History of Poland (1989-present)
This article is part of the
People's Republic of Poland
History of Poland (1989-present)
In the 1970s and 1980s the whole system in Poland was deeper and deeper in the crisis and was beginning to crumble as was the whole Eastern bloc with the USSR as the fading superpower. With the advent of "perestroika" in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev the change of the political system that had been unimaginable was becoming reality.
Fears that the shift of power from centralized one-party system system to multi-party democracy might turn into bloody revolution proved unfounded owing to the presence on both sides, the Communist Party and the democratic opposition, of peacefully-minded reformists committed to a peaceful solution.
Influence of the Polish Catholic Church and the Polish Pope, John Paul II on the political history of contemporary Poland must be stressed. The Catholic Church managed to cool down some militant opposition fractions and the Pope having remarkable reverence among all Poles, even among atheists and post-Communists, was the single most important factor of political change in the past decades. His influence might not seem open but has been overwhelming.
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2 Poland in the 1990s
Roundtable Talks and ElectionsThe government's inability to forestall Poland's economic decline led to waves of strikes across the country in April, May, and August 1988. In an attempt to take control of the situation, the government gave de facto recognition to Solidarity, and Interior Minister Kiszczak began talks with Lech Walesa on August 31. These talks broke off in October, but a new series, the "roundtable" talks, began in February 1989. These talks produced an agreement in April for partly open National Assembly elections. The June election produced a Sejm (lower house), in which one-third of the seats went to communists and one-third went to the two parties which had hitherto been their coalition partners. The remaining one-third of the seats in the Sejm and all those in the Senate were freely contested; virtually all of these were won by candidates supported by Solidarity.
The failure of the communists at the polls produced a political crisis. The roundtable agreement called for a communist president, and on July 19, the National Assembly, with the support of some Solidarity deputies, elected General Jaruzelski to that office. Two attempts by the communists to form governments failed, however.
On August 19, President Jaruzelski asked journalist/Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki to form a government; on September 12, the Sejm voted approval of Prime Minister Mazowiecki and his cabinet. For the first time in more than 40 years, Poland had a government led by noncommunists.
In December 1989, the Sejm approved the government's reform program to transform the Polish economy rapidly from centrally planned to free-market, amended the constitution to eliminate references to the "leading role" of the Communist Party, and renamed the country the "Republic of Poland." The Polish United Workers' (Communist) Party dissolved itself in January 1990, creating in its place a new party, Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland. Most of the property of the former Communist Party was turned over to the state.
The May 1990 local elections were entirely free. Candidates supported by Solidarity's Citizens' Committees won most of the races they contested, although voter turnout was only a little over 40%. The cabinet was reshuffled in July 1990; the national defense and interior affairs ministers--hold-overs from the previous communist government--were among those replaced.
In October 1990, the constitution was amended to curtail the term of President Jaruzelski. In December, Lech Walesa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.
Poland in the 1990sPoland in the early 1990s made great progress toward achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy. In November 1990, Lech Walesa was elected President for a 5-year term. Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, at Walesa's request, formed a government and served as its Prime Minister until October 1991, introducing world prices and greatly expanding the scope of private enterprise.
Poland's first free parliamentary elections were held in 1991. More than 100 parties participated, representing a full spectrum of political views. No single party received more than 13% of the total vote. After a rough start, 1993 saw the second group of elections, and the first parliament to actually serve a full term. The Alliance of the Democatic Left (SLD) received the largest percentage of votes.
After the election, the SLD and PSL formed a governing coalition. [[Waldemar Pawlak]], leader of the junior partner PSL, became Prime Minister. Relations between President Walesa and the Prime Minister remained poor throughout the Pawlak government, with President Walesa charging Pawlak with furthering personal and party interests while neglecting matters of state importance. Following a number of scandals implicating Pawlak and increasing political tension over control of the armed forces, President Walesa demanded Pawlak's resignation in January 1995. In the ensuing political crisis, the coalition removed Pawlak from office and replaced him with the SLD's Jozef Oleksy as the new Prime Minister.
In November 1995, Poland held its second post-war free presidential elections. SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski defeated Walesa by a narrow margin--51.7% to 48.3%. Soon after Walesa's defeat, Interior Minister Andrzej Milczanowski accused then-Prime Minister Oleksy of longtime collaboration with Soviet and later Russian intelligence. In the ensuing political crisis, Oleksy resigned. For his successor, The SLD-PSL coalition turned to deputy Sejm speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz--who was linked to, but not a member of, the SLD. Polish prosecutors subsequently decided that there was insufficient evidence to charge Oleksy, and a parliamentary commission decided in November 1996 that the Polish intelligence services may have violated rules of procedure in gathering evidence in the Oleksy case.
In 1997 parliamentary elections two parties with roots in the Solidarity movement--Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW)--won 261 of the 460 seats in the Sejm and formed a coalition government. Jerzy Buzek of the AWS was the Prime Minister. The AWS and the Alliance of the Democatic Left (SLD) held the majority of the seats in the Sejm. Marian Krzaklewski was the leader of the AWS, and Leszek Miller led the SLD. In June 2000, UW withdrew from the governing collation, leaving AWS at the helm of a minority government. Poland's September 2001 parliamentary elections saw the center-left Alliance of the Democatic Left (SLD--successor to the communist party twice removed), triumph and form a coalition with the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) and leftist Union of Labor (UP), with Leszek Miller (SLD) as Prime Minister. Together, the parties hold 256 of the 460 seats in the Sejm.
- U.S. State Department Background Note: Poland