This article unravels the seeming paradox of how civil societies like that of Poland, which were strong enough to play a critical role in the collapse of communist regimes, could now have become weak It argues that four factors explain civil society's enfeeblement after the end of the old regime. Two of these are attributable to the logic of Poland's first transition (demobilization of insurgent civil society by pact and decapitation through success). The other two are generic to post-communist democratization (the residual effects of post-totalitarianism and the social consequences of economic transformation). It concludes with a discussion of whether these factors are transitory or long-term and what the ramifications of a weak civil society are for a fledgling democracy.

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