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The core of the great Solidarity movement was the dream of freedom and democracy, understood as an innate right of every human being to decide his or her own fate and to share responsibility for the fate of the nation.

Home » News » First debate in the cycle “Assessing the Polish transformations”

First debate in the cycle “Assessing the Polish transformations”

- In the communist system there was one power centre, which in times of crisis was the target of all public anger. In the capitalist system, responsibility for decision-making gets diluted. For that reason the general feeling of satisfaction over social changes in Poland may be relatively high, while it’s possible that there is greater differentiation concerning separate, specific issues – said David Ost during a debate devoted to the socio-economic transformations in Poland after 1989.

On 29th  May 2014 the Prof. Bronisław Geremek Centre Foundation organized the first meeting in a new cycle of debates and open lectures titled “Assessing the Polish Transformations”. It was held at the Państwomiasto seminar room, 29 Andersa  Str., Warsaw. The participants:

Waldemar Kuczyński – economist. In  1980 member of the Commission of Experts attached to the Inter-Factory Strike Committee. Minister for Ownership Transformations in the cabinet of Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Chief economic adviser to Premier Jerzy Buzek. Writer, political commentator.

Andrzej Leder – philosopher. Head of the Philosophy of Culture Research Team  at the Polish Academy of Sciences Institute of Philosophy and Sociology.  Author of the book Prześniona rewolucja. Ćwiczenia z logiki historycznej (2013).

David Ost – professor of political science at the Hobart and William Smith Colleges (USA). Since 1980  he has studied Solidarity, the process of democratization and the union movement. Ost has lectured at Warsaw University and other academic schools. Author of the books The Defeat of Solidarity (2005) and Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics (1990).

The discussion was moderated by Karolina Wigura – sociologist, journalist. Member of the “Kultura Liberalna” editorial board. Assistant professor at the Warsaw University Institute of Sociology, member of the Programme Council of the Congress of Women.


The participants opened the debate by examining the differences in social climate surrounding the respective anniversaries of the collapse of communism in Poland. The sharp criticism of the transformations  formulated by outstanding intellectuals who had been members of the Polish democratic opposition, Karol Modzelewski and Marcin Król,  often encounters certain resistance though, on the other hand, it also meets with understanding – depending on the audience. One can distinguish different community, class and generation reactions.

 David Ost underlined that when the Polish translation of The Defeat of Solidarity appeared, not everyone was aware of the mechanisms behind the transformations in Poland. They were not  only economic in nature, but also had emotional and psychological dimensions. The rationalist motivation of the transformations , assuming their historical imperative and irreversibility ,  drowned the voice of the excluded, who now have been coopted by radical and extremist groupings.


Waldemar  Kuczyński stated that he saw no fundamental differences in the perception of the systemic transformations in Poland. The views of  critics addressing the problem merely reflect their individual approach to historical events. Deep research, to mention Diagnoza społeczna, indicates that public approval oscillates around 80%.  The last twenty- five years have seen remarkable social peace (with the exception of the wave of strikes in 1992).  Poland has not enjoyed a similar period of freedom, security and prosperity since the mid-18th century! Waldemar Kuczyński expressed indignation that this obvious success was being questioned  and Poles were being denied the right to satisfaction.

Andrzej Leder endorsed Waldemar Kuczyński’s opinions about the outright criticism of the transformations, though he also highlighted the geopolitical perspective. Poland, as it abandoned the Russian imperial system, did not consciously  chose an economic model, but rather a cultural one. This meant that the economic transformation  was merely a way of adapting to free-market rules. Necessity was concealed under the guise of free choice.  The problem, however, consisted in a lack awareness that the operation of the free market could be brutal.

 Waldemar Kuczyński added that the conviction that a sense of community was lost after 1989 was rooted in the idealization of the Solidarity movement. While Solidarity functioned exceptionally well in confrontations, once a threat was over – we witnessed classical Polish back-stabbing, as best demonstrated by the first congress of the union. In struggle, Solidarity personified the whole nation, though in periods of normalization it  became the society - with all its flaws, weaknesses and internal divisions.  Now, Poland needs  several decades of intense, conscientious, ant-like toil because the transformations are not yet completed.

During exchanges with the public, the panelists addressed  such issues as moral responsibility for the economic transformations since 1989, discussed the possibility of other paths of transformation and considered the genealogy of the Polish sense of community.