INT: Up until Gomulka's appointment as Party Secretary in October, the Party leader of Poland was Edward Ochab. Did he make very much of an impression?
FL: He... he was not one of the strongest figures. He was kind of... in... in the factions in the Party, Ochab was kind of in the middle. Gomulka, who had been imprisoned as part of the purges, and would have been tried, as the Hungarian and Bulgarian, Czech Party leaders were... but just Poland managed to stall this off; they were slower. These were the purges ordered by Stalin after the war, and they had managed to stall it long enough so that Stalin died before they actually had their trials, so they didn't have them after all. So Gomulka was looked to as a kind of reformer. Also, Gomulka... there was a split, provoked very much by Moscow and the Polish Party, between those that had spent the war in the Soviet Union and those who had been in the Polish underground on the home soil, and Moscow didn't trust the ones who had been on home soil, the ones who had been in the underground and actually fought the Germans in Poland, because they were considered rather too nationalist. And Gomulka was one of those, he was the leader of that group. Then, on the other side, there was another group that was very pro-Moscow, very hard-line; they were called the Natolin faction because they had a rather famous, secret - but didn't stay secret for a long time - meeting in a village called Natolin. And Ochab was kind of in the middle between those two.
INT: Was there a sense that Gomulka had been preparing a long campaign to ease himself into power?
FL: No, I don't think so. Maybe I'm wrong, but the impression at the time was that Gomulka was really isolated. He was no longer actually in jail, but he was under house arrest far away from the... from Warsaw, and I don't think there was... there may have been a few people who managed to get back and forth and see him, but it was very much controlled. But it was more the ... the people who were interested in reform and interested in trying to break loose a little bit, seeking out Gomulka because of his reputation, because he had been in jail, as the charismatic and strong person who could promote the cause that they were for. I don't think it was Gomulka who had himself planned and prepared it.
INT: What sort of personality was he?
FL: He was an interesting person. He certainly was a communist - never any question about that - but he was also, he was a Pole; he did not, as events proved, he wasn't prepared just to salute and say "Yes, sir, yes, sir" to every single thing that Moscow wanted. He had been in the underground, he had been a fighter in the war. He had had a lot to do with establishing the regime in the first place. There is one... one peculiar thing about Poland, that by then everybody knew, and that hadn't been known before: the leader who had been put in as the head, not of the Party but as President, was a man named Boleslaw Beirut [sic], and he was always presented as a non-Party person, a neutral person, and the ostensible head of the Party was not so strong. And then, when that man died, Bierut suddenly was head of the Party. And then it came out he had worked with Lenin before the First World War; he was an old communist. This was all a part of the charade, and Bierut had been the point man the whole time, and he was very tough, and so that kind of put down Gomulka, because he was not such a Moscow man.
INT: How evident... well, you described the extent to which the Soviets penetrated the security organs and the army, for example, but how evident was Soviet control over Polish society?
FL: Well, not in the sense of walking down the street. There were forces there the whole time, kept on the pretext or... well, it was true... that Poland was the communication to East Germany, so they kept a large Soviet force in Poland to guarantee the passage and transit and so on, but also of course to keep an eye on Poland. But they were pretty well kept in their compounds, their barracks, their... their bases; you didn't see them going around the streets, you didn't see them much in town. So that there was not a surface Soviet force element. On the other hand, culturally, American films got more and more banned and Soviet films had to be shown, and Soviet-Polish friendship society took over all the entertainments, and the press was very much controlled, what could be said, the public books. So there was a heavy hand, but it was more... you had to feel it, you didn't really see it.
INT: Come to October 1956, and the Soviet troops mobilising to advance on Warsaw. At the time, there was a crisis in the Polish Party. What was the atmosphere like when people found out the Soviets were on the move?
FL: Well, people didn't know. The... Gomulka knew, and the people around him knew, and they had this big confrontation with Khrushchev in Warsaw, and Gomulka... we learnt later, because ... that was another example of how at that point the Poles, the Polish Party officials began deliberately telling us, telling the Western press, because that was considered a protection, to have this known, so that it would stir sympathy for Poland and some support for Poland, which indeed it did. And so we were told not long after exactly what had happened in that meeting between Khrushchev and the Polish leader, which was Gomulka. And Gomulka just said flatly, "You stop the troops or I break all com... all further talks with you. And if they continue moving, we will resist." And the Polish army had been put on alert. There... it came not terribly far from open confrontation. That was a real risk, and of course, from the Soviet point of view, to have... here in Poznan, in the spring of that year, were workers rising against the workers' and peasants' paradise state; and then, six months later, or less than six months later, to have the state itself, the fraternal, brotherly member of the socialist heaven on earth fighting the Soviet army - so Khrushchev caved in.
