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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poland's Sejm: A Preview of Russia's Future?

The first session of the new Sejm took place in Poland last week. The new body was elected in early elections in September, to the surprise of many observers. The majority of seats in the Polish parliament went to the so-called post-Communist parties: the Union of Left Democratic Forces and the Peasant Party. Together they have 303 seats in a parliament of 480. The liberals and the rightist parties ended up in the minority, or else did not make it into the Sejm at all.


Two years ago the left in Poland came out with a motto that is well known in Russia: "We cannot live like this any longer". This past summer the motto was lengthened: "We cannot live like this any longer - reforms must serve the people" from which it follows that for the past four years the reforms in Poland were not serving the people.


A well-known television journalist summed up very succinctly what he felt was one of the main reasons for the defeat of the liberals: They lost the battle for society's memory, for the interpretation of events.


It seems that many Poles have indeed forgotten the situation they were in until just recently. One of my contacts in Warsaw, an economics student, admitted that he did not know when ration cards were last used in Poland. These cards were still being used in the summer of 1989. Inflation that year was 700 percent.


But while the rightist politicians were arguing among themselves about who is furthest to the right, and the democrats of one party cast aspersions on the democrats of another, the left was explaining to Poles how badly they were living and why.


The influential Polish weekly Politika published a sociological survey. A year ago 72 percent of those surveyed considered themselves part of the middle class. Now 20 percent fewer feel this way. A year ago 25 percent of the population lived below the poverty level, while today it is 45 percent. The researchers also showed that only 15 percent of the population is better off than before, 35 percent is more or less the same, but precarious. The remaining 50 percent of the population is already falling, white trying somehow to hold on.


In the opinion of Polish political analysts, it is those who are falling out of the middle class who played the decisive role in the elections. and if this conclusion is correct, then Russia's politicians may have a surprise in store for them in December. In Russia the destruction of the middle layer of society is proceeding even more intensively than it did in Poland, In a post-socialist state the middle class is composed of teachers, doctors, engineers, bureaucrats. The state cannot compensate them for the blows of inflation, and the majority of them are growing poorer. Under these conditions even those who consider themselves liberals turn into the opposition.


Both Russia and Poland went through decades of a Communist regime, a democratic revolution, shock therapy and even the dissolution of parliament by an angry president. They have too much in common not to think that the results of the first early elections might also coincide. The Russian reformers have too little time and too few opportunities to convince the middle class that it is not in danger of social degradation. and then who will get the votes?