Solidarity poised to re-emerge but without Walesa Former president stays in quiet retirement

March 09, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

GDANSK, Poland -- If opinion polls are right, the enfeebled Solidarity opposition is staging a stunning political turnaround. There is even serious talk of a Solidarity-led coalition taking back the Polish Parliament in elections next fall.

That would be a momentous comeback for the trade-union-based popular movement, which brought down communism in 1989 only to be swept to the sidelines by its revamped Communist adversaries in elections.

But what is most striking about Solidarity's long-awaited rebounding is the absence of its most famous figure. For the first time since taking up the cause of workers at the Lenin Shipyard in 1980, Lech Walesa is not pulling the strings -- or, some would say, muddying the waters -- in Solidarity.

Except for a return to the shipyard last spring meant to embarrass the government into granting him a pension, Walesa has been invisible in Poland since relinquishing the presidency to former Communist Aleksander Kwasniewski in December 1995.

"He is someone who has slipped into the shadows of Polish politics," said politician Aleksander Hall, a former Solidarity adviser and longtime critic of Walesa's confrontational manner. "And when he does take public stands now, they are quite sensible. I am actually quite sorry that his public contacts are so small."

Walesa's decision to distance himself from the goings-on of the Solidarity opposition is evidence of a broader search for a new identity since losing his bid for a second presidential term. Last fall, the former union leader even moved his Gdansk office from Solidarity headquarters to a building down the street.

"It looked as though I was hanging on Solidarity's trousers," said Walesa, 53, during an interview in his new office. "A lot of people were not happy with me being there. A lot of people who like me are outside of Solidarity."

Walesa said his retreat from the limelight is in part a recognition of former presidents' diminished function -- "I've fulfilled my role; times are different now," he said -- and in part an acknowledgment that his involvement in Solidarity's affairs would do more harm than good.

After years of infighting, Solidarity has assembled 36 right-wing groups in a united front against the ruling former Communists of the Democratic Left Alliance. The new political alignment consistently scores near the top of public opinion surveys.

Pub Date: 3/09/97

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