The Political System of Poland

Tradition and Contemporaneity

by Stanisław Sulowski (Volume editor) Tomasz Słomka (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 374 Pages


The book presents the subject of the Polish political system, which, not unlike many others, is subject to dynamic political and social change. The ever-modernizing Polish state seeks ways to improve its institutions and increase coordination of crucial policies. Poland also exhibits effects symptomatic of a crisis of liberal democracy, undermining the legacy of its democratic transformation. The authors of this volume answer questions on identity of Polish systemic solutions, the nature of change in constitutionalism and the modern political system of Poland, all in the light of Polish political tradition. Moreover, they analyze the roles of various state authorities, political leadership dilemmas, the legitimization of power, and the question of Polish membership in the EU.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Political leadership in Poland: Between a traditional need and a real deficit (Justyna G. OTTO)
  • Polish political institutions: Continuity and change (1918–1989) (Daniel PRZASTEK, Paweł MROWIŃSKI)
  • Main trends of Polish political thought in the 20th and 21st centuries (Leszek NOWAK)
  • Systemic transformation in Poland compared to the countries of the region (Jacek WOJNICKI)
  • Building the constitutional order in Poland: Legal and political processes (Tomasz SŁOMKA, Rafał WIĘCKIEWICZ)
  • The Parliament of the Republic of Poland: The Sejm, the Senate and the National Assembly (Jacek ZALEŚNY)
  • President of the Republic of Poland: State representative and political arbiter (Tomasz SŁOMKA)
  • Government and governance in Poland (Grzegorz RYDLEWSKI)
  • Civil service in Poland (Jolanta ITRICH-DRABAREK)
  • Justice system in Poland: Political system and functioning (Michał MISTYGACZ)
  • Out-of-jurisdictional system of legal protection authorities in Poland (Michał MISTYGACZ)
  • Poland’s membership in the European Union (Justyna MIECZNIKOWSKA)
  • Foreign policy of the Republic of Poland after 1989 (Stanisław SULOWSKI)
  • Institutions and security policy (Michał BRZEZIŃSKI)

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The study presented to the readers was created as a result of the existence of two basic needs. First of all, the political system of the modern state is a field of extremely continuous, dynamic changes of an institutional, normative, political and social nature. The constantly modernising state looks for optimal forms to improve its operation. Moreover, it must reconcile the issues of interests and influences of various socio-political groups, eliminate (or at least minimise) the tensions and rivalry between them, react to emerging aspirations and meet growing needs. All this takes place in the conditions of galloping technological changes that have a key impact, for example, on the sphere of political decisions and political communication. In the Polish political system, in addition to the above-mentioned elements, there are also – especially after 2015 – a number of symptoms pointing to a crisis of constitutional democracy (liberal democracy). The government clearly undermines the achievements of the democratic transformation that Poland entered at the end of the 1980s. of the 20th century. The authors of the prepared volume often had to face difficult questions about the propriety and specificity of changes taking place in constitutionalism and, more broadly, in the political system of contemporary Poland. To recapitulate, there is no doubt that systemic changes still require new and in-depth analysis.

The second need related to this book is the willingness – if not to say a necessity – to present to the foreign reader the model and properties, institutions and players of the Polish political system. We are convinced that Polish solutions and experiences – although significant and extremely interesting – are not sufficiently known to recipients outside Poland: political scientists, lawyers, politicians, journalists, students and others potentially interested in this subject. Therefore, we present them a comprehensive guide to the political and political solutions of the Third Polish Republic.

The study deals with both thoroughly contemporary issues and refers to Polish political traditions (political institutions, political thought). Individual state authorities are analysed, which in Poland – like in many other democratic and legal countries – were formally based on the assumptions of Charles Montesquieu, the dilemmas of political leadership and the legitimacy of power, the Polish party system, but also the membership of the Republic of Poland in the European Union and key functioning of the state’s foreign and security policies. As a result, the reader receives a monograph which in the broadest possible ←7 | 8→way – and where necessary, on a comparative basis – shows the range of systemic and political problems in Poland.

The authors of the chapters are academics of the University of Warsaw, leading Polish representatives of politics, administration, security and legal sciences. They are the authors of many respected articles and monographs on the Polish political system, comparative political systems and contemporary constitutionalism.

