Arthur Maglin | 8 Mar 01:15 2012

Thatcher considered backing communists against Solidarity? - :: News from Poland

This comes from The News.PL.
Thatcher considered backing communists against Solidarity?
PR dla Zagranicy
Peter Gentle 27.02.2012 16:12
In 1981, then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher considered supporting the communist regime in Warsaw in suppressing the Solidarity trade union, a previously confidential German Foreign Ministry document reveals.


The Der Spiegel magazine writes that Thatcher's foreign secretary at the time, Lord Peter Carrington, told diplomats in New York that year, as the communist regime contiplated a crackdown against Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement, that the British Conservative government only backed Solidarity out of “respect for public opinion”, but from a more rational position, they would actually be, "on the side of the Polish [communist] government".

Thatcher's government was apparently concerned that too radical demands by Solidarity could trigger a Soviet invasion of Poland and destabilise the region.

Observers have note4d that, if true, then the revelation that Thatcher was suspicious of Solidarity and Walesa and considered backing a communist regime in suppressing the movement would be a severe dent to her 'Iron Lady' image, which inspired the Oscar winning film of the same name.

In 2009 it was revealed that Prime Minister Thatcher was “deeply impressed” by the courage and patriotism that General Jaruzelski showed as the communist fell from power in 1989.

Previously classified Soviet documents showed that Thatcher had a positive attitude to Polish communist leader General Jaruzelski, who imposed martial law in Poland in December 1981, describing him as a “Polish patriot”.

The papers, previously part of the Mikhail Gorbachov foundation’s collection, reported that the then British prime minister, in a meeting with Gorbachov in the autumn of 1989, expressed her admiration for how calmly the Russian leader had taken the June elections in Poland, which brought the Mazowiecki government to power and toppled communism.

There has been a long running debate as to whether Jaruzelski was a “Polish traitor” by introducing martial law, with opinion polls frequently split down the middle on the issue even to this day.

Jaruzelski has always maintained that if he had not ordered the crackdown then a Soviet invasion was a real threat.

Documents declassified by NATO on the 30th anniversary of martial law last December, however, reveal that it did not believe there was a threat of Soviet military intervention in Poland.

There is no information about a [Soviet military] decision, or troop movements,” one of the freshly released documents declares. (pg)

This is from Spiegel Online.

Shunning Solidarity

Thatcher was Supicious of Polish Solidarity Movement

Until now, Helmut Schmidt appeared to be the only top Western politician who was skeptical about the Polish trade union Solidarity in the early 1980s. But SPIEGEL magazine reveals British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also had deep reservations about the movement and its leader Lech Walesa.

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With the trade union Solidarity, the charismatic leader Lech Walesa helped rattle the foundations of Soviet communism. But new evidence, reported in Monday's SPIEGEL magazine reveals British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was suspicious about the influential movement and Lech Walesa, the man who later became a Nobel Laureate.

In September 1981, British Premier Thatcher even considered supporting the Eastern bloc regime in Warsaw in quelling Solidarity, a German Foreign Ministry document, long treated as classified, showed.

According to the document, Thatcher's Foreign Secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, told colleagues in New York that Britain sympathizied with Solidarity. But if Solidarity got out of control and the government had to take repressive measures, it might make sense to help the government, he added.

Carrington had earlier outlined the UK's position, saying that his government only backed Solidarity out of respect for public opinion, but that perhaps, from a more rational position, they would actually be "on the side of the Polish government".

Back then, Warsaw was threatened with insolvency and Thatcher evidently feared that the demands of the workers' movement could trigger a Soviet invasion. A few months later, the Polish communist Leader Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law and the US invoked economic sanctions against Poland. Britain, however, avoided levying sanctions on the country.

The imposition of martial law was a setback for Solidarity. About 100 "political dissidents" died in internment camps. But it did not prevent Solidarity from helping to bring about the end of communist rule in 1989-90.,1518,817778,00.html


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Arthur Maglin | 20 Mar 05:50 2012

Two communist states, two different worlds

This is from Asia Times Online:

Two communist states, two different worlds
By Andrei Lankov

Many people are surprised to learn that back in Soviet times, the people of the USSR looked at North Korea pretty much like Westerners did (and still do now). In the Soviet Union of the 1970s and 1980s, North Korea was widely perceived as a grotesque, destitute and brutal dictatorship, an object of widespread disdain and ridicule. When comparing their lot with that of the North Koreans, Soviet Russians saw themselves as free and prosperous - and, one must admit, with good reasons.