INT: What sort of...
INT: We come to describe the situation when the Soviets threatened to roll into Warsaw.
FL: And from several directions: both from the north, from the south-west where the big base of the Warsaw Pact was, and also I think from the north-west, from Germany.
INT: What were the Poles saying about the encounter between Khrushchev and Gomulka? You described how Gomulka stood up to them, but I understand that Khrushchhimself arrived somewhat the worse for wear for drink. Was that relayed to you?
FL: I don't think that's true, because the Poles had decided to bring Gomuback to Warsaw and the Soviets decided... Khrushchev decided to come, and the Polish Politburo wasn't even told until the Soviet plane was already in the air, and, you know, they had to scramble to get to the airport just in time; and it was early in the morning, it was not afternoon, it was... they had to get up - they were told at 4 in the morning the plane was coming or something. And the Russians piled out of the plane, and the Poles were lined up on the ground, and Khrushchev saw a man he didn't know, and he said, very rudely, in... in the second person singular, which is not polite in Polish, "Who are you?" And Gomulka said, "I am Gomulka, whom you put in jail." And that's how it all... and it went on from there. And I never heard, in all the accounts I've heard of the encounter - I wasn't there, of course; nobody outside got near it - it was... Khrushchev was rude and shouting and difficult, but that was more his manner, to show power intentions. I never heard that he was drunk, no.
INT: How did the Poles react to the situation as it unfolded in Hungary more or less at the same time?
FL: Well, at one point... they were very upset, of course, and there was tremendous sympathy; they were very well aware that the Hungarians had gone... that the whole Hungarian revolution had begun with a simple demonstration - there was no planning - to the statue of Joseph Bem, who was a Pole who had been a hero in the Hungarian uprising of 1848, so he was venerated for helping. And so that was a part... The Polish-Hungarian sort of sense of sympathy goes back several centuries; it's a rather deep, long thing. There was a great deal of sympathy, not only because of that, but because what were they rising against? They were rising against Russia, and for the Poles that was a very self-evident cause to support. And some wanted to go and help fight the Hungarians [sic]; and in fact, at one point the Polish regime, the government, offered to send a Polish army officially, with the idea that it would be sort of like now... I don't suppose quite in Bosnia, but anyway a kind of a peacekeeping force, to separate the Hungarians and the Soviet army and just to calm things down without having a real massive repression. The Czechs refused to allow passage to the Polish army, obviously at Moscow's bidding, and later they did allow the Soviet army to cross after they had withdrawn partially or mostly from Hungary. A few days later, they turned around and went back, and they went back across Czechoslovakia, with the permission of the Czechs. So the Poles felt kind of involved. And when it came to an end, the Poles, who have a reputation for being volatile and dare-devil and brave to the point of utter foolishness, would tell a joke: that the Hungarians this time behaved like Poles - that's to say they fought; the Poles behaved like Czechs - they stayed quiet; and the Czechs behaved like pigs, was the joke. Not nice for the Czechs, but it's true they didn't move.
INT: In this period, what was the impact of the broadcast made by Radio Free Europe in Poland?
FL: During the Hungarian Revolution?
INT: During the whole '56 period, '55-56 period.
FL: Well, there were different periods, because in the first place, in '55 and early '56, a Polish defector, a police lieutenant colonel, went on Radio Free Europe and began a series of broadcasts in which he named specifically, "in this and this office, this man and this man work for the secret police; in this factory, these people are..." and that blew open the secret police control system. It was devastating to the police, and it changed the atmosphere tremendously. People lost fear, and once they lost fear and they started talking to each other, then there... a real sense of resistance mounted. So that was of tremendous importance. It was important all the way through that they got news of the outside world, which of course was censored and not allowed (for them?). And in fact, talking about the Poznan uprising earlier, one of the demands was to stop jamming of foreign radio, and they succeeded in imposing that, so that by... by then, the radio was getting through rather easily. In addition to Radio Free Europe, of course, there was BBC, there were other broadcasts, but mostly in foreign languages, so the Polish-language broadcasts were the ones that counted the most, and they... they played a very important role. But there was quite a difference between the role of the Radio Free Europe broadcasts to Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution, and those to Poland, because the broadcasts to Hungary did deceive people into believing they were going to have a support and a backing that they never received, so that afterwards they were terribly disillusioned. That did not happen with Poland.