130. Airgram From the Embassy in Poland to the Department of State1


  • United States Policy Assessment—Poland.


  • II FAM 212.3–52


The past year was not a good one for U.S.-Polish relations. Polandʼs image in the U.S., already damaged by the regimeʼs retreat in previous years from the atmosphere of liberalism and progress which characterized the period immediately following October 1956,3 was further blackened in 1968 by the harsh suppression of the student demonstrations in March, the increasing shrillness—at least for the first half of the year—of the “anti-Zionist” campaign, and, finally, by Polandʼs participation in the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. These developments were sharply criticized in the United States, both on the official level as well as by the public at large, and the action against Czechoslovakia caused the U.S. to cancel several “high-visibility” cultural exchanges with Poland. Internally, the regime concentrated on such essentially negative concepts as anti-revisionism and hostility to the FRG, while asserting its unswerving allegiance to the U.S.S.R. “for better or worse.” The political climate became more oppressive and the Embassy found it more difficult to maintain productive contacts.

In the face of such a gloomy picture, questions naturally arise as to the desirability of attempting to seek better political and economic relations with Poland. More broadly, Polandʼs conduct, like those of her partners in the action against Czechoslovakia, raises questions [Page 303] about the validity of the concept of “building bridges” to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.4

With regard to the over-all policy of “bridge-building” (a label which incidentally has probably outlived its usefulness), it is perhaps pertinent to stress the obvious—that it should correctly be seen as a policy for the very long term. Also, at least in my view, it should not have been our expectation that, through expanding Western ties with the East European countries, a process of “osmosis” would occur in which liberalization in these countries (as apart from the U.S.S.R.) would make it possible to work out a resolution of the German problem and of European security.5 Surely, such fundamental alterations in the status quo can only be brought about through a change in the Soviet Unionʼs perception of its security interests. And to say this only underlines the long term nature of the process envisaged: While progress has been made in the period since World War II, the time frame is still measurable in terms of generations, not decades.

Of course, to achieve progress on general problems of European security, there must be change in the East European countries as well as in the Soviet Union. While the attitude of the latter is determinant, the process goes hand-in-hand and cannot be separated. We should work for constructive change and broader areas of agreement both in the Soviet Union and in the countries of Eastern Europe, seeking to build positive attitudes wherever and whenever this may be possible and always keeping in mind that the evolutionary process we wish to encourage is certain to be slow, difficult, and erratic. We must be patient—but also ready to exploit favorable opportunities as they appear in order to further the process.

It is helpful to see our own relations with Poland in the light of these considerations. While the negative phenomena mentioned in the first paragraph are real and discouraging, there are other aspects of the Polish scene which are more promising. The elements which have always distinguished the “Polish way,” and which were highlighted in October 1956, are still very much in evidence, i.e., a strong sense of nationalism, a powerful Catholic Church, and an agricultural system in which 85 per cent of the land is privately owned. Popular attitudes in Poland traditionally have been anti-Russian, and this sentiment has [Page 304] probably been reinforced by the Czech events and the widespread feeling that the Soviet Union is tightening its controls. Gomulka may say that Poland is with the U.S.S.R. “for better or worse,” and the people must acquiesce, but they are not happy about it. Rather, their hopes and desires identify with the West, most immediately with the countries of Western Europe, but ultimately, and even more strongly, with the U.S., which is seen as a country where the individual can prosper in freedom and where technological progress has reached its zenith. The millions of Poles who have emigrated to the U.S. and done well there of course contribute to this image.

On the internal front, despite the efforts of the regime to tighten the ideological screws and bottle up the effervescence of youth and the intellectuals, there is a sense of repressed dynamism and a desire for change. The regime gives the impression of being on the defensive, and the tone of its recriminations against liberal policies and against the West is indicative of its weakness. Under the blanket of imposed orthodoxy, intense political maneuvering is taking place as Gomulka tries to keep on top of those forces demanding new political and economic policies which will be less dogmatic than the old and more keyed to Polandʼs national interests.

In this situation, the U.S. should follow policies aimed at enhancing its influence in Poland and broadening the range of its contacts with those individuals in Poland who seem most likely to play significant roles in the changes which are certain to come in the future. Polandʼs size (the largest of the Eastern European countries), the energy of her people, the possibilities of U.S.-Polish trade (already more than with any other East European country except Yugoslavia), the geographic position of Poland and the importance of her attitudes regarding the security of Central Europe, the family ties between millions of U.S. citizens and their relations in Poland—all of these factors argue for a positive U.S. policy. The unattractive features of the present regime are obvious and difficult. Some must simply be tolerated, such as the regimeʼs determination to stay closely aligned with the U.S.S.R.; others, such as anti-Semitism, cannot be passed over and should be the object of our concern, expressed at high levels as may be appropriate. This should not prevent us, however, from making the most of the many opportunities which remain open to us in Poland to promote in a discreet manner the evolution which is already in train.

