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Poland in the Modern World: Beyond Martyrdom by Brian Porter-Sz̋cs

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13

POLITICS IN THE THIRD REPUBLIC

When Poles cast their ballots against the PZPR in the summer of 1989, they were participating in the 17th parliamentary election since the restoration of the country’s independence in 1918. Unfortunately, a closer look at those earlier votes was not auspicious. Only one (1922) could be described as free and fair, and even that one was held under impossibly chaotic circumstances. The remainder of the interwar elections were openly contested, but rigged by Józef Piłsudski’s Sanacja regime. After one fraudulent but still multi-party vote in 1947, all the elections in the PRL had been nothing more than civic rituals, with no actual decisions permitted. Because of this background, the establishment of electoral institutions and norms was bound to be a bumpy road. Outside observers worried about the resurrection of old far-right extremist groups, or the rise of demagogues who would find easy support among a population not “ready” for democracy. Stereotypes were trotted out that depicted Poles (and other East Europeans) as too politically “immature” to cope with open elections, but in the end it turned out that Poland wasn’t that different from its European neighbors after all. Aside from some structural problems that were solved easily enough, Polish politics has been no less (or more) stable, no more (or less) prone to extremism than anywhere else on the continent. The political problems that Poles are confronting today would be familiar to anyone in ...

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