Walesa rebuffed Poland's elections: A former communist cabinet minister defeats Solidarity union hero.

November 21, 1995

PRESIDENT LECH WALESA'S narrow defeat Sunday in the run-off election for president of Poland was not unexpected. Although the hero of the Solidarity labor union had staged a surprising comeback, he simply could not regain the popularity he had lost in his five years as his country's first post-communist leader.

As Aleksander Kwasniewski takes over as Poland's new chief executive, the former communist cabinet minister faces a difficult task convincing his badly divided country that he can implement the Western-style social democratic platform on which he campaigned. "We are divided politically and symbolically," one Polish sociologist commented.

There was never any question about where Mr. Walesa stood. The Nobel peace prize winner became one of Eastern Europe's leading symbols of the struggle for democracy. An uncompromising anti-communist, the shipyard electrician from Gdansk unleashed a chain of events that ultimately resulted not only in the dissolution of the Soviet Empire but dissolution of the world's first socialist state.

Poland's transformation from a centralized economy into a free-market system was not easy. As harsh reality replaced euphoria, it was President Walesa who was blamed for hardships and dislocations that resulted from a "shock therapy" applied to the stagnant economy. His often abrasive leadership style did nothing to help the situation. The once-cohesive Solidarity and its reformist allies were soon entangled in unending feuding.

Mr. Kwasniewski, 40, emerged as an alternative two years ago, when his Democratic Left Alliance led a coalition of former communists to a parliamentary majority. They proclaimed to be political centrists -- pledging to continue free-market reforms but opposing "shock therapy" and other unpopular policies.

In the presidential campaign, Mr. Kwasniewski continued that theme. He claimed there were few fundamental differences between him and Mr. Walesa, except that he was the more pragmatic of the two. "Let's choose the future," his election slogan proclaimed.

Mr. Kwasniewski's task is to reunite his nation. Having been a communist is not a mortal sin; many Poles were. Still, suspicions abound. Mr. Kwasnieski can best squash them by strengthening Poland's bridges to Western Europe and proving he is a man of moderation.

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