Antoni Macierewicz, the current Polish defense minister, claimed bluntly that Mr. Walesa’s police file proved that “post-Communist Poland was a product of the secret police and not of democratically elected institutions.”I find this quite disturbing. Poland was for a while such a success story, where the longing to live in a "normal country" led to a remarkable flowering of democracy, a free press, and so on. But that was not enough for some Poles, who wanted more than to become an economic and political satellite of Germany and France. They are expressing their frustration through attacks on the compromises that brought their democracy into being.
It is one thing to have to defend the 1989 revolution in “defeated” Russia. But why is it suddenly so hard to do so in victorious Poland, where people are freer and more prosperous than ever before and where Solidarity is a national icon?
The irony of the current wave of revisionism is that 1989 is rejected for the same reasons that it has long been acclaimed, namely its absence of radicalism. The fact that it chose to integrate the old elites instead of persecuting them has turned out to be, at once, the revolution’s lasting achievement and its ultimate Achilles’ heel.
The populist insurgency feverishly advancing in Poland, Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe is a rebellion against moderates and moderation. The events of 1989 are condemned as little more than an ingenious plot to transform the elites’ political power into economic power (“meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”)
In this narrative, 1989 marks the liberation not of the people, but of the Communist elites. They were liberated from fear (of party purges and anti-Communist uprisings), guilt, ideology, the chains of community and even national loyalty — before they had the privilege to travel; now they have the right to be part of the West. Before they ran the country, but now they own it. The shadow power of the old elites has become the ultimate explanation for everything that went wrong after 1989 — rising inequality, betrayed expectations.
The problems that brought us Donald Trump are not just American, and in fact many other countries have them much worse than we do.