Lech Walesa will not be president of democratic Poland.
He may lose in the general presidential election. Judging by his boastful declarations, the Solidarity Trade Union chairman may have too little to offer, apart from himself and flood of contradictory promises. How does the “just division of Polish poverty” he promises agree with the demand he makes for “accelerated privatization?” Or the promised, instantaneous end to unemployment with the necessity to launch market mechanisms? And can [his] promise of doling out millions of zloty to individual people be taken seriously?
Walesa may also win the presidential election, but even if he does, he will not be president of a democratic Poland. Rather, he will become a destabilizing factor, creating chaos and isolating Poland from the rest of the world. Walesa said:
I do not favor classic concepts of the presidency, neither the French, the Italian, nor the American models. I will do it my way. I want to surprise everyone. My model is not wine drinking and dinners: it is a “flying Dutchman” who travels around the country and intervenes wherever necessary. There will be too much of Walesa, and this is why so many are afraid.
Walesa may win the election if he manages to maintain his image of “the father of the nation.” A father is free to get drunk and beat up his wife, but his children are not allowed to raise their voices or hands against him. If this myth paralyzes Polish minds and hearts, Walesa will win. He will win, even though he openly declares that he needs democracy only as a tool that allows him to grab the rudder of rule. I am afraid that once he grabs hold of it, all that will remain of democracy will be his own decrees.
Walesa’s merits and virtues are unquestionable: as a politician, he is wonderfully sensitive to public feelings and extremely gifted in the game of politics. Millions of people associate his name with the end of communism. However, this excellent politician apparently ignores the fact that the era of charismatic leaders is past. Today, charisma can only serve destruction.
Some features of Walesa’s character which made him a great leader of the several-million-strong Solidarity movement disqualify him as a president of a democratic state. Walesa is unpredictable. Walesa is irresponsible. He is incompetent. And he is also incapable of reform.
Walesa’s unpredictability was an asset in the struggle against totalitarian communism. But it spells disaster in the democratic structures of a modern state.
His irresponsibility was a by-product of opposition and underground activity: if you cannot influence the state, you take no responsibility for it.
Walesa cannot learn from his own errors because he is deeply convinced that he commits none.
Finally, Walesa’s opinions on the economy and foreign policy are paralyzing and horrific in their absurdity. Not only to Poles. Some foreigners who have met with him feel the same.
Lech was once a Polish and an international myth. The memory of the US Congress applauding the Solidarity leader is vivid in my mind. Walesa’s speech in front of Congress was an excellent, inspired lecture on the Polish effort toward freedom. He has destroyed this myth through his own appearances over the last few months.
A leader’s personality is his own business. Lech Walesa has always been egocentric, but we learned to live with it. But now, the situation has completely changed.
Walesa believes that whatever is good for him is also good for Poland. And for a time, I agreed with him. And for a time, it probably was true. But not any longer. Walesa’s presidential ambitions have had a catastrophic influence on Poland. He has introduced a new, brutal language into the public debate. Walesa said:
This is a scandal! This government will be brought to trial, I am saying it even now: it will be brought to trial for destroying documents, for helping the Communists make themselves comfortable, for robbing Poland—it must be prosecuted, and prosecuted it will be, in due time. Because it has failed in its duty.
This kind of language is a magnet for all those who are frustrated, who are driven by personal ambitions, and who lust after power. Toward his critics, Walesa adopts a patronizing, supercilious tone. He promises them that “Warsaw will be aired out.” He promises to become the springboard for truly Napoleonic careers. He has already started to distribute ministerial posts and other public offices Promises, promises. To each man according to his ambitions—Is this not the true meaning of Walesa’s “personal revolution?”
Lech Walesa—and I am saying this on the basis of a close personal acquaintance—has never been a populist or an anti-Semite. Populism and anti-Semitism were both idiotic doctrines to him. However, by preaching nonsense about “eggheads,” and by dividing people according to a racial criterion into Jews and non-Jews, he has appealed to followers of anti-intellectual populism and anti-Semitic phobias. These people will now support Walesa’s ascent to the presidency.
Walesa says: “I am a pure Pole, born here,” by which he implies that some other Poles are “not pure,” and were born elsewhere.
Criticizing some unfavorable opinion of the Western press, Walesa says that “some people’s tentacles reach far.” Doesn’t this lingo of obsessions and insinuations sound familiar?
Poland is not the only issue here. Poland is the most developed example of the process that we see in all post-communist countries. Democratic institutions are not deeply rooted, the economic situation is very difficult, great expectations have been aroused, and the procedures used for resolving conflicts have not been really tested. So stabilization is fragile.
The evolution from a totalitarian system to a democratic order is unprecedented and unprecedentedly painful. Great hopes generate enormous frustration. Many people do not understand that the reconstruction of a democratic state and a market economy must have its own consequence in the form of new work standards, new prices, and the bankruptcy of unprofitable businesses. The breakdown of the standards and ideas characteristic of the era of communism and anticommunist opposition has not been accompanied by the swift approval of new ideas, typical of democratic systems. The picture of the world becomes dim and shaky. This is the ideal time for demagogy. Demagogy that aggressively attacks the government may be successful, which must lead to destabilization. Destabilization in turn elicits chaos. Chaos generates a new poverty and a new dictatorship.
