Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Walesa Likely to Win Bitter Polish Campaign

SOLIDARITY chairman Lech Walesa appears headed for victory Sunday in the runoff for Poland's first popular presidential election. But the presidential campaign, which began as a rift between two Solidarity factions and ended in a contest with a puzzling political unknown, remains volatile and ugly.

At rallies across the country since Nov. 25's Round 1 elections, Mr. Walesa and his controversial opponent, 'emigr'e businessman Stanislaw Tyminski, have encountered increasingly unruly crowds.

About these ads

In Warsaw, Mr. Tyminski was pelted with fruit and handfuls of coins by Walesa supporters shouting ``KGB'' and ``Get out of Warsaw.'' Walesa also has been heckled and jeered by Tyminski supporters. On a campaign swing in Silesia earlier this week, Tyminski led miners in chants of ``Down with Walesa.''

``How much hatred there is for Walesa in our country,'' Tyminski said at a rally in Jastrzebie. ``Especially here in Silesia.'' Tyminski did well in rural Poland and in the nation's vital coal mining regions in the Nov. 25 vote.

Miners feel betrayed by the policies of the Solidarity-led government in Warsaw and many fear they will lose their jobs as radical economic reforms take hold. According to government statistics, 58 coal mines are losing money or will not be able to pay taxes this year. Only 12 are showing a profit.

Tyminski's candidacy has appealed to Poles who had become disillusioned with Solidarity and the tough reforms course of Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who made a humiliating third-place showing in the first round. Tyminski has also found support from the young, post-Solidarity generation and from workers who stand to lose the most as state-run industries are privatized or collapse as state subsidies are phased out.

Tyminski, who claims to be a self-made millionaire, has pledged to use his business acumen to overhaul the Polish economy. He has accused Mr. Mazowiecki, Eastern Europe's first noncommunist prime minister, and Walesa of betraying the nation, saying their economic reforms have plunged Poles into poverty.

On the stump he declares: ``I represent the hopes of millions of people. There is a great chance that our economy can start growing, instead of shrinking, as it has been for one and a half years.''

Yet his statements on just how recovery will be achieved have been vague and muddled.

About these ads

Walesa supporters have accused Tyminski of having the support of former communists and secret police agents. Walesa said Tyminski was ``surrounded by the old nomenklatura, security service, and activists of old Poland'' and dubbed his campaign a ``counterrevolution.''

In a self-financed book titled ``Holy Dogs'' distributed by his campaign, Tyminski advocates arming Poland with about 100 medium-range nuclear missiles. He denies this in interviews. But in the autobiography, which is peppered with sentences in capital letters to make important points, he says: ``The most effective weapon for Poland today is an intelligent, medium-range missile, with a nuclear warhead of about one megaton.''

During the election's first round, Tyminski preached xenophobia, charging that the government had deliberately understated the assets of state-owned companies to sell them cheaply and quickly to the West. The privatization issue remains volatile and is one on which Walesa is vulnerable.

Throughout his campaign against Mazowiecki, his former Solidarity ally, Walesa had argued that the pace of reforms needed to be increased and had advocated even speedier privatization. That challenge split the Solidarity movement, but the two candidates differed little on the essential ingredients of economic reform. Now many workers, made suddenly aware by increasing unemployment that these changes may cost them their jobs, have abandoned Walesa in droves, although he is still the favorite in Sunday's election.

That has made Solidarity strategists nervous. After the Nov. 25 vote, Walesa told the Solidarity national commission, ``I am horrified by the degree to which society is dissatisfied with us.''

After the election, former Solidarity antagonists formed a ``Stop Tyminski'' alliance. Poland's Roman Catholic bishops issued a statement last week that all but endorsed Walesa.

According to an independent poll published Wednesday, 61 percent of the respondents said they supported Walesa, while 20 percent backed Tyminski. The survey, conducted by the private polling service Demoskop, said that 19 percent of the electorate was undecided.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.