The Politics of Global War: The Eve of Disintegration Part II

Poland

Civilian demonstrations resumed on the morning of 26 July, 1987 in greater numbers than the previous day. Thousands of people turned out in almost every major city in the country. The audacity of the crowds was on full display as well. Buildings that housed government offices were ransacked and in some cases set ablaze. Government workers and officials who were known to be pro-Soviet were assaulted or subjected to verbal abuse and other embarrassing treatments by the more extreme elements of the protest crowds.

While more and more of his countrymen took to the streets, Wojciech Jaruzelski’s government was conducting back-channel discussions with Solidarity’s leadership on the prospect of forming a unified government of reconciliation. There was deep suspicion on the Solidarity side over Jaruzelski’s real motivation for suggesting such a move. Was he obsessed with self-preservation  or looking to carve out a niche for himself in post-war Poland? Or perhaps his motives were more sinister. In any event, the fact that the Polish government was talking to the opposition could not be disregarded. Although Solidarity continued to question Jaruzelski’s sincerity, the talks continued.

Outside of the military units involved in operations near Gdansk, the bulk of Poland’s armed forces were monitoring the situation and taking no action. No moves were made to interfere with the movement of Soviet troops across Poland. The fate of the Polish Army divisions now trapped in Denmark was destined to play a major role in determining where the loyalty of the military landed. Jaruzelski, a career military officer understood this clearly. Late in the afternoon, after receiving word that the commander of the Soviet Western Military District had been arrested, the Polish government transmitted a proposal to the Soviets. In exchange for allowing Polish forces in Denmark to withdraw back to home territory unmolested, the Polish government was prepared to guarantee Soviet forces unfettered movement across Poland and on into East Germany.

There was no reply from Moscow.

East Germany

Fighting between Heinz Kessler and Erich Mielke’s factions continued on and escalated in the early part of the day. Minister of Defense Kessler by then had firm control over the armed forces. Most senior officers were following the orders and guidance handed down by Kessler. Fighting in East Berlin flared up towards noon when Kommando 5 of the Felix Dzerzhinsky Regiment attempted to break into the city and relieve the besieged Ministry of State Security. By 1600 this thrust had been thrown back by East German Army units, giving Kessler’s forces control of the capital city for the time being. The fight was far from over, but Heinz Kessler was certainly at an advantage.

The East German government was rendered ineffective while Kessler and Mielke vied for power. Whichever minister walked away as the victor would assume the duties of general secretary. Erich Honecker, the current holder, presided over essentially a rump government. The real power was divided between the two factions now locked in battle. It was not to be consolidated until that contest had drawn to a close.

A standing priority for Kessler was keeping the roads and railways across the German Democratic Republic open and accessible to Soviet army units heading west. The defense minister was a realist who understood that remaining in Moscow’s favor was crucial for his future plans. As head of the East German military, Kessler held considerable value in Soviet eyes, unlike Minister of State Security Mielke, who was little more than a German clone of a chekist.

Word of the rebellion and subsequent surrenders and withdrawals of East German divisions in the Federal Republic did not reach Berlin until late in the afternoon, long after Kessler could do anything to affect the situation. But it did hammer home the less-than-palatable facts that his reach did not extend beyond the GDR’s borders, and not all of the nation’s soldiers and officers were following his orders.

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