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Masterpieces of History

Svetlana Savranskaya
Thomas Blanton
Vladislav Zubok


Document No. 107: Record of Conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Tadeusz Mazowiecki, November 24, 1989

Traduction de Anna Melyakova

Texte intégral

1This historic meeting is Gorbachev’s first with a non-communist East European leader. The exchange is quite respectful, even at points approaching the peer-to-peer candor found in Gorbachev’s talks with Thatcher or Mitterrand. In this case, Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki is well aware that he was able to take office as head of the Solidarity-led government in August 1989 in significant part because Gorbachev declined to interfere. (As part of the same arrangement, the communist martial law ruler, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, has become the Polish president).

2Mazowiecki is also in Moscow seeking help, “a few percent more” supply of oil, gas, and cotton to ease Poland’s economic crisis. Gorbachev replies: “we are in a complicated situation” but “we will do what we can.” The two leaders go into detail on the politics and the means surrounding economic reforms, and Gorbachev candidly admits the huge Western lead in technology—“we are even in different technological eras, it seems.”

3On the historically sensitive matter of Poland’s membership in the WTO, the Polish leader takes the opportunity to confirm existing alliance commitments, while Gorbachev gives reassurances about maintaining “good-neighborly relations,” “keeping the peace,” and guaranteeing “the inviolability of borders.”

4The most difficult part of the conversation is about history, with Mazowiecki pressing for glasnost on the Nazi-Stalin protocols of 1939 and the 1940 massacre in the Katyń Forest, on the grounds that continued silence on these matters only feeds anti-Soviet sentiment in Poland. But Gorbachev drags his feet, claiming that the original documents cannot be found. His real problem is with domestic critics, who are already accusing him of losing Eastern Europe, and who would strongly oppose any revelations that would put the Soviets in a negative light. (Gorbachev’s successor, Boris Yeltsin, would ultimately release these and other incriminating documents about past Soviet activities.)

5Gorbachev must have appreciated Mazowiecki’s endorsement when the latter commented, “In connection with your idea of a Common European Home, I would like to note that in this home our apartments share the same landing,” implying that Poland and the Soviet Union would remain closest neighbors.


6Gorbachev: Greets his guest, wishes success to the new government of friendly Poland.

7Mazowiecki: Expresses thanks for the greeting. Speaks of his interest in Soviet perestroika. Conveys greetings from Jaruzelski.

8Gorbachev: Jaruzelski is our great friend. I have a high regard for his civic and personal qualities, his propensity for constructive dialogue. If someone else occupied his post, it would be difficult to say how the situation would take shape in this difficult time for Poland.

9Major capital has been built up in Soviet-Polish relations. It encompasses all spheres: the economy, politics, culture, human contacts. We intend to continue developing our relations with Poland in the future, especially since we do not plan to resettle anywhere. Much good has been done in our relations in recent years. Together we set off down a fine road of collaboration. That is why I hope that we will develop collaborative capital; otherwise what kind of politicians are we?

10Mazowiecki: I think so too. I would like to thank you, the Soviet leadership, for showing openness, goodwill, and a positive attitude from the start—this is very important. We also do not plan to resettle anywhere. That is why we would like to demonstrate that despite the new leadership’s change of party, other political powers in Poland also understand what the alliance with the USSR means to us. We can be a dependable ally. It is important that you and the entire leadership are certain of that. We understand that ideological connections exist between the CPSU and PUWP. But from my point of view, the intergovernmental alliance is particularly important. It could be guaranteed by different powers representing broad circles of Polish society. You would not be against this kind of competition between them for the development of relations with the Soviet Union?

11Gorbachev: Of course not. We recognize every nation’s right to decide its fate on its own. And of course it is the Polish people’s decision what government to have. Since we have good relations with the Polish people, naturally we are prepared to cooperate with the government they have chosen. I think the good-neighborly relations between our countries also satisfy Poland’s strategic interests. This pertains to your relationship with the West as well, because good-neighborly relations with us give you additional security, especially since the West knows how to set traps, too. We have a shared interest in keeping the peace on our borders and in Europe. We are both interested in respecting post-war realities, the inviolability of borders, and not permitting attempts to undermine them. In general, in all directions our strategic interests are in harmony. This is the position of the entire Soviet leadership.

12Mazowiecki: I would like once again to confirm what I already have said in parliament: now and in the future, Poland intends to keep to its alliance commitments, including the Warsaw Treaty and CMEA.

13But I believe that there is something greater in the relations between our two countries than mere mutual treaty commitments. In my understanding, it is historically important that the alliance between our two countries rested on a most expansive social base. Right now such an opportunity exists.

14Gorbachev: I agree with you.

15Mazowiecki: Mikhail Sergeyevich, I know that you personally and W. Jaruzelski, who was previously in a different camp than mine, did a great deal for the development of Soviet-Polish relations.

