Polish Voters Wary of Church Domination: Church Choice Walesa Loses Bid for Reelection to Former Communist

By Hebblethwaite, Margaret | National Catholic Reporter, December 15, 1995 | Go to article overview

Polish Voters Wary of Church Domination: Church Choice Walesa Loses Bid for Reelection to Former Communist


Hebblethwaite, Margaret, National Catholic Reporter


"We do not want the blacks to replace the reds," said Catholic politician Andrzej Wielowieyski to a Nov. 25 meeting of European Catholic intellectuals in Warsaw, Poland. He was referring to the widespread view in the country that rule by the clergy should not replace rule by the communists.

It was a feeling reflected in the victory--just six days earlier--of a former communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski, in the Polish presidential elections, over the bishops' preferred candidate, the sitting President Lech Walesa. Walesa, a former trade unionist and a traditionalist Catholic, has led Polish politics ever since the mass movement Solidarity challenged and eventually toppled the communist regime.

Wielowieyski explained the victory of Kwasniewski as "a rather accidental phenomenon" in the sense that "in the final count the personal qualities of the contenders were decisive." And so "personality traits swayed many people away from a coolheaded political assessment."

Speaking at the official dinner of a conference titled "Spiritual Values in a Changing Europe," Wielowieyski explained that "at least 5 to 10 percent of voters cast their ballot for Kwasniewski or did not vote at all" because they were "estranged by President Walesa's style and his autocratic tendencies." Walesa, who certainly was preferred by Pope John Paul II, used "aggressive and brutal electoral rhetoric," said Wielowieyski. His opponent was much more careful and polite."

An instance of this difference in style was observed by Poles in a television confrontation between the two contenders. Walesa had interrupted Kwasniewski and said "Stop telling us humbug," and at the end he shouted "Treason!" because of his opponent's communist past.

Kwasniewski, meanwhile, had handed Walesa on television a "property document" detailing his own personal finances, as evidence of his honesty, because both candidates were supposed to make their finances known. Afterward, Kwasniewski said the debate had "clearly shown who is the man of the future in Poland and who cannot detach himself from the past."

Church leaders had made no secret of their political advice in the latest election. On the day of the vote, the Polish primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, said that Poland faced a choice between rival systems of "Christian and neopagan values." And after the result was announced he remarked sadly that "it is a fact that a part of the baptized people identifying as church members voted for a nonbeliever."

The prior of the national shrine at Jasna Gora said--to a congregation that included Walesa himself--that the shrine would no longer welcome "people under the sign of the hammer and sickle and supporters of a civilization of death, abortion and atheism." But later on the prior was prevailed on to withdraw his remarks, because the shrine is the property of the whole nation.

Wielowieyski, who was vice president of the upper chamber from 1989-91 and remains a member of Parliament, is one of the most distinguished politicians to emerge from the group of Catholic intellectuals who organized themselves into a society called KIK, the Polish acronym for Club of Catholic Intelligentsia. When the communist government fell in August 1989, the Catholic intellectuals of KIK played a crucial role in the transition. They were conscientious, freethinking and free-acting--clear of corrupting associations with the old regime.

KIK was founded in the mid-1950s and under the communist regime there was an active branch in five Polish cities: Warsaw, Krakow, Torun, Poznan and Wroclaw. Each group had a separate structure to maintain maximum safety from communist interference. …

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