I have found a number of times that these observations are surprising for the average Westerner, for whom Leonid Brezhnev's Soviet Union and Kim Il-sung's North Korea are bracketed as "communist states". But this obscures the fact that not only did living standards differ wildly among supposed communist states, but that the level of social and political control could be very


different in different communist societies - at least as long as we are talking of the post-Stalin era.

Born in 1963, I myself grew up in the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union, where the memory of Josef Stalin's rule was beginning to fade (my parents were toddlers in the worst years of Stalin's terror). The Soviet Union I knew, while by no means an affluent or democratic state, was remarkably superior in economic and political terms to Kim Il-sung's North Korea.

Virtually none of my Western interlocutors - including many historians and political scientists - has ever answered correctly a seemingly simple political question: "How many political prisoners were there in Brezhnev's Soviet Union?" Most Westerners I have asked suggested figures in the range of tens and even hundreds of thousands (we must keep in mind that the total population of the USSR at the time was around 250 million).

The actual figure, which always surprises, was in the region of 1,000 (yes, one thousand) political prisoners who were incarcerated at any given time. To make things clear, we are not talking about official statistics, which were of course grossly manipulated. Rather, these figures are based on the once-classified internal data of the KGB, as well as on the materials of the dissident human-rights community in the Soviet Union itself.

To be more specific, throughout the five-year period of 1971-75, the Soviet authorities incarcerated 893 people on political grounds. In the subsequent period of 1976-80, the total number of prison sentences decreased to 347. To put this in a different way, this means that in the late 1970s, in the average year the number of political arrests in the Soviet Union was 26 per 100 million population (yes, twenty-six per one hundred million, that's not a misprint).

This should not be construed as meaning that the Soviet Union was a liberal democracy. It was a repressive state that did not tolerate any opposition activity, but since Stalin's death the incarceration of a political opponent came to be seen by the authorities as a measure of the last resort. There were subtler but also efficient ways to ensure that majority would remain docile.

To take just one example, the Soviet state completely controlled both employment and promotion, and this meant that any involvement with opposition groups would severely limit employment possibilities - a dissident or a dissident's sympathizer would work only at low-skill, low-pay occupation, and his or her family was also likely to be discriminated against. Nonetheless, in the USSR of the 1960s and 1970s one would run little risk of being sent to jail for occasionally speaking ill of the Communist Party or its general secretary himself.

North Korea in this regard has always been very different. Actually it remained similar to the USSR of Stalin's period - when the number of political prisons nearly at any given moment exceeded a million, and where almost a million people were formally executed for political crimes. Worse still, a significant portion of Stalin's political prisoners were no enemies of the state in any sense: they were imprisoned largely because the security apparatus had to fulfill allocated quotas for political prisoners.

In Kim Il-sung's era, a North Korean could wind up in prison even for a slight lack of enthusiasm for the Great Leader himself. So one should not be surprised to hear that North Korea has an unusually high number of political prisoners, numbering in the range of 150,000 at their peak under Kim Il-sung. As far as we know, it was not common for people to be arrested just meet quotas, but there was another peculiarity: Until the 1990s, the entire family of a political prisoner would be shipped to a concentration camp. In this regard Kim was harsher than even Stalin, since the "family responsibility principle" in the Soviet Union of the 1930s was applied only to the families of the most prominent error victims.

And, of course, in North Korea any joke about the Great Leader or his successor, Dear Leader Kim Jong-il - if reported to the authorities by the ever-present police informers - meant arrest, torture and either execution or long years in one of the world's worst prison systems. In the Soviet Union under Stalin, such a joke would produce similar results, but in the subsequent decades it could, at worst, slightly damage career prospects (or, much more likely, had no consequences whatsoever).

Another very common Western misperception is the widespread belief that Soviet citizens under Brezhnev were not allowed to travel freely in their own country. It is possible that this comes from numerous restrictions that were imposed on foreigners, who indeed were expected to apply for travel permission when they left their designated areas of residence. But for the average Soviet person, traveling across the country was not difficult. Admittedly, there were a few areas that were closed to individual travel - these were largely areas near the border, as well as some cities with numerous military facilities, such as Vladivostok. But these areas were few and far between, so people could travel freely (but, admittedly, there were many more restrictions when it came to moving house permanently).

But North Korea under Kim Il-sung was very different. North Koreans were (and technically still are) required to apply for official permits if they wanted to travel outside the county or city of their residence.

There had to be valid reasons for issuing a travel permit, unless the person went on official business. Usually, the application was first authorized by the party secretary in one's work unit and then by the so-called second department of a local government (these departments were staffed with police officers). A travel permit clearly specified the intended destination and period of travel, and it had to be produced when purchasing a ticket or standing overnight in an inn or with friends. A trip to some special areas, such as the city of Pyongyang or districts near the Demilitarized Zone, required a special type of travel permit that had to be confirmed by the Ministry of the Interior - and such "confirmed number permits" were exceedingly difficult to get.

