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Food problems and the growing political opposition, 1976-1980 (II)

Read part I entitled Problems with Food in Poland During Communism.

After strikes in 1976 life was never the same.

The insufficient food supply became even more acute. Hours after announcing and denouncing the price increase in 1976 people started a panic by buying out all available food products from the market. The situation was so bad that the government had to introduce the ration coupons for sugar. The average worker and its family was allowed to buy 2 kilo of sugar per month (almost 4 lbs). It was quite enough for an average citizen but it caused a collapse of small private confectioner's shops. Although they were given more sugar it was not enough for a business. Our good Polish cakes, torts and cookies were almost completely gone. These stores, even if they still existed offered nothing else than donuts and some ordinary cookies. It also affected our apiarian (honey) industry.

But, the crisis of 1976 had also positive effects. Polish opposition became consolidated. The Committee to Defend Workers (in Polish: Komitet Obrony Robotnikow, so called KOR) was created with many significant figures of our opposition from 1968, Adam Michnik, Kuron, it included also a respected priest, a poet etc. Later the KOR was renamed as a Committee of Self-defense. Their first purpose was to help economically to the families of imprisoned workers and anybody who is persecuted because of its political views. They started publishing a newspaper with the information what is going on in Poland and other socialistic countries. During the next years Polish political opposition became diversified. Polish government tried to ignore the opposition while harassing them (police was dispersing abruptly their meetings and ) but it did not imprisoned the main members.

Also the church grew in significance and many priests were openly critical toward government. The nomination of Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla for a pope as John Paul II (1978), and his first visit to Poland soon after nomination boosted our opposition even more.

Troubles with the food supply had very negative impact into the people's life. First of all it introduced corruption, if you paid enough you could always get whatever you wanted, even more sugar coupons. It also divided the society into these with privileges and without. Miners were especially favored by the present political cabinet of Edward Gierek and they were receiving higher quantities of food. Although the higher food ratios were justified by the hard work, quite rightly at least to the certain extend the government could not justify the special shops with the limited access were open in mines, steelworks and some other heavy industry's factories.

Similar situation happened in the past (1951), when the ration coupons were used to give special privileges to these who were building socialism as compared to the rest of the society. This time the enforcement of coupons was caused by insufficient supply in food but some groups were more privileged than the rest. The government was hoping to gain a support of people working in these key industries for Poland but it did not work this way as a future showed.

The new occupation was created, a person who does shopping for somebody else by standing in line for hours (Polish "stacz"). Of course, after WW II we were taught that the shops are full in Western Europe and the USA because the workers there cannot afford buying enough goods. On the other hand our people can afford buying the goods therefore there is a deficit of products sometimes. Besides, because of our planned economy we did not want to produce too much so that the food would be wasted (like in the West).

The situation was getting worse and worse when 1980 year approached which brought many changes in Polish political and economical life. Read about it in the next article entitled Period of the Wild Economy and Big Hopes, 1980-81 (Part III). 

Recommended reading(s):

Below is a link to one of the best one-volume histories of Poland in English:
Heart of Europe: A Short History of Poland (Oxford Paperbacks)

by Norman Davies


 

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