COVER

WALESA’S REVOLUTION

THE SELECTION OF A NON-COMMUNIST AS PRIME MINISTER OF POLAND CAME AS A HISTORIC SHOCK

JOHN BIERMAN August 28 1989
COVER

WALESA’S REVOLUTION

THE SELECTION OF A NON-COMMUNIST AS PRIME MINISTER OF POLAND CAME AS A HISTORIC SHOCK

JOHN BIERMAN August 28 1989

WALESA’S REVOLUTION

COVER

THE SELECTION OF A NON-COMMUNIST AS PRIME MINISTER OF POLAND CAME AS A HISTORIC SHOCK

The previously unthinkable had happened: Polish President Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski had invited veteran Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki last Friday, Aug. 18, to break a constitutional crisis and become prime minister. Mazowiecki had, of course, accepted and was hurrying in his newly acquired, chauffeur-driven government car to report back to his Solidarity colleagues. Then the car ran out of gas—and the 62-year-old prime ministerial nominee got out and began to push the vehicle to a nearby filling station. But he found long lines there and, abandoning the car, Mazowiecki telephoned to ask his son to drive him to his destination, where he arrived 20 minutes late. The nearfarcical incident was a convenient metaphor for Poland’s current economic plight and a homely

illustration of the sort of problem that will confront Mazowiecki—the Soviet Bloc’s first non-Communist head of government since the early postwar years—as he and his colleagues pick up the reins of power.

With inflation running at an annual rate of more than 100 per cent, a crushing foreign debt burden of $46.1 billion, a grim scarcity of almost every kind of consumer good and even the most basic food items, falling productivity and a mountainous industrial bureaucracy to deal with, Mazowiecki’s task was unenviable. And Solidarity’s accession to power had been so fast and so unexpected that its leaders seemed to have no blueprint ready. Asked how he planned to overcome Poland’s economic problems, Mazowiecki—a leading Roman Catholic layman—could only reply, “I am a believer, and I believe that Providence cares for us.”

Dramatic: Certainly, Solidarity’s sudden rise to power seemed almost providential. As recently as last April, it had been an illegal organization; now it was the dominant partner in a coalition government. Even in a time of headlong change throughout the Communist world, the rise to power of the rebel trade-

0 union movement that cap-

1 tured the imagination of the I free world with its dramatic birth in 1980—only to be g crushed by martial law and “ forced underground less than

16 months later—was an as-

tonishing political transformation.

Mazowiecki’s nomination, formally announced by Jaruzelski last Saturday after days of tense negotiation with the Solidarity leadership, reduced the once all-powerful Polish Communist party to angry and incredulous disarray. With their 45-year hold on power broken, members of the party’s 230-strong Central Committee gathered in a state of shock to consider their future. It appeared to be a bleak one. The committee, after meeting on Saturday, agreed to accept Mazowiecki and to take part in a Solidarity-led government because, said a presidential spokesman, “there is no alternative.”

As Poland’s top Communists wrangled behind closed doors, Mazowiecki spent much of the day walking in the woods outside Warsaw, contemplating the cabinet list that he would be submitting for parliament’s approval this week. Meanwhile, in the Baltic seaport of Gdañsk—Solidarity’s birthplace—the movement’s founder, Lech Walesa, met with other Solidarity leaders to map future strategy. The meeting adopted a resolution hailing the formation of a Solidarity-led government as “a major breakthrough in Polish public life.” And, with an eye to the enormous economic problems to be tackled, the resolution added, “Our union is aware of the dramatic material situation of Polish families, and it expresses the conviction that the new government will immediately adopt prompt measures to reform the economy and defend living standards.”

‘Needs’: Although Mazowiecki’s nomination had been public knowledge for several hours, the formal announcement was withheld until Jaruzelski’s office issued a statement acknowledging “a need to create a government enjoying the necessary support of parliamentary floor groups.” It added the hope that such a government would help overcome Poland’s economic difficulties and “satisfy the needs and aspirations of Polish society.”

