Poland's young liberals hold key to future

Young at heart, urbane and upwardly mobile - the academics of Poland's Freedom Union hold the key to the country's future. After yesterday's parliamentary elections, they are set to play a pivotal role in efforts to form the next government. met one of their luminaries.
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In real life, Pawel Piskorski runs a libertarian think-tank, the Polish equivalent to the Adam Smith Institute. Not bad for a 29-year-old, even if his kind are a dime a dozen in the precocious new democracies of Central Europe. But not many of his contemporaries have been entrusted with their party's election campaigns.

Now, on top of trying to get into the Sejm, Mr Piskorski has to worry about mail-shots, leaflets and television advertising. All of a sudden, everybody wants to make friends with the Freedom Union. No longer are they denounced as traitors by the reconstituted Solidarity, the party that drove out the communists but collapsed under the strain of trying to introduce a market economy and was driven out of power four years ago. Neither do their economic sermons offend the ex-communists in the outgoing government.

Here is why: Solidarity's return to Parliament after yesterday's election will re-order the political landscape. The governing Democratic Left Alliance - the former communists - is expected to improve slightly on its performance of four years ago, but their forecast 25 to 30 per cent share of the votes will no longer be translated into a majority of seats.

Solidarity's share will go up from next to nothing also to between 25 and 30 per cent. The previous second biggest group, the reactionary Peasant Party who boosted the ex-communists' whopping majority in the outgoing parliament, are expected to decline sharply. The previous coalition seems doomed, but Solidarity will not be able to form a government without a little extra: namely Freedom Union's forecast 12 per cent.

Thus do all roads in Warsaw politics lead to Mr Piskorski's office these days. But does Mr Piskorski yearn to return to the Solidarity fold? "We don't know exactly who are in the AWS [Solidarity Election Action]," he says. "And I don't think they know either. We think about half their people in the new parliament will be connected with trade unions. I'm not so fond of trade unions running a country."

Mr Piskorski's party scores mainly among the rising middle class, and especially among the young. For under-25s, the Freedom Union tops the charts. Their supporters are the winners of the new order, preoccupied with money and power, and not with ideology or old scores.

Accordingly, the party's campaign has concentrated on economics, rather than history. Meanwhile, secret discussions about forming the next government have been held not only with Solidarity, but also with the ex-communists. In their hearts, the Freedom Union would prefer to link forces with Solidarity, but such a marriage might also have to involve the embarrassingly right- wing Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland.

It is therefore conceivable Mr Piskorski and his party might be driven into the clutches of the former enemy. Freedom Alliance's leader is Professor Leszek Balcerowicz who, as deputy prime minister of the first post-communist government in 1990, laid the foundations of the market economy. Now Professor Balcerowicz is back with a second plan to complete the job. His programme, and the votes backing it, are up for auction. Most of his party would prefer to form a coalition with Solidarity, but other scenarios cannot be excluded. All that is certain is that business wants the Freedom Union in the government, and in this part of the world business usually gets its way.