What happened in Poland?

Henryk A. Kowalczyk
9 min readDec 31, 2023
Gdańsk, author’s home town. Photo by by Krzysztof Kowalik on Unsplash

According to the American media, not much.

After the October 15, 2023, parliamentary election, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, which had been ruling since 2015, lost the majority in Sejm, the Polish parliament. On December 13, a new coalition took over. Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council, became the new prime minister.

Changes like that always happen in democratic countries. From far away, it might look like nothing unusual. I was in Poland during those critical days in December for unrelated reasons and saw that, for Poles, it was an event of historical dimensions.

As an Americanized Pole, I got drawn into the emotions of the day but also saw the broader perspective. In recent years, we have observed the re-emergence of right-wing populism. It is Trump in the U.S. and Orban in Hungary. In Poland, it was the Law and Justice party. And it lost to people standing firmly for a reason. The story of Tusk winning is worth telling.

Is Poland’s change special?

Not much, but lengthy democratic traditions might play a role. In medieval times, Poles translated the Latin res publica, which means a state as a common good in Latin, as rzeczpospolita, making the term republic sound more familiar. Before its collapse in 1795, Poland and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, for about five centuries, were unprecedented democracies. That tradition of seeing public matters as a common good was strong when I was growing up in Poland, and it showed up during the recent power transition.

After WWII, Poland ended up in the Soviet sphere of influence, but even Stalin did not dare deprive Poles of some pretenses of authentic democracy. I was among those who, in the 1970s, explored scraps of the freedom of expression we had, to pave a better future. It paid off in 1989 when Poland freed itself from the Soviet domination.

Poles were united against the socialistic government

In the 1980s, the Polish economy completely disintegrated. It was a version of what one can read about Venezuela now. Seeing their own inability to manage the economy, the rulers encouraged Poles to open small businesses. Most people still held their government jobs but had some economic activity on…



Henryk A. Kowalczyk

Many tell us what to think. I write to ask you to inquire. Question me. Have fun. Contact: hak1010@yahoo.com.