Poland in the 1990’s

By | December 31, 2021

The arduous path of democratization undertaken by Poland in the Eighties had found only partial answers with the end of the socialist regime. The transition from the planned economy to the market had in fact had serious consequences and caused acute hardships in society. Even the recovery of the early 1990s had not been accompanied by widespread benefits: poorly controlled privatization and restructuring had indeed caused the loss of many jobs. The situation was aggravated by a harsh political climate, troubled by personal conflicts and continuous conflicts in the division of powers between the main organs of the state, which had not been able to remedy a series of constitutional reforms and the adoption of an electoral law with a barrier to the 5%, against the fragmentation of parliamentary representation. Thus, the favor of the electorate (moreover inclined to a massive abstention) had shifted towards the left-wing parties, formed mainly by former communists.

Backed by the coalition of successful 1993 election winning groupings (the Democratic Left Alliance, Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD, and the Polish Peasant Party, Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL), the government led by W. Pawlak (leader of the PSL) had intended to give new impetus to the liberalization of economic life, while attenuating the perverse social effects that it had originated in previous years. However, he managed, albeit to a limited extent, to keep faith with the program presented: in a general atmosphere of indecision, the executive seemed manifestly favoring state ownership, curbed privatization, discouraging foreign investment, and showed an inclination to favor its supporters., implementing, for example. in the agricultural sector, a policy of protectionism, instead of the necessary reforms. Thus, the rise in unemployment continued, provoking widespread reactions: already at the beginning of 1994 there were strikes and street demonstrations.

Friction quickly arose between the governing parties: in January 1994, Pawlak dismissed the Deputy Minister of Finance (SLD) for having underestimated the value of a privatized banking institution and after a few weeks the Minister of Finance (and Deputy Prime Minister) also resigned. M. Borowski (also from the SLD), protesting the violation of the coalition agreements. The cohabitation between the executive and the President of the Republic, L. Wałesa (historical leader of Solidarność) was particularly problematic: in April, to oppose a proposal for a reform of the Constitution that would have attributed to the Chamber and not to the head of state the ratification of the government appointments, Wałesa attempted to dissolve the Sejm (the lower house). Then, in October 1994, asked for and obtained the resignation of the Minister of Defense, Admiral Poland Kołodziejczyk, for having substantially failed the planned reforms.

The high point of the clash was reached because of Wałesa’s opposition to the increase in income taxes, which resulted in the open incitement, aimed at taxpayers, to ignore the new rates (January 1995). The constitutional court forced him to ratify the legislative provision, but Wałesa again attempted to dissolve Parliament (refusing to sign the state budget law). This resulted in the formal impeachment procedure being initiated, which was not followed up to reach an agreement between the majority and the presidency of the Republic: Pawlak resigned after a vote of no confidence (March 1995) and Wałesa agreed to sign the finance law.

In the same weeks, J. Oleksy (SLD) assumed the post of prime minister. The debut at the head of the executive of an authoritative member of the relative majority party sharpened the conflict with the opposition: in May 1995 there were severe clashes with the police in Warsaw during a demonstration organized by Solidarność against growing unemployment. Relations with Wałesa were still difficult: in July, in fact, he vetoed the privatization programs, accusing the executive of privileging state ownership. In this climate, the first round of direct presidential elections took place (November 5, 1995), In which it emerged with a slight lead over Wałesa (candidatosi for re-election), A. Kwaśniewski, leader of the SLD, who was later elected with 51, 7 % of votes in a second ballot of 19 November.

The success of a former member of the Polish Unified Labor Party (Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza, PZPR), dominant in the previous regime, despite some initial fears did not stop the process of change: opening to the West and conversion of the economy to the market remained. the main political objectives on the agenda. Nevertheless, the picture remained very difficult: at first Wałesa’s supporters tried to invalidate Kwaśniewski’s election, accusing him of not having correctly declared their educational qualifications to the electorate, then heavy attacks were carried out on members of the government, with accusations of substantial continuity with the past communist regime. Thus, at the end of 1995, the former Minister of the Interior announced that he could try espionage activity in favor of the Soviet Union, since the 1980s, by the prime minister in office. Oleksy tried to defend himself, but, in January 1996, he resigned. Only when the leadership of the executive, supported by the same majority (SLD, PSL, independents) was assumed by W. Cimoszewicz (top man of the Democratic Left Alliance), the investigation was suspended, due to lack of evidence, and indeed, irregularities emerged in the investigations conducted.

The new executive in June 1996 passed new rules on the privatization of state-owned companies (after a referendum for failure to reach a quorum failed in the matter). In the same weeks a tug-of-war began with the workers of the Gdansk shipyards, bankrupt and subject to controlled administration: while the union protests were mounting, the government tried to give guarantees to the workers, securing new orders. Strong criticism also sparked the signing of a treaty with the Russian Federation for the supply of gas, which according to the opposition put jobs in the coal mining industry at risk. Nonetheless, it was the internal contrasts of the majority that brought the crisis to the fore.