Stanisław Sulowski

Tomasz Słomka

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Justyna G. OTTO

Political leadership in Poland:
Between a traditional need and a real deficit

Abstract: The study analysis the political leadership in Poland of the 20th and 21st centuries from several – according to the author – the most important perspectives and based about chosen aspects. First, the state of political leadership is influenced by the processes of personalisation and presidency of politics. Secondly, both in Poland and in the world, it is important to resolve the dilemma: is political leadership possible in a democratic regime and how democracy determines the quality and characteristics of political leadership? The author claims that Poles are lucky with political leaders in times of crisis and breakthrough. Democracy in Poland does not go hand in hand with political leadership, and certainly not with behavioural leadership. The text presents the fundamental distinction between political leadership and power, indicates the relationship between concepts. Typologies of political leadership in Poland are presented, focusing primarily on the most important – the only genuinely charismatic political leader in the recent political history of Poland – Józef Piłsudski, who remains a model of political leadership in Polish politics and the consciousness of Poles, and secondly, on the political change of 1989, which created the greatest contemporary leaders.

Keywords: political leadership, charisma, personalisation of politics, presidency of politics, Józef Piłsudski, Lech Wałęsa, political change

1. Between the concepts of political power, political leadership, personalisation of politics and presidency of politics

Robert Elgie stated that “the phenomenon of leadership is essentially elusive and impossible to define.”1 Leadership remains unchanged in its phenomenological core … but its character is shaped in a personalised way.2

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Generally speaking, leadership is influencing the behaviour of others3 and political leadership is influencing the behaviour of other people in the sphere of politics. Equally often, leadership is identified with the ability to unleash strength to act, enabling the pursuit of a goal.4 Leadership in the broadest sense is about human action, and political leadership remains an important example of this. Leaders set or explain goals to the group or individual units in order to jointly pursue them, achieve them.5 Leadership is a process where political support is a key element.6 In research on political leadership, categories related to leadership, such as strength and power, are analysed. The binding of leadership to power and position, or even a synonymous use of the two terms, is due to the fact that often leaders focus their efforts on gaining power, although it is important to bear in mind those individuals who have held positions associated with governance without being a leader.7

The concepts of leadership and power are very closely related. As it seems, however, the similarity between leadership and power is the greater the closer the researcher’s approach to both phenomena is institutional.

For James MacGregor Burns, leadership is a form of power.8 Jean Blondel emphasizes that power is a central component of political leadership, but not all of its examples are also examples of leadership. It seems that the indispensable condition for the existence of a leader is the support shown by his followers, while the authority maintains itself without this necessity, relying on the rights granted by legal norms or those which it has created on its own.9 The literature points out that, unlike power, which is legitimized by legal norms and is based ←10 | 11→on coercion, the leadership relationship is voluntary, legitimized by people and specific – it can be assigned to a specific person.10

The form, type or style of political leadership have a rich terminology because they are based on a subjective assessment of the political leader’s activity and often emphasize certain aspects of his political activity. The usefulness of such an approach is justified in the attempts to evaluate political leaders and their influence on political life.

The dominant concept today policy presidency11 it puts political leadership at the centre of attention and is an essential element in the theory of political leadership. Taking up this topic is determined by contemporary trends in functioning, and especially in the perception of political life, showing the focus on individual politicians occupying the most important public positions. These, in turn, seek to expand their influence in order to play the most important role in politics. Thomas Poguntke and Paul Webb pointed out that in parliamentary systems we are dealing with an increase in autonomy within the party and the executive and the concentration of election processes on political leaders. Ludger Helms emphasizes, inter alia, increasing importance of individual leaders for the results of parliamentary elections. Mark Bevir and Rod A.W. Rhodes write about the centralization of the decision-making centre, and especially about the media personalisation of the prime minister, contrasting it with collegial decision-making by the government. Presidency it means concentrating power in the hands of one political leader. This is a trend that we are dealing with in parliamentary systems, it concerns heads of government, it is related to the personalization of election campaigns. As a consequence, the prime minister becomes the most important person in the country in a formal, decision-making and media sense.

