An Abandoned Past

The End of Post-Communism in Poland

by Piotr Borowiec (Author)
©2022 Monographs 156 Pages
Series: Studies in Political Transition, Volume 16


The monograph it attempts to identify the definitions of the past, present, and future used by Polish political elites in electoral discourse from 1989 to 2015. It aims not just to identify these definitions, but to compare and contrast them, and show how they evolved over this period. At all times, the dominant definitions were a resource of temporal consciousness for society. For this reason, they can be taken as a basis for scholarly "diagnosis." They can reveal key insights not only into social imaginations of the three dimensions of time, but into social change itself. Therefore, the fundamental aim of this work is to show how society developed its approach to the past, present, and future from 1989 to 2015.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • About the author
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part I The Past: Dominance of Communism
  • 1. Parting with Communism in 1989: A Pact
  • 2. A Ubiquitous Past: The Birth of Post-Communism
  • 3. Attempts at a Radical Break with Post-Communism
  • 4. From Dominance to Abandonment of Post-Communism
  • Part II The Present: From Time Together to “Here and Now”
  • 1. The Present: A Time of Hope and Expectation
  • 2. Disintegration of the Present into Different Times and Definitions
  • 3. Temporary Time: A Response to Post-Communism
  • 4. Freeing the Present from the Communist Past
  • Part III The Future: Time to Remedy the Present
  • 1. The Short-Term Perspective
  • 2. Not Just Looking Back: A Future Without a Past
  • 3. Grilling Time: An Extension of the Present
  • 4. The Aim of the Future: To Finish Unfinished Business and Grill
  • Summary
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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The statement, “political elections are a battle for time – the most important capital of politicians,” is only a partial description of what this book is about. Every election alerts politicians to the passage of time and the impermanence of their power, yet it is also an opportunity for an extension of that power. Quantitative time is therefore a “trophy” or “desirable commodity” on the political market which can be won – or even bought – and spent in various ways. In a liberal democracy, calendar time is gained through cyclical political elections. Elections strengthen society’s sense of quantitative time and bring order to the struggle for power. In addition, the periods between elections resemble agricultural and production cycles.

The protagonists of this book are therefore time and politics; or more specifically, definitions of the past, present, and future as presented in election campaigns in Poland from 1989 to 2015. It will not cover the campaigns comprehensively, but only their temporal aspect, i.e. how political elites have used imaginations of time periods in election discourse. It will strive to identify the dominant definitions of time used during elections and show how these definitions have changed over time.

This work builds on the current body of research concerning how temporal categories are created and used by political actors – not only in an effort to better understand the phenomenon of time, but to expand knowledge of certain social mechanisms. This is important because imaginations of the past, present, and future affect how societies understand themselves and the world, and contribute to the adoption of values, norms, and symbols. Consequently, the prevailing definitions of time, and its re-evaluation and division into phases, can be used as diagnostic tools. They shall be the basis for this “scholarly audit” of how the understanding and experience of time has evolved in Polish politics and society.

In the hands of politicians, time is an element of auto-idealization and glorification, a way of imparting a worldview that benefits them to a potential electorate. They construct and impose on other politicians and society mental “shortcuts” and metaphors for how to interpret the past, present, and future. As reductions of a complicated, multi-dimensional reality, these shortcuts are tools for acquiring and maintaining power (Koczanowicz 2009: 3). All conceptions of political time are thus “ideologically construed instruments of power” (Fabian 2002: 144) that refer to the interests and aspirations of politicians. Due to the dynamic character of social processes, politics is a never-ending production and ←9 | 10→reproduction of definitions and valuations of the past, present, and future, which are objectivized in discourse.

This book aims to contribute to the scholarly debate on the broadly understood meaning of time in societies. It is part of a long tradition of theoretical and empirical analyses conducted mainly by sociologists. The tradition began in 1912 with Émile Durkheim’s, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (see 2008 edition), and was continued among others by Pitirim Sorokin and Robert Merton (1937), Georges Gurvitch (1964), Jeremy Rifkin (1987), Michael Young (1988), Anthony Giddens (1988), Franco Ferrarotti (1990), Ernesto Laclau (1990), Norbert Elias (1992), Patrick Baert (1992), Alfred Gell (1992), Helga Nowotny (1994), Barbara Adam (1990; 1995; 1998), and Eviatar Zerubavel (2004). These works and most others on the subject of temporality are the theoretical bases of this research. Polish studies on social time (Tarkowska 1987; 1992) and time in election campaigns (Tarkowska 1994; Antoszewski 1994; Borowiec 2016a; 2016b) are only initial works on the subject. They are the inspiration for this more extensive study on the relationships between politics, time, and society. The subject of social memory in Polish society has been more thoroughly analyzed (Król 1991; Śpiewak 2005; Szacka 2006; Nijakowski 2008; Kwiatkowski 2008).