These restrictions still exist formally, but are in practice frequently ignored. It is still especially difficult for people from the provinces to go to Pyongyang, so many North Koreans only go to the "revolutionary capital" on organized school trips in their teenage years.

Another area where the Soviet Union of the 1960s and 1970s differed greatly from North Korea was access to information from overseas. North Korea is probably the only country in the world that has outlawed the private ownership of tunable radios. All foreign publications of a non-technical nature, including books and periodicals from fellow communist countries, are kept in a special section of the libraries, so that only people with the proper security clearance can access them.

This was not the case in the Soviet Union, where after Stalin's death tunable radio sets were perfectly legal and could be bought even in a remote village. It is true that foreign broadcasts in Russian and, for that matter, other languages of the Soviet Union were frequently (but by no means always) jammed. But listening to such broadcasts was perfectly legal, though dubious by official standards. Indeed, it became a common pastime by the late 1970s when, according to some estimates, about a quarter of families listened to a foreign broadcast at least once a week (and these estimates agree well with my own memory).

Foreign publications were subject to a heavy censorship in the Soviet Union, so books that contained remarks critical of communism or the Soviet system would also be kept in a special part of the library. Nonetheless, works of Western fiction were present in large libraries and were even legally sold in foreign-literature bookshops - as long as such works were not too harsh in their attitude toward the Soviet brand of communism (none of George Orwell's novels were on sale, of course).

Western periodicals of leftist inclination were also sold freely in large cities, and I still remember how in the early 1980s twice a week I bought the most recent issue of the Morning Star, the British Communist Party newspaper. It was expensive, to be sure, but it was sold - and, contrary to what one might think, this newspaper was not always sycophantic when it came to the Soviet foreign and domestic policies.

Another important misconception about the Soviet Union is that everything was rationed. Indeed, many items were always in short supply and in the Leningrad of my youth in the 1970s one would need an impressive amount of skill and connections to buy, say, a few rolls of toilet paper. And bananas were sold twice a year, each time to those who were willing to spend an hour waiting in a queue. Nonetheless, the basics - sugar, milk, potatoes - were available cheaply and easily.

Rationing in the USSR was abolished in 1947 and began to creep back only in the late 1970s when the local authorities began to introduce it to protect scare items from being bought by outsiders (much to the dismay of the central authorities).

In North Korea, rationing was first introduced in 1946, and from 1957 all basic foodstuffs could only be obtained with the proper ration coupon. In 1957 the private trade in rice and other cereals was banned, so cereals (by far the most important sources of calories in the diet of the average North Korean) could be distributed by the state alone. By the late 1960s, a monetary retail economy had all but disappeared. Shops no longer sold items; rather they swapped items for ration coupons. Money lost any value and only after the death of Kim Il-sung did things change.

The exact size of the ration depended on one's job; the average working adult received a grain ration of 700 grams a day, a housewife would be given merely 300 grams, while a person doing heavy physical work (a miner or, say, a jet-fighter pilot) was eligible for the highest daily ration of 900 grams.

Rationing in North Korea was not about grain alone. Other foodstuffs were rationed as well: soya sauce, eggs, cabbage and other basic ingredients of the traditional Korean diet. Meat was distributed irregularly, a few times a year, usually before major official holidays, but fish and some other kinds of seafood were more readily available. In autumn there might have been occasional distribution of apples, melons and other fruits.

All this was rightly seen by the Soviet people as a nightmare, a sign of a hopelessly dysfunctional economy. Not that the Soviet economy was dynamic, but the Russians of the 1970s were appalled by the idea that one would need a ration ticket to buy a few noodles.

Therefore we should not be surprised that in the 1960s and 1970s North Korean visitors to the USSR saw it as a society of material abundance and freedom.

Remarkably, a majority of Soviet citizens would not have seen things that way. For them it was the countries of the developed West that were the natural benchmarks for prosperity and freedom - and the USSR was lagging well behind those countries. This gap eventually sealed the fate of the Soviet system. But nevertheless, in the 1960s and 1970s the USSR and North Korea were worlds apart, and both sides were aware of the dramatic differences between these societies.

Andrei Lankov is an associate professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, and adjunct research fellow at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University. He graduated from Leningrad State University with a PhD in Far Eastern history and China, with emphasis on Korea. He has published books and articles on Korea and North Asia.


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