One of the most striking

features of a landmark week -

in Poland’s historic transition from dictatorship to democracy—or something approaching it— was that it was unopposed by the Soviet Union. Under Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalizing re-

gime, the Kremlin apparently had no wish to intervene again in the affairs of its Polish neighbor—especially since Solidarity had said that it would allow the Communists to keep control of the key interior and defence ministries. So while the leaders of hard-line Communist regimes in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania had expressed alarm, the vacationing Gorbachev allowed Solidarity’s accession to power to pass without comment (page 28). Another notable factor was that Walesa emerged with no formal role in the new government. The prime ministership could have been his for the asking. But the 45-year-old Gdañsk shipyard electrician turned down the opportunity. After a parliamentary majority voted to give him the nomination last Wednesday, he said: “I will not be prime minister. There are better $ people than Walesa.” He S sounded rather less negative § when, questioned later, he 2 said: “It’s not my final deci| sion. The final decision will be g when they nail up my coffin.” I Crisis: But although, from I a Western politician, a rejecti tion as equivocal as that would be seen as acceptance, Walesa plainly meant to remain on the sidelines. Instead of allowing his own name to go forward, he presented Jaruzelski with a short list of three from which to choose. And Jaruzelski—faced with a severe constitutional crisis as Poland

remained without a government almost two months after national elections dealt the Communist party a humiliating defeat—had to make up his mind quickly. His options were Walesa’s close adviser Mazowiecki, a law-school graduate who edits the Solidarity weekly Tygodnik Solidarnosc (page 27); Bronislaw Geremek, leader of the Solidarity caucus in parliament; and Jacek Kuron, once a Communist himself who became an archenemy of the party and spent nine years in prison for his activities.

‘Scare’: From the outset, the low-key Mazowiecki appeared to most observers as Jaruzelski’s most likely choice. Kuron, in particular, was anathema to the Communists. Solidarity activist Adam Michnik once said, “If the Communists want to scare the children, they mention Kuron’s name and mine.” The Sejm, the lower house of parliament—where Solidarity and its newfound allies, the United Peasants’ and Democratic parties, control 264 of the 460 seats—was almost certain to confirm Mazowiecki’s nomination this week. Although Walesa, the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is not a member of parliament and holds no official position in the government, he will clearly wield considerable power behind the scenes.

Solidarity will spearhead the new government in partnership with the Democrats and the United Peasants, who for more than four decades had been loyal allies of the Communists. They will be responsible for managing the troubled economy and the day-to-day life of the country. The prior agreement by which the Communists will be allowed to retain control of the interior and defence ministries was a shrewd move by Walesa to allay possible Soviet fears that, under Solidarity, Poland might seek to desert the Warsaw Pact alliance. But, although this meant that—for the time being, at least—the Communists continue to control the armed forces, the uniformed police and the

THE COMMUNISTS WERE IRREVERENT. MANY BURST INTO BITTER LAUGHTER

secret police, the party was in what one observer termed “a state of shock” over its fall from power.

At an acrimonious midweek meeting of the Communist parliamentary caucus, one deputy asked, “What has been left for us?” Said another: “An era has ended for me and the party.” Looking tired and drawn by the task of shoring up a party that may have no real future, party chairman Mieczyslaw Rakowski attempted to placate the deputies. Earlier, he had accused Solidarity of “mounting a coup.” Now, he called Jaruzelski’s decision to accept a Solidarity prime minister as “a step forward to defuse the national crisis.” And he promised that he would fight hard for maximum Communist representation in the new cabinet. “Our presence on the coalition government will be the subject of struggle and bargaining,” he said, warning that “there are limits of principle.”

Intense: But the deputies were in an angrily irreverent mood. Many burst into bitter laughter when Rakowski disclosed that Kuron’s name was one of the three on the short list to lead the new government. Some also derided the party’s creaking propaganda machine, saying that they learned more about what the party was doing from the Solidarity daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, than from the official Corn-

munist newspaper, Trybuna Ludu. Many clutched copies of Gazeta, and, in the intense summer heat, one woman deputy fanned herself with it.

As if to prove the disaffected deputies’ point, the official news agency, PAP, later issued a statement that bore little resemblance to the

feelings expressed at the meeting. “The Communist party parliamentary caucus expressed satisfaction at the readiness of the Solidarity parliamentary caucus and other social forces to take part directly in running the country,” it said. “We see in this a new value which is indispensable for our society and the state.” Downfall: Despite their deep misgivings, the Communist deputies swept aside a cardinal Marxist principle last Thursday and approved the creation of a government, which, in Western style, will be answerable to parliament and not to the party leadership. Party stalwarts outside of parliament were less accommodating. Rakowski faced a meeting earlier that day of more than 200 Communist factory managers who took the party leadership to task for having agreed to legalize Solidarity last April, as a result—as one critic put it—“knitting a funeral wreath” for Communist rule in Poland. The managers passed a resolution accusing Solidarity of reneging on an agreement last April under which it allegedly agreed that the Communist party would remain dominant in government until the next elections, in 1993. “Such conduct arouses the indignation of members of the party and its supporters,” said the resolution. “We express our objections at the confrontational moves of opposition leaders

and groups supporting them.” Solidarity officials dismissed such objections and rejoiced openly at the Communists’ downfall. Said Solidarity spokesman Janusz Onyszkiewicz: “This is the final nail in the coffin of the leading role of the Communist party—the end of the whole concept.”

