Mudslinging Polish campaign draws to a close

December 07, 1990|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- The bitter Polish presidential election campaign drew to a close last night after a final week of what a Warsaw daily termed "the political gutter."

An extraordinarily hostile and coordinated campaign was waged against the outsider who in the first round Nov. 25 unexpectedly eliminated Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki from this weekend's runoff and demonstrated to Poland's new, post-Communist leadership just how tenuous is its grip on power.

The Solidarity labor movement, which has run the country for more than a year, mobilized state institutions, a faithful press, an allegedly apolitical church and undemocratic extremists to oppose mysterious emigre Stanislaw Tyminski, whose popularity at the polls threatened Solidarity leader Lech Walesa's ascension to the presidency.

Mr. Tyminski in return warned that he would release damaging personal "files" on Mr. Walesa.

[Last night, the New York Times reported that he would make his purported evidence public today, shortly before the noon deadline set by Polish law for all campaigning to come to a halt. Under the rules, Mr. Walesa will not be permitted to respond before the voting begins on Sunday at 6 a.m.

[Asked why he would not release his purported material immediately so it could be verified, Mr. Tyminski replied: "It's a political decision."]

In the first round, the unknown expatriate Tyminski gathered a 23 percent protest vote, making him second to Mr. Walesa's 40 percent.

Shock waves rippled through the Solidarity machine, which set in motion a "stop Tyminski" campaign.

Mr. Tyminski is 42, a small, bespectacled businessman with a computer firm and a strawberry farm in Toronto and a cable TV network in Peru. At 21 a penniless Polish emigre, at 42 a millionaire, he personified to Poles both their dream of rags to riches in the West and the populism so attractive in times of change.

By the time the Solidarity-dominated press had finished with him, he was, despite his denials, a madman, a drug user, a religious nut, a wife-beater, an anti-Semite and the front man for a Communist comeback. Polish journalists accused him of employing secret police and endorsing the Communists' 1981 imposition of martial law.

"If there is civil unrest because you win the election," one said, "will you impose martial law?"

Press conferences were punctuated with shouts of "Answer the question! Yes or no!"

"This is not a press conference," a European journalist said. "It is a police interrogation."

Mr. Walesa, on the other hand, faced courteous inquiries about what his policies as president would be.

State-run television joined in the character assassination, despite its director's claim that it was "impartial and objective."

Last-minute disagreements with Mr. Tyminski about his participation in several talk shows resulted in their cancellation. They were replaced by recorded material unfavorable to the interloper, such as interviews with so-called friends in Canada who confided that Mr. Tyminski beat and starved his Peruvian wife, Graciela, and so opposed the baptism of his children that their mother carried out the ceremony secretly.

Mr. Walesa's campaign included a warning of a coup if Mr. Tyminski won, a remark his rival branded as "the intentions of a terrorist and assassin." The former Gdansk electrician predicted that a future President Tyminski would be run out of Poland "back to the jungle."

The Solidarity leader's less sophisticated supporters readily interpreted their chief's remarks as a call to arms. At Mr. Tyminski's final Warsaw campaign rally, several hundred Walesa supporters shouted, stamped and whistled, preventing Mr. Tyminski from being heard.

The Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza, which had backed Mr. Mazowiecki, criticized "fighting squads of Lech's supporters [who] try to break up Tyminski's rallies, shouting offensive slogans. . . . Something has broken down in our political culture. Not even the greatest threat justifies the political gutter."

In an opinion poll made public last night, 73 percent said they would vote for Mr. Walesa, compared with 16 percent for Mr. Tyminski.

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