Poles Apart: In Poland, at the Moment, the Union-Cum-Political Party, Solidarity, May Be So Only in Name

By Darwent, Charles | Management Today, November 1990 | Go to article overview

Poles Apart: In Poland, at the Moment, the Union-Cum-Political Party, Solidarity, May Be So Only in Name


Darwent, Charles, Management Today


For a people prone to thinking in metaphor, Warsaw's Aleje Ujazdowskie provides Poles with a portentous glimpse of the state of the nation. At one end of this Polish Kensington Gore, they say, is the Poland That Was: the official residence of ex-party strongman and, it would seem, soon to be ex-president, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, hard by the pointedly large Soviet Embassy which helped keep him in power. Further along is the Italianate confection which houses the Warsaw headquarters of Lech Walesa's Solidarity, the trades-union-cum-political-party which took the majority of seats in last August's general elections. This is the Poland That Is, signified, improbably enough, by a copy of Donatello's epicene David, the statue's plinth inscribed with the single word |Vincit'. Further still, and the metaphorist reaches the Poland That Will Be (or so almost everybody hopes): the British and American embassies, their impeccable diplomatic Jaguars and Oldsmobiles beacons of capitalist hope in a street darkened by the noxious emissions of coughing Trabants and Polski Fiats.

This symbolic walk down Poland's recent history is neat, but is not -- alas for Poles -- quite the whole story. For one thing, the 1989 election was general only in a limited sense. While Solidarity was allowed to sweep the board in the parliment's upper house, only 35% of seats in the lower house, or Sejm, were up for grabs, which effectively means that legislative initiation remains (at least potentially) in the hands of the emphatically ex-Party. Perhaps the most misleading of the Aleje's coded symbols, however, is Solidarity's choice of garden statuary, for while Walesa may justifiably be seen as a David, he is, both in person and, increasingly, politically, anything but epicene.

This virility may well become one of the stumbling-blocks on the road to Poland's gleaming Anglo-American future. Nobody questions Solidarity's role in wresting power from the loathed Communists, and Walesa, not unnaturally, now sees himself as president-in-waiting. The trouble is that, for all its old broad popularity, the Solidarity which has emerged from the Gdansk shipyards has remained in spirit a trades union, and Walesa the leader of a workers' movement.

How well this spirit will translate into political leadership is a matter of urgent debate, one which has split Solidarity along what are fundamentally class lines. On the right (as it were) is Walesa's Centre Party, worker-backed and committed to the |acceleration' of Poland's economy along the road to free enterprise. On the left, mutatis mutandis, is the new Democratic Alliance -- ROAD -- run by intellectual followers of prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and favouring a constitutional, considered and cautious approach to the same capitalist Camelot. No-one in ROAD wants to deny Walesa his place in Polish history, but nor do they want to see his brand of emotional populism at the Polish helm, especially given the talk of |special powers' he would expect as president. For their part, Centre Partyists have taken to referring to ROAD members as |traitors' and |swine'. The situation, says Albert Radiziwill of the government's privatisation unit, |is rather delicate'.

Radiziwill is well placed to judge. A member of Poland's one-time princely house, ex-accountant for Solidarity and now one of the engineers of industrial privatisation (lynch-pin of finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz's grand plan for the Polish economy), Radziwill is himself a passable symbol of Poland's mutability. His present incarnation involves the encouragement of foreign investment, which, given the parlous state of the domestic economy, underlies government strategy. Sitting in the Unit's drab Mysia Street offices (once the seat of the Party's censorship bureau, and still replete with shredding machines), Radziwill's latest problems are, ironically, largely of Walesa's making. |Yesterday, I saw representatives of ten foreign firms interested in investing in Poland,' Radziwill sighs. …

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