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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Solidarity Falls From Grace in Investors' Eyes

Seventeen years ago, the Solidarity free trade union burst into existence at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, dealing a blow to Polish communism that was eventually to prove fatal in 1989. In the summer and fall of 1980, Solidarity was possibly the most popular political movement in the world.


Politicians, trade unionists, human rights campaigners and students of left and right alike paid homage to Solidarity. The movement's leader, Lech Walesa, was viewed as one of this century's greatest heroes.


Who could have imagined, back in 1980, that Western countries would one day have misgivings about Solidarity holding power in Poland? Stranger still, who could have guessed that the West might actually prefer to see a Polish government led by former communists?


It is not quite that simple, of course. The Solidarity of 1997 is not the same as the Solidarity of 1980 or 1989. In those days, it was a sort of all-embracing patriotic reform movement. Today, it is a trade union whose rank-and-file members have distinctly skeptical views on the benefits of Poland's post-1990 capitalist transformation.


By the same token, the ex-communists of 1997 have come a long way from the communists of 1989, even if in many cases -- such as that of President Aleksander Kwasniewski -- they are the same people. By and large, Kwasniewski and his associates stand for pro-Western, pro-market policies, and they have shown themselves competent at governing the country.


When Poles vote in parliamentary elections Sept. 21, it is virtually certain that neither the reformed communists nor the 36-party right-of-center alliance formed around Solidarity will win an outright victory. Poland therefore faces the prospect of another coalition government.


In what seems a supreme historical irony, if the reformed communists take the largest number of seats in the 460-seat parliament, they would prefer to govern with the Freedom Union, a party that includes the pro-Solidarity leaders who took power in 1989. It was these leaders who put Poland on the path of "shock therapy" economic reform, and with whom the ex-communists now say they feel they have most in common.


If the Solidarity-led alliance were to win the election, it might seek to govern with the Peasant Party and the small radical right-wing Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland. Such a coalition could easily fall prey to the temptation to reverse some of the economic reforms introduced with such care over the past seven years.


Western governments will never publicly express a preference, but it seems clear that private Western investors are worried about what might happen if the reformed communists lost power. The credit rating agency Moody's issued an unusually blunt warning last week, suggesting that Poland's economic progress would be threatened if Solidarity took office in alliance with the Peasants and the radical right.


Many a small and medium-size country knows the power of international financial markets to punish economic policies deemed risky or inappropriate. In a few weeks' time, it could be Poland's turn.


How extraordinary that it is in Poland, where anti-communism was more bitter than anywhere else in Eastern Europe, that ex-communists should be needed in power to keep the country stable.