139. Solidarity's Revival and Polish Politics

By
Marian Krzaklewski

One of the weakest aspects of Polish democracy, according to Marian Krzaklewski, Chair of the Solidarity trade union and leader of Akcja Wyborcza Solidarnosc (AWS--Solidarity Electoral Action Coalition), has been the inability of the post-Solidarity political parties to maintain a united front. Eight years after the collapse of Communism, the "destructive diffusion" of these groups has inhibited the creation of a well-defined political landscape and has left Poland's former Communists in control of the country.

The parties in question belonged to what Krzaklewski described as the post-August camp, meaning the political groupings that derived from the original Solidarity movement (formed in August 1980). The decisive blow to these parties came in the parliamentary elections of 1993. Unable to cooperate among themselves before the vote, they ran separately on diverse tickets. Pitted against them was the united effort of what Krzaklewski called the post-Communist parties. Despite receiving more total votes than the post-Communists, individually each post-August party was unable to muster the five percent of the vote required by Polish electoral law to earn parliamentary seats. Thus, Krzaklewski argued that most of the votes cast for the post-August parties were wasted. Although the post-Communists received only 20 percent of the popular vote, they ended up with what Krzaklewski described as a disproportionate majority of seats in the Polish parliament.

In order to respond to this setback, the Solidarity Union held a conference after the elections to create a social movement similar to the one formed in 1980. Instead of grouping around a particular individual or political party, however, the union's leaders sought to focus on the most urgent problems which they believed confronted the Polish nation. Krzaklewski said that this approach led to integration and political consolidation around the Solidarity Union, which in turn led to a further integration of the social movement.

Solidarity initiated a grass-roots organizational campaign focused on four major issues: the constitution, privatization, social security, and the health care system. Krzaklewski noted that Polish law now worked in the union's favor, since it allowed non-parliamentary groups to submit legislative proposals if they are able to gather 500,000 signatures of support. In the case of the constitution, the union attempted to submit its own version of the document, which it called the civic or citizens' constitution. By collecting 1.5 million signatures, Solidarity forced parliament to consider its version.

They repeated this feat with the privatization bill, forcing a referendum for the first time in Polish postwar history. The mass privatization proposals were put to the Polish public and were supported by nine million Polish voters. The ruling post-Communist coalition, however, insisted that 50 percent of the electorate must vote for the referendum to be binding. This of course did not happen, a failure which Krzaklewski characterized as an unfortunate weakness of Polish democracy.

By the spring of 1996, support for the Solidarity movement had increased to approximately 20 percent, and its leadership consolidated further by creating an electoral committee. Krzaklewski took exception to the notion that he is the leader of a political party. He maintained that the Solidarity Electoral Action Coalition is not a political party but the institutionalization of a social movement whose sole function is to represent the movement in the elections. The purpose of the coalition was to overcome and eliminate the liberum veto, which has undermined political action throughout Polish history with its requirement of unanimous agreement for all decisions.

In order to mount an effective campaign in the 1995 presidential elections, the Solidarity Electoral Action Coalition had to find a way to agree to sponsor a single candidate to run against the post-Communist candidate. Although the initial attempt--called the Saint Catherine's convention for the historic church where the first meeting took place--to resolve the liberum veto dilemma was unsuccessful, the coalition was ultimately able to devise a decision-making process similar to that used when stockholders get together to vote. Each group in the coalition (political parties, social societies and organizations, foundations) was assigned a number of "voting shares" based on a computer model which took into account such factors as total membership, level of organization, technical capabilities, and popular support as measured by public opinion polls. The coalition leaders then devised an algorithm to establish the percentage of shares of decision-making stock awarded to each group. As a result, they vote as a bloc maintaining a high level of consensus. In order for a decision to be binding, two-thirds of the "shares" of voting stock must be represented, and any decision must be approved by at least 75 percent of those present.

Krzaklewski concluded by acknowledging that the Solidarity Action Coalition is still in transition. Members have joined the coalition voluntarily to form a single faction to enable them to influence events. They have further agreed that if they enter parliament, they will remain unified. But he expressed the hope that the process will go further, maybe before this year's elections. In his opinion, it is both desirable and possible that the coalition coalesce into a large, unified political party. This would leave Poland with a much more orderly political landscape dominated by two large political parties Solidarity and the post-Communist coalition.

Marian Krzaklewski spoke at an EES Noon Discussion on May 7, 1997.

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