This study revealed that definitions of the past have evolved the most. A noticeable departure from appeal to communist heritage in election campaigns took place between 2007 and 2015. This means that only then did the remnants of communism cease to interest Polish society and distinguish political groups. The former conduct of PRL-era1 politicians (which was variously praiseworthy) lost its significance as a means of legitimizing or de-legitimizing their participation in politics. Poland’s undemocratic past is now primarily the domain of scholars. The above arguments support the thesis of this work, namely that post-communism in Poland ended between 2007 and 2015. However, analysis of time constructs in electoral discourse has also revealed that definitions of the present and future have changed.

This research covers all parliamentary and presidential campaigns starting from the “contractual elections” of 4 June 1989, through 25 October 2015. ←10 | 11→Subject to deeper analysis was discourse from two campaigns in 2015. All available temporal analyses of campaign discourse after 1989 were used for this study (Tarkowska 1996a; Bradatan 2005; Borowiec 2013), as well as preserved electoral programs (for both parliamentary and presidential elections), and a series of works published by the Polish Academy of Sciences (e.g. Słodkowska 1995a, et al.). Electoral discourse from daily (Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita) and weekly newspapers (Tygodnik Solidarność, Polityka, Wprost, Newsweek, Do Rzeczy, and wSieci) was also analyzed. This data was supplemented by an analysis of discourse from 2015 on internet portals (gazeta.pl, onet.pl, wp.pl, interia.pl), and the websites of candidates and political groups. The hypothesis is therefore based on research from an extensive range of sources.

The nature of the sources and hypotheses called for qualitative methodology resembling grounded theory (Glaser, Strauss 1967; Strauss, Corbin 2015), based on the inductive gathering and grouping of information into categories. Each unit of data was assigned to general categories of past, present, and future by constant comparison of new elements with those already assigned. In case an element was not assignable to any of the general categories, a new sub-category was created. These categories and sub-categories were then used to create a basic framework for studying the dominant conceptions of past, present, and future. The main advantage of this method was that it allowed the study to be “led” by the data, and thus stay impartial. Finally, the fundamental characteristics of the time categories used by Polish politicians in post-1989 campaigns were compared with those used in 2015.

For clearer presentation, the analysis was concentrated only on temporal definitions, and intentionally avoided invocation of specific events, parties, and politicians. However, total omission of historical facts was not possible, as it would have left the analysis out of context.

This work attempts to define and analyze conceptions of the past, present, and future in three separate sections. However, due to the fact that these conceptions are defined in terms of each other, complete separation was impossible (this was accounted for in the analysis).

The first section discusses the processes that lead to the domination of electoral discourse by the communist past for nearly two decades after 1989, i.e. how it influenced perceptions of the present and visions of the future. The unwanted and largely negatively perceived inheritance spurred reforms and other political and legal measures to remove communism from the present. These were generally conducted in the name of “decommunization” or “lustration.” This section ←11 | 12→of the book will outline Poland’s struggle with post-communism.2 The country’s politicians employed radical measures in an effort to separate its totalitarian past from its promising future and build a new foundation free from previous pathology. However, their numerous attempts to finally part with post-communism were unsuccessful until 2007, when both politicians and society began to lose interest in Poland’s communist past. The section ends with the sentiment, “post-communism no longer haunts us.”

The second section focuses on conceptions of the present (i.e. what is happening “now”) between 1989 and 2015. Despite official assertions of departure from communism, most of the ideas discussed here were determined by the negative effects of this period, which were clearly reflected in the conception of post-communism. Nevertheless, before the present was recognized as post-communism, the concept of time together appeared in the wake of enthusiasm, social trust, and national unity after 1989. This was a magical time, only possible at such historical moments. The decline of this concept after about a year was synonymous with the emergence of competing imaginations of the present. It also coincided with the lack of economic improvement in the country and growing divisions among former Solidarity activists. The long-standing dominance of post-communism generated conceptions of time that diminished its negative consequences. For example, it was often defined as the present time or the transition period. Only in 2007 did conceptions free of reference to communism gain popularity. This marks the ushering in of grilling time – a time of stabilization and satisfaction. In the 2015 elections, the governing politicians attempted to extend this satisfaction into the future. The opposition promised to take it one step further by making a “good change,” and extending the opportunity to grill to everyone. The concepts of the present and future were thus combined, resulting in a kind of “expanded present.”


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (March)
social time social change politics communism transformation the present
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 156 pp.

Biographical notes

Piotr Borowiec (Author)

Piotr Borowiec is Assistant Professor at the Department of Theory and Methodology of Politics, Institute of Political Science and International Relations, Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland. His research interests focus on the shifts in modern politics, political science, and political sociology and theory.


Title: An Abandoned Past
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158 pages