Poland Picks Up the Pace
This week's comeback electoral victory by the Solidarity movement confirms democracy's solid foundations in Poland. It's not so much that a government led by former communists was voted out, but that Solidarity's leaders were able to cement together a coalition of the right that could win enough votes, 34 percent, to control the new government.
Under its new chief, Marian Krzaklewski, the former trade union organization that sparked Poland's new era has learned how to quell internal divisiveness and attract partners. Its heroic, but combative founder, Lech Walesa, is on the sidelines, for now.
Poland's politics are evolving a strong middle ground. The Solidarity coalition's likely partner in the next government, a centrist party led by economic reformer Leszek Balcerowicz, also recorded significant gains in this election. And the defeated former communists, led by the still highly popular young president, Alexander Kwasniewski, have themselves become ardent free marketers. Poland has experienced vibrant economic growth under their tutelage. That didn't, however, overcome the public's suspicions of communist-style official corruption and patronage.
The fundamentals of economic policy - including continued courting of foreign investment and a push for European Union membership - are backed by all sides in Poland. NATO membership is also supported all around. The more contentious issues are likely to revolve around the place of religion in the Polish polity. Mr. Krzaklewski is an outspoken champion of letting the teachings of the Catholic church shape public policy - by opposing liberalized abortion law, for instance, and encouraging religious instruction in schools.
The next few weeks will indicate just how far Solidarity's newfound penchant for coalition building has come, as Krzaklewski and Mr. Balcerowicz cut a deal on the makeup of the government.
Poland's growing centrism and economic growth is mirrored in neighbors like Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia. They're the pace-setters away from the communist past, and the pace is quickening.