Liberty, not Solidarity

Georgie Anne Geyer

July 15, 1991|By Georgie Anne Geyer

Warsaw,Poland -- DURING THE certain and romantic years o the struggle against communism, Solidarity leaders here used to say, "There is no freedom without Solidarity!"

Now that symbolic phrase has been reworked. In this uncertain and unromantic age for Poland, the ambivalent new phrase is, "There is no Solidarity in liberty."

This play with words -- something the Poles are famous for -- explains a lot. Janusz Onyszkiewicz, former Solidarity spokesman, explained the frustration of these ambiguous days to me, saying: "Before, we were in this totally moral situation. To choose between the good and the bad is simple. But now we must choose between two evils and find a lesser one. That is politics."

This handsome young intellectual paused, smiled, and added still another alternative to describe today's mood. "This is liberty," he said, "so there is no Solidarity."

Everywhere in Poland today, the waters of rebellion that were once as holy as the River Jordan are now as muddied as the plebeian but urgent tides of drear economics. From the dawns and dusks of Poland's traditional romantic heroes to the 8 a.m. of the gimlet-eyed accountant, everything is in disarray.

Solidarity itself and even the Roman Catholic Church, who together led to the downfall of communism, today meet at the bottom of the polls. The once-hated Polish army is at the top. Solidarity has completely broken down into its right and left, into its worker and intellectual wings. Does Poland need some kind of safeguard transition period to real democracy? Does it need a strongman, perhaps?

As Father Henryk Jankowski, the famous priest-confessor to President Lech Walesa, told me here: "I am most afraid of the fact that people do not respect what they've already won. We now have to prepare people for the high esteem of work."

In these muddied waters, nothing has confused the new situation as much as Walesa himself. The electrician who used to charm people by personifying the situation in his practical words -- "The West goes by car and we're on a bike" -- has become threatening to that same West by his threats to dissolve the parliament and rule by decree. Indeed, in recent months he became utterly fixated on an electoral law he hated that was put forth by the lower house of the parliament.

Many saw -- or thought they saw -- a new Walesa, an authoritarian in power similar to Poland's pre-World War II military strongman Jozef Pilsudski, in place of the old "worker-prince" from Gdansk. Poland, this thinking had it, was about to revert to its own strongman past.

That dire prediction seems rather far from reality here. As the distinguished professor Janusz Ziotkowski, the leading adviser to the president's office on foreign affairs, told me: "Rule by decree? The president . . . only wants an acceleration of the changes. So the electoral law of the lower chamber was unacceptable and he threatened to veto it -- that is his prerogative. This question before us is a fragmented parliament or not. Presidents have the right to dissolve parliaments in many countries." He is right.

What happened was that Walesa, seeing even the approval rating of the presidency plummet to 40 percent, determined in his bullheaded electrician's way to ensure that things started getting done faster and more completely. This is not at all necessarily a dangerous thing for a country in such fragile transition to capitalism and to democracy.

As a matter of fact, the fight over the electoral law and the questions that it raised over constitutional procedures here were resolved when Walesa hesitantly accepted the law during the first week in July. Walesa has been saying for the last two years that Solidarity would just naturally break up once "liberty" for the entire country was achieved -- that indeed is the sad gift that freedom for all gives to impassioned groups such as Solidarity, who depend upon an outside enemy for their unity.

In this emotional country of symbols and evocative phrases, that may well mean the end of Poland's historical and passionate romanticism, at least for this part of its history. But this is perfectly natural. It also means that an often sullen sense of impending normalcy is beginning.

It will still take some time, but Poland will indeed "make it."

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