Full Citation

  • Title Poland's dash for freedom
  • Publication Title The Economist
  • Collection The Economist
  • Date Saturday,  June 10, 1989
  • Volume 311
  • Issue Number 7606
  • Page Number 19
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Editorial
  • Publication Section Opinion and Editorial
  • Source Library The Economist Newspaper Limited
  • Copyright Statement © The Economist Newspaper Limited.
Poland's dash for freedom Solidarity's giddy success could bring giddy problems. The case for caution. not panic OLD tight. Faster than anybody expected. some would H-say too fast for comfort. Eastern Europe is hurtling into the unknown. It was barely a year ago that people began to believe that Poland and Hungary just might sample pluralism in the mid-1990s. Now-whoosh-Poland has stunned itself by zooming into a half-free election the likes of which commu- nist Europe has not seen for 40 years. The result-utter rejec- tion of the communists-propels it all the more rapidly to- wards a fully free one. though Hungary still looks likely to get there first. maybe even this year. Both countries are accelerat- ing towards an answer to the great East European mystery are ruling communist parties now prepared to surrender power The Polish election on June 4th went far beyond Russia's in March. There. nearly 90percent of the candidates were Commu- nists. so the novelty-exhilarating though it was-was mostly limited to rejecting orthodox comrades in favour of outspo- ken ones like Mr Boris Yeltsin. In Poland voters could opt for overt anti-communists. True. the ruling party made sure it could not be voted out of power it set aside for itself a major- ity of seats in the Sejm. the lower house of parliament. But the true strength of the opposition could show through. It is overwhelming. In the fully free half of the election- the vote for the Senate. the new upper house-the Solidarity- led opposition had a virtually clean sweep (see page 53). In the 460-seat Sejm. Solidarity's candidates won all but one of the 161 seats they were allowed to contest. Deprived of any pre- tence of governing in the name of the people. the communists have been shown for what they really are the representatives in Poland of Soviet power. As if to demonstrate the incompetence for which the vot- ers were rejecting them. Poland's leaders even contrived to miss victory in seats they had reserved for themselves. They stipulated that the 35 unopposed candidates on the national list (among them the prime minister. Mr Mieczyslaw Rakowski) had to score at least 50percent of the vote. This was supposed to be a formality. In fact. Poles delighted in crossing out the names of top officials. just as Soviet voters had done in March. Only two of the 35 got through. Nobody knows how the seats will be filled. Nor is it certain whether parlia- ment will pick as president the man this new job was plainly designed for the party boss. General Jaruzelski. The result leaves Poland. even by its own standards. in a mess. The humiliated losers remain in charge. the spectacular winners stay in opposition. refusing to join any coalition which gives them responsibility without real power. Don't bet on the new parliament lasting its full four years. Desperately into ridicule Why did the communists subject themselves to this battering through the ballot-box Largely out of desperation. Their leader. General Jaruzelski. knows that he must have popular support and benevolence from the West to carry through the painful policies needed to save an economy wrecked by 40 years of Marxist mismanagement. Offers to co-opt the opposi- tion through cloutless councils were rejected. A referendum in November 1987 was a fiasco (o Would you like to go through a spell of even deeper economic miseryo the Poles were asked. and reasonably replied that they would rather not). This election is the latest and bravest attempt to escape chaos through co-operation. Alas. it has brought Poland no closer to curing its eco- nomic woes. which include a $35 billion debt. 60percent-plus infla- tion and an archaic industry remarkable mainly for its capac- ity to pollute. Because voters did not distinguish between good communists and bad last Sunday. they rejected admira- ble reformers such as the economist-in-chief. Mr Wladyslaw Baka. Besides. it was clear from the round-table agreement which opened the way for last week's election that there would be big arguments over economic policy. The argument could split Solidarity. It is already divided between free-marketeers. anxious to see economic liberalisation. and fundamentalists. worried that reforms would hurt the jobs of trade unionists. The communists. too. could split. as hardliners rebel against the reformers who led them into the election disaster. Amid this uncertainty. it is easy to despair of Poland. Despair is the wrong reaction to Sunday's result. Better to concentrate on its clearest. unignorable message Poles want a non-communist government. If that is the way to avoid chaos. the communists could eventually give in. Solidarity should use its bigger bargaining-power to press for the democratic infrastructure without which future freedom could flop. Po- land needs a free press. independent courts and control over the police. It also needs new political parties (Solidarity. re- member. is merely a trade union which happens to lead the opposition). so that Poles can in future vote. not just against a communist party they despise. but for specific alternatives. Of course. the dash for democracy could still be abruptly stopped. Martial law could happen again. even though it proved no solution the first time and it would instantly cut Poland off from western economic help. Mr Gorbachev would hate to send Soviet tanks to maintain order in Po- land. since that would undo all his foreign-policy triumphs. But loss of communist control in Poland would make him that much more vulnerable in the Kremlin. and a Gorbachev successor might not be so reluctant to play with tanks. Still. if Poles stay sensible-avoid careless talk of leaving the Warsaw pact. maybe pledge to keep the defence and foreign ministries communist-there is a chance that they could get what they I really asked for last Sunday. j