Polish Presidents 1947-2000 from the American Vantage Point

By Mazurkiewicz, Anna | East European Quarterly, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Polish Presidents 1947-2000 from the American Vantage Point


Mazurkiewicz, Anna, East European Quarterly


This analysis focuses on four people who occupied the post of the president either as Presidents of the People's Republic of Poland [PRL] or as Presidents of the Third Republic [III Rp]. (1) Each of these men represents entirely different times, which mark the most tumultuous periods of Poland's post-war history. Their elections took place during major shifts in Polish history. In 1947 the presidency was taken over by Boleslaw Bierut, sealing the process of Communist power seizure in Poland. In 1989 the PRL epoch was coming to an end. With another "election" general Wojciech Jaruzelski was chosen president, presumably guaranteeing the peaceful transition of power. Despite Jaruzelski's election to a six-year term, already in 1990 Poland had another president, for the first time in its history--elected by a popular vote. Lech Walesa's election opened a brand new era in Polish modern history. The process of building a democratic republic was set in motion. The year 1995 brought yet another shift. After the 1993 parliamentary elections were won by the post-communist parties coalition [SLD], the highest post in the country was taken over by a leader of this group--Aleksander Kwasniewski, who defeated Lech Walesa by a narrow margin. Poland's firm place in European and world community seems to come about with the same man at the helm, re-elected in the year 2000. In the post-9/11 world, Poland finds itself a vital ally in "the coalition of the willing" engaged as a partner in George W. Bush's "War on Terror," with the European Union's Accession Treaty signed in Athens in April of 2003, Poland found itself in yet another era. Therefore, it seems justified to describe Poland's post-World War II history as 1945-2004 [Poland's presumed accession to the European Union].

The idea of looking at the years 1947-2000 through the eyes of the American press originates from various sources. The United States of America, the world's biggest temple of democracy, with stable form of government from the republic's origins has the longest tradition of the institution of the president in the world. It therefore constitutes an interesting vantage point to look at the maturing Polish post-war democracy and its heads of state. Even more importantly, however, emerging from the World War II as the leader of the Western Hemisphere United States headed towards becoming the single remaining world's political, economic and military superpower at the turn of the century. Hence, its support of its lack, favorable attitude towards Polish leaders, or open hostility, were of vital importance for the Poles, and not only in the Cold War years.

As this study aims at showing the perception of the Polish presidency up to modern times there is one way to deal with the difficult issue of comparing the Communist to the post-Communist times, that is to examine history's first rough draft through the daily press. Without free access to the documents of the whole period it is too early to formulate conclusions about American diplomatic strategy. However, by analyzing the daily press one may learn about the issues of American foreign policy as absorbed by the every-day reader. Through this project the opinions and moods of society will be preserved and ready to be used by future historians who then will be able to assess to what extent policy fit the American public mood. The choice of the press is also motivated by the continuity of the resource. Faced with the competition of radio, newsreels, television and eventually internet, daily newspapers continued to be the most reliable source of international news for the American people. As mass media could easily be called a nervous system of modern democracy, examination of one means of mass communication channels aims to find how well the American newspeople informed their readers about Poland and how much of a debate about foreign policy was present. Was Poland singled out from the Soviet Satellites/Eastern European countries [currently already called Central European]? …

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