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May 19, 2024

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The War Between “Two Polands” Deepens

Separatist celebrations mark Poland’s 1989 freedom anniversary
In its desperation to rule opposition proposes regionalization

By Robert Strybel
Warsaw Correspondent

The 30th anniversary of Poland’s partially free June 4th, 1989 election was widely celebrated throughout the country. But, instead of unifying the nation, it only entrenched its deep conservative-liberal/leftist divide. The ruling conservative Law and Cicatrices administration combined the 1989 anniversary with the 40th anniversary of Pope John Paul’s first pilgrimage to Poland a decade earlier, emphasizing that without the inspiration of that papal visit there probably would never have been the peaceful Solidarity revolution nor the June 1989 election.

Conservative politicians and media also recalled that the first truly free elections occurred in October of 1991 and brought the conservative government of Jan Olszewski to power. But eight months later, Lech Wałęsa forced Olszewski to resign by mounting a backroom coup. Its purpose was to prevent a measure exposing Wałęsa and other leading politicians as former paid informers of the communist secret police. More than anything else, it was probably that incident that created the barricade separating the conservative, Catholic, anti-communist majority from the liberal post-communist elite and led to what has been called “the Polish-Polish War.”

The celebrations of the elitist progressives focused solely on the June 4, 1989 election which was only partially free. Wałęsa and his dissident advisers had struck a deal with the communist establishment, agreeing in advance to grant it 65 percent of the parliamentary seats and contest only the remaining 35.  Despite that handicap, Solidarity won all the parliamentary mandates it was allowed to compete for as well as 99 of the freely contested seats in the 100-member Senate. It was a humiliating defeat for the Soviet-backed regime.

In the Baltic port of Gdańsk, one of the opposition’s main strongholds, its separatist celebration turned into a giant political rally ahead of autumn’s general elections. Speakers included Wałęsa and former prime minster, now European Council chief  Donald Tusk. A surprise development was the birth of a new political project attended by several hundred anti-government mayors who issued a list of 21 demands as a road map to a new, regionally divided Poland. Desperate to return to power but unable to defeat the popular Law and Justice government nationwide, the opposition with Tusk’s blessing appears willing to fragmentation the country to rule at least in the regions where they enjoy the most support,

Their radical list of demands calls for reducing the prerogatives of the central government, including the power of taxation, and handing them over to local regions. They<also propose abolishing the office of voivode (provincial governor) who is appointed by Warsaw, as well as doing away with the senate and replacing it with a local-government chamber. There have even been calls to restore the pre-World War II Nazi-controlled Free City of Gdańsk.

It would appear that those strategists and image specialists advising the PO do not know what country they are living in. By<announcing a pro-LGBT stance and attacking the Church in staunchly Catholic Poland in the run-up to the May 26th European Parliament election, the liberal-led opposition European Coalition clearly shot itself in the foot. Now they seem bent on repeating that mistake.

They seem oblivious to the fact that the vast majority of Poles regard Poland’s  centrally governed independent statehood as an unquestioned value. Consequently, the prospect of dividing the country into autonomous regions would be a gigantic political turnoff. That is only natural considering the 18th-century partitions that wiped Poland off the map for 123 years, the 1939 German-Soviet deal that split the country down the middle and 45 years of repressive misrule by a Soviet-installed puppet regime.

But even if a party advocating such fragmentation got voted into office, it could not introduce such changes without amending the constitution. Doing that would require a two-thirds parliamentary majority. No party, not even popular Law and Justice, can independently claim that many votes in parliament.