The growing importance of leaders, their images and the way their qualities are perceived by citizens, and hence the concentration of media attention on them, shaped contemporary political life so much that today, without their public statements, it is impossible to imagine practising politics. In such conditions of political life, parties more and more often lose their ideological identity, the strong ←11 | 12→position of the leader – actual or created for the purposes of political activity – determines the hierarchy of values in a subjective way, pushing the relationship of a given party with the world view professed by its members and supporters to the world-view.12 The essence of the mechanism policy personalisation it can be boiled down to the statement that the most important factor determining election decisions is the leader and his social and political image.13 One can speak of personalisation or presidency in the context of the parliamentary elections becoming similar to the presidential ones, without simultaneous institutional changes within individual political systems.14 By directly linking personalisation with the electoral rivalry itself, or with the efforts of political marketing, we also assume that personalisation is a focus on individual politicians who occupy public positions, while ignoring the substantive content of the public and election debate.15

On the one hand, the growing importance of the leaders is noticeable on the Polish political scene. Voters are more likely to vote based on loyalty and trust in a specific person than on the basis of “an abstract;” grouping. There is ample evidence of a shift of political power from collective bodies such as parties and parliaments to political leaders.16

A leader in the liberal-democratic system is constantly forced to strive for the favour of voters in order to maintain social support both when competing for power and making ruling decisions.17 The general tendency in competition on the contemporary, also Polish, political scene reduces the election game to a duel of personalities. The image of a contemporary politician is just as important, if not more important than his views or proposed solutions to specific problems. The process of personalising the policy is underway. The main, significant changes include “the substantial” transfer of party symbols to the image of a political leader, tendencies to label individual governments with the names ←12 | 13→of cabinet members, and increased interest of the mass media in public persons. The visual presentation of political leaders becomes a key element of communication in politics.

Nowadays, also in Poland, we are witnessing a leadership crisis. On the other hand, we recognise that the wide application of political marketing, which today is inextricably linked with political activity, makes the leader more and more often merely an exponent of the views and attitudes of his followers, while fulfilling the functions assigned to him by the system.

Political leaders are different both because of how different their personalities are and because they operate under different conditions. In addition, leaders change over time, and it is influenced by changes in the situation or the personality changes that take place in them.

2. Typologies of political leadership

First, in modern times, the most important level of political life is that of the nation-state – especially from the point of view of political leadership. Of course, this is not the only level. In addition to the national (state) level, there are lower levels of political life – local, regional and supranational. In this sense, we can divide political leaders into two basic groups: heads of state and local and regional leaders. Behind these two groups there are leaders who operate on a transnational basis. There is no doubt that there is no insurmountable gulf between the national (state) and local-regional levels of political leadership. Many state leaders began their careers locally or regionally, and some continued to hold strong local positions even after becoming nationwide leaders. Undoubtedly, however, in a typological sense, it can be distinguished state leadership and local leadership.18 According to Jerzy Sielski, Józef Piłsudski deserves the name of the Polish national leader, but he is a leader of the status of a statesman, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was simply defined as the national leader. This author named Lech Wałęsa as an international statesman.19

Second, in modern times, attitudes towards democracy become an essential criterion that separates the two basic types of leaders: democrats and autocrats. The democratic leader recognises as his own fundamental canon of democratic ←13 | 14→values. Primo, this canon is created by the principle that the leader’s power comes from citizens who decide about its exercise in free and fair elections, secundo, the commandment that all citizens should enjoy equal rights and freedoms, and that all, regardless of their office, are subject to generally applicable law. Tertio, the order to treat all political trends equally, with the exception of those that actively violate the democratic order of the state, and quarto, the principle of freedom of conscience and religion as well as freedom of speech. A democratic leader is one who manifests the above-mentioned canon in words and deeds.20 Democratic leadership should be exercised in the greatest possible harmony with the principles of democracy. However, this does not change the fact that it is recognized that the fundamental problem of democracy is the lack of strong leadership.

The question of democratic leadership may appear to be based on intrinsically contradictory paradigms and, as such, constitutes an undecidable dilemma. Ludwik Habuda puts forward the thesis that “there is no democratic political leadership, all political leadership is inherently anti-democratic.”21 Thomas E. Cronin, in turn, clearly indicates that leadership has built-in elements contrary to the idea of democracy, and this causes continuous and undecidable dilemmas.22

