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EUROPE: FIVE YEARS LATER : 'We have to succeed.' : Lech Walesa, president of Poland

November 01, 1994|Dean E. Murphy

W ith a year to go before the Polish presidential elections, President Lech Walesa has kicked into a campaign mode. Ranked in recent popularity polls below former Polish Communist boss Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Walesa, democratic Poland's first president, has axed his press spokesman, fired members of the Polish television council and made new overtures to his former backers in Solidarity, the labor-based mass movement that shook Communist control in the 1980s but later split into several competing factions.

When he sat down for 30 minutes in his new presidential palace for an interview with Times correspondent Dean E. Murphy, he spoke energetically about his vision of Poland:

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Question. What is wrong with Poland? Why are people so unhappy? And why are you so low in the opinion polls?

Answer. That is a complicated issue. We are undergoing great transformations, great reforms. We want to build a market economy and democracy. The effects that we are noticing today are just normal signs indicating that this reconstruction has been effective. And as far as the issue of my popularity goes, then of course if you just look at numbers, they look the way you have interpreted them. But I look at it in a totally opposite way.

I have always stood at the forefront of reforms in Poland. Often I do things which are beyond my duties as president. I work very hard, and sometimes I expose myself to the displeasure of those whom I am trying to encourage to do something. . . .

I am a practitioner, and if I succeed in building a proper, good capitalist system, then I know that capitalists pay honest wages for hard work, and I am certain that I am going to be paid well.

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Q. So you don't believe your job is done in Poland? Poland still needs Lech Walesa?

A. Of course. Again this is a broader problem. We were all starting from the same level of poverty. Now we are building capitalism. Even in the best possible situation only one in 10 will have his own company. The remaining nine will envy him, and they will be unhappy. That's why those problems won't disappear.

The question is: Is there another solution? For example, the division of Solidarity. You do things differently when you are fighting against a totalitarian system because you have to be united. However, after victory, when people have to work and build democracy and pluralism, we cannot keep an organization which would function well in China where everybody is supposed to be equal and the same. Pluralism and democracy cannot be built without dividing. I had to divide my child, Solidarity. . . .

Some people today miss the Soviet Union just like others yearn for Solidarity of the old days. But the question is: Would it be democracy if the president came from Solidarity, the prime minister came from Solidarity and the Parliament was also Solidarity? I would then be just like Kim Il Sung. I didn't want that. I wanted something better. . . . I wanted to build a proper system which meant creating great divisions so in the future we could unite. I did all that, so it would be rather surprising if I wasn't blamed for it.

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Q. Have the experiences of the past five years lived up to your expectations or do you have major disappointments?

A. Of course I wish that many things happened in a different way. But if I wanted to do it properly, then I should have asked all Poles to move out of Poland and build this country from the beginning, organize it in a proper way. But that cannot be done. But there really were such ideas. People were writing letters to me that if we want to make money quickly, then let's send everyone to America, let them earn dollars and then come back with their money to Poland. Wonderful idea for one family or two but not for 40 million people. And that's why we have to work with the conditions given to us. And that's why a lot of things could have been done in a different way, but socially it is impossible. Some things could have been improved but we would have to take shortcuts.

For example, we inherited our legal system from the Communists. And now when we say that we want to build a "state of law" we have to wait for the whims of the members of our Parliament to create a new legal framework and pass laws. I could have issued decrees but then I would be no different from Stalin. . . .

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Q. What do you see coming in the next five or 10 years? Can Poland make the transition to capitalism and democracy that quickly, or will it take a generational change?

A. We don't have a choice. We have to succeed. There are no other solutions. The question is only how long is it going to take and what price are we going to pay. Europe and the world today are just like Lego blocks. I have always liked to watch children play. What is it that they are building? When they find a block that doesn't fit they throw it aside. The same applies to countries in Europe. The Lego blocks are democracy, pluralism, market economy. Those who do not accept them will be thrown aside. . . .

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