Defining democracy and the terms of engagement with the postsocialist Polish state: Insights from HIV/AIDS

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13 Scopus citations


This article explores the history of HIV activism in Poland from the socialist period through the early 1990s transformation as a means of examining the reconfiguration of rights, obligations, and responsibility as Poland redefined itself as a market democracy. Drawing on archival materials, in-depth qualitative interviews with current and former HIV activists, and participant observation at HIV prevention organizations in Warsaw, Poland, I sketch the ways in which the socialist system's failures to protect the health of its subjects led to the terms through which state-citizen engagement was defined in the postsocialist period. Uncertainties and anxieties surrounding who was responsible for protecting the health and well-being of citizens in the newly democratic Poland gave rise to a series of violent protests centered on HIV prevention and care for people living with HIV/AIDS. Resolution of these political and social crises involved defining democracy in postsocialist Poland through claims to moral authority, in alliance with the Catholic Church, and an obligation by multiple stakeholders to disseminate technical/scientific knowledge. By comparing the responses to the epidemic by diverse institutions, including the government, the Catholic Church, and the fledgling gay rights movement, this analysis reveals the ways in which democracy in postsocialist Poland tightly links science, democratic reform, and moral/ religious authority while at the same time excluding sexual minorities from engaging in political activism centered on rights to health and inclusion in the new democracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-445
Number of pages25
JournalEast European Politics and Societies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Democracy
  • Poland
  • Rights
  • Sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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