As Thomas G. Masaryk noted, “democracy needs leaders, not masters.”23 But it needs leaders.24 Political leadership is natural in a democracy and does not contradict the principle of equality. A democratic state is an organisation and, like other organisations, it must be managed, and leadership is a form of effective management for which there are no satisfactory alternatives. A leader in a democratic state is bound by the law, the will of the voters, and the existence of the opposition. “Despite appearances, liberal democracies depend on leadership, perhaps even more than other, more authoritarian forms of government; because … their natural tendency to weaken the sources of political authority must be ←14 | 15→balanced by a higher level … of authority which they bestow on their leaders.”25 In no other system is political leadership so closely tied to the holding of certain positions or offices or legitimised by law. In this sense, the leader in a democracy usually performs a specific function: state or social, with which the scope of his power and functions are related, he becomes “a law-legitimated official.”26

In a democratic regime, as Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde writes, the political leader is created by those and among those he leads; he does not rule by himself, but because he is – and as long as he is – recognised as the political leader. He must compete for leadership and step down if his rival gains the trust of the leaders.27 The most characteristic of a democratic state is the so-called leadership of the democratic type, and analogously for a state with an undemocratic system, the so-called autocratic leadership is characteristic. It often happens, however, that in a country with even a consolidated democracy, we deal with the leadership of an undemocratic style, and much less often, but still, the opposite may also happen. Often, what drastically changes the face of the state, when it is impossible to diagnose normative and institutional changes, are the features of the person in charge of power.

There are democratic leaders operating under undemocratic conditions. These are those who, by their actions, are trying to create the conditions for a transition to democracy.

According to Arnold Toynbee and Daisaku Ikeda28 being a leader in a democratic regime is much more difficult, and a more delicate and sophisticated affair, than being a dictatorial charismatic leader. In a democratic regime, a leader should win the cooperation of his fellow citizens by convincing them rationally that his policy is right.

Thirdly, it can be distinguished ideological leaders and pragmatic leaders.29 This distinction concerns the extent to which the leader is guided by ideological reasons in his actions, and to what extent by pragmatic reasons.30 Of course, this ←15 | 16→distinction is continuum – because there are no fully ideological leaders who are not supposed to take practical reasons into account at all. As it seems, there is also a lack of 100 % pragmatic leaders who remain completely indifferent to ideological reasons. The point is to what extent the leader’s behaviour is determined by ideological reasons, to be guided by an ideological system that contains specific principles and doctrinal assumptions, and to what extent it has insight into pragmatic effectiveness, flexible treatment of doctrinal principles. The predominance of ideological or pragmatic leaders is usually due to historical circumstances. Quiet times, in which the policy of continuation dominates, is conducive to pragmatists at the head of the state and of great political movements. Times of great breakthroughs – especially times of revolution – bring to the fore ideological leaders who, however, often lose their ideological rigidity when they come to power and face the practical problems of governance. In the recent history of Poland and in the minds of Poles, a classic example of an ideological leader is Roman Dmowski, for whom his ideological convictions were so important that in their name he was even ready to give up the obvious political benefits that in a multi-ethnic Polish state could be provided by cooperation with political groups of national minorities and the state policy tolerant towards them. Although Dmowski is rightly considered a pioneer of political realism in Polish political thought, he was nevertheless a follower of a rigid, highly ideological system of views on the state and nation. He remained of the opinion that the nation is an ethnic community, affiliation to which is determined by blood ties, and not a community of civic solidarity, and he built his entire political program around the idea of the eternal struggle of nations for power and domination, as well as on the basis of the highly ideological assumption that the Polish state must be “Catholic state of the Polish nation.”31 To a large extent, it was precisely this rigidity of ideological convictions that led to the defeat of the National Democracy and to its leader being sidelined to the side of Polish politics. The opposite was supposed to be Piłsudski, who always put to the fore in pragmatic political reasons, was capable of sudden political tensions when it resulted from the balance of power and political calculation. You can risk the thesis that he practised his whole life real Realpolitik on the altar of Poland, and the peculiar eclecticism of his views – he approached all ideologies and doctrines with undisguised disregard – was an asset when he stood at the head of the rebuilt state and during his rule after the May coup.

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Jerzy J. Wiatr distinguishes six roles in which political leaders most often appear. When analysing the political leadership in Poland, one should undoubtedly focus on the model: leader as liberator and leader of the nation-state builder.32 Leaders of this type went down in history primarily because they led the liberation movements of their nations, and were often even symbols of these movements, and also most often stood at the head of the state as soon as it achieved independence. In their later activity, they had successes, but also failures. After World War I, Józef Piłsudski (1867–1935) became the builder of a new independent state in Poland. Józef Piłsudski, during the war with Russia in 1919–1920, the head of state and, at the same time, the commander-in-chief, is also an exemplification of the second model distinguished by the researcher – defender of the fatherland.33 They are those who lead the state at a critical moment and lead it to the victorious defence of independence. Of course, there have been many political leaders who have fought unsuccessfully to defend their homeland – the descendants do not deny them patriotism, and appreciate their intentions, but they do not usually rank them as high as those leaders who not only wanted but were also able to defend the homeland from the threatening danger.

