Poland’s path from planning economy to market economy has been successful in several ways. The country has experienced steady growth since the 1990s and the general standard of living has improved on several levels. During the 1990s, the country struggled with high unemployment rates, but from 2002 to 2008, unemployment fell from almost 20% to just over 8%. After 2008, unemployment has risen slightly again, but is not expected to reach as high levels as in the early 1990s. The proportion of Poles living below the nationally defined poverty line has decreased. Compared to other EU countries, however, Poland is still a relatively poor country. The labor force’s share of the population is low; only just over 59% in 2010. The structural changes in the economy have hit hard with the large proportion of the population living in the countryside.
The pension system in Poland is based on work and includes old age, disability and family pensions. Visit AbbreviationFinder to see the definitions of POL and acronym for Poland. A new pension system with some income pensions and some fund pensions came into force in 1999. In 2006, 77.1% of the workforce was covered by the compulsory pension scheme. Farmers and some public employees have their own pension systems. Need-tested benefits are paid to those who are not entitled to a pension. The retirement age is 65 years for men and 60 years for women. Compensation for families with children is low compared to other EU countries. Parental allowance is paid for 20 weeks after birth, of which 6 weeks can be distributed to the father, provided the mother has been home for 14 weeks. The child allowances are income-tested and are aimed primarily at low-income families.
In the 1990s, Poland’s healthcare system was reformed from being fully financed through the state budget into a compulsory insurance system based on income-related contributions for employees. A small but increasing proportion of health insurance goes to private-managed care, and private-financed care is also increasing in scope. The development of primary care has generally led to a more efficient care unit, but this has mainly benefited the urban population. The queues for planned medical care are often long, which in combination with low salaries for doctors and healthcare professionals has led to problems with bribery and bribery. In 2011, the healthcare sector accounted for approximately 7% of Poland’s GDP.
Poland is one of Europe’s least equated countries. Discrimination against women occurs in public life as well as within families, and only 46% of women versus 62% of men are included in the labor force. The country has a very conservative law on abortions and discussions have been held to further restrict abortion rights. In 2009, only 538 legal abortions were performed in Poland; the number of illegal – often risky – abortions was hundreds of times more. Estimates of the number of abortions performed annually vary from 40,000 to over 100,000.
Transition to democracy and market economy 1989–1995
After negotiations in 1989, the trade union and the election alliance Solidarity, formed by, among others, Lech Wałęsa, were legalized. In June 1989 elections were held. A new chamber was created in the National Assembly, the Senate, to be elected by completely free elections. For the Second Chamber, Sejm, the Communist Party and its support parties (formally Poland was not a one-party state) should have 65 percent of the seats, the rest should be freely elected. The first and second rounds of the elections took place on June 4 and 18 and became the first in Eastern Europe after World War II where voters could freely express their views.
The election was a disaster for the Communist Party. In the Senate, Solidarity received 99 of the 100 seats. The latter went to an independent candidate. In Sejm, Solidarity got all the seats that were not pre-allocated to the Communists and their support parties. In the National Assembly, Wojciech Jaruzelski was elected president in July with a narrow majority.
Solidarity refused to participate in a government with a communist majority, and a coalition government was established between Solidarity and the former support parties of the Communist Party, besides some communists. In August 1989, Tadeusz Mazowiecki from Solidarity became the first non-communist prime minister in Eastern Europe since the 1940s.
In December, Poland ceased to be a “people’s republic” and the communist party’s formal leadership role in the state government was abolished. In January 1990, the Communist Party dissolved itself. It was followed by a new social democratic party. At the same time, the Solidarity-dominated government presented a radical program for rapid transition to market economy and capitalism, led by economist Leszek Balcerowicz, who for a time was finance minister. Most subsidies were abolished, prices were released virtually without salary compensation, and the currency was devalued. The immediate effects were soaring inflation and a sharp rise in unemployment. A comprehensive privatization was also started. Social differences increased, and a class of newly empires grew.
Both in 1990 and 1991 there were numerous strikes and demonstrations in protest against the deterioration of living conditions that many experienced, and the support for Solidarity sank. In addition, during the spring and summer 1990, the contradictions within Solidarity were openly expressed. Wałęsa supporters in the National Assembly formed in May the “Center Alliance”. As a counterpart in July came the “Citizens’ Movement / Democratic Action” (ROAD), which supported Mazowiecki. During the November / December 1990 presidential elections, Mazowiecki contested Wałęsa (and other candidates). Mazowiecki lost in the first round and chose to resign as prime minister. In the second round, Wałęsa won by 74% of the vote.
The former Communist Party continued to have a strong representation in the National Assembly until October 1991, only then free elections were held for all seats in Sejm. The turnout was very low (43 percent), and as many as 29 parties were elected. The two largest, Mazowiecki’s Democratic Union and the former Communists, got about 12 percent of the vote each. This led to unstable conditions for the governments, which until the next elections in 1993 had a center / right profile. The biggest political controversy was the economic and social policy, issues of life and the relationship between the president and the national assembly / government.
However, despite frequent changes in government and heated political debate, there was relatively great continuity in practical policy. September 17, 1993 – 54 years after the Soviet Union moved into Poland from the east – the last Soviet forces left Poland.
At the 1993 elections, the left side won a clear victory. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) got 20 percent of the vote. The strongest party within the SLD was the Polish Republic’s Social Democracy (SdRP), the direct successor of the old Communist Party, and with Aleksander Kwaśniewski as leader. The PSL, previously a support party for the Communists, now emerged as an independent interest party for the countryside with a partially populist feel.
After the election, SLD and PSL formed government with SLD leader Waldemar Pawlak as prime minister. The economic policies of the former governments were largely continued, although privatization was slower. Inside the coalition there were many tensions, and relations with President Wałęsa were strained. Pawlak resigned as prime minister in February 1995 and was succeeded by Józef Oleksy. He had also been a government member under the Communist regime (1988).