From Democracy to Totalitarianism
Reborn Poland faced a host of daunting challenges:
war damage, a ravaged economy, a population one-third
wary national minorities, and a need to reintegrate the
zones kept forcibly apart during the era of partition.
these trying conditions, the experiment with democracy
Formal political life began in 1921 with adoption of a
constitution that designed Poland as a republic modeled
French example, vesting most authority in the legislature.
postwar parliamentary system proved unstable and erratic.
disputes with political foes caused Pilsudski to resign
as chief of state and commander of the armed forces, but
he assumed power in a coup that followed four years of
ineffectual government. For the next decade, Pilsudski
Polish affairs as strongman of a generally popular
regime. Military in character, the government of Pilsudski
democratic and dictatorial elements while pursuing
sanacja, or national cleansing. After Pilsudski's
1935, his protégé successors drifted toward open
In many respects, the Second Republic fell short of the
expectations of 1918. As happened elsewhere in Central
the attempt to implant democracy did not succeed. Minority
peoples became increasingly alienated, and antisemitism
palpably in the general population. Nevertheless, interwar
could justifiably claim some noteworthy accomplishments:
advances, the revival of Polish education and culture
decades of official curbs, and, above all, reaffirmation
Polish nationhood that had been disputed so long. Despite
defects, the Second Republic retained a strong hold on
generations of Poles as a genuinely independent and
expression of Polish national aspirations.
Data as of October 1992