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2 Program on Central and Eastern Europe

Legitimation & Instability: The Fatal Link

1990 Michael Bernhard


This paper explains the unparalleled record of political instability in Communist-ruled Poland by exploring the failure of successive regimes to legitimate their domination. It argues that the Polish Stalinists, Gomulka and Gierek, as well as General Jaruzelski, were only successful in putting obedience to their rule on a highly contingent, results-oriented (i.e., non-legitimate) basis and thus were particularly prone to societal challenges from below. The paper concludes with the successful negotiation of the Roundtable Agreement in spring 1989, which radically changed the nature of the Polish political system.