Despite its communistic past, Poland was able to establish free-marked structures in relatively short time. The political circumstances after the change of the system proved to be challenging and are still not solved sufficiently. This work aims to evaluate major social problems in the 21st century of Poland in the framework of political configurations and economic conditions. Introductorily, the work will begin with a historical review in order to lead over to opposing political forces in Poland and with it the social problems devoted to politics. In order to find a solution to political problems in Poland, a comparison of political systems of major western countries is undertaken. The economically situation of Poland is analysed by considering the social problems of unemployment and labour migration. Data and theories related to the British labour market are used to compare the markets and point out possible ways to cope with future challenges.
Political and Historical Development of Poland after the WWII
Post-war Poland was marked by economic instability as a consequence of the Second World War owing to devastated urban areas, destroyed infrastructure, high prices combined with low wages and limited access to everyday supplies (Kubilius, 2009).
The post-war time under Soviet protectorate was followed by the Bierut era (1948–1956), a period governed by the Polish Communists United Workers' Party (PZPR) and its leader Bolesław Bierut, continuing spreading communism on behalf of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Economic reforms and national reconstruction in a centralized Six-Year- Plan imposed by the Soviet Government was seeking to accelerate the recovery of the country by nationalization of private trade and industry. The agriculture was collectivized, which meant that land was confiscated and redistributed amongst peasants. A major sign of dominance was set by the USSR in 1948, when Poland were forced to decline urgently needed reparations related to the Marshall Plan offered by the US. The Warsaw-Pact signed in 1955 as counteract to the western North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), were primarily seeking to ally military defence and economical support among the satellite states. (Buffalo University, 1992)
Władysław Gomułka gained leadership in 1956 after callings for reforms broadened and demonstrations amidst workers forced the communistic government to reshape its political approach. More than ever before, polish politicians could have needed the back-up by the Soviet Union, but with the death of Stalin in 1953, the destalinization of the USSR prevented an interaction, which paved the way for partial reforms towards liberalism, wherein liberalism has to be understood under the force of communism and is not the slightest comparable to western free-market movements. Towards the end of the Gomułka era in 1970
the economical crisis came into full force, when the government had to increase the price for basic food, which were stabilized artificially in former times and obliged the leader to resign after major strikes against the communistic regime widened. (Buffalo University, 1992)
Within the beginning of the Edward Gierek era, succeeding Gomułka in 1970, the economy seemed to be very prosperous, as a general upward trend was noticed, recognized by the public in a higher living standard and a more stable economy. But soon after, the ineffectiveness of new factories and mismanagement combined with global problems (such as the oil crisis in 1973) affected the economy adversely. As a consequence, the 70s in Poland were marked by increasing opposing forces such as trade unions and student protests. In 1978 Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elected Pope and immediately spread hope amongst the polish people for a better future. The “mystery” as it was called, turned hope into tangible distance. The years between 1980 and 1990 highlight the gradually deconstruction of the communist system in Poland. Guided by Lech Wałęsa, a veteran and electrician, the trade union Solidarność was aiming to establish ‘a trade union independent of communist party control[ling] and possessing the legal right to strike’ (Buffalo University, 1992 Chap. The Birth of Solidarity). The Gdańsk Agreement was a crucial step to further liberalization that had never been as advanced before under the umbrella of the Soviet Union. Despite improved labour conditions such as abolishing weekend work, or increase in the minimum wage the agreement secured the right for Poles to associate in free trade unions. The latter proved to be an accelerator for change, as the trade union Solidarność gained ten million members in short time and was able to make a serious stand against the communist rulers in Poland for the first time in history at this stage. But a hard time for the people ascended, when the first enthusiasm for Solidarność dwindled down and the leading communist party brought General Wojciech Jaruzelski into charge, who declared Martial Law in 1981 in order to silence all opposing forces within Poland. Although Wałęsa and most of his followers were imprisoned the idea of solidarity remained. Mayor changes in the Eastern Bloc imposed by the President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, with perestroika and glasnost encouraged Poland to political reforms. Lech Wałęsa received the Nobel Price for Peace in 1983 for his ‘[...] campaign for human rights [...]’ and ‘[...] ensur[ing] the workers' right to establish their own organisations’ (The Nobel Foundation, 1983). The revitalise solidarity movements achieved that by 1988 most political imprisoned people were released and in 1989 Jaruzelski initiated Round Table Talks with opposing fractions including representatives of Solidarność. The outcome not only legalized trade unions, it allowed Solidarność to send candidates, including Lech Wałęsa, into the parliamentary elections. Solidarność was able to form a coalition with other small parties to build a non-communistic majority in the parliament and Lech Wałęsa was determined as its president. The first prime minister was Tadeusz Mazowiecki, similar to Lech Wałęsa a former leader of the solidarity movements. (Buffalo University, 1992)
From then onwards the political leadership in Poland showed everything else than continuity. A post-communist, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, succeeded Wałęsa in 1995 as president by a small margin in the second election round. It is believed that the success of a former communist is due to the considerable sacrifices the polish people had to sustain over the first five years of implementing free market conditions and democracy. Furthermore, Kwaśniewski as a former minister in the communist era of Poland in the 80s understood to appear in public as a political leader, whereas Wałęsa was brought up as a working-class child and didn’t have the privileges to study. His support in public was large enough to secure him the re-election for presidency in 2000, but made it necessary in 2005 to step down, as by law the tenure is limited to two successive five year periods. Lech Kaczyński, a former advisor of Lech Wałęsa and vice- chairman of the Solidarność trade union in 1989, started for the party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice, PiS) to succeed the post-communist president in 2005. On 10th April 2010 the polish people suffered a severe loss, when the president and other political leader came to death in an airplane crash near the city of Smolensk, Russia (Campell and Franchetti, 2010). New elections were scheduled on 20th June 2010 and resulted in a partly victory for the centralist Bronisław Komorowski from the party Platforma Obywatelska (Civil Platform) with 47.3 % (estm.) defeating Jarosław Kaczyński with 33.2 % (estm.), the twin brother of Lech Kaczyński, in the first round of Polish presidential elections; the run-off is planned for the 4th July 2010 to determine the president (J.P., 2010).
Political Unrest in Poland
As the preceding evolution of presidentship already shows, the polish politic landscape is affected by an almost regular change in political direction, and gets even more confuse by checking the diverse number of different prime ministers in service between 1989 up to our very present. An appalling number of 14 prime ministers served their duty since the polish transformation began in 1989 and can be understood as an expression of the diverse number of opposing forces and tensions in the parliament, which consists of a high number of small parties. In order to achieve the majority in the parliament the leading parties have to win the support by those small parties to be able to name the prime minister in charge and every tremor in trust or opinion results in a loss of the majority in parliament. As a consequence a new prime minister has to be elected which explains the high number of prime ministers supporting different political directions. This is not only an expression of instability among the parliament it also causes trouble for the continuous development of Poland with respect to democracy, economy and foreign policy. This dispute is particular evident in the semi- presidential system of Poland in which the president and the prime minister have to negotiate the final outcome of day-to-day administration of the state (Laidler, 2010 p.8). The voter participation which has ever been low, even in the first free election in 1989 with just about 53 %, reached its maximum in the president elections 1995 with 68 % and declined almost steadily since (Kostadinova, 2003), even down to less than 50 % in 2005 (Eurostat, 2010). This development in voter turnout is somehow unexpected, especially taking into account that the country has been affected by suppression of freedom by the communist regime over years, someone would expect a relieve shown in a higher participation in elections. On the other hand it can be seen as an indicator of lack of interest in politics by society and might even be related to an expression of political disaffection as the political situation since 1992 has hardly ever been evaluated as ‘good’ by the public with more than 20 % in surveys (CBOS, 2010 Political situation). The reasons can be related to social problems like unemployment, stagnation of economy, working emigration, political system, crime and health system to name some major areas that people’s life is affected by and can be seen as a source of individual problems that might be expressed in a low turnout of votes. Another aspect that shutters the trust in politics is the unsettled handling with former spies and collaborators in the communist era, as documents are mainly hold secret and necessary lustration is hindered.