16Gorbachev: I would like to note that W. Jaruzelski always thought about all of Poland. I do not see any obstacles to our relations resting on a most expansive social base. This pertains to the PUWP, to those powers-that-be in “Solidarity,” and to other parties and organizations that understand the necessity and mutual benefit of good-neighborly relations and collaboration. The more so, I repeat, since the people support your government. We are prepared to lead a constructive dialogue with everyone; you can proceed reliably from this basis.

17I think it is very important for you to maintain a consensus, a broad coalition, in the country. While all of society supports Mazowiecki’s government, it can feel more confident, especially in the difficult circumstances Poland is facing right now. Our circumstances right now are not simple either.

18Mazowiecki: Nevertheless, I think our conditions are more difficult than yours right now. But the most important thing is that we need each other.

19I see two dangers in our situation. The first is in pushing the PUWP into the opposition [camp]. This would be a mistake and a trap. That is why I am for a broad coalition.

20Gorbachev: I agree with you. Let all the political powers divide the responsibilities and work constructively. I have known the PUWP for a long time. I think it has serious socio-political potential for collaboration.

21Mazowiecki: All the socio-political associations including “Solidarity,” the Peasant Party, the Democratic Party, and others must once again review their roles in order to understand that right now the new situation places new demands on them. This is a painful, difficult, and lengthy process, for “Solidarity” as well.

22Gorbachev: It is possible that your government will be criticized [by “Solidarity”]. Your government will have to make some unpopular decisions.

23Mazowiecki: Overcoming inflation is our first priority.

24Gorbachev: This problem is also interesting for us. What do you intend to do?

25Mazowiecki: Freeze salaries, allow free price movement on the market, remove subsidies and achieve market regulation for prices. In terms of this we have already attained the first positive results. After the rise in fuel prices the peasants sharply raised the prices for agricultural goods. But after a while they began to decrease because demand fell sharply. Now butter is available in stores and is being sold for lower prices. That is the way we intend to lower the inflationary processes by the end of the year. Of course we do not rely on everything taking its course. A certain amount of regulation will also take place. […]

26Gorbachev: [T]he workers are looking after this carefully. A draft of a Property Act is being discussed; it should provide new incentives for interest. Of course, your situation is different. Private property, including land ownership, has already been developed to quite a considerable extent.

27Mazowiecki: We have quite neglected this sphere.

28Gorbachev: Right now we are developing antitrust legislation. We have such giants that could take everything under and even bring the country to its knees. If extremely large enterprises remain, the government will dictate prices for them. But the main approach is to break them up into smaller units and create competing enterprises. In the past, we thought that the creation of industrial giants was the peak of success. But it turned out that therein lay one of the sources of interference with the rapid development of scientific-technological progress. This work will take many years: you cannot fix things all at once in one big stroke; stages are necessary here.

29But it is also dangerous to lapse into over-decentralization. It seems you leaned toward that in the first stage of your reform.

30Deng Xiaoping’s daughter came to visit us recently. We invited her when we were in Beijing. She says that right now China is trying somehow to correct over-decentralization in the economy. Some people managed to snatch up control of the provinces, while the State, the center, was left almost empty. This is also experience, and it probably should not be ignored.

31Mazowiecki: The second danger we face is the people’s impatience, especially now when we are firmly struggling against inflation. This is a major problem.

32Today in a talk with Council of Ministers Chairman Ryzhkov we discussed a number of serious economic problems. We asked to leave supplies of fuel and energy raw materials at the previous levels. But to speak frankly, we need at least a few percent more than we have right now. This particularly concerns oil, gas, and cotton.

33Gorbachev: Yes, these are all very “simple” questions. But we will not see the change of government in Poland as grounds for abandoning our commitments, although I must say that we are in a complicated situation. N.I. Ryzhkov just told me that the Council of Ministers will examine the questions you have raised. As they say, we will do what we can.

34But both you and we need to work on resource conservation. The West did much in this sphere in the 1970s. They have applied a new level of technology. We are almost a level behind. We are even in different technological eras, it seems. To produce one unit we use up to two times more energy, resources and materials than in the West. It is true, however, that the West achieved this not only through scientific and technological breakthroughs, but also by leaving tens of millions of people without jobs.

35We are intensively working on economic problems right now. And this is absolutely necessary. But we also need powerful stimulation for the scientific-technological process. We have not gotten to that yet. If we had a more modern level of resource conservation it would of course be easier for us to respond to your requests. But then you probably would not be making those requests. We need to work earnestly together on this problem. Both you and we have the scientific force to do that. […]

36Mazowiecki: We do not have any suspicions [regarding the Soviet investigation into the Katyń tragedy]. It is possible that it is not yet the right time for you. But we can work together in this direction and see to it that there is no anti-Soviet reaction. Standing idle in this matter actually provides grounds for anti-Sovietism, although anti-Soviet displays are indirect.

37I spoke with our historians. They say that they have studied and said everything possible on this problem, and there is nothing more to say. It is all clear to them. We need to make a policy decision; the silence in the political sphere has lasted too long.

38Gorbachev: We are now ready to acknowledge facts. But there is a similar situation with Katyń as with the secret [Soviet-Nazi] protocols for the 1939 agreements. We have approached a certain threshold where logic dictates a certain conclusion. But no one has seen any documents, so I cannot sign such a decision. Kohl did not provide me with the secret supplements—he promised to do it at first, but then could not find them. That is why an official statement on this issue is difficult. A similar situation is forming with Katyń. After Jaruzelski’s request I gave instructions to find the documents on Katyń, but we have not discovered anything so far, although they are finding many other documents. And there are no people left in the appropriate organs who might know. Some say that many of our people are also buried in Katyń. Accordingly, it is our responsibility to see the matter through. In any case, I understand your request. We will continue the work. We need to think about what we can still do without putting this matter off. […]

39Mazowiecki: It is understandable that everyone is being careful. No one foresaw such rapid developments.

40Gorbachev: The way the situation has developed could have been foreseen. The GDR had serious problems, and we had warned that it was impossible to ignore them. They should have seized the initiative ahead of time. Regrettably, it was not done at that time.

41I recall the progress of events in Poland in the early 1980s. It is good that we did not send in our troops then, it would have created a permanent rift between our peoples. It is good that a leader like Jaruzelski appeared in the political arena, with his devotion to the idea of national accord.

42Mazowiecki: I would like to touch upon the question of your upcoming meeting with Bush.

43Gorbachev: The road to Malta was not easy. We corresponded for two months before we agreed on Malta. Bush invited me to the U.S., but I did not deem it expedient to go there right now. Moreover, it is our joint opinion that it is important not to allow a deterioration of the international political climate, and much here depends on relations between the USSR and the U.S.

44What questions would it be useful to examine with Bush, in your opinion?

45Mazowiecki: The main topic is disarmament. I think it has great significance for the USSR as well as for Poland, economic considerations not being the least part of it.

46Before the meeting with Bush you will have a meeting with a distinguished Pole in Rome, namely at the Vatican. […]

47Gorbachev: Our policy is to provide a solution to complex international problems. As difficult as the problems of Eastern Europe are, we must maintain a pan-European process. For this to happen, all its members must exhibit a very mature approach.

48We are not the only ones who must change; you must too. Regrettably, not everyone realizes this, and not all the time. For example: my old partner in questions on Western Europe—Mrs. Thatcher—has recently again judged the processes in Eastern Europe to be the “failure of socialism.” I will be blunt—this is no breakthrough concept. Socialism is renewing itself. We will still see a renewed socialism. We cannot enter the XXI century on an old horse, with the old notions and distrust for each other. We all know what a dead-end confrontation that has brought us to.

49That is why I emphasize once again—not only do we have to change, but you do as well.

50Mutual changes that would lead us away from confrontation are necessary. We need a historic turn toward mutual tolerance and respect.

51We have many similar problems, especially since every social system has many possibilities for development. We must not try to fit all countries into one model. Let every people seek its own place, its own forms and ways of development while preserving its uniqueness and originality on a foundation of respect for values common to all mankind.

52If we are true to the recognition of freedom of choice and the primacy of values common to all mankind, we will be able to build a new world.

53Mazowiecki: In connection with your idea of a Common European Home, I would like to note that in this home our apartments share the same landing.

54Gorbachev: We proceed from that. And let me tell you in a neighborly way—we do not have to cede our floor space to anyone, just as we do not ask others for anything for ourselves. And our good relations with Poland are by no means a political tactic. In a certain way Poland is our destiny. And we would like the achievements in our relations of recent years to be consolidated and to continue to multiply.

55Mazowiecki: I would not be a person from “Solidarity” if I did not ask you for your views of Lech Wałęsa’s visit to the USSR. He would not forgive me if I did not ask you this question.

56Gorbachev: I view this question in the broad context of reality. Poland for us is a close partner, a neighbor, an ally. We respect the choice of the Polish people. Within the framework of a natural exchange, this visit is as practical as a visit by any political and social figure. There should not be any sensationalism surrounding this visit. It is a normal process. As pertains to specific dates, we could work that out together a little later. You can convey this to Mr. Wałęsa.

57Mazowiecki: I thank you for the conversation. It is extremely significant to me. I attach great importance to our personal contacts. I am glad to have found you to be as I had imagined you.

58Gorbachev: I also imagined you as you are. Please convey my best wishes to Mr. Jaruzelski. I hope for constructive collaboration.

59[Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Fond 1, Opis 1. Donated by Georgy Shakhnazarov. On file at the National Security Archive. Translated by Anna Melyakova.]

© Central European University Press, 2010

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