The face was pale and pudgy; the paunch, after 335 days of stultifying confinement, hung in buttonpopping proportions. But the grin underneath the famous moustache was as perky as ever. Puffing at a succession of cigarettes at his cramped Pilotow Street apartment in Gdansk, Lech Walesa, “the former chairman of the former trade union Solidarity,” as he was described by government spokesman Jerzy Urban, once more faced the press last week. He pledged himself to continue the search for a deal with Poland’s
military government that did not betray the spirit of Solidarity’s formation. He also promised to do everything in his power to secure the release of colleagues still in detention. Said Walesa: “I’m with everyone who has been interned or harmed in any way.”
But the characteristically upbeat tone of the occasion failed to banish doubts about the terms of his release and his future freedom to pursue those goals. In fact, the release came at a time when the opposition to martial law had suffered its greatest setback with the failure of a strike call on Nov. 10, when fewer than 20,000 workers and students walked off the job. As Solidarity’s underground weekly admitted last week, that failure was “a serious blow to the authority” of the underground leadership. Whether Walesa’s release
will revitalize the union is uncertain, but the authorities do not seem to think so. There were indications that Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski planned further easing of martial law. West German government sources reported that Polish Foreign Minister Józef Czyrek said the intention was to lift it by the new year. But there was no indication of an amnesty for the 700 people still detained, a figure quoted by Polish Deputy Labor Minister Krzysztof Gorski at the International Labor Organization in Geneva last week. Nor was there any hint about the fate of the 87 people Gorski said were in jail or awaiting trial for martial law offences.
Walesa’s personal dilemma was evident at his press conference. While firm about principles, he refused to commit himself to actions, apart from stating his readiness to meet Jaruzelski. There was a suggestion that Walesa might seek to work within the new trade unions that the government has set up and that he might take part in a church-fostered council of national reconciliation. But he will probably do nothing quickly. He confessed that he needed time to recover mentally from months of isolation. He also needs to digest the lecture on martial law restrictions that he received in Warsaw after his release. A U.S. TV network also reported that the authorities photographed him in compromising sexual positions—pictures that could be used to blackmail him into silence.
Indeed, observers were still divided over the government’s motives for freeing Walesa at all. One view was that Warsaw hoped to drive a wedge between Walesa and jailed Solidarity compatriots. Another view was that authorities hoped Walesa would somehow infringe martial law regulations, thus giving the regime legitimate reason to put him away. But the most popular scenario was that Walesa’s release was only part of an overall deal with the Vatican in connection with Pope John Paul Il’s Polish visit next June. By this script, the end of martial law, the freeing of internees and an amnesty for martial law offenders would be traded off for an undertaking by the church to cease its support for Solidarity. Such a deal could represent not just a new start for Walesa but for the country itself.
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