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  • Problems of PostcommunismFrom Solidarity to Fragmentation
  • Krzysztof Jasiewicz (bio)

"The complex political situation in Poland stems from a misguided and ill-designed electoral law." This diagnosis of Poland's political problems came from Zbigniew Brzezinski a few days before the parliamentary elections of 27 October 1991. According to Gazeta wyborcza, Brzezinski told President Lech Walesa that Poland's legislators had made a fundamental error by adopting a system based on proportional representation (PR) for elections to the Sejm (the lower house of Parliament). "This electoral law will disperse the will of the people and will not provide a basis for the emergence of a democratic majority [in the Sejm]," he added.1

Subsequent events seemed to reveal the accuracy of Brzezinski's warnings, as Polish voters elected candidates from some 30 different political parties or groupings to the Sejm; the strongest party controls a mere 62 out of the 460 total seats, and no majority coalition of fewer than five parties is possible. Given these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that it took two months to form a weak, three-party minority government. The crowning irony was that this happened just two years after Solidarity-seemingly a unified, if not homogeneous, political movement-swept the communists virtually out of power in the historic elections of June 1989.

Of course, a bad electoral law alone could never explain such a striking turn of events, as Brzezinski well knew. As early as 1990, a deep split had begun to appear in Solidarity, which had never been perfectly united in the first place. From its sudden emergence in the summer of 1980, Solidarity was a multidimensional phenomenon: a trade [End Page 55] union struggling to protect the interests of all employees (not merely manual workers); a social movement striving to vindicate civil and human rights; and a political movement seeking democracy and national independence. As such, Solidarity attracted individuals of an enormously wide range of social, economic, and political persuasions. They had almost nothing in common except their belief that Poland's government should be made accountable to the Polish people and a commitment to pursuing this goal by nonviolent means only.

As early as the fall of 1981, even this minimal consensus seemed as if it might fade away. Solidarity's first congress yielded no agreement on economic issues, while "fundamentalists" quarreled with "pragmatists" and the public began to show the first signs of disillusionment. Diverse political groupings were starting to develop their own distinct identities and agendas under Solidarity's protective umbrella when the regime struck back with its declaration of martial law on 13 December 1981.

Paradoxically, martial law saved Solidarity. Most Poles, too hobbled by passivity or conformism to undertake clandestine activities, looked to Solidarity throughout the 1980s as the symbol of all those hopes that the regime was trying to crush. Meanwhile, the Solidarity underground managed to achieve a remarkable unity, sustained by the constant threat of being wiped away by the regime, by memories of the 1980-81 glory days, and by the leadership of Lech Walesa. Thus Solidarity was able to enter the Roundtable talks of 1989 as a cohesive group with nothing to lose and everything to win. At the Roundtable it secured the regime's agreement to a "contract" calling for semi-free parliamentary elections in June 1989 in which Solidarity candidates could run for 35 percent of the seats in the Sejm and all 100 seats in the newly reestablished Senate.

Solidarity won all but one of the seats it contested. It ran an official "all-Solidarity team," with a small committee of Walesa's associates handpicking a candidate or slate of candidates for each contested constituency. This strategy alienated some prominent Solidarity leaders, who saw it as the sort of undemocratic maneuver best left to the communists. Some dissenters even decided to run against official Solidarity candidates, but none were successful. Although people voted in droves for the Solidarity candidates, it is important to remember that these were mainly protest votes, ballots cast less for Solidarity than against communist rule. Moreover, neither in this election nor in any subsequent election did Solidarity gain the support of a majority of the Polish...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
pp. 55-69
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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