The fourth model distinguished in the discussed concept is reformer leader.34 They are politicians operating under the existing law to rebuild social and political relations. What distinguishes them from revolutionists is, above all, moderation in pursuing their goals and choosing means of action. They do not want to destroy, but to rebuild existing relationships. In Poland, they were especially Wojciech Jaruzelski, Lech Wałęsa, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and Aleksander Kwaśniewski. The systemic transformations in the former socialist countries were carried out under the leadership of reformers who came either from the reformist wing of the old ruling parties or from the ranks of the former democratic opposition. The main trait that this type of leadership has in common is realism combined with the will to change. They see the shortcomings of the existing institutions and laws and want to change them. Most often, they also face the necessity to rebuild the way of thinking of fellow citizens who are attached to old relationships. They are threatened from two sides: by conservative defenders of the status quo, and by radicals who accuse them of not acting quickly and decisively enough.

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3. Charismatic leadership

Charisma is a gift, a personal trait of a political leader that distinguishes him from the competition, exceptional social and political authority, and the impact it gives him on people.35 Today, in the words of Mirosław Karwat, there is “a hunger for charisma, and a kind of charisma inflation in the supply.”36

Charismatic leadership is the highest level of leadership. In Poland, we had charismatic leaders. We can distinguish charismatic political leaders who do not fit into democratic systems, but also did not become leaders of totalitarian movements and regimes. Actually, however, the only genuine charismatic leader of 20th-century Poland was, according to Jerzy J. Wiatr – which is difficult to disagree with – Józef Piłsudski.37 The nature of his charisma was a consequence of the role played by the future marshal in the period of the struggle for independence, and especially in the years of building and defending an independent state. After his death, the camp of his supporters split into fierce factions. No one was able to take the place of the deceased leader, attempts to recreate the charismatic leadership by creating Edward Rydz Śmigły as a successor have failed. This is usually the case after the death of a charismatic. Piłsudski remained in the national memory as a great leader, despite the fact that he had opponents, and his rule after the May coup was criticized precisely for their authoritarian character, for destroying democracy, the rule of law and civil liberties. Piłsudski himself, perceived himself as a leader rising above mediocrity, he compared himself with Napoleon Bonaparte, he was aware of his charisma.38 This is evidenced by the following words: “What should it be attributed, my lords, and where to look for the reason that this man, later known in the historical index as Józef Piłsudski, was given this power? Why was he given the present power in such a way that is contrary to reason, common sense and logic? Where did this dictator of Poland come from, who did not impose his power with any violence, with any such or other speeches? Where does this phenomenon come from? … For one thing this man was greeted, for one thing his uniqueness could be considered, for one ←18 | 19→thing, I repeat, he could have had the moral right to occupy this position, for the fact, my gentlemen, for wearing this uniform, for being the Commander-in-Chief The 1st Brigade. The only value that people had at that time, the only moral strength that put millions of people into his hands, was the fact that he was the Commander of the First Brigade and was returning from Magdeburg.”39

Andrzej Garlicki quotes the opinions of conservative Galician politicians about him. In 1914, Leopold Jaworski wrote: “I wonder what is hidden in this man. I don’t know. I can see culture, abilities. Where is the plus that brings it to the fore. I do not know yet,” but a few days later at the banquet in honour of Piłsudski, you can hear “Mr. Brigadier. Around you and the legion at whose head you are already creating a legend irradiating fame … As my thoughts go through the past five months – so short and so long at the same time – I find that the first, the only one who had the ability to decide, the ability to risk, not to be separated from the war, was you, Mr. Brigadier. You have drawn society. It followed your lead.” Jan Hupka, in turn, noted: “Piłsudski delighted us all …. We were enveloped in the most sublime romanticism. The old Poland, chivalrous and uhlan, was revived before us. It seemed to me that it was Dąbrowski or Prince Józef who rose from the grave.”40 Piłsudski’s commandants from those times drew attention to something else – the loneliness of the leader and his soldiers. This sense of loneliness, related to the sense of a mission, are important components of charismatic leadership.41

