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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Polish President's Mission

When Solidarity took power in Poland 13 years ago after decades of Communist rule, its goal was clear: to reintroduce the country to democracy and free markets. It was also clear that the organization that had brought Poland back to freedom would lead it on this road. Very few at that time could imagine that the Communists, who had been soundly defeated in the elections, could ever again play an important and constructive role in Poland's politics.

Today, the Polish government is once again in the hands of those who, in 1989, were on the losing side. They are the same people -- but not quite the same.

Politicians who 13 years ago were members of the Soviet-controlled Politburo and frequent visitors to Moscow now occupy the highest positions in a free Poland and are frequent visitors to Brussels.

Their metamorphosis from pro-Soviet Communists to European social democrats occurred in 1990 under the leadership of Aleksander Kwasniewski and initially raised many doubts. Their party was under the shadow of its Communist past and accusations of close connections with former comrades in Moscow.

But it soon gained democratic legitimacy (it is today known as the Alliance of the Democratic Left) first by winning free elections in 1993 and later by unhesitatingly returning power to Solidarity when it lost the next elections.

No one played a bigger role in this civilizing of former Communists than the man who is now president of Poland, Kwasniewski. And no one benefited more than he from the democratic evolution of his country and his political following. Today, he is the country's most popular politician, and even his adversaries admit that his diplomacy did much to help get Poland into NATO. He is now working effectively to secure the country's admission to the European Union.

But Kwasniewski still has one major mission to accomplish: dealing with those of his party colleagues who, after regaining power, are revealing tendencies dangerous to democracy. With a large majority in parliament, the politicians of the Alliance of the Democratic Left are more and more openly seeking to reimpose control on areas of the society liberated by democratic reforms.

The most worrisome sign of this is a quarrel between the government and independent media. Independence of the press and private radio and television stations is one of the major successes of the Polish transformation. But it is still barely accepted by former Communists, for many of whom the old centralizing influences have not died out. Now the government has prepared a communications bill that aims at strengthening the position of state television, already totally controlled by the left. It would effectively block development of private media, as it prevents someone from owning both television and newspaper properties at the same time.

Its main target seems to be Agora, a Polish media firm and publisher of Gazeta Wyborcza, which is the biggest newspaper in Poland and completely independent. Another major newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, is also threatened by interference from the government. Forty-nine percent of Rzeczpospolita is owned by the state, while the rest belongs to a Norwegian corporation. Recently, state prosecutors brought criminal charges against three senior managers of Rzeczpospolita and even took the unprecedented steps of confiscating their passports and ordering them to report regularly to the police.

These steps met with strong domestic and international condemnation, and as a result the passports were returned. But the criminal investigation has not stopped. As long as Rzeczpospolita, which is one of the two most influential newspapers in Poland, is not fully privatized, it will be constantly exposed to attempts at manipulation by the government.

Another example of the struggle between the institutions of civil society and this post-Communist government is a growing dispute about monetary policy.

Dissatisfied with interest rates that it believes are too high, the government is seeking to curb the independence of the nation's Monetary Policy Board. This, despite the fact that the board is headed by Leszek Balcerowicz, president of the Polish National Bank and architect of the "shock therapy" that transformed Poland into the economic tiger of Central Europe.

The only effective roadblock to these undemocratic goals would be the veto of President Kwasniewski. Fortunately, he has already announced his readiness to use this power with regard to both the communications bill and the Monetary Policy Board.

By taking a clear stand on the independence of the media and the central bank, Kwasniewski has not only stood against his former comrades, he has also made a crucial choice.

That choice deserves words of encouragement this week when the Polish president visits Washington.

Maciej Lukasiewicz is editor in chief of the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.