The Embassy has outlined its specific proposals for action programs recently (Embtel 5366 of December 11, 1968)6 and will submit more detailed suggestions in a separate report. Briefly, we recommend [Page 305] continued and expanded student, professor, and technical exchanges; expanded use of PL–480 7 funds for English language teaching and scientific research projects (including increased contacts with the U.S. sponsored Childrenʼs Hospital in Krakow); the revamping of VOA broadcasts to appeal more to youth, and the re-introduction of some form of a media guarantee program. As opportunities present themselves, we should also promote exchanges of the “highly-visible” variety, such as symphony orchestras, theatre groups, and jazz ensembles. In the trade field, we favor maintenance of Most Favored Nation tariff treatment for Poland, participation in the Poznan Fair, competitive commercial credits, a reinstitution of Export-Import Bank credit guarantees, resumption of normal commercial promotion activities and discreet encouragement of meaningful Polish participation in international bodies such as GATT and the ECE, as well as increased contacts wherever feasible between Poland and other East European countries and the OECD.

Other areas of bilateral interest in which progress might be possible are (1) resumption of negotiations for conclusion of a Consular Agreement, in which the Poles recently have expressed a strong interest, and (2) reduction on a reciprocal basis of the travel restrictions for official personnel which grew out of our unilateral imposition of such controls in 1963.8

Lastly, I believe it would be helpful if the U.S., in consultation with the FRG, could take a public position recognizing de facto the permanency of the present western boundaries of Poland.9 While this would [Page 306] admittedly be a far-reaching and complicated political move, requiring in particular some straightforward talk with Bonn as to our view of the European scene, it would be a step reflecting the realities of the situation and one which would not only be influential in lessening the impact of one major element of the communist propaganda line in Poland but which also could prepare the way for more rational Polish-FRG relations.

In sum, despite a difficult year in 1968, I believe it is in the best interests of the U.S. to follow a policy aimed at expanding our influence over the long term in Poland and encouraging those elements which are ready and even anxious to work with us. Regardless of adverse developments, we should never feel that the “game is up” in Poland. This is a lively country, inhabited by energetic and imaginative people who look to the West, not the East. The light cast by the U.S. is bright in Poland, and we should do everything we can to ensure that it is not permitted to dim. On the contrary, we should work so that its rays will become ever more penetrating.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 1 POLUS. Confidential. Drafted and approved by Stoessel. Repeated to Belgrade, Berlin, Bonn, USNATO, Bucharest, Budapest, London, Moscow, Munich, Paris, Poznan, Sofia, Vienna, and Prague.
  2. This regulation in the Foreign Affairs Manual required ambassadors to provide annual reports on relations with the country to which they were assigned.
  3. In October 1956 Gomulka returned to power as Polandʼs Communist leader in the wake of a wave of strikes and popular protest. Gomulka implemented several major reforms that conflicted with the Soviet model of communism, including relative toleration of the Catholic Church, an end to collectivized agriculture, and limited freedom of expression.
  4. On July 8, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson approved NSAM 352, entitled “Bridge Building,” which instructed U.S. Government agencies to “actively develop areas of peaceful cooperation with the nations of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.” For the full text of the NSAM, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XVII, Eastern Europe, Document 15.
  5. This seems to have been suggested in some recent NATO discussions. [Footnote in the original.]
  6. For the text of the telegram, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XVII, Eastern Europe, Document 138.
  7. P.L.–480, signed into law on July 10, 1954, was formally known as the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act of 1954. P.L.–480 became synonymous with the Food for Peace program during the Kennedy administration. The enactment of the Food for Peace Act of 1966 (P.L.–89–808) instituted sweeping changes, including the establishment of self-help criteria as a means of evaluating possible recipients. For the text of the Act of 1966, see Stat. 1526. For text as amended, see 7 U.S.C. 1721 et seq.
  8. For further information on the restrictions placed upon Polish and other Soviet-bloc diplomats traveling in the United States in 1963, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, volume XVI, Eastern Europe; Cyprus; Greece; Turkey, Documents 83, 85, 86, and 87. For the text of the U.S. statement announcing the restrictions, see Department of State Bulletin, December 2, 1963, pp. 860–63.
  9. At the Potsdam Conference, the Heads of Government of the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union agreed on August 1, 1945, that “pending the final determination of Polandʼs western frontier, the former German territories east of a line running from the Baltic Sea immediately west of Swinemunde, and thence along the Oder River to the confluence of the western Neisse River and along the western Neisse to the Czechoslovak frontier, including the portion of East Prussia not placed under the administration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in accordance with the understanding reached at this conference and including the former free city of Danzig, shall be under the administration of the Polish State and for such purposes should not be considered as part of the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany.” (Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, p. 63) Based on the decisions at Potsdam, Poland declared that its border with Germany, the Oder-Neisse line, was permanent. In contrast, the United States, concurring with the FRG, argued that the final delimitation of the Polish-German border would have to await a German peace treaty.