WORLD

‘The man from Mars’

A Canadian’s bizarre run for the presidency

ANDREW BILSKI December 10 1990
WORLD

‘The man from Mars’

A Canadian’s bizarre run for the presidency

ANDREW BILSKI December 10 1990

‘The man from Mars’

WORLD

POLAND

A Canadian’s bizarre run for the presidency

He is a Canadian businessman, a selfproclaimed millionaire, a holder of three citizenships and a jungle adventurer who says that he once survived on a diet of caterpillars and ants. But until recently, Stanislaw Tyminski was a household name in few places outside his own Toronto household. Tyminski, 42, a dark-horse candidate in Poland’s first fully free presidential elections on Nov. 25, won nearly a quarter of the vote, outpolling Solidarity Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki in firstround balloting and forcing a runoff with Polish legend Lech Walesa on Sunday. And still, observers were asking:

Who is Stanislaw Tyminski?

Last week, the Polish-Canadian who owns a computer company in Mississauga,

Ont., and who is the leader of the right-wing Libertarian Party of Canada, faced increasing scrutiny from curious voters—and a confused Polish media that called him “the man from Mars.” But after his completely unexpected success in the first round, he swiftly became a serious threat to Walesa in the campaign for the right to lead the nation of 38 million people. Declared Tyminski:

“I would like to take my jacket off, roll my sleeves up and go to work to make this country rich.” The implications of the election to replace Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the outgoing former Communist leader, were immediate and farreaching. Solidarity, the trade union turned fractious political party, had been poised to consolidate the gains it had made in partially free parliamentary elections last year. Instead, Tyminski’s strong showing left the movement, which recently underwent a bitter split between workers who support Walesa, the union’s founder, and intellectuals loyal to Mazowiecki, even more divided and bewildered. The party’s parliamentary leader, Mieczyslaw Gil, called the result a defeat for “the Solidarity ethos.”

In the aftermath, many Western diplomats in Warsaw questioned the maturity of Polish voters, who they said had rejected Mazowiecki’s harsh but responsible economic policies in favor of Tyminski’s vague promises of prosperity

without pain. Only a day after the election, a subdued Mazowiecki announced the resignation of his 15-month-old government. “Society has made a choice, and I have drawn a conclusion from it,” he said, adding that he would stay in office until the new president appoints a replacement government.

Postelection analyses showed that Tyminski, who won 23 per cent of the vote, did

well among the young, the poor and rural residents—those people most dissatisfied with their financial prospects. Voters generally seemed to penalize Mazowiecki for his unpopular economic austerity program, giving him only 18-per-cent support. And Walesa, who led Solidarity from obscurity to international prominence, traded on his status as a national hero to claim 40 per cent of the ballots, 10 points short of a first-round victory (three minor candidates split the remaining 19 per cent). People who have emigrated to other countries but who still hold Polish citizenship were also eligible to vote. In Canada, Mazowiecki narrowly edged Walesa, while Tyminski captured just eight per cent of the 7,802 ballots cast. In the United States, Walesa was the 2-to-l favorite over Mazowiecki. Almost unknown there, Tyminski won only two per cent of the 29,148 votes.

Tyminski says that he decided to enter the

race after a September visit to Warsaw, where he owns Transtek Ltd., a computer store. He went there to promote his Polish-language book, Sacred Dogs, a hazy manifesto calling for a centrist economic policy dependent on selfreliance and individual liberties. The first 10,000 copies of the book, co-written by Roman Samsel, a former correspondent in Mexico for the Polish Communist party’s daily newspaper, Try buna Ludu, swiftly sold out. Tyminski said that various groups and individuals, whom he did not identify, were impressed by his ideas and encouraged him to run for the presidency. (Walesa has accused Tyminski of having strong links with former Communists and security police—a charge that the Canadian candidate denies.) In just 10 days, he collected more than the 100,000 signatures necessary to win a spot on the ballot.

In October, Tyminski launched his campaign in earnest. He crisscrossed Poland with his small staff, stumping at schools, factories and coal mines. He also broadcast his message of free-market prosperity through slick TV ads. But although the message found a receptive audience, the candidate himself remained obscure. At one point, confused Polish reporters asked Tyminski about his leadership of Canada’s federal Liberal party.

Even in Canada, Tyminski is an enigma. He is almost unknown to Polish-Canadian groups. His former wife, Pulmu, who divorced Tyminski in 1984 and with whom he had a son, Henry, now 16, refused to talk to Maclean’s. And interviews with Tyminski’s neighbors and colleagues, none of whom claim close friendship with the intensely private man, yield a murky profile. D’Arcy Dunal, 39, Tyminski’s next-door neighbor for the past three years in Toronto’s west end, said that he was surprised to read in the newspapers that his neighbor was running for Poland’s presidency— and to learn that he is a millionaire. Tyminski lives with his second wife, Graciela, and three young children in a modest two-storey brick house, and drives a Chrysler mini-van. “I admire him because he is a businessman like myself,” said Dunal, an architect. “My only reservation, if I were a Polish voter, is that he hasn’t made his way up through the political establishment.” Similarly, colleagues at Transduction Ltd., the industrial computer firm that Tyminski founded in 1975, say that they know little about his personal life or past. Polish immigrant Andrzej Smereka, 34, an electronics engineer at the company, said only that Tyminski is a good boss and that he would make a great Polish president. Roma Kelembet, president of the fringe Libertarian party, of which Tyminski

became leader last May, also claimed to know few personal details of his life. She said that he joined the party, which advocates personal freedom, because he opposes high taxes, official bilingualism and tight gun-control laws.

