The State against Society: Political Crises and Their Aftermath in East Central Europe

By Grzegorz Ekiert | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
The Political Crisis and the Failure
of Demobilization and Regime Reequilibration

AFTER THE SOLIDARITY movement was crushed through the imposition of martial law in December 1981, parallels were immediately drawn to the two previous cases of large-scale coercive demobilization in the region. A consensus among scholars seemed to emerge that the most likely scenario of the demobilization process in Poland would resemble the one in Hungary, with a highly repressive period of restoration and consolidation of institutional structures of the party-state followed by more pragmatic and reformoriented policies within the economic and political sphere. 1 In fact, the Polish ruling elite openly expressed the desire to follow a “Kadarization” model, extensively consulted Hungarian experts, and encouraged publication of monographs and articles on post-1956 developments in Hungary. This was the most obvious example of the political learning process. The option to choose between strategies of demobilization, however, was unavailable to the Polish ruling elite. I have argued earlier in this work that the processes of demobilization in Hungary and Czechoslovakia were shaped by a unique combination of domestic and geopolitical conditions specific to each country and developed as a set of ruling elites' ad hoc responses to changing domestic and international constraints and developments. I have also argued that the nature and course of the political crises that preceded the demobilization process in both countries greatly affected the capacities of the resistance movements and institutional coherence of the party-states, as well as the range of political choices available to the individual regimes.

It should have been clear from the outset of the Polish demobilization process that, given the nature of the Polish political crisis, the type of coercive response, and the specific combination of domestic and international constraints, both the state's strategies and the possible outcomes of the demobilization process should vary significantly from those in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The challenge to the state-socialist political order posed by the emergence of Solidarity was more fundamental and effective than the short-lived revolutionary challenge in Hungary and the self-limiting reform movement from above in Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, the demobilization policies of the Polish regimes unfolded in more complex and adverse international conditions both within the Soviet bloc and between the West and the East. Moreover, the imposition of martial law, which was designed to break the stalemate between the two sides of the political conflict and to give the ruling elite new means of action, failed to accomplish either.

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