The Communists in Poland have abdicated. The division of Europe into Communist East and democratic West has ended, at least for the Poles, and Poland's engine of change has shifted to hypersonic speed, destination unknown.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Communists' stepping aside in Poland. For decades American foreign policy has been predicated on the notion that Communist governments would never voluntarily relinquish power. Poland's Communist Party has done just that and the Warsaw Pact is standing by calmly, although watching closely. Western orthodoxies are crumbling as rapidly as Eastern orthodoxies.
What exactly these developments mean for Poland's future is impossible to predict. In the short run it seems that Solidarity will gain control of domestic affairs while Communist Party members will retain control of foreign affairs. This allocation was ensured by an agreement that Communists will head the defense, interior and foreign ministries. It appears to be a nice balance, bowing to the Warsaw Pact on one side and to the will of the people on the other.
But beyond this vague structure lies a swamp of questions. For one thing, Solidarity formed a coalition with two smaller parties, both of which were previously allied with the Communist Party. The United Peasants Party is descended from the communist underground supported by the Soviet Union during World War II. Both groups are unknown quantities for Solidarity and for Poland.
More fundamentally, it is unclear whether anyone in Solidarity, including its leader Lech Walesa, has any notion about how to run a country. Populists have ideas, not policies. Will Solidarity oust the current government bureaucracy? Do they have people who are able to replacethe Communist bureaucrats? Or will they simply assume the top posts and try to get the bureaucracy to march to the beat of their drummer? Will they be effective ministers or will they lose public support as they abandon their placards to put on the suits and titles of the Establishment? And what if the economy gets worse or collapses? What would it take for the Communists or the military to consider a coup? In a situation so novel and so volatile, it follows that there are no answers, only questions.
Long-run predictions are no easier. George Kennan once wrote of Poland that "the jealous and intolerant eye of the Kremlin can distinguish in the end only vassals and enemies." Poland's future to a large degree depends on just how much that Kremlin view has evolved. In many ways the outcome of this change depends more on Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev than on Walesa or Polish General Wojciech Jaruzelski, who declared martial law nearly 10 years ago and now seems to be running interference for one of the most stunning events in postwar Europe.
One thing that might assist a Solidarity government is foreign aid. It can not help the Polish economy--nothing short of a complete restructuring could cure its ills--but aid could gain Solidarity crucial short-term political benefits. The money might be wasted but the gesture of Western support would not be.
One thing \o7 is\f7 sure: Poland will be unstable for some time to come. Instability usually makes geopolitical strategists nervous. But instability is a lesser evil than coercion. For the first time since World War II, Poland has a government that is more or less self-determined. Maybe it will fail. But the freedom to take that kind of risk is one of the things that democracy is all about.