Politics of decentralization in Poland since 1989

Eva Piotrowski, Colby College


This is a study of the transformation of local government in Poland since the fall of communism. This topic is of particular interest and relevance for five key reasons. First, local government reform has been the only major change in the government structure of Poland since the fall of communism. Second, Poland's post-communist government has seen local government reform as a testing ground for other possible decentralization measures in its overly centralized public administration. Third, Poland's local government experiment contains important lessons for other newly democratic regimes seeking to decentralize. Fourth, studying the politics of decentralization sheds light on the new elites emerging at the local level as well as the extent to which Poland's political culture is shifting from one in which individuals passively wait for the government to take charge toward one of active citizen participation. Finally, looking at Poland's decentralization reform forces us to recognize some of the unanticipated trade-offs that exist hetween decentralization and democratization. This thesis proceeds in four stages. Part one provides the historical context for the rest of the thesis. It consists of a section on major communist reorganizations of local public administration and of another outlining the democratic local govemment reform of 1990. Part two seeks to draw essential lessons from Poland's experience with decentralization. Part three identifies the new local elites and how they have responded to their new found accountability to the public. It also examines the distinct cleavage emerging in Poland's local political culture. Finally, part four looks at the larger processes of democratization and decentralization in relation to recent Polish local history.