Walesa at Last

December 11, 1990

Ten years after leading the strike that gave life to Solidarity, nine years after being jailed, seven years after winning the Nobel Prize for Peace, months after hounding President Wojciech Jaruzelski and Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki from their offices, Lech Walesa is elected president of Poland. It serves him right.

The shipyard electrician with a grade school education who became the magnetic leader of the Polish people replaces the Communist general, Mr. Jaruzelski, who had jailed him and suppressed Solidarity before bringing it to power. To win his commanding popular vote for the presidency, Mr. Walesa split Solidarity, which needed to be done because contradiction shrouded its roles as trade union and party, government and opposition.

Mr. Walesa brought this election about by championing public impatience at the constitutional president that Mr. Jaruzelski had become and criticism of Mr. Mazowiecki's painful transition to a free market. In the strange, two-stage election that ensued, Mr. Mazowiecki challenged Mr. Walesa for the presidency. An emigre opportunist named Stanislaw Tyminski, with an obscure past and sinister associations, surged past Mr. Mazowiecki, prompting his resignation from the prime ministry. All the respectable voices that had worried about Mr. Walesa's demagogic streak in the first round rallied to him in the second.

Now that Mr. Walesa is elected, no Pole is better fed and nothing is any easier. The first thing he needs is a prime minister as able as his former friend, Mr. Mazowiecki. All this with a parliament that is not freely elected and contains a majority of Socialists who used to be Communists and are, themselves, discredited. So Mr. Walesa will rule as a powerful president until the parliamentary election in the spring, after which perhaps he will be expected to take a back seat. He seemed to promise relief from the pain of economic dislocation, yet also a speedup to change and a purge of Communists in high places.

Mr. Walesa is both visionary and realist. He has expressed Poland's noblest sentiments, and stooped to unreasonable bickering, hate-mongering and even anti-Semitism. He has raised expectations that haunt him. That he believes himself mystically fit to guide Poland through peril is beyond doubt. He emerged as the best choice the Polish voters had before them.

Everything is his problem now. He must abolish the abrasive, factional Lech Walesa of the campaign, and become once again the wise national leader who brings out the best in the Polish people.

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