Walesa asks for his old job back

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The Independent Online

Central Europe Correspondent

Lech Walesa yesterday proved that he has not lost his taste for the unexpected by submitting an extraordinary request to his former employers at the Gdansk shipyard - to give him back his old job as an electrician.

The unprecedented move, less than a month after the defeated president handed over to the former Communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, appeared on one level to be a protest about money. According to Mr Walesa's wife, Danuta, although her husband was now entitled to a full-time bodyguard, he would only be drawing his old presidential salary for a further three months, then he would receive nothing. "He must earn money to support the family," the mother of eight said from the family home in Gdansk.

Technically, Mr Walesa, President for five years, has been on an extended leave of absence from the firm once known as the Lenin shipyard, where he used to repair electric cart engines and from which he launched the Solidarity trade union that brought down Communism.

His former colleagues were incredulous, and delighted, to hear that he may be rejoining them. "Walesa is a first-class specialist and we will have him back with great joy," Piotr Witek, head of the shipyard's repairs section, told Gazeta Wyborcza. If Mr Walesa does return to the shipyard, his monthly salary will be 500-600 zlotys (about pounds 150) - just over half the 1,000 zlotys paid to his bodyguard.

Despite claims of impending penury, few believed Mr Walesa's motive was financial, with many seeing it as part of his wider strategy to reunite Poland's fractured opposition and perhaps even to recreate something of the old Solidarity movement.