In Warsaw today Poland is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the rebirth of Polish democracy after historic 1989 election. And this year also marks the 15th anniversary of Poland’s membership in NATO.
History was made here. The victory of 1989 was not inevitable. It was the culmination of centuries of Polish struggle, at times in this very square. The generations of Poles who rose up and finally won independence.
It was the beginning of the end of Communism across Europe. A Europe that is more integrated, more prosperous and more secure. On this historic day, the first global award dedicated to an individual fighting for freedom and democracy will be awarded for the first time.
In his remarks Carl Bildt, the foreign minster of Sweden, at the Award Ceremony for the inaugural Solidarity Prize, Royal Castle, Warsaw, June 3, 2014, said “What happened here a quarter of a century ago created a new Poland, paved the way for a new Europe and changed the course of the world.
What was overcome was, of course, a rotten and evil system ready for the dustbin of history. our own age has once again demonstrated the key role played by individuals. We saw it here in Poland. We saw it all over Central Europe. We saw it in the Baltic States. We saw it – and this should not be forgotten – in Russia as well. Their names are part of the history of our Europe.
A truly dedicated individual has been chosen. (leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, in Warsaw) And it is indeed appropriate that this is happening here in Poland, and that it is happening on this very day. It will be important Award for the future, said Mr Carl Bildt in Speech.
The danger that once emanated from the Communist part is not there any more, the bipolar world has ceased to exist and Europe is no longer unnaturally cut in two by the Iron Curtain. But it is a fact that the fall of the Iron Curtain was not the end of history. It was neither the end of human suffering or conflicts nor the beginning of a paradise on Earth. It was just the end of one historical era, and our generation has been called upon to build on its ruins the foundations of a new era with perseverance and patience, using the best of our knowledge and conscience, and with the boldness which this historic moment requires.
Post-Communist cases demonstrate the key to political elite action in the post-Communist both structure and agency based democratization. Transition to democracy take place when the elite controlling the existing regime change political institutions and extend voting rights. Since, like economic institutions, political institutions are collective choices. As a result, it is not only democrats who can establish democracy.
The actors most likely to support the transition to democracy, no matter what their political pedigree, are those with portable resources, skills, reputation, and networks that allow these elites to function easily in both authoritarian and democratic regime. Such elites can be found both among the functionaries of the old and established democracy and and new regimes with skilled elites and resources that are highly portable to the new democratic regime.
For example, those communist elites in east-central Europe who were recruited into the party (strengthening as essential to democracy-building) on the basis of their managerial skills and put in charge of implementing liberalizing reforms have proven to be the most successful democratic competitors of post-Communist political contests. In Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and Lithuania, highly experienced and worldly technocrats took over the party leaderships, centralized power within the parties, streamlined extensive memberships and organizations, and committed themselves to democracy.
The result was that these parties re-entered power within a few years of the Communist collapse, this time by winning democratic elections with appeals to secularism, moderation, and technocratic competence. Moreover, the more the state had grown independent of the party during Communist role, and the more it developed the capacity to administer economic reforms, co-opting potential opposition, etc, the more successfully it could navigate the simultaneous transition to market and democracy, And a more apolitical state whose representatives have experience in administering liberalizations has been a key contributor to the success of democratization.
There are several cases, Lech Walesa in Poland is perhaps the most illustrious example. A popular leader of opposition to Communist rule and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
In August 1980 he was instrumental in political negotiations that led to the ground-breaking Gdańsk Agreement between striking workers and the government. He became a co-founder of the Solidarity trade-union movement and was prominent in the establishment of the 1989 Round Table Agreement that led to semi-free parliamentary elections in June 1989 and to a Solidarity-led government.
The most essential elements of democracy are the critical component of having an opposition; as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and chair of the National Democratic Institute, said recently when Brookings hosted the 10th annual Sakıp Sabancı lecture.
Representative competition is one key to the successful introduction of both market reform and democracy. But this is not simply a question of elite turnover (Weingast and Wittman , 2008). As both Latin American and African cases show, political fragmentation per se can pose major obstacles to liberal economic reforms. In contrast, an active and well-organized opposition limits the excesses of the governing elites, by creating a credible threat of replacement to the government.
Similarly, committed democrats may sometimes not be the best ones to establish and consolidate democracy. If the legacies of the pats undermine democratization, and that the survival of actors form the previous regime makes the transition to democracy more difficult. Critically, Lech Walesa was unable to adapt successfully the transition to liberal democratic politicians and to his new role as Poland´s democratically elected president, fomenting a destructive war at the top, fragmenting elites, negating foreign policy commitments, and questioning the legitimacy of other elected officials.
Democracy is once again proving to be the best, most stable way of dealing with political challenges. And yet, at the same time democracy, more than any other system, demands statesmanship and courageous leadership.
Our Baltic world was always a world between the East and the West. There was a past: And our task together is to build a better future. For our own countries. For Ukraine and definitely for Russia. A world where the values of Europe should stand even stronger than today. But it is only by truly seeing the lessons of the past, and by working together, that we as Europe can grasp all of these possibilities.
Looking forward is Europe coming together and be a true partner to the rest of the world for both peace and prosperity. From Speech by Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt’s personal contribution to the restoration of the Baltic countries’ freedom.
A key theme that emerged during the day was the link between Poland’s recent past and Ukraine’s current challenge. Specialists on defense, economic reform, and democratic development noted that Poland’s growth and democratization in the post-Soviet era serves as a model for a Ukraine that continues to struggle with changing its Soviet-built institutions.
At the Wroclaw Global Forum, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves opened the Forum’s deliberations noting the contrast between this week’s celebrations in Poland of the 1989 elections that set the country firmly on a path to democratization, and the reality in 2014 that Russia is waging war to prevent that same process from advancing in Poland’s neighbor, Ukraine. Europe’s “liberal order is being challenged by authoritarian, illiberal, yet often successful market economies in ways we did not foresee when the first free elections were held in Poland twenty-five years ago, said Ilves.