Throughout its tumultuous modern history, Poland has been a bellwether of change in Eastern Europe. In 1956, unrest among Polish workers signaled growing discontent in post-Stalinist Eastern Europe; in 1980, the birth of the Solidarity trade union began the unraveling of the Soviet bloc; and in 1989, Poland spearheaded Eastern Europe's rejection of communism as a Solidarity-led government took power.
Last September, when Polish voters ousted a coalition of ex-communists and sealed the comeback of Solidarity, they may have established another landmark-the emergence of Christian democracy as a significant political force in Central and Eastern Europe. The election brought in a right-of-center dramatically different from Western European counterparts, many of which have evolved into secular movements. The Polish Christian democrats have little desire to separate their politics and their religious beliefs. They appeal explicitly to voters' Roman Catholic religious identity and announce their own adherence to "Christian values" that encompass the sanctity of human life at conception; the need for moral instruction, including through the educational system; and the belief that the economy and work are part of God's design for humanity. They are staunch loyalists in the camp of the Polish pope, John Paul II-whose turn away from the welfare state and endorsement of the free market gave impetus to Solidarity's decision to form a coalition government with the backers of economic liberalism. Developments in Poland parallel a resurgence of Christian democracy in other Central and Eastern European countries with Catholic majorities or significant Catholic minorities. And a revitalized Christian democracy may have resonance farther west in Europe-at any rate, the pope hopes so. During his pilgrimage to Poland last summer, John Paul linked the post-Cold War reunification of Europe to the reassertion of its Christian roots.
BUILDING ON FAITH
On September 21, 1997, the Solidarity Electoral Action bloc (AWS) captured a majority of seats
- Full website and iPad access
- Magazine issues
- New! Books from the Foreign Affairs Anthology Series