My Vote Against Walesa

The following was written before the Polish election in December. It first appeared in the Warsaw daily paper Gazeta Wyborcza, of which Adam Michnik is editor-in-chief.

This is a strictly personal reflection.

I feel obliged to publish it for the sake of all those who do not understand what has happened, and whose message of anxiety and solidarity has been reaching me over the last few months.

[Michnik refers here to the demand last spring by Lech Walesa, that Gazeta Wyborcza no longer use the Solidarnosc logo,


This demand was made after Gazeta Wyborcza failed to give full support to Walesa. Michnik and his fellow editors acceded to the demand after it was endorsed by the Solidarity National Committee in September.]

My primary feeling is one of embarrassment. The divorce within Solidarity was an ugly event. Instead of an open discussion of ideas, we got opaque insinuations and arguments about symbols.

The conflict over the Solidarnosc logo epitomized a more general disagreement concerning the shape of Polish public life, the kind of political culture we should adopt, and the future of our country. Principles, rather than details, were the issue, and the split within Solidarity became unavoidable. The process, which had started with the annexation of the right to use the Solidarnosc logo, ended with the transformation of union structures into vehicles for Lech Walesa’s election. One can hardly help feeling bitter about this.

The Solidarnosc logo is of great emotional value to people who were faithful to Solidarity for the last ten years, and who now find it difficult to part with it. These people printed the logo in underground pamphlets, scrawled it on city walls, and chanted the word in street demonstrations. Many Solidarnosc badges have been torn out of lapels and sweaters by the ZOMO riot police and the secret police, but people who wore them remained faithful to those familiar letters, despite persecution and prison sentences. For them, it meant the logo of hope and trust in a better, democratic, independent, and just Poland.

This logo has now been transformed by the majority of the Solidarity Trade Union’s leadership into an instrument of blackmail and a censor’s stamp. From now on, editors of all newspapers that display the logo in their masthead will know what articles they should avoid. When I realized this, I was relieved at my colleague’s decision to remove the slogan “There is no freedom without Solidarity” from Gazeta Wyborcza’s masthead. I feel no solidarity whatsoever with those who will turn a symbol of freedom and hope into a sign of opportunism and a tool for silencing people.

What was the charge against us? The resolution of Solidarity’s National Committee defined it all too clearly, we criticized Lech Walesa.

I may not have met all those who voted in favor of the resolution, but I pity them all. Impoverishment of the mind and spirit will always surface, sooner or later. I also congratulate Lech Walesa on such allies in his…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.