When analysing the political leadership of this charismatic leader, it is worth at least indicating a research problem, namely the change of personality of a political leader under the influence of political experiences. In the recent history of Poland, a good illustration of the changes in the personality traits of a political leader under the influence of traumatic experiences is the personality change that took place in Józef Piłsudski as a result of the murder of President Gabriel Narutowicz in December 1922.42 It was supposed to be the cause of a deep mental shock for him. This very important political event was to affect the character of Piłsudski’s leadership, and thus the perception of the model of political leadership by Poles. Not without reason, years later, both Lech Wałęsa and ←19 | 20→Jarosław Kaczyński will refer to the type of the ideal Polish political leader – Józef Piłsudski.

After this murder, we dealt with Piłsudski’s transformation from an educator wishing to educate a nation – into a dictator,43 wrote Jacek Majchrowski, referring to the testimonies of the marshal’s relatives. Piłsudski was to be shocked by the fact that for the first time in Polish history a man who was a symbol of the state was murdered by a Pole, as well as by the fact that this murder was somewhat of a surrogate nature. Narutowicz, a friend of Marshal, was to die in his stead. The murderer, a painter associated with the National Democracy, claimed during the trial that he initially intended to kill Piłsudski, and abandoned this intention, as someone else was at the head of the state. Piłsudski was also deeply hurt by the fact that the murderer acted primarily for chauvinist motives – the right wing accused Narutowicz that he owed his election to the votes of national minorities, including the Jewish ones – and Piłsudski saw Poland as a common home for all citizens, not as defined in a way ethnic nation state. In addition, the right-wing campaign to glorify the murderer deeply wounded him, because it violated his idealised image of what an independent Poland should be like. William Reddaway also emphasized that the most serious effect of this murder was its impact on Piłsudski’s mind.44 The psychic reaction to this event matured in the marshal and was fully revealed when the National Democracy, who was morally blamed for this crime, returned to power in a coalition with the right wing of the people’s movement. Piłsudski then resigned from all military positions and began to talk and think about his political opponents in a completely different way – this can be seen from the famous speech at the Bristol Hotel on July 3, 1923. As J.J. Wiatr emphasizes, the May coup might have happened anyway, but the use of the power gained at that time would probably have been different if Piłsudski had remained as he was when he first headed the state. Then, at the dawn of Poland’s independence, Piłsudski had dictatorial power in his hands, which was given to him by the outgoing Regency Council and which was accepted by all the seeds of power that were then formed. He held the title of the commander-in-chief, which referred to the symbolism of national uprisings important to Poles, and then he did not use the enormity of power to perpetuate ←20 | 21→his personal dictatorship and reconciled with his former opponents in the name of working together for the reborn state.45

Władysław Gomułka, when he joined the position of First Secretary in 1956, also fulfilled – according to Jerzy Sielski – all the attributes of charisma. People believed him and were ready to follow him blindly. His myth grew and he gave him more and more followers. It can be said that in October 1956 his charisma was developing. Unfortunately, the events of December 1970 completely dispersed this charisma.46 Maybe it was just a charm47 followed by his admirers, eager to have their political idol.

When the contemporary Polish political scene is analysed, charisma is written in relation to Lech Wałęsa. However, a certain charismaticity was attributed to him in the first period of his activity – the presidential election.48 The disclosure of charisma is fostered by crisis situations, creating a social hunger and a demand for it. This is how the charisma of Wałęsa, the leader of the August strike at the Gdańsk Shipyard, grew. Adam Michnik, however, emphasized that: “in the conditions of democratic procedures, charisma pales. No miracle occurs and the leader of the anti-communist movement transforms into a normal person with ordinary human flaws. A democratic state cannot be managed in the same way as once a mass movement against the dictatorship.”49 He also points out that: “Wałęsa’s way of political action, which he fought during strikes or in the underground, became a dangerous trap in the era of building the institutions of the democratic order … The democratic leader will eliminate all independent reflexes with a sinister intuition until he breaks the fragile Polish democracy ”.50 Walesa wanted to dominate and perhaps he was even rightly accused of some authoritarian tendencies. He himself said in a characteristic way: “I am building democracy in a democratic, semi-democratic and even undemocratic way.”51 He had his great days during the Autumn of Nations, but he did not fully find himself in the world of normal politics, where the effectiveness of government is ←21 | 22→more important than moral reasons. The exercise of power, which so unexpectedly fell on his shoulders, quickly used up the authority gained during the times of the opposition. In contemporary Poland, Wałęsa is treated quite coolly, while elsewhere he remains a great symbol. However, the words of Adam Szostkiewicz did not come true – Wałęsa’s light did not go out … in the symbolic imagination of the world.52

