Patryk Pleskot does not suffer from lack of ambition. In his recently published book with the fascinating title Kłopotliwa Panna “S" (Troublesome Miss “S") he sets himself the goal of describing the attitude of 'the West' towards Solidarność against the background of its relations with the People's Republic of Poland during the 1980s. The ambitiousness of this intention lays in the fact that Pleskot seems to take the predicate 'the West' quite literally, as an incentive to describe, indeed, practically the whole West in this decade.
Pleskot's drive for completeness accounts for both the books strengths and its weaknesses. It cannot be denied that his study in all its 800 pages is a remarkable accomplishment and a valuable addition to historiography. His work was meant, and certainly turned out, to be the most complete standard work on the West's reaction to Solidarność. Especially his eye for detail and attention for primary sources make this book a great work of reference and basis for further research. Additionally, the fact that Pleskot explicitly includes the 'silent' period of 1983-1988—often disregarded elsewhere—is very useful.
His chosen degree of detail—he occasionally quotes nearly entire sources—in a study on this scale however also makes the author vulnerable. Surely specialists of different case studies will always be able to point out an omission here or there. With regard to the broadness of the research, it is ingenuous to focus on small mistakes. The main contribution of this work lay in the fact that it collects in one volume all the material and analyses that normally would be spread over a range of national studies.
This quest for completeness, however, also seems to have hindered Pleskot in making the choices that would have given the study more direction. It would have been legitimate to only research his six main case studies from their own major archives. Pleskot, however, broadens his story with references to other Western countries, supranational organisations, banks and non-governmental organisations – at least to the extent that they turn up in his sources or historiography. Beyond that, he chooses a very broad range of sources and perspectives beyond Western governments (including sources of the Polish government and even the Polish and East German secret services). The combination of sources is interesting and explainable by a wish to be complete. The simultaneous quotation of these very different sources, however, sometimes blurs the origin of the given information, and the broad range of points of view can be confusing. That makes it hard to find the synthesis of the book. It also means that, for these fringe cases, he occassionally resorts to generalisations and simplifications that contrast with the detail of the main case studies. Concluding, for example, that the German trade union confederation was not interested in supporting Polish emigrants, or that German and American trade unions mirrored their governments, lack the nuance that Pleskot strives for in the rest of his book (pp. 357, 475-476).
Nevertheless, Pleskot does provide valuable contributions to historiography. In the main chapter about the period of martial law, he introduces a structure made up of three 'national' reactions to events in Poland: the hard-line American way, the wavering French stance, and the careful German road. He conveniently places the Vatican in an extra category, close to the German one, but less subject to the same judgements. But he forgets to mention the close links that existed between these last two categories: the Vatican's careful stance towards Poland was used in the Federal Republic as a strong moral argument to continue its policy. Unfortunately, this structuring not only fades in later chapters—which is understandable due to the historic fading of the lines—but in general all chapters are set up differently, which does not add to the coherence of the book. That coherence could also have been enhanced by more cross-references and comparisons between different case studies, which now mainly stand on themselves (comparisons are of course not entirely absent c.f. pp. 248-249, 462, 532). Pleskot however even addresses and categorises supranational institutions such as NATO and CSCE as separate cases instead of a sum or a part of his national studies.
Pleskot's categorisation conforms partly with contemporary structuring, but he clearly shows how his structure overcomes the flaws of earlier analyses (pp. 202, 246). At the same time, the way he structures his book is an interesting revision to and nuance of the transatlantic dichotomy that American scholars often advocate when discussing the reception of the Polish crisis in the West (c.f. Helene Sjursen, Arthur Rachwald, Douglas Selvage). Unfortunately, he largely ignores this historiographic current. Generally his overviews of historiography are accurate but lack thorough discussion; he does little to position himself in the field, although indeed he does provide several new insights.
In his description of the period beyond 1983, Solidarność slowly disappears from sight and normalisation of bilateral relations with the Polish government becomes the main issue. Pleskot focuses strongly on the breaking of the diplomatic boycott against Warsaw, far more than on any of the other sanctions. In his analysis, he assumes that normalisation of relations with the Polish regime automatically had to harm the West's solidarity with Solidarność (c.f. pp. 493-494). In so doing, he disregards the effects of support by direct diplomacy and ignores the meaning of meetings of Western politicians with government officials and Solidarność activists in the later 1980s. It also contrasts with his own justified comment that strong reactions to martial law did not necessarily correspond with sympathy towards Solidarność.
One of the most interesting cases is West Germany, which is also one of the thus far most broadly and diversely discussed countries in historiography. Pleskot chooses the Federal Republic as being representative of the careful line, all the while acknowledging that Greece, for example, took an even more reticent path. Pleskot does not tune in with the recent, more explanatory and sympathetic analyses of historians such as Friedhelm Boll, Bernd Rother and Małgorzata Świder. Although he draws attention to the geopolitical strains Bonn was under, his strong judgements in the German case contrasts with his factual approach in the rest of the study (c.f. pp. 347, 364, 463, 538). On the other hand, he provides appealing interpretations that merit further research, such as the idea that the West German Social Democrat 'shadow foreign policy' actually benefited the government in Bonn by allowing them to circumvent the diplomatic boycott. Convincing is his conclusion that the Federal Republic was in the paradoxical situation to take the most conciliatory stance towards Poland bot to gain least of it. He also points out how Bonn's initial head start in contacts with the Polish government ossified in the later 1980s, due to the difficult bilateral issues, while other, formerly more declamatory, countries overtook West Germany in the later 1980s in diplomatic overtures towards Poland (pp. 535, 544, 697).
In this way, amidst the details and chronically led chapters, interesting conclusions remain to be found, although not necessarily in the remarkably short and formal conclusion. Pleskot concludes that, despite his own division into national lines, Western countries primarily feared destabilisation and focused instead on financial and East-West issues. In the book itself, however, the focus on political considerations is remarkably stronger than on the financial-economic side of the story. He also shows the awkwardness towards Solidarność and fear of Soviet invasion was certainly not only a feature of the Left. Sympathy for Solidarność was primarily a societal phenomenon that forced governments to take a clearer stance towards the opposition. As such, Solidarność remained a factor of importance in bilateral relations, although throughout most the of the 1980s, the opposition appeared to be weak. It was only in the late 1980s, Pleskot argues, that there was a tendency in the West to recognise Solidarność as a diplomatic competitor to the regime. Interesting and useful in that respect is Pleskot eye for the difference between the explicit use of Solidarność in Western statements or of more diplomatic euphemisms or descriptions such as 'the Polish people' or 'society'.
With his this remarkable piece of work he has provided current and future scholars on Solidarność and the West with a gold mine of facts, overviews and the occasional analysis, comparison and judgement. The size of his book however means the reader must take the time and have the courage to search and find.