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Walesa Faces a Solidarity Against Him : Poland: Highhanded moves by the president and onetime union leader alienate his former allies.


WARSAW — For a moment it looked like a flashback from the 1980s, a dramatic televised scene of Poland's struggle to overthrow communism, featuring top players in the Solidarity reform movement.

Solidarity strategist Bronislaw Geremek issued a stern warning about the sanctity of democracy. Solidarity journalist Tadeusz Mazowiecki lectured about civilian control of the military. And Solidarity activist Wladyslaw Frasyniuk accused the Polish president of authoritarian tendencies.

Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader, also joined the fray.

But unlike in the 1980s, he was not leading this assault: Walesa was its target.

"We wish to express our deepest concern that our fragile Polish democracy may be threatened," Frasyniuk, now a Polish lawmaker, told Walesa during a recent parliamentary meeting. "And it is beyond human imagination that this threat may come from Lech Walesa of all people, the champion of the struggle against communism."

Walesa, the Gdansk shipyard electrician who helped bring communism to its knees in Eastern Europe, winning the Nobel Peace Prize and the Polish presidency along the way, has become public enemy No. 1 in his own country.

Because of a series of highhanded moves, apparently calculated to boost his reelection chances next year, the image of Walesa-the-Democrat has devolved into Walesa-the-Despot.

In an unprecedented vote, the Sejm, the lower house of Parliament, overwhelmingly approved a motion this month that accused him of destabilizing Poland's constitutional order and posing a threat to Polish democracy.

Significantly, the authors of the admonition were former Solidarity activists, not the ruling coalition of former Communists who have never gotten along with the maverick president.

In a recent poll by the Public Opinion Research Center in Warsaw, only 9% of Poles approved of Walesa's job performance. Even his backers were lukewarm about his future: Only a third of them said the president should seek reelection.

Walesa's fairy-tale image has been muddied for some time. He first slipped from grace in 1990 when he turned on several Solidarity leaders--including Mazowiecki--who threatened to get in the way of his presidential ambitions.

The messy affair splintered Solidarity, left all sides embittered and perhaps contributed to the current high-pitched assault on Walesa, the only declared candidate in next fall's presidential race.

But Walesa's immediate problems are more directly tied to his decisions to interfere in the running of Poland's independent broadcasting commission and the Defense Department, two areas in which his authority is not clearly defined in Poland's outdated constitution--a document that he would like revised to enhance his powers.

Both television and the military could be key to Walesa's reelection chances, particularly if he is able to curry favor with the ever-popular army and attract positive TV coverage. So far, the strategy seems to be backfiring.

Walesa sacked two members of the broadcast commission, including its chairman, after the group awarded the country's first nationwide private TV license to a company not favored by Walesa.

The Polish ombudsman, an independent government watchdog, declared Walesa's action illegal, but the president has refused to back down.

Later, Walesa asked Defense Minister Piotr Kolodziejczyk to resign after Walesa reportedly polled top generals about the pace of reforms in the army and found Kolodziejczyk wanting.

Only the prime minister has the authority to remove a Cabinet member. But Walesa, unhappy with his largely ceremonial role, interfered anyway. The result has been an embarrassing parliamentary inquiry into supposed insubordination by army top brass.

Despite growing political isolation, Walesa insists that he knows what is best for Poland.

"I deeply believe that it is not the letter of the law that serves people but the sense of this law," Walesa answered his critics in Parliament. "Nobody ever is going to turn me back on my way, by blackmail or by threats or by manipulation, even if I were to be completely on my own in Poland."

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