Soap opera relationships continued on “The Americans” as Philip met an old girlfriend in New York City. At the same time, the arrival of a Polish leader opposed to Soviet involvement in his country foreshadowed the fall of the Iron Curtain.
As the episode begins in 1981, Elizabeth and her kids watch a news report showing images of unrest in Poland. The previous year, Polish workers led by Lech Walesa started the Solidarity union in the shipyards of Gdansk. The formation of the non-communist union represented an ideological threat to the communist government in Warsaw as well as to the other satellite governments in Eastern Europe. Rumors swirled that the Soviet Union would invade Poland and put an end to the protests, just they had done in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
In “Duty and Honor,” Philip and his former lover work to undermine the credibility of Andrzej Bielawksi, a Polish opposition leader who appears to be a fictional stand-in for Walesa. In the episode, it is hinted that he has become a priest (which Walesa did not). Still, many believe that Pope John Paul II’s visit to his home country in 1979 laid the groundwork for the rise of Solidarity and the Catholic Church played a vital role in the opposition. In the fictional plotline, Philip sets up a phony rape case, forcing Bielawski to withdraw from his role in the opposition.
In reality, Polish leaders declared martial law in 1981 and forced Solidarity underground, though Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. By the late 1980s, Solidarity reemerged to win the first free and fair elections in Poland in 1989 and Walesa won the presidency in 1990.
“Is this the beginning of the end of communism in the Eastern bloc?” a reporter asks Bielawksi in “Duty and Honor.” Though it was hardly clear at the time, the rise of Solidarity and the bravery of the Polish opposition heralded the fall of the Soviet empire for good.