Mr Poland throws a party

John Lloyd

It will prove very hard for Poland to find a way out of Communism, though not as painful, one hopes, as finding its way into it. But what we are now witnessing is the end: there is probably no way back, not even by armed force. This is a risky thing to write after the imposition of martial law in Poland in December 1981 and the recent brutalities of Tiananmen Square: total control both of the military and of all forms of political activity obviously makes possible an almost limitless exercise of power. But martial law, as Norman Davies has pointed out in The Heart of Europe, was introduced by the ‘core of the Communist establishment’, the Army leaders, because every other source of authority had been exhausted. They acted, as Warsaw Pact forces manoeuvred on Poland’s borders and off its coasts, to preserve Soviet power, secure in the knowledge that their action would be supported by that power. They could not be certain of that now. There is no longer a Communist backstop. If the Army is to be used again, it is unlikely to be by the present authorities.

As I write, the summit of power in Poland is being refused: General Jaruzelski, leader of the country and of the Polish United Workers Party, has told the Central Committee that he will not stand for the new post of President everyone thought had been fixed for him. He has proposed General Czeslaw Kiszczak, the Interior Minister, for the post, but for the moment Kiszczak has not got sufficient support, and Jaruzelski is thinking again. Some among the Solidarity Deputies to the new Parliament, meeting for the first time after they had secured 260 out of the 261 seats in the Senate and the Sejm open to their challenge, called on Lech Walesa to stand, but he won’t, saying Solidarity is bound by the Round Table agreement, which assigns the Presidency to the Party.

It was not supposed to turn out like this. Under the terms of the May Round Table agreement, Solidarity was to be legalised, and controlled elections were to take place for the 480-seat Sejm and a new 100-seat Senate. Only one-third of the Sejm seats would be open to challenge: the others would be reserved for candidates from the PUWP and its two inert allies, the Peasants’ and the Democratic Parties. In addition to the ‘open’ and ‘closed’ lists, there would be a third: a national list, consisting of 35 of the Party and Government’s main reformers, the men who had charted the new course. They would have no opposition: all they would need to be elected to Parliament was a minimum of 50 per cent of the national vote. Over all would be a President, from the PUWP, of course, who would have the same kind of powers as the French President – the Communists had de Gaulle and the Paris events of 1968 in mind. Fully democratic elections would not be held until 1993, after a four-year parliamentary term. The reformers in the Party expected the ‘system’ to last. Stanislaw Ciosek, the Politburo member who more than anyone was responsible for the electoral arrangements, told me in March that elections, now and in the future, would entail ‘a choice over who runs the system but not over the system itself’.

The Party was prepared for the fact that Solidarity would do well. Back in March, as the Round Table agreement began to take shape, it was assumed that the movement would get big votes in Gdansk, Warsaw and the other big cities: the party of the working class, it was thought, would do better in the countryside, where people were more conservative and where Solidarity was generally ill-organised. Bronislaw Geremek, a Warsaw intellectual and now the Solidarity parliamentary leader, fought a rural seat on the Polish-Lithuanian border. A Party organiser told him before the campaign that his cause was hopeless, a view Geremek was inclined to share. Solidarity had less than a month to prepare its candidates, its propaganda, its activists: the Government coalition had the resources, the personnel, the media already in place. It knew that it was unpopular – no Polish Communist can have many illusions on that score. But coalition candidates, it was conventionally thought, would get maybe one-third of the open votes; the national list would be voted in; Solidarity brought within the system; and 1993 was a long way ahead.

Last month that reassuring prospect (in which the Party hard-liners, perhaps with a deeper sense of their own unpopularity, never believed) was blown up. The Poles voted against everybody who was not with Solidarity, whether they were workers or managers, men or women, Catholic or Jew. They boycotted the national list: even the Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski, got (just) less than 50 per cent. The Government’s strategy of putting up a peppering of candidates in every seat smashed itself against the Solidarity tactic of one centrally-chosen candidate – each photographed with Walesa, the movement’s talisman, who stood aloof from the poll.

Wealthy government ministers, like Miezcyslaw Wiczek (Industry) and Dominik Jastrebski (Trade), and big state businessmen like Dariusz Przywieczerski, managing director of the Universal export enterprise, spent small fortunes in their ‘home’ constituencies, openly promising to use their power and influence to improve their constituents’ lot – and were beaten. At least they tried: many seemed not to campaign at all, courting the suspicion that they had only stood because their arms had been twisted – and they, too, were beaten. Most of the ‘independents’ who were also Party members disguised that fact – and were beaten. Managers of enterprises conducted meetings among their workers, telling them what wonderful things they would do for them when elected – and were beaten.

It was a rout. There being no other opposition force, Solidarity was the beneficiary of everyone’s frustrations, angers and hatreds. But not of their hopes. Asking a number of Poles, a month after the elections, why Solidarity’s victory had been attended with so little celebration either at the time or afterwards, I was given the same answers again and again: no one expected things to change. The economic situation was so bad, there was nothing Solidarity could do, even if it were to form a government – which they knew it would not. In other words, the vote for Solidarity was a passive vote – a registering of dissent and dislike. As a result, there is much concern both within Solidarity and in Government circles that the huge percentage which abstained – 38 per cent, largely among the young – represents the part of the electorate which is so disaffected by the system that it includes what it sees as a compromised Solidarity in its distrust, and will sooner or later express its disgust in violent form.

