Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Transition to Democracy in Poland

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Transition to Democracy in Poland

Article excerpt


Political change in Central and Eastern European countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s has been beyond our imagination. Its dramatic change has really stunned us by its speed and range. It took only from several months to a few weeks for most countries in this area to change from one-party dominant authoritarian regime to multi-party parliament system. In this process, the Communist Party has given up its dominant role. For instance, on January 29, 1990, the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP) declared its dissolution after 41 years of its monopoly rule. The resolution of the 11th Congress of the PUWP stated, "the delegates being aware of the impossibility of regaining social confidence by the Polish United Workers Party have resolved to end the activity of the PUWP."(1) The resolution simply reflected political realities in Poland: the PUWP's failure in the elections, its loss of control over the government and its dramatically low level of public support. This situation was similar in other Eastern European countries.

Confronting this radical change, many Western experts on political change lamented their lack of preparation for the wave of change in Eastern Europe.(2) Part of this difficulty stems from our long dependence on the totalitarian model in the analysis of communist regime which, for several decades, "denied the possibility of conflict within communist societies because it saw them as based on dogma and repression."(3)

In retrospect, the revolutions of 1989 that brought down communism in Eastern Europe seem to have been inevitable. By that year, the corruption, economic decay and staleness of the ideology had become apparent to all. Poland was not exception. Suffering from years of divisiveness, managerial inefficiency and political corruption the communists had weakened their control of the country. As a result, through several round-table talks between government and Solidarity leaders since February of 1989, they agreed to the restoration of legal status to Solidarity, the establishment of a second legislative chamber, and the creation of an executive presidency. A decade into the transition, Polish people had the chance of most essential element of democracy, participation in the free elections in more than four decades. Despite these, however, genuine democracy has not yet to become firmly established. In other words, the political regime in Poland is democratic, but it is far from being consolidated.

By attempting to answer the substantial questions such as what made possible the rise of Solidarity and how it grew and contributed to the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, we will examine how and under what conditions the transformation toward democracy was possible in Poland which has suffered from authoritarian rule. This paper regards the Polish democratization as a mixed outcome of internal and external factors.


When we study democratization, we meet the problems of defining this concept. Most of the definitions are so normative that it is difficult to apply them to the practical world. For example, Peter Bachrach defines democracy as maximization of the self-development of every individual.(4) On the other hand, Dahl defines democratic political system as completely or almost completely responsible to all its citizens.(5) In another way, Schmitter states "Democratization ... involved the progressive extension of the citizenship principle to encompass a wider range of eligible participants and a wider scope of domains in which collective choice among equals can make decisions binding upon all."(6) By judging these several definitions, we can assume "contestation and participation" as two most important standards of democratization.(7) These standards might be visualized by the activity of free elections. In this context, Poland has achieved some degree of democracy.

Democratization should be distinguished from liberalization, which is led by state-elites. …

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