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Problems with Food in Poland during Communism (Part I)

During communism the demand for food was always higher than the supply.

Since I was a child I remember people waiting in line in meat stores to buy meat or sausage. I also remember that there were times that we could not buy butter so that we had to eat a margarine that was really not tasty in these days (60-es) in Poland. Margarine, together with the Polish Saving Bank, PeKaO and state insurance, PZU, were the only products or institutions advertised in the TV in 60 and 70-es. I could not understand how anybody could be glad after eating bread with this margarine, which was really bad.

Poland's problems with food's availability started with a change of our political and economical system into the socialistic after the WW II. It was an example that planned communistic type of economy just does it not work properly!

Of course it does not mean that before the WW II everything was great. There were many poor people who could afford meat only on Sundays or special celebrations. But, at least when you had money you could buy almost all. After the war, even if you had money you could not be able to receive what did you would like to. This was a beauty of the communism. The gap between rich and poor was smaller, but the rich were rather poorer than the poor richer. Read more about Polish agricultural politics and the situation of Polish agriculture in the next article.

Problems with food caused changes in Polish political scene several times. Food prices in Poland were fixed and controlled by a government (except the farmer markets and small private stores). It was a government that was only able to change prices arbitrary.

In 1970 Wladyslaw Gomulka and his government announced a drastic increase of food prices (20%) a week before Christmas. It causes strikes and demonstrations, the government was panicking and used police and military to restore order. There were several deaths (estimated at 300) in Gdansk shipyard mainly. Finally Gomulka had to leave and was replaced by a different, although still communistic cabinet with Edward Gierek (read the article about Gierek ) as the first secretary of the Polish Communistic Party.

It is worth to mention that this government recorded a big success in the international political scene just a few days ago by signing the peace treaty with Western Germany in which Germany recognized the Western boarder changed after WW II.

In 1976 Piotr Jaroszewicz, a prime minister in Edward Gierek´s cabinet announced another increase of food prices. This time price increase was even more drastic, 60% on the average. This increase was a result of the risky economical politics of Poland in early 70-es. Gierek invested in new Western technologies, new very costly industrial plants (cars, buses, electronics etc) and a gigantic steelwork. In order to achieve this ambitious program Poland became highly debted. Polish economy was additionally affected negatively by the petroleum crisis from 1974 and the economical stagnation of the West afterwards. It is worth to mention that the food price rise plan was already deferred several times in the past by Gierek´s cabinet. The planned rise caused strikes again in several places in Poland. In Radom (a town between Warsaw and Krakow) a building of the Communistic party was completely burnt.

The government condemned protesters but withdrew from the price increase and the life seems to stabilize slowly as before but it was only the illusion…

Please, read the next article (click at the title): Food Problems and the growing political Opposition, 1976-1980, part II

Recommended reading(s):

Captive Mind I recommend a famous book written by Czeslaw Milosz, Nobel Prize winner about how communism affected almost everybody, entitled: The Captive Mind

Lech WalesaI also recommend a book written by Rebecca Stefoff entitled:
Lech Walesa: The Road to Democracy (Great Lives)

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