4 POLAND

LEGACY OF THE ROUNDTABLE TALKS

As in the case of the other East European polities, the transition in Poland toward a liberal democracy and a market economy was greatly influenced by the conditions under which civil society had extricated itself from the old regime. As we have seen earlier in this book, the Communist system and regime in Poland collapsed because it was never accepted as a legitimate force by society. The extrication of Poland from Communism in 1989 was the result of a negotiated settlement brought about by an exhaustive series of roundtable talks in the spring of 1989. The overriding feature of the roundtable negotiations was that the representatives of Solidarity and their allies made a number of concessions to the Communists, because they greatly underestimated the scope, nature, and rapidity of change in Poland. 1 Solidarity was caught by surprise, and indeed, overtaken by events. For example, Solidarity seemed to be genuinely surprised by the nature of its victory and the extent of the defeat of the Communists in the June, 1989, elections. The leaders of Solidarity had anticipated functioning only as an oppositional force in the Sejm or parliament, and moving only gradually in the direction of the democratization of the polity. Moreover, at the time, it was impossible to anticipate the rapid disintegration of the Soviet Union, and thus its removal as the major external factor maintaining the rule of the Communist party. The Communists, in a Faustian bargain, had

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