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Lech Walesa's calculated risk

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LECH WALESA has embarked on the most dangerous mission since his emergence as a leader of Poland's Solidarity movement eight years ago. His initial meeting with Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, the interior minister who ordered his internment in the aftermath of martial law in December 1981, was a calculated but risky gamble. In the coming talks, Mr. Walesa will need to summon all his fabled skills as a negotiator. Back in 1982, Solidarity adviser Adam Michnik reflected bitterly on the way Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's government had violated the Gdansk accords that legalized Solidarity. ``Reaching agreements of any kind with people who treat the very concept of `agreements' completely arbitrarily, who regularly go back on their promises, and for whom lies are their daily bread, is contrary to common sense,'' he wrote in a letter from prison.

Now, Walesa has called on workers to end their strikes not on the basis of any agreement but merely on the same government's promise that it will discuss means of achieving a new agreement. Many workers are questioning the wisdom of such tactics, and how well Walesa will represent them. If he does not achieve results they deem acceptable, his authority could be fatally compromised.

What accounts for Walesa's actions? After repeatedly proclaiming Solidarity's willingness to restart the dialogue with the government, he could hardly refuse to sit down now. Whatever the misgivings of many Poles, the fact that the government has been forced to acknowledge Solidarity's existence and Walesa's leadership represents a dramatic turnaround. The years of willful blindness have drawn to a close.

But controversy surrounds Walesa's decision to call off the strikes. He felt that he had little choice. The strikes were only actively supported by a tiny fraction of the exhausted and demoralized Polish work force, and they were weakening. Walesa evidently figured that it was better to end them as a goodwill gesture than to let them sputter out inconclusively.


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