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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Goodbye Solidarity
Solidarity demonstration in 1991
Solidarity's golden age was in 1989 and the early 90s
The BBC's Central Europe analyst, Jan Repa, explains why Polish voters have consigned Solidarity to oblivion, 12 years after the fall of communism.

Poland's Solidarity movement has been crushed in Sunday's parliamentary elections, failing to win a single seat.


Solidarity claimed a moral superiority over the ex-communists but delivered a display of infighting and amateurishness

The winners are the Democratic Left Alliance - which is led by former communists but whose policies are close to West European centre-left parties like the German Social Democrats and Britain's New Labour.

Solidarity activists were always reluctant to describe themselves as belonging to a political party.

Solidarity was an "ethos", a "movement".

More mundane issues like policies, organisation and discipline tended to be relegated to second place.

Splinter movements

The Solidarity bloc, which held office for the past four years, was actually a coalition of several dozen political and social groups - trade unionists, liberals, Catholic nationalists and many besides.

Outgoing Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek casts his vote
Wipe-out: Solidarity owes its defeat to more than just painful reforms
In some ways, it was a wonder that it survived as long as it did.

Last year, Solidarity suffered a major setback when its coalition partner, the Freedom Union, left the government.

The Freedom Union, which included many of the old dissident intellectual heavyweights, also lost all its parliamentary seats on Sunday.

Back in January, Solidarity itself splintered, with several high-profile personalities - self-declared centre-right liberals - going off to found a new party, called Civic Platform.

Civic Platform came a distant second on Sunday, behind the Democratic Left Alliance.

Solidarity's apologists claim that the movement has paid the price for implementing painful social and economic reforms - and for an economic downturn, whose origins lie outside Poland. But that cannot really explain Sunday's wipe-out.

Escape to the future

Many Solidarity politicians talked in terms of washing away the residue of the communist party.

This implied that there was an "authentic" Poland, ready to appear from behind the facade of a temporary occupation regime - a difficult thesis to sustain after half a century of Communism.


For many of Poland's younger voters, the distinction between Solidarity and ex-communists appeared increasingly irrelevant

The Democratic Left Alliance offered a less heroic but more popular message - let's forget the past by escaping into the future.

Solidarity claimed a moral superiority over the ex-communists.

What the Polish public got was a display of factional infighting, personal ambition, ideological obsessiveness and amateurishness.

Unlike Solidarity, the Democratic Left Alliance never made the mistake of patronising the Polish voter. Solidarity often appeared to be talking at, rather than to, the ordinary citizen.

Catholic competition

The trouble with conviction politics is that there is always someone even more committed than yourself.

Pope John Paul II and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa
Pope John Paul II endorsed solidarity in 1981
Solidarity's self-proclaimed "Catholic" faction talked of "Polish tradition", "family values", and the dangers of Western liberalism.

The Polish Family League - a recently formed Catholic fundamentalist party outside the Solidarity bloc - talked of an international plot to destroy Catholicism and the Polish identity through membership of the European Union - and won itself some seats in parliament at Solidarity's expense.

For many of Poland's younger voters, the distinction between Solidarity and ex-communists appeared increasingly irrelevant.

What the Democratic Left Alliance promises is competent, middle-of-the-road policies, aimed at anchoring Poland ever more firmly in the West.

Now they need to deliver.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Rafal Kiepuszewski, Polish Radio
"It is definitely the end of a political era"
See also:

24 Sep 01 | Europe
Left victorious in Poland
21 Sep 01 | Business
Poland's economic challenge
08 Mar 01 | Europe
Prodi urges Polish reforms
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Poland
12 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Poland
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