Writing about Wałęsa’s leadership, it is impossible not to mention the changes in the personality of this leader caused by taking power. British journalist Roger Boyes, in a book that was published when Wałęsa was president, argued that the transition from the role of a people’s tribune, leader of “Solidarity” to the role of a man in power, mentally changed Wałęsa, awakened his ambitions and made him think of himself as a counterpart Marshal Piłsudski.53 According to Jerzy J. Wiatr, autocratic tendencies became more and more evident in his behaviour and style of thinking. In his opinion, reaching the top of the political ladder was to make Wałęsa a different person. After all, it is something completely different for a politician who has been working for this success for years in conditions that give him a chance of success, and another is for a worker who, within ten years, has grown from a little-known worker activist to the role of the most famous leader of the mass protest movement in the world. winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and finally the president.54

Today you can write about Jarosław Kaczyński’s charisma. In this case, charisma relates primarily to party leadership, but the realities of politics in today’s Poland – leadership from the back seat – puts him in the position of a national leader.

Today, in politics, democracy does not promote outstanding individuals, because with systemic stabilisation, the absence of great internal and external threats, the phenomenon of “averaging politicians” appears, whose role is reduced to management like a clerical group. Politically stable times require administrators, and charismatic leaders have a chance to emerge only at times of great threats. In a democracy, the source of the authority and prestige of politicians is not “the leadership’s charisma,” but gaining support through free ←22 | 23→political competition. Therefore, the political charisma becomes an image element of a politician and as such it reaches us, directing our political choices.55

When writing about charismatic leaders in Poland, it is worth mentioning the type of leadership known as spiritual.56 Examples include John Paul II, Roman Dmowski for the right and Jacek Kuroń as a leader for the post-Solidarity left. This type of leadership refers to setting goals that stem from a particular value system. It is related to the normative aspect and places the leader as a theorist and moralist. And although such a leader does not have to be a politician in a narrow and direct sense, his activity influences and influences the sphere of politics. This type appears most often in times of a breakthrough or crisis. Just like John Paul II – the Pope – the spiritual guide of Lech Wałęsa and “Solidarity,” who became the main ally of changes in Poland, and other countries of Central and Eastern Europe followed Poland.

Autocratic and democratic leaders

More than one democratic leader returned to power after some time, winning the next elections. In this respect, autocratic leaders are much worse off. Without a democratic mandate, they cannot count on the loss of power being temporary. They often lose their lives with power, and in this sense, therefore, the ability to remain in power, even for the rest of their lives. it is an elementary condition for the success of an autocratic leader. Relatively few military dictators managed to do this, including Józef Piłsudski, who died in 1935 in an unwavering leadership position, and after his death, his former associates exercised power for some time. He died a few weeks after the entry into force of the authoritarian April constitution, the purpose of which was to institutionalize his system of exercising power. Obviously, post-May Poland did not become a stable country based on healthy principles. Persecution of the opposition grew stronger, especially after the imprisonment of opposition politicians in the Brest Fortress and the rigged parliamentary elections of 1930. Therefore, Piłsudski is valued as leader-builder of independent Poland and the victorious commander in the defense war of 1920, while his nine-year rule after the coup can hardly be assessed as a success. This period is an example of a failure hidden in the achieved success: the military ←23 | 24→coup was successful and Marshal Piłsudski until the end of his life – if not formally, then in fact – was the head of state.57 In this sense, he was successful. It is known, however, that the goal for this leader was not power for its own sake. Before his sight was the sanation of Poland, the elimination of its weaknesses, and ensuring its strength and security. That he did not succeed. He did not prove to be an effective leader.