There is at present no centre of political stability in Poland: all the political institutions are riddled with anxious debate and febrile plotting. To deal with the least substantial first: the Democratic and the Peasant Parties, who maintained the fiction of a coalition government for forty years, are now flapping their wings and peeling away from the PUWP, threatening to vote against Party men and measures as it becomes clear that the Party can no longer compensate them for their unpopularity with the secure trappings of office. Stunted by their ‘supportive’ roles, it is difficult to tell if there is enough life in either of these parties, or support for them, to fit them for a post-Communist existence, although the (larger) Peasants’ Party does command some real support in the countryside. A proportion of the allies’ Deputies indicated that they would vote against Jaruzelski as President, thereby contributing to his decision not to contest the post. Though Solidarity leaders are sceptical, this may be the first evidence of a willingness to cross the floor to vote with the Solidarity delegates – and thus deprive the Government of a stable majority.

The Polish United Workers Party is in ferment, its reformers discredited by the result of the elections, its hard-liners possessing no strategy of their own (though it would be reasonable to assume that they are hoping for a catastrophe). What is happening to the Party is that it is having to get used to the reality of post-election life: above all, to the fact that it cannot now rule without Solidarity’s tacit approval. Jaruzelski’s announcement that he would not run was largely based on informed soundings in Solidarity’s ranks which indicated that he would get no votes there, while losing some from the ranks of the Peasants and the Democrats. He proposed Kiszczak in the knowledge that his fellow general was seen by the Solidarity leaders as a more emollient, less tarnished figure. The more conservative members of the Central Committee had seized on Jaruzelski as their last champion, and a majority refused to accept his decision. In Paris, on 5 July, Gorbachev paid him high praise. Jaruzelski is being held to his post.

Rakowski, the Prime Minister whose Cabinet wholly failed to be elected, whose reforms remain untested and whose bitter detestation of Solidarity’s challenge to the Party had to give way to grudging recognition of its power, has clearly decided to stay and fight. Asked by a Hungarian TV interviewer on 12 June whether he were thinking of resigning, he was curt: ‘As a party member, I have no intention of giving up the achievement of the objective set by my own party. That’s all. If you expected a different answer you made a mistake.’ In a speech to Party activists three days later he reaffirmed the Party’s duty – which sounded more like its right – to govern irrespective of the popular will.

Later in the same speech, Rakowski sketched out what he saw as the limits within which Solidarity and the Party would have to operate. Solidarity, he said, ‘has to accept co-responsibility for the state, for the political reform and for the improvement of Poland’s economic situation. This co-responsibility should take the form of co-operation ... The leadership of the opposition, as I think, understands that irrespective of the Round Table accords, it cannot take over our exclusive responsibility for Poland. Also, radicals inside the opposition should understand that rule by politicians enjoying open support from Nato governments ... would threaten to cause a dangerous conflict and destabilisation in Europe, in Poland and the world.’ In the end, Rakowski was saying, the Soviet guarantee was still strong enough to keep the Party in power. If the Rakowski line prevails, the Party will tough it out.

Solidarity itself is divided. Before the elections it lost its militant refusniks to ‘Fighting Solidarity’, whose members – they include some of Walesa’s oldest comrades – would not make concessions to the Communists. Fighting Solidarity has working-class support in Szczecin on the mouth of the Oder and in the textile city of Lodz. If Solidarity is tainted by failure, Fighting Solidarity’s strength will increase, but it’s unlikely ever to have an organisation to match Solidarity’s, or a leader to match Walesa.

A second split is emerging now, within Solidarity itself. At a meeting of the Solidarity Parliamentary Deputies on 1 and 2 July it became clear that there was a difference of opinion between, on the one side, Walesa and Geremek and, on the other, Jacek Kuron and Adam Michnik over the issue of participating in government: the two former against, the two latter for.

When last year’s first wave of strikes and demonstrations persuaded the Party that it would have to deal with what Sarah Meiklejohn Terry calls ‘the original generation of Solidarity moderates’, a historic compromise was already in view. The Tenth Party Congress, in June 1986, had seen the adoption of a phase of ‘renewal’, a derivative of perestroika, which envisaged as yet unspecified measures of democratisation. Contact was tentatively made between Government and Party officers and those of the more ‘responsible’ Solidarity leaders. After the second wave of strikes, Rakowski was brought in to replace Zbigniew Messner as prime minister, with a Cabinet full of free-market reformers. Within the Politburo, Ciosek picked up the notion of an ‘anti-crisis pact’ sketched out by Geremek. The demand for Solidarity to be legalised was turned aside – but only because Walesa had managed to extract the promise of Round Table talks.