Even what Tyminski has disclosed about himself is sketchy. He left Communist Poland in 1969 with about $5 in his pocket, he says, in search of a better life. He spent a few months in Sweden, then emigrated in 1970 to Canada, leaving his mother and sister behind in Warsaw. Through businesses he established in Canada and Peru, he claims to have amassed a personal fortune of $5 million.

Records at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto confirm that Tyminski took four courses in computer science and mathematics in 1970 and 1971. He later got a job at HewlettPackard (Canada) Ltd., first as a staff engineer and then as a salesman. Alan Holdway, a general manager at the Mississauga-based computer firm, remembers Tyminski as “a loner” who was “hardworking, tenacious and a little abrupt.” Added Holdway: “He showed absolute determination to reach his goals, whatever they were.”

Associates say that after Tyminski founded Transduction 15 years ago, he transformed the small computer firm into a thriving business with 15 employees and clients that include Ontario Hydro and Dofasco Inc., the steel giant. Tyminski owns two-thirds of the company, which co-owner Frank Ollie claims now has annual revenues of between $5 million and $10 million. Tyminski also owns a strawberry farm near Acton, Ont.

In 1981, Tyminski took a holiday in Peru and decided to stay, eventually taking out citizenship last April. He established new business

enterprises there, including Petrorápido, a petroleum transport company. Petrorápido failed, for reasons that remain unclear. Toronto associates say that Tyminski blames the Peruvian military, which allegedly expropriated the company’s barge.

What followed was a strange trip into the Peruvian jungle with local Indians, an experi-

ence that Tyminski described in Sacred Dogs as a spiritual transformation. Although largely a primer on his economic theories, the book offered the following account:

“Travelling in the jungle, I found myself close to starvation. I had to learn how to eat

ants and caterpillars. They were fat and tasted like butter. I had to cut them with my nail and remove liquid from inside and then put them into my mouth and suck out the fat. Every caterpillar supplied me with enough calories to walk in the jungle for the next couple of hours. I had one choice: either to be left in the jungle and die, or eat the caterpillar.”

In 1982, Tyminski founded a cable television company, TVS, in Iquitos, a jungle outpost on the Amazon River. It has about 3,000 subscribers who, through four TVS satellite dishes, can receive 10 channels from Peru and neighboring countries. Two Brazilian television stations complained of broadcast piracy, and a Peruvian congressional committee investigated their claims. No charges were laid.

In Iquitos (population 240,000), Tyminski later set up Digitel, a radio telephone system, opened a fancy restaurant called La Maloca and bought a farm to supply it. He also earned a reputation as a philanthropist. Tyminski’s business manager in Iquitos, Pedro Garufi Morales, said that he contributed time and money to local orphanages. “He was always interested in the spiritual way of the person,” Garufi told Maclean ’s. It was also in Iquitos that Tyminski met Myrna Graciela Pérez I Velasco, an iridologist (someone who I studies the iris for signs of bodily disease), and they were married in Canada in 1984. Court records show that his first wife, Pulmu, divorced him earlier that year on grounds of adultery with Graciela, with whom Tyminski had had a daughter.

After Tyminski’s success in Poland last week, Garufi said, about 25 local authorities signed a letter to him pledging their moral support in the second round of voting. They included four

'THERE IS AN ECONOMIC WAR'

Two days after Canadian Stanislaw Tyminski staged a stunning upset by forcing a runoff in Poland's presidential election, Maclean's Correpondent Bogdan Turek interviewed the controversial candidate at his campaign headquarters in Warsaw's Palace of culture. Excerpts:

Mactflfl'~ Jthough you are camPaWi ing as an independent5 do you have the support of anypotitW~d grouPs in Poland? Tyntski I cannot say right now. Some are ihthe election rnpaigfl, and I don't~ think IP neces&ttY to disclose, this dot tOt~. Mae1flfl'~ Do you have the support of former commttnists?. Well, I noticed i~ the past two weeks of the camp nthat the proposalsd

[former Communist party meinberl Wlodzi ruierz Cimoszewicz are similar to the economic plan I published a month ago fin his book, Sacred Dogsl. I'm hoping Chnoszewicz will throw his support here. Maclean's: What doyou think of communism? Tyminski: I've never seenaCornmunist iii~rny life, I've seen totalitarian governments, but I've never seen a Communist~ I think [commu nismi is a utopia. Maclean's: In your book, you quote Mao Tse tung and C'he Guevara. Do you agree with their