Overseas, ethnic Poles tempered their enthusiasm with caution, if not downright pessimism. Casimir Lenard, president of the Washington chapter of the million-member Polish American Congress, said that he felt “very excited and very sombre” because “the Polish people are very impatient and Solidarity might

be blamed for all the mistakes the Communists have made.” Said Janusz Bugajski, a fellow in East European studies at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies: “Once Solidarity is in office, it will face massive economic and political problems. The best the Communists can hope for is to stand on the sidelines and let Sohdarity shoot itself in the foot. Then they can say ‘Look, we gave democracy a chance, and it didn’t work.’ ”

Crushing: Polish Canadians, meanwhile, rejoiced at Solidarity’s success, but some worried openly over the difficulties that lie ahead for the new Solidarity-led administration. Paul Jedlewski, editor of the Toronto-based Polishlanguage weekly Glos Polski Tygodnik, referred to the threatened Soviet intervention that led to the crushing of Solidarity in 1981. “The political situation is better than it was eight years ago,” he said. “But the economy is in far worse shape.” Solidarity would come under “enormous pressure” to produce immediate economic benefits, said Jedlewski, but “these things cannot be done in just a few weeks. Hungry Poles are more interested in food than political power.”

The chain of events that led Solidarity to the threshold of power last week began with partially free parliamentary elections on June 4 and June 18, in which the trade-union movement resoundingly defeated the Communists. Solidarity candidates won 99 of the 100 seats in the newly created senate, which has limited veto power over the Sejm, and all of the 161 seats they were allowed to contest in the Sejm. Even more humiliating for the Communists was the fact that voters crossed the names of 33 out of 35 top party members—who were running unopposed—off their ballot papers. The rejected candidates included then-Prime Minister Rakowski and seven other members of the party Politburo. As a result, the Communists had to turn to Solidarity for help to fill the 33 vacant seats. After seven hours of bargaining, Solidarity agreed to the new round of elections on June 18, in which 33 new candidates—less objectionable to Solidarity and the electorate—were returned unopposed.

Control: When the new lower house convened in July, the Communists held 173 seats, the pro-government Catholics 23, the United Peasants—also allied to the Election-day Communists—76 and the -

Democratic party, another Communist ally, 27. That gave the government 299 seats in the Sejm, while the Solidarity opposition held 161 seats in the lower house and had total control of the upper chamber.

In that atmosphere of open public rejection of the Communists, Rakowski was clearly in no position to form a government, and when thenparty chairman Jaruzelski became president,

Rakowski took his place as party leader. Jaruzelski then nominated Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak—who, as interior minister, had overseen the suppression of Solidarity and the detention of thousands of its supporters—as prime minister. He was confirmed by parliament on Aug. 2, but only in a bitterly contested vote and after a threatened revolt by the Communists’ United

Peasants and Democratic party allies.

Faced with the thankless task of forming a new government, Kiszczak proposed a socalled grand coalition with Solidarity. Walesa and his colleagues rejected Kiszczak’s proposal and, in a surprise move, invited the Communists’ increasingly unreliable allies to take part in a Solidarity-led coalition. Alarmed at the prospect of Solidarity taking power, Kiszczak

offered on Aug. 14 to stand down and let United Peasants’ leader Roman Malinowski form a government “in which representatives of all forces in parliament would be included.” Message: But, by then, the Peasants’ party —and the Democrats—had decided to throw in their lot with Solidarity. Walesa issued an apparently tongue-in-cheek statement praising Kiszczak’s expressed willingness to stand down as demonstrating “a feeling of responsibility towards Poland.” And on Aug. 16, Solidarity deputies combined with their new Peasants and Democratic allies to pass a resolution calling for the formation of a government under Walesa’s leadership. Although Walesa declined the prime ministership, the message was clear: Solidarity must lead the new government, and Jaruzelski g had little choice but to conI cede. The previously un| thinkable had occurred, and for the first time in history a ^ Communist regime was § about to hand over power P peacefully to an administration that would be led by nonCommunists—in fact, antiCommunists.

It was a stunning political coup for Walesa. But long and arduous as the path to political power had been, that might prove to be the easy part. The economic and social problems that Solidarity must now tackle in office could prove far more intractable.

JOHN BIERMAN with BOGDAN TUREK in Warsaw and correspondents’ reports

BOGDAN TUREK