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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 3, 2014
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From the editor
June 3, 2014   
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Fewer and fewer people remember the Poland of 25 years ago and the watershed moment when the country’s first partially free parliamentary elections were held after decades of communism.

Is there such a thing as partial democracy? There was—in Poland a quarter of a century ago. This peculiar concept was devised during the Round Table talks between the then-illegal Solidarity trade union and the ruling communists, with the Catholic Church acting as a mediator. They resolved to work together to pull the country out of the depths of crisis. The communists thought they would gain time to find a way of staying in power. Solidarity hoped to return to the political game. Neither side really knew what their deal would result in.

They agreed to hold partially democratic elections—only 35 percent of the seats in the parliament’s lower house, the Sejm, and all 100 seats in the newly established Senate were up for grabs. Sixty-five percent of the Sejm seats had been set aside for those in power: the Moscow-backed Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) and its political sidekicks: the agrarian United People’s Party (ZSL) and the Democratic Party (SD).

On June 4, 1989, somewhat disorientated voters took part (with turnout at just 65 percent) in this odd experiment. Some of those who stayed home were, as usual, not interested. However, many were distrustful, certain they were witnessing yet another attempt to manipulate them by the communist government rather than a partially democratic vote.

Solidarity took everything it could in those elections—99 Senate seats (one went to an independent businessman) and the full 35 percent of the Sejm seats. The communist party was flabbergasted; after all, one of its leaders had worried just before the elections that the communists could win too much and consequently undermine trust in the fairness of the vote. Truth be told, Solidarity was surprised too. But a true shock was yet to come: full power and full democracy, paving the way for 25 years of development that changed Poland out of all recognition.
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