Poland Table of Contents
Twelfth-century sword, the "Szczerbiec," used in the coronation of Polish kings
THE UNEXPECTED SPEED with which communist governance ended in Poland put the country's anticommunist opposition in charge of the search for appropriate new political institutions. The subsequent hectic experiment in democracy yielded mixed results between 1989 and 1992, when the restored Republic of Poland was still attempting to find its political bearings. In 1989 round table talks between the opposition and the communist government spawned a flurry of legislation and constitutional amendments that merged democratic reforms with institutions and laws inherited from four decades of communist rule.
At that point, the young democracy's centers of power had not yet been able to define their span of control and their relationship to one another. Institutional ambiguity was exacerbated by the outcome of the long-awaited parliamentary elections of October 1991, which seated twenty-nine political parties in the powerful lower house, the Sejm. To form a coalition government from such diverse parties, of which none held more than 14 percent of the total seats, was a daunting task in itself. The greater challenge, however, lay in creating a political culture of negotiation and compromise that would make stable democracy feasible over the long term.
A key element in the development of any Western-style democracy is the unrestricted dissemination of accurate information and diverse opinion. In this respect, Poland underwent a less abrupt transition than other postcommunist states. A prolific, independent press had evolved from modest beginnings in the early 1970s, surviving the setback of martial law, and expanding its activities as government censorship diminished after the mid-1980s. Following the Round Table Agreement of early 1989, the press gave voice to an ever-widening spectrum of political and social opinion. But the end of generous state subsidies in favor of a profit- and competition-based system bankrupted hundreds of Polish publishing enterprises. Radio and television adjusted less rapidly to the changed political environment and remained under closer government control than the print media.
Despite a constantly changing constellation of political parties and coalitions that produced five prime ministers in three years, Warsaw maintained a consistent and successful foreign policy during the transition period. By mid-1992, Poland had achieved many of its long-range policy goals, including sovereignty over its foreign affairs; a Russian commitment for complete withdrawal of Soviet/Russian combat forces from Polish territory; bilateral friendship treaties with most of its neighbors; German recognition of the permanent Oder-Neisse border; associate membership in the European Community (EC); and observer status in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At that point, Warsaw already had travelled a considerable distance on its "path back to Europe." The West responded to Poland's democratizing and marketizing reforms by granting trade concessions, debt relief, and a range of economic and technical assistance.
Data as of October 1992