1978

( October 16, 1978 ) Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow is elected to the papacy. He chooses the name John Paul II.

1979

( June 1979 ) Pope John Paul II returns to Poland for the first time as Pope. From June 2-11 he travels across the nation, delivering more than 50 speeches. The trip has a cathartic effect on the people of Poland who become emboldened to defend their human rights and dignity.

1980

( July 1980 ) Price hikes lead to strikes throughout Poland.

1980

( August 1980 ) The spark that lit the fuse of Solidarity was the unjust firing of Anna Walentynowicz, a shipyard worker from the Baltic seaport city of Gdansk. Workers from the Lenin shipyard were outraged. Lech Walesa, a charismatic, unemployed electrician, emerged as their leader. He immediately called for an occupation-strike. The ensuing work stoppage paralyzes the nation and forces the government to accept the creation of a free trade union ( “Solidarity” ).

1980

( November 1980 ) Ronald Reagan is elected President of the United States. During his presidency he would refer to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire” and declare his cold war end game to be “we win and they lose."

1981

( January 1981 ) John Paul II and Lech Walesa meet for the first time at the Vatican.

1981

( May 13, 1981 ) The Pope was shot and wounded by Mehmet Ali Agca while he was entering the square. The Pope was struck four times, and suffered severe blood loss. Agca was apprehended immediately, and later sentenced to life in prison by an Italian court. The Pope later forgave Agca for the assassination attempt. The Pope credited the Virgin Mary for his miraculous survival.

1981

( September 1981 ) The congress elected Lech Walesa as its president and adopted a program calling for an active Solidarity role in reforming Poland's political and economic systems. Solidarity was a mass movement involving some 10 million Poles. In the following months, outspoken radicals urged their leaders to confront the communist authorities, to demand free elections, and to call for a national referendum to replace the communist government.

1981

( October 1981 ) Wojciech Jaruzelski replaces Stanislaw Kania as First Secretary of Poland.

1981

( December 1981 ) Martial law is declared and the government brings thousands of Solidarity members into custody, including its leader, Lech Walesa, who would spend the next 11 months in prison. It suspended Solidarity, the borders were sealed, airports were closed, All TV and radio transmissions were suspended (except one government TV channel and one government radio station) and a curfew was imposed. Martial law officially remained in place until 1983, though even then, many civil liberties were not restored.

1983

( June 1983 ) John Paul II makes his second pilgrimage to Poland. The visit strengthened the will of the Polish people during the period of Martial law and breathed new life into the Solidarity movement.

1983

( July 1983 ) Martial Law is lifted; amnesty is declared for political crimes.

1983

( October 1983 ) Lech Walesa is awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. He was unable to accept it himself, fearing that Poland's government would not let him back into the country. His wife Danuta and son, Bogdan, accepted the prize on his behalf.

1984

( October 1984 ) Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a chaplain of the Solidarity movement, is murdered by the Polish Secret Police. A quarter million Poles attend his funeral.

1985

( March 1985 ) Mikhail Gorbachev is named as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

1985

( July 1985 ) John Paul II makes a pilgrimage to the Cistercian monastery in Moravia to mark the 1,100th anniversary of the death of St. Methodius, whom he had named one of the patron saints of Europe. The event is often referred to as the beginning of faith-based mobilization for the freedom movement in Czechoslovakia.

1987

( June 1987 ) John Paul visits Poland for the third time. He is finally permitted to visit Gdansk, the birthplace of Solidarity. This visit makes it clear that the Communist party in Poland is near its end.

1987

( June 12, 1987 ) In a historic speech at the Brandenburg Gate President Reagan delivers his epic demand: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

1988

( April-May 1988 ) A new wave of worker strikes erupt across Poland.

1988

( August 1988 ) Meetings between Lech Walesa and the Minister of the Interior, General Czeslaw Kiszczak, begin the process of negotiation that will ultimately lead to the round table talks.

1988

( December 1988 ) In an address at the United Nations, Gorbachev promises to withdraw Soviet troops from Eastern Europe.

1989

( February 1989 ) The Round Table negotiations, which include the leadership of Solidarity begin in Poland.

1989

( April 1989 ) The Round Table Accords are signed; Solidarity is re-legalized, and elections are promised for June.

1989

( June 1989 ) Poland holds national elections: Solidarity candidates win all but one of the senate seats, and all of the parliamentary seats open for contestation.

1989

( July 1989 ) Mikhail Gorbachev declares that the USSR will no longer interfere in the internal affairs of Eastern Europe.

1989

( August 1989 ) Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a prominent opposition intellectual, becomes the first non-communist premier in the Soviet bloc.

1989

( August 23, 1989 ) On the 50th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, over two million people in the Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia link hands to protest Soviet rule in a human chain extending over 400 miles.

1989

( September 11, 1989 ) Hungary opens its borders with Austria to allow the departure of East German refugees. More than 30,000 refugees eventually reach the West in the first big exodus of East Germans since 1961.

1989

( October 1989 ) Anticommunist protests begin in East Germany. A new constitution proclaiming the virtues of democracy is adopted in Hungary.

1989

( November 9, 1989 ) The fall of the Berlin Wall.

1989

( November 10, 1989 ) Bulgarian Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov is removed from power. This ultimately leads to free elections in June 1990.

1989

( November 12, 1989 ) The canonization of the medieval princess St. Agnes unifies Czech Catholics who long held that a miracle would occur should St. Agnes be finally canonized.

1989

( November 17, 1989 ) The “Velvet Revolution” is born when a peaceful student demonstration in Prague is broken up by riot police. The next day demonstrations culminate with more than 200,000 people jammed into Wenceslas Square, cheering Roman Catholic Primate Cardinal Frantisek Tomasek who declares: "We cannot wait any more." Communist Party leader Milos Jakes steps down days later.

1989

( December 2, 1989 ) Mikhail Gorbachev meets with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. Gorbachev introduces the Pope to his wife as “The foremost moral voice on earth.”

1989

( December 31, 1989 ) Vaclav Havel, a dissident playwright and leading member of the Czechoslovakian opposition Civic Forum is elected President of Czechoslovakia.

1990

( January 3, 1990 ) Pope John Paul II delivers an address to the Diplomatic Corps. He says "the irrepressible thirst for freedom… has brought down walls and opened doors….. Before our eyes a " Europe of the spirit" seems to be coming to birth,…that Christian tradition which unites all her peoples.”

1990

( March 11, 1990 ) Lithuania Declares Independence from the Soviet Union.

1990

( March 30, 1990 ) Estonia declares independence from the Soviet Union.

1990

( May 4, 1990 ) Latvia asserts independence.

1990

( May 24, 1990 ) First free elections in Hungary leads to huge losses for the communist party. Jozsef Antall becomes Prime Minister.

1990

( June 10, 1990 ) First free elections in Bulgaria.

1990

( October 3, 1990 ) The reunification of Germany.

1991

( July 1991 ) Soviet Republics negotiate new union treaty; Ukraine's Parliament declares independence; the Warsaw Pact is dissolved.

1991

( December 1991 ) Ukraine votes overwhelmingly for independence. Gorbachev resigns, and declares the formal end of the Soviet Union. The Soviet flag is lowered for the final time over the Kremlin.

2009

( June 2009 ) The city of Warsaw dedicates a 30-foot cross in Victory Square to commemorate the June 2, 1979 Papal Mass. The inscription reads: “The message of John Paul II met with our highest national and social aspirations. It poured hope into our hearts. Then for the first time in decades we saw how many of us are here. We felt what it meant to be together, free and in community. . . . This Cross is a symbol that what is impossible becomes possible.”