Polish communist leaders to a much greater extent than leaders of other “communist” countries left their managerial positions as a result of a political crisis, most often in their prime: both Edward Ochab in 1956 and Władysław Gomułka in 1970, Edward Gierek in 1980 and Stanisław Kania in 1981 they lost their position as a result of successive social crises. Each time the change of the leader of the ruling party was a result of his inability to deal with the power crisis. Only one of them died while holding the highest party function. It was Bolesław Bierut, who died at the age of 64 in 1956. Although it is worth mentioning here that Jerzy Sielski claims that we cannot describe him as a political leader, because he was quasi-leader because he was dependent on Stalin and the political elite of Soviet Russia, also in the domestic sphere.58 Only Wojciech Jaruzelski resigned as the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party because he was elected president in July 1989, and his successor, Mieczysław F. Rakowski, was the leader of the Polish United Workers Party until its self-dissolution in January 1990. Polish communist leaders operated in difficult conditions of limited sovereignty, with considerable, though not always equally strong, social resistance, and the effects of their actions were generally paltry, and sometimes even fatal. Gomułka seems to be an exception here, of course, except for the final period of his rule, when autocratic tendencies and clinging to ideological dogmas caused the growing alienation of the system of power and led to a bloody clash with the rebellious workers of the Coast.59 His merits were to include: achieving for Poland the best possible compromise with the Soviet authorities in 56’ and then conducting a relatively liberal policy towards the countryside, intellectual circles and the Church, thanks to which Poland was to ←24 | 25→stand out favourably from other “communist” countries.60 In these respects he was to prove to be an effective leader.

When analysing Gomułka’s political leadership, it is worth paying attention to the characterological change that took place in Władysława Gomułka under the influence of what happened to him in 1948–54.61 His own experience made him more prudent than before in relation to his political opponents. When the Secretary General of the PPR himself became a prisoner of the Stalinist system of terror – condemned for the alleged right-wing nationalist deviation, accused of anti-state activities and imprisoned when, according to the logic of the communist movement, he was in danger of death, he was abandoned by almost all his former political associates and friends, the movement, to whom he belonged from his youth revealed his terrifying face – after his return to power he was much more cautious in the use of police repression than when he first led the ruling party.

The most complex, however, seems to be the assessment of the leadership exercised by “the first soldier of the Polish People’s Republic,” Wojciech Jaruzelski, in the last decade of People’s Poland. He took power in the conditions of a deep crisis and the threat of intervention by the Soviet Union, he introduced martial law, but the final assessment of his leadership was significantly influenced by how he used his power in the positively changed international situation of the late 1980s. It paved the way for “the round table” negotiations and the democratisation of the system, and his greatest success was enabling a peaceful change of the system in Poland. And here he proved to be an effective leader.

Active leadership largely correlates with the confrontational type, oriented towards a dispute and political, ideological and systemic struggle. According to some, Wojciech Jaruzelski is a representative of this type. The style of his leadership should also be described as mobilisation, which was based on courage as a priority, and the changes introduced in the political system took into account destabilisation in social, military and economic life. The solutions implemented by this leader consequently disrupted the existing balance of power, which was reflected in the change of the political system to the Third Polish Republic. The above activity is also a type of confrontational leadership with which the introduction of martial law should be mainly identified.

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In analyses of political leadership, the ethical dimension of leadership always turns out to be extremely important. Max Weber made a distinction between two ethics applied in politics: the ethics of responsibility and the ethics of belief.62 The discussion on the ethics of responsibility was also joined by, inter alia, Austrian political scientist Anton Pelinka, who based his considerations largely on the analysis of the situation leading to the introduction of martial law in Poland.63 In his opinion, in politics one can, and even should, in certain situations use the category of the lesser evil. In December 1981, General Jaruzelski, being of the opinion that the escalation of the political conflict in Poland threatened with military intervention of the USSR and its allies, decided to introduce martial law. Pelinka treats this decision as dictated by the reason of state. Only a real and strong political leader knows he has to make a decision and be responsible for it.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (December)
Polish constitution political leadership the legislative the executive the judiciary state policy
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 374 pp., 3 fig. b/w, 7 tables.

Biographical notes

Stanisław Sulowski (Volume editor) Tomasz Słomka (Volume editor)

Stanisław Sulowski is Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Warsaw, Poland. His research interests concern theory of the state, foreign policy, public administration, and security studies. Tomasz Słomka, PhD in Political Science at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Warsaw, Poland. He is primarily interested in the constitution and contemporary constitutionalism, the Polish political system, and modern role of the head of state.


Title: The Political System of Poland