Democratic Consolidation in Eastern Europe - Vol. 1

By Jan Zielonka | Go to book overview
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16 Legitimacy: The Price of a Delayed Constitution in Poland

Mirosław Wyrzykowski

To the outside observer, the fact that Poland has a relatively consolidated democracy and that it was very late in adopting a constitution may seem to indicate that constitutions have been relatively insignificant in the country's democratic history. Indeed Poland's case shows a long and protracted process of constitution-making. Although the Constitution was formally adopted in 1997 it was preceded by years of intense political struggle, which had its origins in the events of August 1980. The story of Poland's constitution-making process is about the ability to reach compromises without which it would have been impossible to have moved that process forward. Issues such as legitimacy, balance of power, and the role of the state which were brought up throughout the constitutional debate were inseparable from the consolidation process as a whole: the processes of democratic consolidation and constitutionalization were intertwined. This chapter will analyse the major stages of both struggles. It will point to significant breakthroughs—such as the interim constitution of 1992—but it will also show the numerous shortfalls that emerged from the constitutional deficit. The chapter will analyse the art of reaching compromises in a conflict-prone political setting. I will also show that the adoption of the Polish Constitution by referendum did not resolve the debate on legitimacy as many have supposed. Finally I will show that despite the contentious adoption of the Constitution, it has had a stabilizing impact on Polish democracy.

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