(b. 6 Jan. 1919, d. 21 July 2001).
First Secretary of the Polish Communist Party 1970–80 Born in Porabka Nowy Sacz (Austrian Silesia), in 1923 he emigrated with his mother to France, where he joined the French Communist Party. During World War II he operated in Belgium among groups of Polish underground resistance fighters. In 1948, Gierek returned to Silesia, now part of Poland, and was appointed to the Polish Communist Party Politburo in 1959. In 1970 he succeeded Gomulka as First Secretary.
Gierek sought to calm popular discontent by increasing wages and introducing a ‘popular’ style of government through travelling widely and listening to complaints. Yet the substance of the regime and its policies remained unchanged. Most devastating was his heavy borrowing in precious hard currency, ostensibly to modernize industry and make it competitive, but in reality to keep the loss-making and ineffective economic system afloat. Burdening the country with long-term debt could at best be a short-term solution. When the inevitable happened and the economy worsened while drastic price increases were introduced, mass strikes began which led to the formation of Solidarnosc. In the face of this overwhelming protest, Gierek was dismissed from office. His memoirs, containing an apologia for his policies, were entitled An Uninterrupted Decade (1990).
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Politics.