Already in August 1996 the Minister for Foreign Economic Relations (J. Buchacz, PSL) was dismissed for having taken economic and financial measures that were inconsistent with government policy. A reshuffle followed (at the beginning of the following autumn), which, however, did not shelter from new conflicts: in October, in fact, the PSL decided to support the opposition that promoted a law for the revision of tax rates. The crisis was averted only through amendments to the text already voted. Tensions in the world of work also resumed: the conflict with the workers of the Gdansk construction sites, reinvigorated at the end of 1996 and destined to experience a new escalation in the first months of 1997, was added the strike by medical staff (which called for an increase in investments in healthcare, criticizing the entry of private individuals into the sector) and a difficult dispute with the lignite miners of Bełchatów, worried that the downsizing of the energy plan of the local thermoelectric plant could cause job losses. These social tensions had repercussions on the government structure: the Minister of Agriculture, R. Jagielinski, was dismissed under pressure from his own party (PSL) at the beginning of April 1997, while only the compact support of the majority prevented the distrust of the Minister of Health and Social Affairs.

In this same harsh context, a new Constitution was adopted, voted on April 2, 1997 and approved by popular referendum on May 25: it sanctioned the transition to a fully democratic form of state, outlined the fundamental features of a market economy, but with great attention to social guarantees; on the other hand, the explicit references to Christian values ​​advocated by the center-right parties did not appear. The new constitutional pact did not reassure the political framework: the oppositions noted a substantial continuity (if not institutional at least ideological) with the past regime and even contested the results of the popular referendum.

In July, attention focused on the massive floods and the overflow of the Oder and Neisse rivers, which caused fatalities and extensive damage, especially in the south of the country. We then arrived at the elections of 21 September 1997, still characterized by low turnout (48 %), but capable of ensuring the alternation of government. Emerged in fact (by 33, 8 % of the vote) the Electoral Action Solidarity (Akcja Wiborcza Solidarność, AWS), an alliance formed in June 1996 by more than twenty parties and movements of the center-right. In mid-October 1997, J. Buzek (member of Solidarność since its foundation) was called to lead the new executive, the formation of which was completed after long negotiations between the many coalition forces.

The government program, approved by the Sejm at the beginning of November, indicated integration into the European Union, entry into NATO, the acceleration of privatizations, the reform of peripheral administrations, the promotion of Christian values ​​as priorities. At the beginning of 1998 there were the first visible signs of a new climate: the concordat with the Holy See was ratified (signed in 1993 and left a dead letter by the left majority) and a restrictive law on abortion was reintroduced, requested on several occasions. by Pope John Paul II. The reform of the local government was therefore launched (July 1998), after repeated disputes with President Kwaśniewski. It also came (in September1998) to dismiss the text of the new penal code, in order to bring Polish law and procedure into line with European standards. In the economic field, the Buzek government carried out important privatizations (such as that of the steel industry, announced in June, and that of international telecommunications, in October), prepared for the restructuring of the mining sector and launched the reform of the health service by promoting the entry of private individuals. Towards the end of 1998, as a result of these measures, a new wave of protests arose, with strikes by farmers, miners, metalworkers. Then, in January 1999, the strong perplexities aroused by the role assigned to the private sector in the reorganization of health led to the resignation of the competent minister, J. Wutzow. In order to regain consensus in the country, Buzek promoted a reshuffle of the government structure (March), appointing new ministers of health and agriculture. However, the social climate did not seem to brighten and there were strikes and protests in the agricultural and industrial sectors. For Poland political system, please check computerminus.com.

Difficulties arose in relations with the European Union: the disagreements following the introduction of protectionist measures to the advantage of milk producers and cattle breeders (February 1998) were joined by the cuts in Community funding decided by Brussels due to the unsuitability of projects presented by the Polish government. Nonetheless, in March 1998, formal steps were launched for the accession of Poland to the Union, consisting of bilateral negotiations to direct the adaptation of Polish legislation and to verify the existence of administrative structures capable of guaranteeing correct application of the Community legislative provision. Poland has also maintained close relations with Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with which she created the so-called Visegrád group and, subsequently, the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA, Central European Free Trade Agreement, 1992). After the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with Lithuania (signed in 1994), it was signed in May 1997a declaration of reconciliation with the president of Ukraine. Instead, disagreements arose with Belarus (February 1998) over the question of controlling the eastern borders. Finally, after the signing (December 1997) of a memorandum of understanding with a view to joining NATO, at the beginning of 1999, Poland took the final steps: on February 17, Parliament gave a mandate to the president to ratify the Polish accession to the Atlantic Alliance, with an almost unanimous vote, and on February 26 Kwaśniewski signed the ratification act, deposited in the United States (March 12, 1999) together with those of Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Poland political system