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From the editor
July 2, 2010   
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Elections are a great reality check. They show what society is really like. But for most of the time, we are living in a world governed by opinion polls and market surveys.

The market, the media, politicians, everyone wants to know what we are like; always before, not after: before we buy—whatever it is, newspapers, TV guides, parsnips or ideas. Everyone wants to sell us what we desire, because their success depends on our act of purchase. If they don’t have it, they try to sell us a promise. If they have something different than customers expect, they will try to stimulate demand for it. It’s the same with elections. Specialists prepare a commodity-person, a commodity-platform, doing their best to fit the voters’ needs and tastes. To get to know them, you need to conduct an advance poll.

Finally comes election day, and the reality is laid bare.

Looking at the results of the presidential election’s first round—almost 42 percent for Bronisław Komorowski and five percentage points less for Jarosław Kaczyński—I see a map of Poland divided into two parts, almost exactly along the Vistula river. The west favors Komorowski, much more liberal than his main rival; the east prefers Kaczyński, much more conservative than Komorowski. This is a much clearer division than that into cities (in favor of Komorowski) and villages and small towns (in favor of Kaczyński), or younger people (for Komorowski) and older people (for Kaczyński).

This geographic split is fully comprehensible to any average Pole who knows anything about our history. To the average foreigner without this knowledge, it is inexplicable.

When at the end of the 18th century Poland lost its independence for over 120 years to Russia, Prussia and Austria, its western regions became part of Western civilization, while the eastern regions fell under the influence of the East. After World War II, Stalin’s policies approved by the West took away some of Poland’s eastern territories and added some western territories. That’s Poland as it stands today. The boundary created by 120 years of separate development of the two parts, running roughly halfway across today’s Poland, consolidated so far as to become depressingly permanent. Poland was stitched back together in 1918, and its subsequent ordinary, heroic and tragic history strengthened the seam. But, elections reveal the still existing boundary—the most lasting one, rooted in attitudes, customs and value systems. And, to my mind the most important thing: a different sense of security.

This division hampers development, because it prevents a common vision being worked out that could attract and motivate people from all over the country. It is also a constant temptation in political maneuvering, it can be used to play any political tune.

Apart from many other tasks, the role of the Polish president—regardless of who is elected—is to continue to “stitch together” the country and its people. A common vision has to be negotiated, achieved through compromise, and not through the victory of one side. The president is best placed to act as a negotiator, due to his position in society and his constitutional powers.

Andrzej Jonas
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