Polish Puzzle

Polish Puzzle

Politics in Eastern Europe is puzzling, and not just to outsiders.


Politics in Eastern Europe is puzzling, and not just to outsiders. The September 21 general election in Poland, in which the Democratic Left Alliance (S.L.D.) of President Aleksander Kwasniewski lost its parliamentary majority, is a good illustration. Far from rejoicing at such a setback for the former Communists, as might have been expected, the financial establishment has reacted with real concern. On the other hand, the victory of Marian Krzaklewski’s Solidarity Election Action (A.W.S.) party, because of the word Solidamosc in its title, may have been welcomed in some quarters as a revival of the once-glorious Polish labor movement. Except it is nothing of the sort. In fact, it marks the success of a coalition that comprises a host of clerical and reactionary parties and did well on this occasion because, for once, they managed to unite for electoral purposes.

Yet since the coalition is built around a labor union, will it not at least defend the interests of the workers? Even this is most unlikely, Taking one-third of the vote and some 212 seats in the 460-member Sejm, or lower house, A.W.S. cannot form a solid government on its own. Its only serious possibility as a partner is that other Solidarity descendant–or should one say bastard?–the Freedom Union (U.W.), now the party of Leszek Balcerowicz, who presided over Poland’s “shock therapy” and is eager to speed up privatization.

Logic might point to a coalition between these champions of capitalism and the former Communists, now fully converted to the same gospel. But this is ruled out by old cleavages. Balcerowicz’s party, turning down the advances of the S.L.D. (which took 27 percent of the vote), is keen to form a government with the victorious A.W;S., though it is not very clear what the economic platform will be. Will they unite against “red capitalists”? Any attempt to initiate a legal purge of former Communists through some new law of lustration would meet two major obstacles. One is very practical: Former party card-holders are to be found in most political coalitions. The other is more constitutional: Kwasniewski, whose presidential mandate extends till the next millennium, can veto any constitutional change and count on S.L.D. backing with a likely 163 deputies, more &an enough to block an override of any veto.

In this potential stalemate, Polish politics appears both paradoxical and highly unstable. Indeed, it will remain so as long as the parties keep fighting yesteryear’s battles. That allows reactionaries, draped in the mantle of Solidarity and backed (discreetly and thus more efficiently this time) by the Catholic Church, to parade as the only defenders of the downtrodden.

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Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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