HIGH NOON IN POLAND, THIRTY YEARS LATER

First Things | 6/4/1989 | George Weigel
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Thirty years ago last week, Poland began to self-liberate from communism through the first semi-free elections held behind the iron curtain since World War II. The memorable 1989 election poster created by the Solidarity movement’s graphic artists featured Gary Cooper as Marshal Will Kane in the western epic High Noon: The lawman was wearing a red-and-white Solidarity pin over his badge while striding purposefully toward the bad guys, with the jumbled red-letter Solidarnosc logo in the background. There were no slogans on the poster; the image said it all—this is an election of great consequence, between good and evil.

As things turned out, Solidarity candidates won 99 out of the 100 contested seats in the newly-created Polish Senate and swept all the contested seats in the lower house of parliament. That overwhelming victory on June 4, 1989, turbo-charged the decade-long process of change ignited in east central Europe by Pope John Paul II’s 1979 pilgrimage to his native land. By the end of a true annus mirabilis, communism was finished throughout the Warsaw Pact and was on its way into the dustbin of history in the Soviet Union (a state that was also on its way out the door, much to the chagrin of a middle-tier KGB operative named Vladimir Putin).

Poles - Society - Measure - Poland - Democracy

During the tumultuous 1980s, Poles often said that they wanted a “normal society,” and that is in large measure what they’ve gotten. Poland is a robust, if increasingly fractious, democracy. Its economy is among the most robust in Europe. Poland is a member of the European Union and a stalwart of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The cultural free-for-all we now associate with late modernity and postmodernity is well established in Polish cities and in the national media. Virtually every imaginable public policy argument encountered in the older democracies of...
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