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Third Polish Republic (1989-today) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 12 June 2011 19:46
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Third Polish Republic (1989-today)
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Polish MapIn 1989-1991, Poland engaged in a democratic transition which put an end to the Polish People's Republic and led to a democratic regime, called Polish Third Republic. After ten years of democratic consolidation, Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004.


In the 1970s and 1980s, tension grew between the people of Poland and its Communist government, as with the rest of the Eastern bloc as the influence of the Soviet Union faded. With the advent of "perestroika" in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev, a chance was opened to finally change the system of government, after the harsh period of martial law (1981-83) imposed by General Jaruzelski.

Fears that a shift of power from a centralized one-party system to a multi-party democracy might turn into a bloody revolution proved unfounded, owing to the presence on both sides ? the Communist Party, and the democratic opposition ? of peace-minded reformists committed to a peaceful solution.

Round Table Agreement and democratic transition

The 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 the Solidarity union, and Interior Minister Kiszczak began talks with its leader Lech Wałęsa on August 31. These talks broke down in October, but a new series of negotiations, the "round-table" talks, began in February 1989. These talks produced an agreement in April for partly open parliamentary 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; the majority of these were by candidates supported by Solidarity.

The failure of the communists at the polls produced a political crisis. The round-table agreement called for a communist president, and on July 19, the National Assembly, with the support of a number of Solidarity deputies, elected General Wojciech Jaruzelski to that office. However, two attempts by the communists to form governments failed.

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 non-communists.

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 elections they contested, although voter turnout was only a little over 40%. The cabinet was reshuffled in July 1990; the national defence 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 Wałęsa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 June 2011 21:42
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