Make no mistake: all postcommunist countries will have to face this. Everywhere, in Russia and in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary and Romania, the phantoms from the past awaken: movements that combine populism, xenophobia, personality cults, and a vision of the world ruled by a conspiracy of Freemasons and Jews. A great danger to the democratic order comes from this direction.
We all must take care of democracy. This is what democracy’s success is based on in Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Chile. And it seemed to be the basis for the success of Poland’s democracy after the creation of Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s government. It seemed that all major political forces would unite in support—even critical support—of the government of national hope; that the period of this interim government, which would end with parliamentary and presidential elections, would be a time of compromise and concord. It was a condition and a chance for political and economic reforms, as well as for a new foreign policy.
The reality was different. Walesa broke up Solidarity’s camp, and declared “war on the top,” and that upset the internal compromise among Poles. A substantial debate was replaced by noisy rhetoric typical of an election campaign. Now, we face another choice: What kind of Poland do we want?
Observers from Western Europe and the US have adopted a wait-and-see policy toward postcommunist Europe. The initial euphoria has been replaced with concern. Where are these countries heading? Are the really returning to Europe, or to the old world of populistic dictatorships, intertribal conflicts, and permanent destabilization? The harm done by Walesa to the Polish cause through his utterances is based on this: on giving the impression of a country which is not stable, which is torn by constant conflicts.
I think—and I tell Western journalists—that this picture is false and simplistic; that the small, noisy, and aggressive minority is not typical of Poland. To prove that, however, it is not enough to repeat that Poles are by nature tolerant and are the victims of nasty slander coming from an internationally hatched plot. We must speak out loudly about this sick marginal group, we must oppose this syndrome of populism, authoritarianism, and xenophobia that produces terror.
What path do we wish to follow? Is it a path to the Europe of contemporary, democratic standards, or, on the contrary, a path of return to bygone traditions symbolized by authoritarian regimes, the hell of national conflicts, and extreme cases of religious intolerance? The position of Poles in Europe depends on the answer to this question.
I have given a good deal of thought to whether I should write this text. I must make the assumption that I will be misunderstood and that the meanest of intention will be ascribed to me.
I have the feeling, however, that I must not be silent any longer. Readers may claim that I am wrong, but I must be sure that I have written everything that I have come to believe by honest reasoning. This leads me to say that Lech Walesa’s presidency may be catastrophic for Poland. It may be the first case of a Peronist-type presidency in Central Europe, where only the shreds of a beautiful pennant, sacrificed to the absolute thirst for power by Solidarity’s leader, remain from the hopes for a national revival. If I had left this warning unstated, I would have felt like a participant in a lie dictated by my own personal comfort.
I do not attribute any ill will to Walesa. I do accuse him, however, of a complete lack of imagination and knowledge of a democratic state ruled by law. Walesa’s style of political action, which was his power during strikes and in the setting of covert activity, has become a dangerous trap in the era of building a democratic order. The same behavior that used to destabilize a totalitarian order must now lead to the destruction of the political culture of the young democracy. A charismatic leader will suppress all independent reactions with an appalling intuition, until he breaks the fragile Polish democracy.
We must listen very carefully to what Solidarity’s leader says today. We must listen to his threats and promises. Because, perhaps unintentionally, Lech Walesa clearly promises neglect of the law and democratic procedures, revenge on his political opponents, unprofessional ideas, and rule by incompetent people. I believe that television should show each one of Walesa’s public speeches several times, with no cuts. Everyone must know what he is choosing when he casts his vote in the presidential elections, so he will not be able to excuse himself later on with a lack of information.
Lech Walesa is a politician with a great talent for setting people at odds, and that is why he is so dangerous. His great merits will change into their opposites. They will become a curse for Poland. That is why I will not vote for Lech Walesa.
The expropriation of the Solidarnosc logo by Lech Walesa is a sign. A sign of the end of Solidarity. Solidarity used to be the essence of my life. I believed that the path to an independent Poland led through it. I would ask myself a single question: What is Poland going to be? And I would answer, in November 1980:
A self-governing, tolerant, colorful Poland, based on Christian values, and socially just. A Poland that is friendly toward its neighbors; a Poland, let us repeat this, that is able to compromise and act with restraint, to be realistic and loyal in partnership, but unable to tolerate slavery, unable to accept spiritual subordination. A Poland full of conflicts, which are natural for modern societies, but also full of the principle of solidarity. A Poland where intellectuals protect persecuted workers, and workers’ strikes demand freedom for the culture. A Poland that speaks of itself with pathos and derision; that has been conquered many times but never subdued, defeated many times but never crushed. A Poland that has regained its identity, its language, its face….
I believed that Solidarity, in spite of its internal differences, would be able to remain united in the name of all that was universal and essential. Today, I feel defeated.
The idea of Solidarity has entered its final stage. For its death Lech Walesa is responsible. I will remain a Solidarity man until the end of my days. But the logo that was with me for ten years I now lay beside my most personal mementos. Next to copies of court sentences, or the books I wrote in prison. I do not want to hide the pain I feel. I do not wish and have never wished, to support myself with the symbol that now stands for power and authority. I wore this emblem when it brought prison sentences, I do not want to wear it when it promises privilege. I sense this as a moment of trial—now we will find out what each of us is worth—without a symbol.