WARSAW, Poland -- President Lech Walesa is warning that he would impose martial law if it were necessary to "save the country" from anarchy.
Asked by the youth paper Sztandar Mlodych about reports of high-level discussions last week in Washington on a possible state of emergency in Poland, Mr. Walesa said he would fight for democracy, it was reported yesterday.
But, he added, "If I have to deal with anarchy, widespread strikes, if the situation were to become dramatic, I would have to rely on force to save the country."
Strikes are in fact widespread as post-Communist economic reforms force prices up, living standards down and workers out of jobs. Labor Minister Michal Boni warned Tuesday of a possible "explosion" of discontent.
The president, who telephoned Sztandar Mlodych after reading its reports, told reporter Marek Rudnicki, "If there are questions in the United States about the possibility of imposing a state of emergency, I can now answer: Yes, I could do it, I repeat, to save the country."
A decade ago, on Dec. 13, 1981, Communist leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski ended a period of widespread strikes, led by Solidarity's Mr. Walesa, by clamping Poland under martial law. "It is a last resort," he told Poles then, "to extricate the country from crisis and to save the state from disintegration."
Mr. Walesa's spokesman, Andrzej Drzycimski, confirmed the president's remarks.
"On our way to democracy we are bordering almost on anarchy, and there exists a threat that democracy can be impaired, destroyed," he told Poland's PAP news agency. "In such a situation, may it never arise, the president will not permit anarchy to take over Poland."
Mr. Drzycimski added, however, that Mr. Walesa's remarks announced "neither a state of emergency nor martial law."
The Sztandar Mlodych interview capped two weeks of controversy surrounding this month's U.S. visit by Maciej Zalewski, presidential secretary of state. Polish press reports said Mr. Zalewski raised the possibility of Poland's Council for National Security taking over the government should democracy collapse.
Foreign Minister Krzysztof Skubiszewski denied that the visit was coordinated with the government and accused Mr. Zalewski of exceeding his authority.
The conflict between presidency and government coincided with new opinion polls showing Mr. Walesa's popularity slipping.
Fully 49 percent of respondents considered his actions designed primarily to enhance his personal power. Only 36 percent thought they were for the good of the country.
Asked to characterize the last two years, 34 percent said that "new authorities had taken the Communists' place, but where they were heading was not clear."
Only 11 percent believed that dictatorship had given way to democracy.