Is Poland a Modern Democracy?

Third Way or No Way?
Third Way or No Way?

The Land of the Poles is now a part of NATO, it is a member of the European Union and belongs to most of the structures and institutions that are a mark of democracy in the modern world. But does that make it a democratic country of the ‘civilised, western’ world?

Defining Democracy
The problem with defining Poland as a democratic country hinges on the fact that there seem to be several definitions of the term. However, a more pressing problem is the fact that the Polish ‘democracy’ is often compared against the French, British or American ‘democracies’ with commentators often forgetting that Poland was still a communist state in 1989, little over twenty years ago. A mere twenty years have passed… Comparisons, rather, should be drawn between the ‘democracies’ of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria or the Czech Republic.

Classifying Civilisation
Civilisation is a different matter altogether. With democracy we can use indexes such as the Polity IV Project or the work of Freedom House but civilisation is a little harder to characterise. There have been various methods of pigeon-holing countries into this or that category (like Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations) but they all seem rather simplistic but my favourite is my own Toilet Check. The mark of civilisation in any country is the state of its public toilets. Check out ten public toilets in Berlin, Stockholm, Tunis, Cairo, Prague, Budapest and Warsaw. Then put them in order of cleanliness. This is civilisation.

Democracy or Bust?
Democracy or Bust?

Identifying Initiative
Another marker of a modern civilised democracy is the level of initiative on the part of regular citizens. In Poland, this manifested itself in the Solidarity movement which helped bring down communism in Europe. However, following the implementation of democracy, popular initiative seemed to have disappeared. Not so any more. Thanks to the internet, a host of web-based initiatives have sprung up. A particular favourite of mine is Nie parkuj jak kutas (Don’t Park Like a Prick) which publishes pictures of illegally-parked vehicles together with colourful commentaries.

Grooming Grass-roots
So perhaps a way of defining a modern civilised democracy is looking at the grass-roots of the society: the state of the toilets, the level of services, the amount of popular initiative. The state of a country’s toilets and Don’t Park Like a Prick may appear to be amusing but they give us a quick insight into the state of the country. It will be our ability to nurture these initiatives that may be a linchpin for the development of democracies not only in Poland but around the world.


13 thoughts on “Is Poland a Modern Democracy?

  1. The real indicator is whether Poland’s toilets are improving or not. They may not yet be perfect, but they are a hell of a lot better than they were in 1997 when I arrived here. My visit to the loo on the PKP ekspres (not posh InterCity)last week filled me with hope. Clean, with soap, hot water and paper towels. This would not have been the case just five years ago.

    1. Michael, good shout. Reminds me of the time when I was on a train returning from Śląsk five years ago. The toilet was a mess, full of the proverbial with a prostitute giving her ‘services’ to a 20-man queue of beery blokes. Shocking!

  2. As to toilets as indicators…well, I must say that Polish toilets are really awful, at least most of them. But, if I was to compare other countries’ toilets Lithuanian public toilets are the worst of them all, for they look like a hole in the floor and stink. Just squat and do your thing. British public toilets are in a really good state, but maybe it’s because cleaning ladies are included in the toilet’s price. Scottish public toilets are worse than the British ones, but not as bad as the Dutch ones. German toilets are always clean. No, I didn’t take a tour de toilettes.

    I suggest visiting toilets in KM trains, it’s an unforgettable experience.

  3. Wow, what a great idea with making toilets an indicator of civilisation. I’ve just imagined myself during the next holiday on the tour which I would call in Polish “Szlakiem ubikacji europejskich” 😀 It would be informative :>
    But seriously, I also think that McDonald’s (as a restaurant which is common in almost every country) could be a good indicator. And I’m not talking only about toilets now, but also about tables and the amount of garbage on the floor. When I compare McDonald’s in Warsaw and in Prague, I’m really ashamed of Poland 😉
    The funny thing is that Polish people often think that if they use advanced technology, they are civilized enough not to think about hygiene and their absurd behavior (for example using creativity when parking cars) 😉

    PS. Vampireholic, I won’t use the privilege of experimenting what STD’s can I treat after visit in KM’s loo.

    1. Agata, visiting KM loos is a great idea providing that you: 1) have runny nose, 2) don’t really have to use it, 3) don’t have an immediate vomiting thought while entering and 4) want to avoid morning commuting crowd and not to be squashed like sardines.

  4. Actually till today I even didn’t know that there are toilets in KM and now I think that I was happier with my unawareness 😉

  5. I think that is is typical that we don’t appreciate what we already have.

    When Poland wasn’t really independent, and human rights were limited, and Polish people in comparison with western societies could have seen that their life could be much happier and easier, it was obvious they wanted to fight for democracy, for freedom, for a better life.

    Since we have it now, we no longer have huge ideas to fight for.

    I don’t think that the state of pubic toilets affects democracy, and even the improvement in this area won’t have an impact on developing our democracy nor will this improvement threaten it.

  6. As you said, it is hard to define democracy at the first place. Maybe it’s good at some level that our young democracy is compared to those with long traditions. After all, who if not them are we to learn from?

    Good picture, sad but true. So far nobody has come up with anything better than democracy. It’s far from perfection, but nothing’s actually perfect…

    The part about social initiatives is absolutely hilarious;)

  7. hm? Poland is a YOUNG democracy not a MODERN democracy.
    It has been distorted by communist state so much that now it is almost impossible to change the system and mentality to democratic. Funny thing is that before WWI we were exemplary democracy. I blame Roosevelt and Churchill. These sonofabithes were great politicians and tacticians. They knew that Poland is no partner for Russia but they also realized that they don’t need in future an extra big brother and competition in central Europe. Screw them.

  8. Speaking about the toilets… I recommend you all go to India:-) After that, you will love the polish toilets…

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