Solidarity gets back into line behind Walesa

ADRIAN BRIDGE

Gdansk

"Gdansk shipyard supports Lech Walesa" proclaims a large banner above the famous gates over which a rebellious electrician once leapt to spark the strike that led to the formation of the Solidarity trade union.

Smaller placards pinned to the gate reinforce the point. "Walesa is the best helmsman in difficult times," reads one. "He is brave and valiant ... He overturned the system and removed the Soviet army," states another. "Lech Walesa has restored Polish honour."

Given the location - the formerly-named Lenin Shipyard which was the focal point of Solidarity's opposition to the Communist regime - the support for Mr Walesa in Sunday's presidential election is hardly surprising.

He worked at the shipyard for many years. All the money he received as Nobel Peace Prize-winner in 1983 went towards the construction of a new hospital in the shipyard grounds. And despite the attractions of a presidential palace in Warsaw, Mr Walesa's wife, Danuta, and family have always maintained their base in Gdansk.

"We are proud that a man from here is now our head of state," said Stanislaw Birna, a night watchman at the shipyard gate who participated in the 1980 strikes. "And we have to make sure he stays in office. Only he can keep the red devils [former Communists] out!"

Mr Walesa's main opponent in Sunday's poll is Aleksander Kwasniewski, the leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the successor to the Communist Party which was swept from power in the landmark elections of June 1989 but which has since re-emerged to be the dominant force in government.

Neither of the two men is likely to win the more than 50 per cent required for outright victory and they will therefore have to face each other in a run-off poll two weeks later.

For many the battle is the final showdown between the forces of the old regime, as represented by Mr Kwasniewski, and those of Solidarity, best exemplified in the form of Mr Walesa.

And despite the many criticisms that have been levelled against Mr Walesa during his first five-year term - that he is uneducated, impulsive and blatantly power-hungry - he is widely tipped to clinch it.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a man who this time last year had slumped to just 5 per cent support in the opinion polls and who was being openly attacked by some of his closest former allies as a threat to democracy.

Many of those attacking Mr Walesa had been with him in 1989 when, with a membership of 10 million, Solidarity was less a trade union than a massive civic movement pressing for the total transformation of the country.

Most of those in the intellectual wing of Solidarity turned against Mr Walesa as early as 1990 as the movement began to split and its membership dwindled.

But, with the obvious exception of the workers at the Gdansk shipyard, even his former colleagues in the trade union itself had turned distinctly cool towards their old leader.

"Many felt that, like all the others who had joined the Solidarity bandwagon, Mr Walesa quickly turned his back on the workers once in power," said Jacek Rybicki, Solidarity's vice-president. "The union felt it had been used as a vehicle for political ambitions."

In June, at Solidarity's annual congress, there was an extraordinary scene as Mr Walesa, still trailing badly in the polls, went back to his old power base with cap in hand to ask for support in the coming presidential poll.

"Powerful Communism is fighting against me, and so are others," Mr Walesa declared. "So for the second time I am asking you to come with me."

At first the union, which now boasts a membership of 1.8 million but which still sees itself as an instrument for wider change, declined the offer, saying only that it was waiting to see who would emerge as the strongest candidate on the Right to take on Mr Kwasniewski. Only last month as it became clear that Mr Walesa had pulled away from the rest of the anti-Communist camp, did the union finally come out in favour of Mr Walesa.

"I am glad we are now again supporting Mr Walesa," said Mr Birna, one of the 7,000 (out of an original 17,000) remaining workers at the Gdansk shipyard. "But it is hard not to feel some disappointment this time around. Fifteen years ago, when we were fighting for freedom, we were really together, there was real solidarity. Now we have freedom, it comes down to a fight about power. In the end, everybody wants to be in charge."

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
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

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam