Following the factory strikes of the early 1980s and the subsequent formation of the Solidarity movement under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa the political situation in Poland started relaxing somewhat. Despite an attempt by the government to crackdown on the anti-Communist sentiments the times were changing and it became impossible to hold off change anymore. By 1988 the authorities began serious talks with the opposition.
In September of 1988 a secret meeting was held which included amongst others the opposition leader Lech Wałęsa and Prime Minister Czesław Kiszczak. They agreed on holding the so-called "Round Table" talks in the near future to plan out the course of action to be undertaken in the country. The "Round Table" talks began on February 6th 1989. They included "solidarity opposition faction” and the "coalition government faction". The talks were held in the Council of Ministers Office. The meetings were co-chaired by Lech Wałęsa and Czesław Kiszczak.
The sessions were divided into three main workgroups:
Specific issues were handled by these workgroups. The meetings often ground to a halt. This was caused by a mutual distrust of the factions and an obvious unwillingness of the government faction to relinquish power. The most controversial issues were:
Number of (radical) opposition organisations were quite opposed to the talks. They did not believe in the good intentions of the sitting government. Despite their fears a number of important documents were signed on April 5th at the conclusion of the sessions. The most important postulates were:
- Legalisation of independent trade unions
- The introduction of the office of President (thereby annulling the power of the Communist party general secretary) who would be elected to 6 year terms
- The formation of a Senate
A temporary division of seats in the current term of the Sejm (Congress) was agreed. The sitting coalition received 65% and the opposition 35%. The upcoming Senate elections were totally free with no limits imposed on any party. The 65-35 division was soon abolished as well, after the first free Congress elections.
The Round Table sessions were of momentous importance to the future political developments in Poland. They paved the way to a free and democratic Poland as well as the final abolition of communism in Poland. Poland has now truly entered a new chapter in its history. The changes were so large as to allow the formation of a libertarian party: Unia Polityki Realnej under the leadership of Janusz Korwin-Mikke. This would have been unthinkable only a few short months prior to the talks.
The main architects of the agreements were: