NOVEMBER 20, 1995
After World War II, Britains ousted their hero, Winston Churchill, from office. Now Poland has dropped their hero of the Cold War, Lech Walesa. Charlayne Hunter-Gault talks with Professor Bartlomiej Kaminski of the University of Maryland about the recent Polish elections.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Walesa conceded defeat today but vowed to stay in politics. He was upset in his bid for a second term as president of Poland. In 1980, this shipyard electrician became the focal point for the Solidarity labor organization. A decade later, he was president of Poland at the forefront of a revolution that toppled Communism all through Central and Eastern Europe. For more on Walesa and his legacy, we go now to Bartlomiej Kaminski. He's the director of the Center for Post-Communist Studies at the University of Maryland. Mr. Kaminski, why did Lech Walesa lose this election?
BARTLOMIEJ KAMINSKI: I think that there are two major reasons why he lost. First of all, he was unable to stay as a political leader able to function in a new environment. Poles strove for political stability, and he was perceived as somebody who generated conflicts, who was unpredictable, and who contributed not only to economic uncertainties but also to political uncertainties. The second reason is that there is--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So it was a personal--there were a lot of personal reasons.
MR. KAMINSKI: That's right. And he, he was very irresponsible in a sense in sort of selecting some people to various posts; he would alienate his old friends from Solidarity, and he was unable to create a solid political base in the 1990's. The second reason I think has more to do with a very brilliant campaign conducted by Kwasniewski, who is young, articulate, and who really made impression on many people. I remember hearing people saying that from the post Solidarity camp, saying it is a pity he is not on our side, that he has this record of being a Communist minister in the last Communist government in Poland.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But it was more--are you saying, though, that it was more Walesa's personal problems than necessarily the winning style of Kwasniewski?
MR. KAMINSKI: Well, I think that those two factors contributed to his, to his defeat. He was--at the two televised debates he was--Walesa was leaning towards the past. He was emphasizing the period that many Poles want to forget. They want to concentrate on making money and on, on sort of conducting everyday's business, and--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You mean, they want to forget the revolution that Walesa was constantly reminding 'em of during the election.
MR. KAMINSKI: Well, at least 50 percent of them want to forget about it, and they want to look, well, to follow the message of Kwasniewski and to look into the future.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But under Walesa, didn't Poland make the most dramatic move towards a market economy in all of--
MR. KAMINSKI: Yes, certainly, and I think that his biggest achievement is that Poland is (a) a democratic country, which had several parliamentary elections where the transfer of power from one party to another was very smooth, and secondly, it has a very well-established market economy. And I think that this is the legacy of, of Walesa. He not only contributed to the end of Communism, but he also left a positive legacy of a vibrant market economy and democratic institutions.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So how do you think that history--I mean, you've articulated a number of negatives--but also some positives--how do you think that history will remember Walesa?
MR. KAMINSKI: Well, I think that first of all he will be remembered as somebody who made enormous contribution to the end of Communism, and I think the paradox is that precisely because Communism was dismantled so quickly in Poland, people now want to have, at least 50 percent of them want to have somebody else as their leader.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You heard Jim coming into this segment talk, make the comparison between Churchill, who was defeated after winning the war, World War II, only to come back five years later, and Walesa said himself that it was his ambition for Poland to be a normal country with a peaceful transition to power. Do you expect him now to step back and fade quietly into the historical landscape, or what do you expect?
MR. KAMINSKI: Well, I don't think that Walesa can stay quiet, and as my American friend who was covering Warsaw a number of years ago in 1990 said, never write off Walesa. The political situation in Poland is such that about 50 percent of the people do not have their representatives neither in parliament nor in the president's office because of the way that electoral laws were written three years ago. So the danger is that they may turn to other institutions such as to streets, and the danger is and this would be the most--was the worst case scenario--that Walesa would destabilize the political system. I hope it won't happen. I hope that instead of that he will unite the post-Solidarity camp and will lead them to the next parliamentary elections.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. Kaminski, thank you.
MR. KAMINSKI: Thank you very much.