2007 | 20 | 63-98
Article title

THE POLISH CONSTITUTIONAL EXPERIENCE (BETWEEN DEMOCRACY AND AUTHORITARIANISM) (Doswiadczenia konstytucyjne Polski - miedzy demokracja a autorytaryzmem)

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The subject of the article is a reflection on the Polish constitutional experience. Certainly we may take pride in the first written constitution on the European continent. However, the Constitution of 3rd May had, and still has now, no more than a symbolic value. It did indeed represent the modern, rational ideas of the age but on the other hand, it was a constitution abandoned, not put into practice, something which prevented its full verification. The constitution which followed, that is, the Constitution of March 1921, was, in turn, a copy of the French solution, insufficiently original and transferred to Polish soil in a way which was overly mechanical and ill-considered. As a result, despite the democratic and liberal cheers, it could not become an authentic or, first and foremost, an effective fundamental act. This was, in fact, confirmed by the coup d'├ętat of May 1926, which drew a line through the democratic principles of the March Constitution. The straightforward consequence of this was the passing, in 1935, of the next constitution, named the April Constitution. Although this constitution has a negative tradition, being associated, as it is, with the repudiation of democracy and the introduction of non-democratic and authoritarian solutions in its place, yet, for all that, the April Constitution was the product of native, Polish thinking and, in addition, it was a constitution highly rated in legislative and doctrinal terms. It did, after all, represent original ideas for a political system, which, irrespective of the opinion in which they were held, comprised a serious contribution to constitutional thought. This is confirmed by all the instances in which, to a lesser or greater extent, the provisions of the 1935 Constitution were drawn upon, e.g., the French Fifth Republic. For obvious reasons, the next constitution, this time socialist, adopted in 1952, was an equally negative experience. Here, it again became evident that a constitution copying a foreign model, this time Soviet, is undemocratic, collectivist and, in addition, completely fictional. Since the Constitution of the People's Republic of Poland was merely a 'constitution on paper', it was not, as a result, a law which operated substantively; neither, and all the more so, was it a law which was accepted and absorbed. It held the most negative meaning for the Polish constitutional experience as it generated its own, peculiar condition of political culture, approving attitudes which were overtly anti-constitutional and even anti-state. This acquis of the Polish constitutions is pointed up, in its own way, by the Constitution of 1997, which is currently in force. Its substance draws upon those solutions familiar from earlier periods which were positively verified, whilst negating and eliminating those which have proved to be undemocratic, unverified or, quite simply, erroneous. At the same time, the Constitution of 1997 is bound up, and very clearly, with a range of contemporary, democratic principles and values of constitutionalism, confirming that Polish constitutionalism, despite all its drawbacks and shortcomings, is part of a significantly wider trend of European thought on political systems.
  • Jaroslaw Szymanek, for postal addres contact the journal editor
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