Poland, a Democratic Success; and Model for Developing countries.(OPED)

Article excerpt


Ten years ago I traveled to Poland as an American Fulbright Scholar to study the country's new constitutional court. Since this would be the most important judicial body in the land, I was shocked to discover the Polish court housed in a couple of dingy rooms in an unused corridor of parliament- no clerks, no staff other than one secretary, no chambers. The court met only periodically and had to borrow rooms from parliament, the institution it was meant to check and balance, to hear cases. I was uncertain whether free-market democracy would ever take root in Poland.

But Poland has been a remarkable success. A functioning judiciary underpins vibrant democratic political life. Poland's economy grew at better than 5 percent per year during the latter half of the 1990s. As a consequence, Poland joined NATO in 1998, ended its dependence on U.S. assistance programs in 2000, and now stands on the brink of EU accession. While Poland has been hit hard by the worldwide recession, with economic growth falling from 5 percent to 1 percent and unemployment rising to 18 percent, Poland is still a surprising success story, particularly in comparison to its former East Bloc allies.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, one of the architects of Poland's resurgence, comes to Washington this week for a state visit, only the Bush administration's second such visit (the first was by Mexico's Vincente Fox). Part of the visit is to celebrate Poland's success in developing free-market democracy. As the United States looks for ways to promote similar transformations in the "unreformed" Soviet successor states, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, and perhaps even beyond, in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is instructive to consider what aspects of the Polish experience are universal and transferable. These include:

* Rule of law. Legal certainty and the rule of law are at the core of sustainable democracy and a complex free-market economy. Without constraints imposed by legal rules, officials and bureaucrats have too many opportunities and temptations to gain from political and bureaucratic arbitrariness. Because Poland undertook systemic legal and constitutional reform, property rights and individual liberties are now protected. Thus, Poland has been successful in attracting foreign investment, unlike Ukraine, where a firm legal footing for the protection of property rights has yet to be put in place.

* Training of state administration. Under the Soviet system, corruption pervaded the bureaucracy. Emerging economies must develop a culture of accountability and transparency to deter the quest of bureaucrats for bribes. …