The question about political outlook and hope of Poland remains. Having a look at the political system in countries like Germany or the United States of America (USA), it can be revealed that parts of the struggle in polish politics is related to its political semi-presidential system and with it the power of the decision-maker. The USA with a presidential system has a head of state with ultimate power, who decides the direction of the country’s development for the future. This is as written above not given in Poland. The parliament-system in Germany determines a chancellor, who is able in coordination with the leading party to decide on the country’s best. The system in Germany has another advantage over the polish system, as it possesses a five-percent rule, which means that a party needs five or more percent of the votes during the general election in order to get a seat in the parliament. Such a method could make it more likely to form more stable coalitions in Poland; on the other hand it would ignore the opinion of minority parties. Similar to Poland, Germany had to cope with its communistic past of the GDR, which it did very openly. This open approach is almost seen as granted in Germany, but shows in comparison to Poland that democracy is deeper linked into the network of state, politics and society. The advantage of open handling with secret documents of the GDR is that it helped to re-establish trust in politics, as it was possible in short time to widely finish off the period of communistic area of a reunited Germany. This process of lustration seems to take longer in Poland, which is understandable as their democracy is relative young and might not cope as comfortable with a sudden opening of communistic documents.
Poland’s entry into the NATO in 1999 and into the European Union (EU) in 2004 was a step on political level to gain more stability and maintain security of the country. Particularly, the involvement in the EU turned out to have a positive effect on the polish economy (CBOS, 2010 Economic situation), as Poland received needed grants and subsidies. Which were used for instance to modernize the infrastructure in order to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) from abroad or improve structural differences within the country, which is seeking to connect Poland stronger to the centre of Europe. Continuous surveys conducted by the Public Opinion Research Centre (CBOS) shows that the positive attitude towards the EU integration (CBOS, 2010 EU integration) from 2001 onwards is coherent with an increase in living standard (CBOS, 2010 Standard of living). All these efforts and developments let hope for the future of Poland and if stronger recognized by the people, then identification with politics might increase once again.
Polish Labour Market and Migration
Political decisions effect economically development drastically, from the introduction of the Balcerowicz Plan in 1989, which was rather a shock towards liberalism than a smooth movement, to a flourishing polish economy in the 21st century it was a long and rocky road. Nevertheless, the overall economical development has been a success. Rigid reforms towards free market structures made Poland the best flourishing EU Member State of all acceding EU-countries. This is reflected in an above-average growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the EU (Ministerium für Wirtschaft - Wien, 2008 p.27). Given a strong enlivenment of the polish economy, the situation of the labour market improved continuously as well. The number of unemployed people decreased fast between 2002 from 3.2mio (~20%) to 1.9mio (~11%) in 2007 (Ministerium für Wirtschaft - Wien, 2008 p.30). Despite the economic crisis, Poland’s unemployment rate is around 8.9 % published by Eurostat in January 2010 and therewith below the EU27 average of 9.5 % (Eurostat, 2010 p.1). Reasons for the positive development are seen in demographic factors, growth related to EU entry and migration of Labour:
After an almost linear increase in the population of Poland from the early 1960s to 1995, the development shows stagnation and even a slight decrease in residents after 1995 (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2010 Chap. Demographic Trend - Poland). This means that the general size of labour force decreases slightly which is beneficial for the rate of unemployment. Furthermore, Poland is facing a typical phenomenon of western countries that is ageing population. Stochastic forecasts by the Max Plank Institute for Demographic Research predict not only a sharp decrease in population down to 27 to 35 millions by 2050, but also that 38 % of the population will be aged over 65 years (Matysiak et al, 2005 p.2). Similar to other developed countries, Poland can expect to face problems in paying pensions and a lack of future labour force to maintain a growing GDP. The author of the stochastic calculations points out that the predictions are limited by the lack of reliable long term data, especially during the communistic time. The work by Strawiński (2008, p.41)