Democratic Consolidation in Eastern Europe - Vol. 2

By Jan Zielonka; Alex Pravda | Go to book overview

11 Poland: Compatibility of External and Internal Democratic Designs

Antoni Z. Kamiński

Poland has made remarkable progress in its transition to market capitalism and liberal democracy. That progress has owed much to support from Western governments and international institutions. The success Poland has enjoyed in attracting international backing and in dealing with the problems of transition has reflected the country's historical compatibility with the Euro-Atlantic liberal-democratic political and economic order. Poland scores well, by comparison with other post-communist states, in any ranking of what may be called 'European compatibility potential'. Geographical proximity and easy access to Western Europe has fostered a deep familiarity with democratic culture. Ever since Poland became part of European civilization in what historians call the 'long tenth century', its people have had a close cultural affinity with Western Europe. They have shared traditions of self-government, the separation of Church and state, law, and a belief in the dignity of the individual. These European values, central to Polish national identity, sustained resistance through four decades of communist rule. Of all the Soviet satellites, Poland proved the most troublesome, with a record number of rebellions: three major ones in 1956, 1970, and 1980-1, and two minor ones, in 1968 and 1976.

Characteristically, Poland led the way in 1989 by electing the first non-communist prime minister in Eastern Europe since the imposition of Soviet rule. The victory of Solidarity in the June 1989 elections marked the start of a complex political transition. The decision to hold presidential elections in late 1990, well ahead of parliamentary ones, represented a 'perverse sequencing in regime building', producing the uneasy combination of Lech Wałeşa and a

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