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Western Press Review: Examining Solidarity's Evident Triumph

  • Don Hill



Prague, 23 September (RFE/RL) --The Western press continues today to examine the victory of Solidarity labor union and its allies in Sunday's Polish parliamentary elections, as made evident by unofficial preliminary returns and projections. There also is commentary on elections Sunday in Serbia.

Commentators draw two conclusions about the Polish election outcome. One is that it reflects an abiding distaste among Poles for communism and former communists, even those that have worked effectively to lead Poland's transition to democracy and a market economy. The other is that deft electioneering by the Solidarity forces and union leader Marian Krzaklewski engineered the results.

WASHINGTON POST: Poland's former freedom fighters figured out the rules of the game

In a news analysis today, Christine Spolar advances the second interpretation. She writes: "Four years after a steely ex-communist coalition routed them from parliament, Poland's former freedom fighters figured out the rules of the game. Solidarity Election Action, an alliance rooted in the Solidarity political movement that toppled communism in 1989, showed with its impressive first-place finish in Sunday's parliamentary elections that it has learned how to finesse and sustain modern democratic politics.

"The newly fashioned conservative bloc with the historic name came out on top because of calculated maneuvers that put its own house in order - and not, apparently, because of deep shifts by the electorate. In fact, Poles voted along fairly predictable political lines, rooted in history and biography.

"Opposition groups reorganized themselves this year -- with some guidance from Western advisers such as the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute -- to challenge the well-financed and well-run operations of the former Communists in the Democratic Left Alliance and its ally, the Peasant Party. The strong showing by Solidarity, a coalition of about three dozen political parties, was a reflection of consolidation and discipline."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Former communists will be isolated in opposition

An editorial today says that the vote was, foremost, a rejection of communism. The newspaper says: "Many voters decided that, with Poland arguably more prosperous and more secure than ever in its history, it was safe to gamble -- a vote for Solidarity would not necessarily lead to a replay of the feuding between inexperienced leaders that had fatally undermines the first Solidarity coalition governments after 1989." It continues: "Instead of being returned in glory, the former communists, who picked up about 4 million votes, will be isolated in opposition."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The dramatic turnaround is as extraordinary as its main architect is mystifying

Dean E. Murphy writes today in an analysis that Sunday's vote has raised a new, internationally little-known leader to prominence. Murphy says: "Krzaklewski is the most influential politician in Poland and his trade union is enjoying a popular renaissance only the truest of believers thought possible. Walesa, defeated for re-election two years ago, has met his Solidarity match, relegated to a supporting -- or at worst spoiling -- role in the ever-unfolding democratic revolution he once commanded." The analysis continues: "The dramatic turnaround is as extraordinary as its main architect is mystifying. A meticulously groomed technocrat with a disarming, boyish smile, Krzaklewski has been alternately compared to Mussolini -- he has a habit of raising his chin when addressing audiences; and to a bookish computer nerd -- he has a doctorate in computer science and has been known to write the union's software programs. 'He is an enigmatic figure,' said Edward Wnuk-Lipinski, director of the Institute of Political Studies in Warsaw. 'We don't have a clear vision of who he is.' "

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The church has learned to keep its distance

Correspondent Edith Heller writes today that the voice of the Roman Catholic Church was uncharacteristically muted in this election campaign. Heller says: "Unlike (its stance) in past Polish elections, the Catholic Church kept its activities in the background, with only the little-known Bishop Zbignew Kraszewski calling publicly on Poles to use 'ballot papers to cut out the cancer of communism.' However, the official speaker of the episcopate, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, said the church had learned to keep its distance. Otherwise the faithful, out of sheer defiance, might vote the opposite way."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Voters have turned against the reformed communists

Julius Strauss contends that the Polish vote is part of an Eastern European trend to reject former communists. Strauss writes: "The victory completes a remarkable comeback for Solidarity, which was ousted by the former communists in 1993 elections and subsequently splintered."

He continues: "It also is a further sign that voters in the former Soviet satellites have turned against the reformed communists. Romania and Bulgaria both have voted out of office former Communist parties in the past year and Hungary's Socialist Party is expected to lose its outright majority in next spring's elections."



Elections In Serbia



The results of Serbia's voting Sunday remain unclear today. Commentators note an unexpectedly strong showing by nationalist opposition to allies of Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party, but the actual effects on the Socialists' parliamentary majority hasn't become evident.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Serbia remains the last of the Mohicans in post-communist Europe

Bernd Kuppers writes: "Serbian state TV reported no problems from the country's polling booths, and the formally impartial central electoral commission in Belgrade announced in its first report that the elections had been a success -- even before the earliest results of Serbia's presidential and parliamentary elections had come in."

If there is a trend is Eastern Europe, Kuppers writes, Serbia stands counter to it. He says: "Serbia remains the last of the Mohicans in post-communist Europe, the only country where the former ruling party has yet to be voted out at the polls. The moral momentum of last winter's mass demonstrations has subsided and the Zajedno leaders are embroiled in disputes. Despair at the state of the country evidently benefited Chetnik leader Vojislav Seselj."

INDEPENDENT: 'Defeat" is not a phrase that fits easily into Slobodan Milosevic's political vocabulary.

Steve Crawshaw says the evident big losers were the Serbian democrats. He sums up the Serbian political outlook as follows: "Slobodan Milosevic, the great survivor of Serbian politics, again proved yesterday that 'defeat" is not a phrase that fits easily into his political vocabulary. Preliminary results from parliamentary and president elections suggested severe losses for the democrats, who only eight months ago were both strong and united." He says: "The biggest gainer in the elections was the ultranationalist opposition candidate."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Socialist coalition will struggle to maintain its slim majority

Early indications, says Guy Dinmore in Belgrade in an analysis, are that "the Socialist coalition will struggle to maintain its slim majority in the 200-seat assembly." He says: "Serbia's ultranationalist opposition Radical Party has run the ruling Socialist coalition much more closely than expected in parliamentary and presidential elections."
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