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Revolution and Change in Central and Eastern Europe: Political, Economic, and Social Challenges

By Minton F. Goldman | Go to book overview

Prague, is a problem involving a small Polish minority of 44,000 people who live in the Zaolzie region on the Czecho-Slovak frontier with Poland. Worried about the loss of their cultural identity, members of this Polish minority joined a local political organization called Coexistentia, committed to the rights of minorities living in the Czech and Slovak republics. In early February 1992, Stanislaw Gawlik, chairman of the executive council of Coexistentia, went to Warsaw to complain that a recently concluded treaty of friendship between Poland and Czechoslovakia failed to guarantee the cultural rights of Poles living in the Zaolzie region. In particular, the treaty said nothing about Polish schools, bilingual geographic names in the region, and the restoration of confiscated Polish property.156 For the moment the Polish government has not responded openly to Coexistentia's complaint, essentially for the same reason that it has not actively concerned itself with the complaints of the Polish minority in Lithuania. In this instance, Warsaw wants to preserve good relations with Prague and the continuation of a dialogue between the two countries within the Visegrád framework, especially in light of the shared anxiety about a possible resurgence of Russian influence in Central Europe.

Having said all of the above, one can point to a minor achievement in regional cooperation in recent years, namely, the successful trilateral negotiations over the creation of a free trade zone. An agreement was signed in December 1992, despite reservations on the part of the Czechs. The agreement, which calls for a gradual lifting of all tariff barriers by the signatories, is intended to expand multilateral trade and increase foreign investment. However, it remains to be seen whether in fact a true free trade zone will materialize in the near future.157


Conclusions

Poland has made much progress in moving toward democracy and a free-market economy. The country has a truly liberal political environment, in which the institutions of government seem to be functioning in accordance with the principles of Western-style parliamentary democracy. State control of the economy has steadily diminished, and small-scale capitalism is flourishing, with good prospects of further development of free enterprise in the industrial sector. Its predominantly homogeneous society seems at peace, with little if any ethnocultural dissent and no visible threat of the turmoil that other, less-unified societies in the region have been experiencing.

But the new democratic institutions are fragile and have yet to demonstrate their staying power. Six years after the collapse of communist rule, the Polish people have very mixed views about democratic government. On the one hand, an overwhelming majority of Polish voters think democracy is preferable to other kinds of government, especially the former communist dictatorship. Indeed, they have no desire to return to the old repressive political order. At the same time, however, many Polish people are inclined to judge democracy on its economic achievements and blame the system as much as its leaders for a deterioration of

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