not just by Walesa, but by the populist Stanislaw Tyminski, newly returned from a successful business career in Canada.
Taking his poor electoral performance to indicate popular distrust, Mazowiecki resigned in January 1991.
Despite the defeat, he remained active in both domestic and international politics, serving as the United Nation special rapporteur on human rights in Yugoslavia (1992-95). He resigned after the Srebrenica massacre, accusing the international community of inaction. He was also a member of the Polish parliament (1991-2001).
Born in Plock, northwest of Warsaw, where his father was a doctor, Mazowiecki was involved in Christian social and political organisations from the mid-1940s.
At the end of the decade he began law studies at the University of Warsaw, but did not complete a degree, turning instead to journalism and the editing of small Catholic publications.
When industrial unrest spread from the Gdansk shipyard in summer 1980, he and his historian friend Bronislaw Geremek organised a petition allying intellectuals with the strikers’ aspirations. Walesa welcomed this wider alliance and both remained Solidarity activists, though each was imprisoned for more than a year during the martial law period of 1981-83.
Mazowiecki was predeceased by both his wives, Krystyna and Ewa, and is survived by his sons, Wojciech, Michal and Adam, from his second marriage.