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.

Documents show British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was suspicious of the Polish Solidarity Regime, the trade union movement which helped topple communism in Europe. Zoom
AP

Documents show British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was suspicious of the Polish Solidarity Regime, the trade union movement which helped topple communism in Europe.

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.

SPIEGEL/jas

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