Reforms in Poland

The present system of government in Poland is hardly free democratic control, although in theory Poland possesses the machinery of a democratically elected Parliament with the added refinement of proportional representation thrown in. Neither is it quite a dictatorship although in effect the position of Marshal Josef Pilsudski is such that he is able to wield dictatorial powers.

What has happened in Poland, the post-war creation, is very largely a demonstration of what happens when a ready-made constitutional garb is applied to a population lacking the experience and tradition which elsewhere have made the garb a useful and wearable article. Italy and Germany have been through the same process: both have, for a brief moment, enjoyed the fullness of democratic control and both have cheerfully discarded the liberal constitutions which they possessed, constitutions which have proved natural and workable in Great Britain and America, and which have even been acceptable (one hesitates to say “workable”) in France.

LIMITING POWERS

After the war, the new Polish State duly set out as a democratic republic; but this was supplemented by a series of checks and adjustments which limited the powers of the Sejm, the Polish Parliament. Since then, Polish history has not been such as to make for the peaceful development of democratic institutions. There has been too much in the shape of urgencies, crises and sudden dangers. The nature of the frontier adjoining the territories of Soviet Russia, Poland’s relations with her western neighbor, Germany, the perpetual irritation supplied by the Polish Corridor and Danzig, the fact that Poland’s inhabitants are, as regards thirty per cent of them, minority populations—these facts have caused Poland to take up the position of a heavily armed defensive garrison in which discipline, or something like it, toward a ruling class has become an allessential item for Poland’s continued existence; while free public criticism of affairs and officials— the very essence of democratic control—has come to be perilously near akin to national treachery. Poland, therefore, has democratic government but of a very modified kind.

In May, 1928, Marshal Pilsudski became virtual dictator of Poland, but he still retained the democratic framework. To prevent the chaos and anarchy which the swarms of political parties, their rival ambitions, and the disruptive effects of Communist infiltration were bringing upon the country, Marshal Pilsudski grouped together certain of the parties under the title of “the Non-Party Union,” with 247 seats in the Sejm. Against it are arrayed a mixed collection of small groups which, however closely they may combine, must remain a helpless minority.

NOT THE FAMILIAR TYPE

Marshal Pilsudski is, however, by no means an example of the type of dictator with which we have been made familiar elsewhere. He does not put himself forward, a dominating figure, like a Mussolini or a Hitler. Officially he is much less than the President of the Polish Republic: he is simply Minister of War and Inspector General of the Army, But with the army such a vital factor for the life of Poland, and with his own past reputation and achievements as the maker of modern Poland, his position is, in practice, quite as paramount and unassailable as that of the avowed dictators in other modern States. Yet there is no manner of constitutional dictatorship as in Italy or Germany; should he disappear from the political scene his dominating position is not constitutionally transferable to another.

This latter fact accounts for the new measure of constitutional reform now under consideration in Poland. It aims at saving a future Poland, lacking a Pilsudski, from the dangers of a naked democratic regime. The gist of the meditated reforms is to restrict the possibilities of harm inherent in the Sejm, or Polish Parliament, to reorganize the Upper House or Senate, and to increase considerably the power of the President of the Republic.

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