30 years have passed since the fall of Jan Olszewski’s government. The first cabinet chosen by the Seym after World War II after completely free elections collapsed in the late evening of June 4, 1992. Its collapse was related to the lustration issue, but also to the lack of a stable majority in the Sejm and the conflict with President Lech Wałęsa.
The first fully free elections in several dozen years were held on October 27, 1991. Their result was largely determined by the proportional contract law adopted by the Sejm, which did not provide for a nationwide electoral threshold. Such election law, combined with the party system that was taking shape, resulted in an extremely fragmented composition of the Seym. Representatives of as many as 24 groups sat in the pews, of which only ten brought more than ten deputies into the chamber. The appointment of a new government required the formation of an extremely broad coalition, combining formations with a very different program. The legitimacy of the new Sejm was also weakened by the exceptionally low voter turnout of 43 percent.
In the fall of 1991, President Lech Wałęsa entrusted the mission of forming a new cabinet to Bronisław Geremek, representing the Democratic Union with the most mandates. However, Geremek was unable to form a majority sufficient to obtain a vote of confidence. Ultimately, therefore, the Council of Ministers was constructed by Jan Olszewski on the basis of a coalition of the Center Agreement, ZChN and People’s Agreement, without a permanent parliamentary majority. The government did not enjoy the support of the head of state. In the following months, the political conflict with the presidential center grew more and more acute.
One of the points of contention at that time in Poland was vetting. There was a team at the Ministry of the Interior, commissioned by Antoni Macierewicz, to investigate cooperation with the communist secret police of parliamentarians and top officials. On May 28, an interview with Krzysztof Wyszkowski was published, who stated that there are 60 deputies in the Sejm who are secret collaborators of the SB. On the same day, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, MP from the Union of Real Politics, submitted a motion to adopt a resolution revealing the names of MPs, senators, ministers, voivodes, judges and prosecutors who are secret collaborators of the Security Office and Security Service. The opposition’s attempt to break the quorum failed and 233 deputies took part in the vote.
On the morning of June 4, the head of the Ministry of the Interior, Antoni Macierewicz, handed over to the heads of parliamentary clubs a list containing the names of 64 deputies, senators and members of the government, whose names appeared in the archives of the Ministry of the Interior. Wałęsa was also on the list.
– It is impossible to create a new history of Poland without recreating its moral foundations. We exist as a state only because we have been able to meet great demands for generations. The present moment presents us with a new exam. A free nation, an independent state, cannot be ruled by people enslaved by their own past, said Prime Minister Jan Olszewski in a television speech broadcast on the evening of June 4.
Voting a motion of no confidence
At the same time, the Sejm held consultations between the president and the leaders of post-Solidarity groups opposing the government (Liberal-Democratic Congress, Democratic Union, Confederation of Independent Poland) and the Polish People’s Party. During them, a temporary coalition was formed capable (with the support of deputies from post-communist clubs – PSL and SLD) to dismiss the Olszewski government. Wałęsa pressed for a vote of no confidence the same night.
273 deputies voted for the motion of no confidence, 119 against and 33 abstentions.
On June 5, Waldemar Pawlak, a representative of PSL, became the new acting prime minister. He was the first member of the post-communist formation at the head of the Council of Ministers after 1989. After an unsuccessful attempt to form a government, Pawlak resigned. In July 1992, the camp of the post-Solidarity groups created a new majority that emerged from Hanna Suchocka’s cabinet. In the summer of 1992, several bills for lustration were presented to the Sejm, but they were not considered.
“He would have been overthrown anyway”
– Several years had to pass for the Seym to pass the lustration act – reminds the historian prof. Antoni Dudek, although in his opinion the lustration issue was mainly the subject of a political, not a social dispute. He recalled social apathy resulting from the terrible economic situation. – Most were indifferent. This is evidenced by the fact that after the fall of the government, there was no manifestation to defend it. The public space was dominated by two radical minorities – anti-lustration and pro-lustration – the historian assessed. In his opinion, the political divisions of the time had their continuation on today’s political scene.
– The area of disputes was slightly different. They were obscured by the lustration issue, but in the background there were, inter alia, issues related to foreign policy and control over the armed forces – said Dudek. According to him, the position of Olszewski’s cabinet was also influenced by the ambitions of President Wałęsa, who dominated the Polish political scene during Jan Krzysztof Bielecki’s premiership. – Jan Olszewski, in accordance with the constitution, believed that the position of the government must be independent. This was the basis of this conflict. It was only in May that the issue of lustration appeared, which resulted in the collapse of the government. If Olszewski had a parliamentary majority or the support of President Wałęsa, he would have functioned longer – added Dudek.
– If the government of Jan Olszewski had not taken up the subject of lustration, it would have been overthrown anyway. Perhaps it would happen a few or several days later. This government did not have a majority, and this meant that in the absence of a constructive mechanism, the vote of confidence had to be canceled. The government of Hanna Suchocka collapsed in a similar way, believes Dudek.
Main photo source: Jarosław Stachowicz / PAP