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How did Solidarity in Poland represent opposition to Soviet control?

Solidarity in Poland represented opposition to Soviet control by mobilising a mass, non-violent, independent trade union movement.

Solidarity, or 'Solidarność' in Polish, emerged in the 1980s as a trade union that quickly evolved into a social movement and political force. It was a direct challenge to the Soviet-imposed communist regime in Poland, representing a broad-based opposition to Soviet control. The movement was unique in the context of the Eastern Bloc, where state-controlled unions were the norm. Solidarity's independence from the state and its ability to mobilise large sections of the Polish society made it a significant threat to the Soviet-backed government.

The movement was born out of widespread dissatisfaction with living conditions and political repression. Its leader, Lech Walesa, a shipyard electrician, became a symbol of resistance against the Soviet influence. Solidarity's demands were not just about better wages and working conditions, but also included political freedoms, such as the right to strike, freedom of speech, and the release of political prisoners. These demands were a direct challenge to the Soviet model of socialism and its control over Poland.

Solidarity's strength lay in its numbers and its non-violent approach. At its peak, it had nearly 10 million members, making it one of the largest trade unions in the world. Its non-violent protests and strikes paralysed the country, forcing the government to negotiate. The Gdansk Agreement in August 1980, which granted many of Solidarity's demands, was a significant victory and a clear indication of the movement's power.

However, the Soviet Union saw Solidarity as a threat to its control over Eastern Europe. In December 1981, under pressure from the Soviet Union, the Polish government declared martial law, arrested Solidarity's leaders, and banned the union. But this did not end the movement. Solidarity continued to operate underground and maintained widespread support among the Polish people.

In 1989, following a series of negotiations known as the Round Table Talks, Solidarity was legalised again and was allowed to participate in the upcoming elections. The movement's overwhelming victory in these elections marked the end of communist rule in Poland and signalled the beginning of the end for Soviet control over Eastern Europe. Thus, Solidarity's opposition to Soviet control was not only symbolic but also instrumental in bringing about political change in Poland and the wider Eastern Bloc.

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