Poland's House Divided

WARSAW: Voters can be merciless judges. Ten years after leading Poland to freedom, Lech Walesa received less than 1% of the vote in Sunday’s presidential elections, in which President Aleksander Kwasniewski romped to a second term in office. Like Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia, Walesa is now a prophet without honor - indeed, invisible - in his own country. In the years to come, both Walesa and Gorbachev may yet be recognized for the gifts of liberty they delivered. For now, the verdict of voters is for complacency.

Of course, Poland’s presidential elections provoked heated discussions about the state of the country. But our chattering classes now find life so pleasant that we forgot to discuss - or omited on purpose - the problem of those who were left behind by the train called freedom, democracy and the free market.

According to various estimates, between 35% and 50% of Poles are excluded from the economic benefits of Poland’s new society. Some of these people are old and uneducated and don’t realize that they are excluded. But my neighbor in the country, who is twenty-years-old, also has no chance: no chance to go to university; no chance of getting a decent job; no chance of even buying a slice of pizza in the local village. He, however, belongs to that half of the excluded who understand what is happening to them and who have no illusions. For him, all the days and years ahead look black; for him, there is only resentment and controlled rage.

In that balance between “fear of falling” and “hope of rising” which Alexis de Tocqueville saw as the driving force of free societies, fear of having fallen into an abyss beyond hope is carrying the day and paralyzing millions. Even those who claim to represent the Left avoid mentioning inequality and do not offer the excluded, like my neighbor, any reason to hope.