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Gregory F. Domber. Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold
War. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014. Project Muse.
On November 15, 1989, the leader of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarity,” Lech Wałęsa, delivered an extended ‘thank you’ to the United States government and other nongovernmental organizations. According to Wałęsa, they not only played a significant role in the transformation of Poland’s democracy but additionally provided the “economic and structural support to help his country move from a bankrupt centralized economy to a market-based system (2).” Since then, the toppling of Communism in Eastern Europe has remained a recognized topic of discussion for Cold War historians. For example, Solidarity with Solidarity: Western European Trade Unions and the Polish Crisis, 1980-1982 by Idesbald Goddeeis (2014) contains detailed accounts that illuminate US-Polish relations during the 1980s. However, one of the more comprehensive studies is Gregory F. Dombers Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War – which refutes, through entertaining accounts and unbiased perspectives, the general claims that the United States single-handedly caused Poland’s communist downfall.
In contrast to John Lewis Gaddis, author of The Cold War: A New History (2005), who believed that Ronald Reagan provided leadership and eased the tension between the United States and Communist nations in the 1980s, Domber questions if the Reagan and Bush Administrations provided any support at all. Through a study of free texts and post-communist records, Domber examines the type of aid the opposition received from nongovernmental agencies and questions, “Just who amongst the American people had supported the Solidarity movement? Why was this support important? Did they provide political guidance? Moral support? What types of aid were sent? (2),” and did this ‘support’ indeed alter the course of Poland’s revolution?
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The orderliness of the novel allows readers to follow the evolution of the “Polish Crisis” while additionally providing multiple perspectives from other parties involved. Empowering Revolution highlights a timeline of events, formed into six chapters, with an extended appendix at the end that traces the funds sourced from the U.S. and other agencies to the opposition, Solidarity. Opening with Poland’s declaration of martial law on December 13, 1981, chapter one transports readers through the first year of the “Polish Crisis,” and follows the detailed creation and progression, of the opposition. Domber also notes in this chapter that despite “pressure for decisive action (15)” from the Kremlin and bordering communist nations to quell the opposition before it gained too much political power, the PZPR (Polish United Workers’ Party) agreed to register Solidarity in August of 1980 to avoid worker strikes. Chapter two concentrates more on the actions initiated by the Reagan Administration, and its formation of a “global proposition against the PZPR and its Soviet comrades (49),” while also highlighting the humanitarian aid delivered to the opposition several months after the U.S. and Polish government broke ties. Chapter three further examines how the U.S. government managed to use the sanctions it created against Poland to demand political concessions from its leaders. In this chapter, Domber also highlights how support from nongovernmental groups such as the AFL-CIO and CSS (112) helped further aid the Polish opposition “from the end of 1982 through 1985 (118).” In chapter four, the author focuses more on the influence Poland’s bordering communist nations had on the PZPR, ranging from January 1985 to September 1986. Chapter five, an extension of chapter four, goes on to trace the United States involvement in Poland and how it attempted to smooth over international relations from September of 1986 till February 1988. In chapter six, Domber centers on the “American political support to moderates in Solidarity (279)” as the trade union won Poland’s primary national election in June of 1989. Domber concludes the novel by explaining how “the United States [did not] play the most important role in shaping the opposition (279).”
Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the end of the Cold War is an eloquent, yet understandable, collection of events that analyze both the political and social aspects of the Communist fall in Poland. Although Dombers insights can also be applied to more in-depth studies of Communism throughout Eastern Europe, it falls short by not highlighting why Poland, and Lech Wałęsa, romanticized the Reagan Administration; despite the damage the administration caused to the economy at the beginning of the “Polish Crisis. This lack of perspective, of course, does not discredit the content of the novel. Furthermore, Dombers use of various U.S. records, personal accounts, interviews, and photographs help solidify his rhetoric that the sole support America supplied was monetary in value.
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