142. Telegram From the Embassy in Poland to the Department of State1

3501. Subject: Gdansk Riots. Ref: Warsaw 3477 (notal).2

Bitterness and anger came over wide segments of Polish population in wake of December 13 public announcement of price changes (both up and down) which Polish man in street generally regards as signifying 10 to 15 percent cut in purchasing power. Demonstrations and riots in Gdansk area as well as disturbances in other cities appear to issue directly from this untimely government action. With Christmas national holiday in offing, this action seems like slap in face to Poles.
Gdansk or Szczecin radio reports, on which Western European accounts apparently based, have not been heard here. Telephone, air and rail communications have been interrupted during past 48 hours. The information we have, however, tends to confirm those reports. Following is summary of info available to us.
Swedish Consul in Gdansk reports that 800 to 1000 workers demonstrated in Gdansk afternoon December 14 shouting “Down with Gomulka” and “Down with Karkoszka” (First Party Secretary, Gdansk Province).
Same source states Chairman Gdansk Province National Council Bejm went on local television that evening to urge demonstrators to go home, telling them not to endanger what they had already achieved, and not to let themselves be carried away by small handful of agitators.
Same source morning December 15 saw some 300 housewives demonstrating with placards and shouting slogans.
Unverified reports say demonstration grew to point where local party headquarters allegedly attacked. Several buildings apparently set on fire. Police curfew put into effect. Police and army said to patrol streets and guard party headquarters. Some 300 people including militia reported injured, but we cannot confirm reports of deaths from independent sources.
Telephone and air communications with Gdansk still cut out December 16.
Lesser disturbances reportedly have take place in Katowice area, where police or Army in force said to have discouraged incipient demonstrations, and in Lodz and Bydgoszcz.
Factory stoppages reported in Warsaw area.
Another source indicates police and militia received substantial wage boost several weeks ago to insure loyalty to regime. While we cannot confirm this specifically yet, we note that Sejm Commission for Internal Affairs, in reviewing Interior Ministry budget, “paid tribute … for self-sacrificial and even more effective activity.”
Source who claims to have read PAP News Bulletin for internal government use tells us it reports party headquarters for [and] police building and radio station in Gdansk as having been set on fire.
Prevailing mood of Poles is uglier than any encountered in last two years. While riots and demonstrations may not bring people any significant material benefits, they give regime another black eye and tend to reveal extent of lack of confidence between regime and people.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 698, Country Files—Europe, Poland, Vol. I 1969–1971. Limited Official Use; Priority. Repeated to Belgrade, Budapest, Bucharest, Moscow, Prague, Sofia, Munich, and Poznan, and passed to USIA for IAS.
  2. Telegram 3477 from Warsaw, December 14, detailed the price increases that sparked the riots. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, INCO 14 POL)