Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

A Model for Democratic Transition and European Integration? Why Poland Matters 1

Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

A Model for Democratic Transition and European Integration? Why Poland Matters 1

Article excerpt

One of the tasks of the country specialist who attempts to locate their case study within a broader comparative framework is to ask themselves the classic "so what?" question: what is interesting about your case to someone who is not otherwise interested in your case?2 In this paper, I discuss three areas where I think that we can draw broader insights from Polish contemporary political developments and that are of interest beyond the Polish case - where, in other words Poland matters - but also where the Polish experience is unique and which makes it difficult to draw broader conclusions and use the country as a "model." Firstly, Poland's experience of democratization: its transition to democracy and how the country extracted itself from communist rule. Here I particularfy explore the relationship between Poland's democratic transition, how the country has dealt with the legacy of its communist past and the quality of its post-communist democracy. Secondly, Poland's experience of European integration and its relationship with the EU as a candidate state, and subsequently, as the largest of the new members from the post-communist countries. Here I explore the tensions between support for European integration as a civilizational project on the one hand, and assertion of Polish national identity and interests, and concerns to maintain national and cultural distinctiveness, on the other. Thirdly, the very high levels of religiosity among Poles and the important role of the Catholic Church as an institution in contemporary Polish affairs. One of the jobs of the comparativist is to look for similarities and points where broader comparative or theoretical conclusions and analogies can be drawn, but it is also to look for differences and points of contrast and, by doing so, try to pinpoint what is distinctive and not replicable about the case. This third area is, arguably, one where the Polish case is distinctive, but that also interacts with the other two areas examined in ways that limits the extent to which one can view Poland as some kind of "model" and draw lessons from its experience. In this paper, when I discuss whether or not Poland provides us with a "model" for democratic transition and European integration, I am considering this question in both the analytical sense - to draw broader comparative and theoretical lessons and conclusions - and from a more normative perspective: whether it is a positive example to, and possible source of emulation for, others?

Poland's Transition to Democracy and Experience of Dealing with the Communist Past

One way that we might be able to draw some broader normative and analytical lessons from the Polish case, and thus look upon it as a model, is to examine its democratic transition: the way that the country extracted itself from communist rule.3 2014 marks the twenty fifth anniversary of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. In Poland, as in most of the rest of the bloc, this was a negotiated process of transition exemplified by the socalled "round table" negotiations between representatives of the communist regime and democratic opposition, and the peaceful surrender of power by the latter.4 Many so-called "comparative transitologists," who are interested in and study processes of démocratisation and regime change across the world, posit "pacting" processes, such as the elite level bargain that occurred during the Polish round table negotiations, as the most normatively desirable model of how such processes of regime-change should proceed. This is because "paeting" is a process of peaceful, non-violent consensual extraction from a non-democratie regime that provides something for everyone, particularly a "soft landing" for representatives of the previous regime, giving them a strong stake - and, therefore, incentive not to undermine - the new democratic system.5 In the Polish case, it can be argued, the elite paeting process ensured that democracy became embedded with no significant actors (including representatives of the former ruling elite) wanting a return to the status quo ante or opposing (broadly speaking) the liberal democratic model. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.