TynliflSkl Each idea was good for thetime for them. I uoted a few séntenCe~ from th~ir works for the purpose of explaflug partisan econorfl1~ v~arfare. We see the results of it around the wOrlcL There is an economic war going on-not a militarY wars but an economic war. But it's 3u~t as real asmihtaty war and has the same number of victims around the worId~ MacIeafl'S~ if you beat Solidarity candidate Lech Walesa in the runoff election, how will you ex~1aifl your SUCCeSS?

iyminsth Because of what he has not lone. not stopped this trag'c~'5 Poland, where tbeecon?mfluls dropped 40 per 11 we seS the real figures. Macleafl'st You have criticized the Soli gram, which has been endorsed by the Inter national MoñetOAY Runt How do you expect to get Western support if you lose the support of the IMP? Tynünsl" I am not pi~S.~ to lose the support of the IMP. DoesIFia1~cb~~5tur Leszek Balcerowtc4 work for the, IMP or docshe workfor lafl& Don't,we have the' power to determine our future As an inde pendent Poland? Macleafl'S If you' are elected on Dec. 9, who do you hiive' i~1 mind as prime minister? TYzniflSlth i don't think it's possible to. think of it right now. It's an election for presidents not for prime ministn, and it without taking the time necessary.

former mayors, the president of the chamber of commerce and the Roman Catholic bishop of Iquitos. And the Lima media nicknamed him “the Polish Fujimori,” a reference to Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, an agronomist and political novice who won a presidential runoff election last June by opposing the harsh economic measures proposed by the front-runner, celebrated novelist Mario Vargas Llosa.

The biggest controversy of Tyminski’s presidential campaign erupted late last month when he accused Mazowiecki of treason for allegedly selling Poland’s most successful companies to foreigners at bargain prices. Enraged mem-

bers of local media branded him as a madman, a liar and a fool. Tyminski failed to substantiate his charges, and he later conceded that they were based on an erroneous reading of a government document.

Last week, he also angered some Poles when he expressed sympathy for outgoing President Jaruzelski add his 1981 decision to impose martial law. Polish journalists have criticized Tyminski, whose campaign staff includes former Communists, for not having been a member of Solidarity. At the same time, Interior Minister Krzysztof Kozlowski confirmed published reports that Tyminski had travelled to

Poland seven times in the 1980s on visas issued by the Polish consulate in Libya—reports that the candidate has dismissed as “lies.” And Tyminski’s opaque answers to the question of whether he would remain in Poland if he loses the election added to his image as an outsider.

Surprisingly, in a country where democratic institutions resurfaced only last year after more than four decades of authoritarian Communist rule, just 61 per cent of Poland’s 27.5 million eligible voters cast ballots. And in the aftershock of Tyminski’s strong showing, the rival camps within Solidarity began moving reluctantly towards a reconciliation. A majority of Solidarity’s 255 members in parliament passed a resolution to support Walesa in the runoff. Walesa himself asked Mazowiecki to stay in office at least until new parliamentary elections are held next spring. And Walesa’s most outspoken critic, Solidarity intellectual Adam Michnik, asked voters to choose the lesser of two evils. Said Michnik: “Walesa’s victory will be a great risk for Poland, but Tyminski’s would have to bring with absolute certainty a great degradation of our country.”

The central issue in the campaign now is the economy. Both Walesa and Tyminski had harshly criticized the so-called shock-therapy program implemented last January by Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz. The radical program, which the International Monetary Fund supported, was designed to transform Poland’s centrally planned economy into a free-market system as rapidly as possible. In the past 10 months, it has succeeded in checking hyperinflation, creating a stable exchange rate and filling stores with an ample supply of goods. But it did so at a heavy cost: prices of many staples more than doubled with the elimination of subsidies, and living standards dropped as heavy taxation reduced take-home pay. As well, nearly a million workers lost their jobs, a major setback in a country where full employment under the Communists had been a constitutional right. Even more unemployment Would be expected in the next stage of the plan, which calls for the privatization of state industries and the closing of inefficient ones.

Last week, Walesa softened his criticism of the economic program. He said that, if elected, he would implement it—“but differently.” That was a reference in part to his calls for social programs to cushion the harsh effects of the changes. If Walesa retains his own supporters and succeeds in winning over the 18 per cent of voters who backed Mazowiecki in the first round, the former Gdansk shipyard electrician will become president. But so volatile is the political climate in Poland that some Mazowiecki supporters said that they would now vote for Tyminski, an outcome that Walesa warned last week could lead to “something like civil war.” And if the 39 per cent of eligible voters who did not participate in the first round choose to take part in the runoff, political analysts said, anything could happen. Even, apparently, the election of a “man from Mars.”

ANDREW BILSKI

MARY NEMETH

BOGDAN TUREK