A New Committee with Lech Walesa, 2018
Reflections on the limitations of the continuing struggle for democracy in Poland
In opposition to the threat to democracy in Poland today, Lech Walesa is calling for a united front against the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), reviving a citizens committee he led thirty years ago in the democratic struggle against Communist dictatorship. Here the first of two pieces responding to the formation of the new committee. Jeff Goldfarb
Lech Walesa, now active again in Polish political life at 74, has brought back to life, as of Saturday, June 23, 2018, a “Citizens’ Committee with Lech Walesa”, similar in name and in its association with Walesa to the one he established 30 years ago, in 1988, that ultimately led to the removal of the Communists from power.
This new Committee is intended to halt the ruling right-wing Peace and Justice (PiS) party’s march toward the destruction of Polish democracy. Walesa himself was frequently attacked by PiS when he criticized them for breaking laws, along with the articles and principles of the Constitution. As he is a fan of new technologies, the logo of the newly created committee is the letters “www” with a flag clearly echoing the Solidarity logo. Walesa’s current committee wants to create a joint program, shared by many, to unseat PiS in the parliamentary elections coming up in two years, but also to mobilize society to keep an eye out for any irregularities in local elections this fall, and to assure a massive turnout.
The initiative itself is an effort to create a collaborative space for the fragmented opposition. The Committee has been joined by veterans of Solidarity like Jerzy Borowczak, a worker who in 1980 started the Gdansk shipyard strike that spread throughout the Baltic coast and then the entire country. There are famous actors known for their civic activism, the film director Agnieszka Holland, former heads of the Constitutional Tribunal that has been disempowered by PiS, two politicians from the now obsolete post-Communist SLD party, and only two politically active leaders, heads of the two formerly major competing centrist parties, Grzegorz Schetyna of Civic Platform (PO) and Katarzyna Lubnauer of the “Modern” party (Nowoczesna). Room was also made for an elderly chaplain of Solidarity from the 1980s, the Dominican Father Ludwik Wisniewski, today a critic of the social policies of the Polish Catholic Church.
The committee established by Walesa in 1988 was rooted in the strength of the multi-million-member Solidarity, which, though weakened after surviving the imposition of martial law, organized two waves of strikes towards the end of 1988 that forced the Communist regime to engage in talks. The authority of Walesa at that time was so universal that all the non-Communist candidates to Parliament were photographed standing beside him with the shipyard in the background. They all won easily. (The idea for the photograph had come from the legendary film director Andrzej Wajda).
Karl Marx is said to have declared that history repeats itself as farce. This new Walesa committee raises hopes but also concerns. There is a popular well-liked rock musician who doesn’t perform any more but writes columns. There are former trade unionists who became businessmen, but there are no current labor leaders. There are no people from the Peasant Party (PSL). There is none of the non-Communist Left from the Razem ( Together) party. There are no Greens, though they have been active in all elections and are numerically ahead of the right-wing radicals who are very visible on the street, and who attack PiS for being too moderate. It is hard to find anyone under 60 in this Committee of several dozen. And the question is not whether a few people who still enjoy authority will be able to reach a younger generation that is demographically either indifferent or right-wing. The more serious problem is whether those bemedalled generals will be able to create a citizens’ army. Because for now, after a period of mass demonstrations against PiS, the participants in those protests are fading away without a trace. On the other hand, PiS had, and continues to have the support of only 30% of the population and thus wants at all costs to take over local self-governments, which are mostly “occupied” by the opposition, this fall. For the moment, according to the new electoral law on local self-government, the Electoral Commission, which will have worked all day, will be replaced by new teams that will come in to count the votes.
Leszek Budrewicz is a journalist, poet, novelist and lecturer of Lower Silesia University in Wroclaw.
Translated from the original Polish by EMA.