By this time, Walesa had once more become a talismanic figure in Poland. The unemployed electrician who climbed the walls of the Lenin yard in Gdansk to lead the 1981 strike had put on flesh, learned the techniques of speech-making, of holding a press conference and sustaining a long process of negotiation, written an autobiography and with the proceeds built himself a large villa in a rather bourgeois street in Gdansk. He had advisers; the support of many Western governments; close relations with the foreign media; and a unique relationship with John Paul II, whose third Papal visit to his native country in June 1987 was the occasion for a sustained defence of human rights, and a plea for Solidarity’s legalisation. By the time the Round Table process began earlier this year, Walesa was a powerful man.

In Gdansk on 3 June, election eve, I managed to be invited to a name-day party he was throwing at his villa. Two US TV networks were there; a couple of other journalists who had got to hear of the event; Monsignor Jankowski, the ‘Solidarity priest’ whose church of St Brygida and adjoining parish-house has been the Solidarity centre in the town (Mrs Thatcher ate there on her Gdansk trip); some friends and close comrades like Adam Michnik; and a bizarre and lusty group from the Gdansk naval academy. People sang ‘May you live a hundred years’ and a butler in dress uniform circulated with drinks.

At about 6.30 in the evening, a Polish state TV crew turned up at the garden gate, effusively polite. Walesa was expecting them. He led them to the back of the house, where they rapidly set up the little tableau necessary for people of consequence anywhere in the world to communicate their views to a wide audience – reporter with microphone, camera, technicians, and a half-moon of gawpers: ‘Mr Walesa, how will you vote tomorrow?’ Well, of course, he would vote Solidarity, but he was also going to vote the national list, because on it were people with whom he had signed the Round Table accords and whom he trusted.

The camera motor stopped, the reporter bowed his thanks. It was a one-answer interview, and it had been smoothly delivered. Polish reporters are generally afflicted with the sloth which party control has laid on all East European news-gatherers: but that crew had the Walesa clip on the national news by 8 p.m., to be repeated on radio deep into polling day. The answer had been planned, just as a reporter for CBS or ITN will often be sent to the office or home of a leading politician with a note from their newdesk saying: ‘X will say Y if you ask him.’ Walesa was a last ace for the Communist élite.

The little scene was of course packed with easy ironies. The proletarian leader and the butler. The simple little celebration and the networks. The anti-system leader calling for a vote for the system. But to mention these is simply to manipulate the frozen figure which the media have sought to preserve as Walesa. His power was clearly growing, even becoming institutionalised, before the authorities officially recognised it by treating with him at the Round Table. At the party, Michnik hailed him in jest as ‘the next President of Poland’: in a sense, he is that already.

For example: the guest of honour at his party was Mrs Basia Piasecka-Johnson, a Polish-American heiress to a colossal fortune, part of the Johnson and Johnson inheritance of her late husband, Mr Seward Johnson. Introduced to Walesa at a Corpus Christi procession in Silesia in May, Mrs Piasecka-Johnson impulsively, as it seems, offered to relieve part of his burden by buying the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, Solidarity’s cradle, now under sentence of closure. Within a week, she had signed a letter of intent to buy (it has a long way to go before it is firm). The weekend of the election, she was the heroine of Gdansk, the subject of a Jankowski sermon in St Brygida’s, lauded (while she wept) on the balcony of the parochial house afterwards. She is an acute businesswoman, who seems to know her money and her shipyards. Revealingly, it was with Walesa that she first made a deal; then with the yard management; only later did she see Mieczyslaw Wiczek, the Industry Minister and nominal ‘owner’ of the yard. In his speech in her honour, Walesa told the Solidarity members in the yard to work harder now that she would be taking it over from the Communists. He also said that he would be looking for other rich émigrés to bring their money back to Poland for investment. Both at home and abroad, Walesa is metamorphosing into Mr Poland.

During the Round Table talks, Janusz Onyskiewicz, the movement’s main spokesman, told me there was no question of Solidarity fielding candidates – but it did. In a speech he gave during the elections, Jacek Kuron said there was no possibility of Solidarity entering Government – but that is precisely what he is now calling for. There was to be no question of Walesa standing for President: he is now being pressed to stand. At his weekly press conference on 29 June, Walesa said: ‘we remain an opposition.’ The problem for him is that his own huge success has destroyed the political force to which he wishes to remain in opposition. He is thus faced with the possibility of replacing it.

Poland is very broke: it has a $39 bn foreign debt; inflation at some 50 per cent and rising; falling real living standards among an already poor population; bad and overcrowded housing everywhere. The begging bowl is out to the West. Solidarity and the Government are both saying the same thing: if the economic and political reforms do not very soon produce material goods for the people, they will fail, and a new totalitarianism will settle on Poland – so give us more money. Yet it seems that for the present, the bowl will not be filled – at least not by Western government loans. The message to the Poles is that they must do it on their own, with the support, if they can get it, of the private sector in the West. To be sure, a Solidarity-dominated government might be more successful in obtaining that support than a Communist one. But even if it does get it, the scale of the restructuring which the Poles must now undertake will entail pain and social tension. Solidarity has no choice: it will have to supervise that process. An election has been won. It should not have been won by so much: neither side wanted the result they got. Poland is rushing out of Communism more rapidly than had been planned – and it isn’t clear that its fragile new institutions can stand the pace.