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The 'Other Poland' Votes for a Miracle : Elections: What was to be a race between Solidarity's leader and his one-time colleague is confounded by a 'mystery man' preaching painless progress.

December 02, 1990|Piotr Pacewicz | Piotr Pacewicz is national editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, the largest Polish daily.

WARSAW — According to Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, Poland's presidential elections were supposed to result in "acceleration" of the process of leaving communism and reaching "real democracy" and "real market economy." For Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the elections were his chance to defeat Walesa and limit his influence, which has paralyzed the government.

Assessing the outcome, neither man can be happy about the results. Old problems remain, while new dangers appear. We have all learned lessons about Polish society. We discovered the "other Poland," strongly opposed to both sides of the split within Solidarity.

When the first results appeared on TV at 8 p.m. last Sunday, the reaction was shock, disbelief. How could it be that Mazowiecki, prime minister of the first non-communist government in all of Eastern and Central Europe since 1945, was being defeated by a totally unknown Polish immigrant, Stanislaw Tyminski? Here is a man with a suspicious past, a mixture of megalomania and political-persecution complex.

The conflict within Solidarity, initiated by Walesa in February, 1990, when he proclaimed "war on the top" against Mazowiecki's government in order to stop "war on the bottom," had an ironic solution: the success of Tyminski, supported by those on the bottom of society.

The final results of the first round--Walesa got 39.3% of votes, Tyminski 23.2% and Mazowiecki 19.9%--meant not only the end of the Solidarity state founded after the June, 1989, parliamentary elections, but also the end of the whole Solidarity era. "We're all playing like the orchestra on the Titanic," said one of Walesa's advisers. A government spokeswoman, with tears in her eyes, said that Tyminski's success meant a collapse for all of us--and also for Walesa.

Who is Tyminski? Public-opinion surveys attest to the growing popularity of this small-scale businessman from Canada and Peru who left Poland in 1969. He is enjoying an incredibly meteoric political career. Presenting himself as a self-made man, he gained his following by advocating radical economic improvement for everyone without privatization and unemployment. He condemned Mazowiecki for "the betrayal of the nation," triggering anti-incumbent feelings against both Mazowiecki and Walesa.

The press here has documented that when visiting Poland between 1980 and 1989, Tyminski traveled as many as seven times through Tripoli, Libya--one of the centers of world terrorism. Dark sides of his Canadian and Peruvian businesses were also discovered. News stories have claimed that he has a psychiatric record, the reason for his release from army duty. There are more than rumors about Tyminski's informal connections in the past decade with Communist Party leaders.

All this seems to increase his popularity. For his supporters, obviously, media attacks were unbelievable and only strengthened his image. This paradoxical reaction is a result of the rejection of media as a source of information, an attitude learned under the communist regime: The more the media try to discredit someone, the more he is appreciated.

"These dirty swine are trying to kick you out," shouted one of Tyminski's supporters at a rally. A study of election results shows that Tyminski's electorate is the most alienated part of Polish society: unskilled and uneducated workers and farmers, living in the country and in smaller villages, inhabitants of poorer regions with a high rate of unemployment. This profile, interestingly, matches that of voters who were against Solidarity in the June, 1989, elections.

Tyminski also has substantial support from the younger generation, starting their adult life under the "shock therapy" prescribed by Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz--the radical transformation from a centralized to a market economy. Miners, currently in strong conflict with the government, also voted for Tyminski.

Tyminski's constituency, suffering under the Solidarity government no less than in communist times and unable to accept the lack of protection offered by the communist state, were voting for a dream about a country rich as America and for a miracle that could change their lives. The Tyminski phenomenon was also created by television, which gave equal free time for all candidates' campaigns; this "democratic rule" was also obligatory for news programs.

Two days before the election, Mazowiecki was informed by the government's polling agency that he would get at least 28% of votes--only 6% less than Walesa. His collapse was in part the result of his campaign, poorly organized and criticized for overly intellectual language and lack of aggressiveness against his rivals. He hesitated for several weeks before he agreed to be a candidate. And Mazowiecki was untelegenic--until a few days before the election, he did not change his dour facial expressions.

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