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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers


Poland was the first and one of the most successful transitions from a centralized communist state to a liberal, more Western-style democracy. During the European economic crisis, Poland's economy maintained one of the highest growth rates in the European Union (EU). Its political system stabilized. It has been both an active member of the EU and a strong advocate for liberalization of its eastern neighbors as well as for their inclusion in European initiatives. Its prime minister, Donald Tusk, was the first East European elected head of the Council of Europe in 2014. His successor, Ewa Karpacz, signaled a shift to more social welfare programs aimed at the middle and lower classes.

But getting there was not easy. Its early and fast start on democratization and economic reform, as well as reformers' fear of opposition from the Soviet Union or even from the police and military in Poland, created complications that impact Polish politics even today. Since Poland was the first state to begin a transformation out of communism, its new leaders went only as far as they thought the Soviet Union and the rest of the bloc would tolerate. But within months, communism had collapsed everywhere except the Soviet Union, which was clearly too weak to hold back change. So the other former Soviet bloc states went much further much faster. As a result, the Polish political system was a "work in progress" for years, changing its constitution and laws in response to what did and did not work. In the process, Poland went from an uneasy coalition of former communist leaders, Solidarity activists, and experts in 1989, to a system in which the right and then the former communists battled for power, and finally, by the end of its first two decades of democracy, to a stable system with two dominant parties close to the center and a number of smaller parties.

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Central and East European Politics: From Communism to Democracy (3rd Edition)


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