Polish victor pleads for national unity

ADRIAN BRIDGE

Warsaw

Aleksander Kwasniewski, surprise victor in Poland's presidential election, yesterday sought to calm fears about his Communist past by promising that Poland would not stray from the path of reform.

He also appealed to the man he defeated, Lech Walesa, to join forces with him in trying to heal the deep divisions that had been reopened as a result of the campaign. "A presidential election can't be a moment we go different roads," he said. "Our task can only be carried out if we all work together."

Mr Walesa was in no mood for reconciliation. "There is nothing we can talk about," he said shortly after conceding. He made it clear he would not take his defeat lying down. "I still have a lot of energy . . . the tango will start for real now."

Official results confirmed Mr Kwasniewski got 51.7 per cent of the vote compared to his rival's 48.3 per cent.

For Mr Walesa, who as leader of the Solidarity trade union played a key role in the downfall of Communism in 1989, defeat, particularly at the hands of a former Communist minister, was a bitter pill. But he said the closeness of the contest proved "the Solidarity ideal is still alive in the hearts of millions of Poles".

For Mr Walesa, the election represented a re-run of the Solidarity-Communism conflict. He dubbed his opponent a "Bolshevik" whose victory would mean Poland falling into the clutches of "a clique of old comrades linked in a 'Red spider-web'." Although many also perceived it that way, a lot agreed with Mr Kwasniewski that instead of dwelling on the past, it was time to look to the future. Many also felt that while he had undoubtedly served a vital purpose in getting rid of Communism, Mr Walesa's abrasive personality and his performance as president left much to be desired.

Mr Kwasniewski, a sports minister in the last Communist government and who now calls himself a social democrat, received strong support from younger voters whose memories of the old regime had clearly faded. "These young people, without historical sentiments or prejudices, are our greatest chance and our greatest hope," said the president-elect.

Although he was a member of the Communist Party from 1977 until it dissolved itself in 1990, Mr Kwasniewski says he was too young and junior to have been involved in anything too unsavoury. He defends his decision to remain in the party after the declaration of martial law in 1981 on grounds that he wanted to help reform it. In 1989 he was at talks with Solidarity that paved the way for the first partially free elections in Eastern Europe in 40 years.

Mr Kwasniewski, intelligent, articulate and attractive, emerged as the natural leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) that emerged from the ashes of the old Communist party in 1990. Under his leadership, he and the party have never looked back.

In 1993, on a ticket of softening the hardships of economic transformation, the SLD romped to victory in parliamentary elections. With Mr Kwasniewski's triumph in the presidential election, the party has come almost full circle.

To critics who accuse him of being a Moscow-leaning Communist stooge, he says that, contrary to predictions, the SLD-led government has not reversed economic reform nor backtracked on Poland's attempt to join Nato and the European Union. Nor will he as president, he promises.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?