Exclusive: Solidarity Free Trade Union leader, Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa’s New Heart

By —— Bio and Archives--November 8, 2007

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Warsaw, Poland: November 7 used to be celebrated in the then Communist countries, the Soviet Union in particular, as “The Revolution Day”. Not any more now, save for the Russian hard-core Communists longing for the “glorious” past. On that day, in 1981, straight from a reception at the Soviet Embassy in Warsaw, the late Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, a top CIA agent in Poland, walked out to “disappear” and soon he and his family safely landed in the United States.


Kuklinski’s secret information did not, however, stop General Wojciech Jaruzelski to proclaim martial law in Poland on December 13, 1981. The then Solidarity Free Trade Union leader, Lech Walesa, was arrested with thousands of Solidarity activists and he refused to cooperate with the illegal martial law authorities. Yesterday, on November 7, 2007—90 years after the Bolshevik Revolution—Lech Walesa told the media about his health troubles.

“Walesa, a symbol of the overthrow of the communist regime in Eastern Europe in 1989 and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1983), said his health was worsening and he could die without a heart transplant. “I had very bad medical test results last month and quick actions had to be undertaken,” Walesa, 64, told reporters in the northern port city of Gdansk, the cradle of Solidarity which helped to trigger the fall of communism” (James Joiner, “Outside the Beltway”, Nov.7).

He planned to have a heart transplant in Houston, Texas next year. His medical costs will exceed $ 100,000 and the former Solidarity hero and President of Poland hasn’t got that money. But optimistic as usual Lech Walesa told newsmen: “Many people willing to help contacted me after this report was published, two of them even declared unlimited amounts of money but under the condition that I would give them my old heart.”

What would these two anonymous donors do with Walesa’s “old heart”? Keep it in a freezer box or sell it on auction? In any case, this offer is not a fair one. For sure, Lech Walesa will get financial support from the new Polish Government led by the Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk, whom he met yesterday to discuss his voluntary services to Poland. According to Tusk, Walesa could become “Honorary Ambassador of Poland in the United States” and his enormous popularity in America and in the Free World could become a very valuable asset. But first…he’s to get his new heart to survive.

A busted interview

I remember how I learned about Lech Walesa for the first time…from a Swedish newspaper in 1980. A certain “Valeza” or “Vasa” (which is the family name of a dynasty of Swedish kings) appeared in the Gdansk Shipyard to lead the workers’ strike. Local people knew him much earlier, as Lech Walesa, a shipyard worker and skilled electrician, who took part in the massive workers’ demonstrations against the Communist authorities in December 1970, the peaceful demonstrations that turned into bloody riots, crushed by tanks and the Polish Army and the shots of Police. Walesa was also arrested, later released and he took care of a killed friend’s son before he began to organize illegal free trade unions in the 1970s.

By the summer of 1980, Lech Walesa became the best known Polish opposition leader, who guided the striking workers to success. On August 31, 1981, the Free and Self-Governing Solidarity Trade Union was approved by the then Polish Communist authorities and soon later it expanded to the whole country, rallying more than 10 million members. The process of collapse of the Communist system began in Poland, spreading to other countries of the Soviet bloc.  It was halted for several years by the martial law (1981) but never stopped. In June of 1989, Solidarity won in the general elections, following several months of tough negotiations with the Communist authorities, named “The Round Table Talks”. In 1990 Lech Walesa had been almost unanimously elected President of the Polish Republic.

Back in December 1981, we were expecting a Soviet Army and Warsaw Pact forces invasion of Poland. The mood was gloomy, when the last effort to prevent a crackdown by direct negotiations of the three parties—the Government, the Catholic Church and the Solidarity Union—failed in November. I observed these talks, led by General Jaruzelski, Primate Glemp and Walesa. Working for a popular weekly paper, I was responsible for dozens of articles and interviews with Solidarity leaders save for Lech Walesa. On Saturday, December 12, 1981, an All-Country Meeting of the Solidarity Leadership began in Gdansk. A few days before, I arranged for an interview with Walesa to be held in Gdansk on Sunday, December 13. In the night, December 12/13, General Jaruzelski imposed martial law in Poland. Our interview was busted. My headline article, entitled “There’s No Roof without Foundations—On the National Reconciliation” appeared in print a week before the martial law, to no avail.

“I am for and even against”

Lech Walesa is known for his witty answers, jokes and humorous, sometime strange slogans.  When I met him for the first time, at the Poznan International Trade Fair in June 1981, I headed the Press Office in the Japanese Exposition Hall there. Three months earlier, in March 1981, he was visiting Japan. On his return to Poland, Walesa announced his master plan: “To build a second Japan in Poland”. No, he never thought of himself as an “Emperor”, though he met the Emperor of Japan. He wanted Poland to become a prosperous and fast-developing country, with a booming economy, like Japan. In the 1970s, the then Communist leader, Edward Gierek, wanted to “Build the second Poland”. In 2005, the present President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw, announced they would “Build the Fourth Republic”. Slogans return,  but Walesa is the only one, who was unique. When Polish people disagreed with his policy, he used to say “I am for and even against” and his saying became proverbial.

In 1995,  I observed the presidential elections in Poland (in 1990,  I voted for Lech Walesa, he won and sent me a thank you note). Before the Election Day, he held a public TV debate with a post-Communist leader Aleksander Kwasniewski. Sure of his coming election victory, Lech Walesa discarded his opponent offering him his foot in stead of a hand-shake. This impolite gesture cost him the re-election, and Kwasniewski became the next President of Poland for two consecutive terms. Walesa tried to win the presidency again in 2000, and all he got was little more than 1% of the votes. Kwasniewski ended his second term in 2005 and handed over the Presidential Palace to Lech Kaczynski.

But Lech Walesa is an obstinate man and a true “political animal” as we used to say in Poland. He reflected upon his failures, wrote a new book with a maverick title “My Third Republic: I Have Lost My Patience”. It’s mostly a critical appraisal of the last two years of the rule of the Kaczynski Twins. The Twins threatened to sue him in court for his critical views. But the Law and Justice Party lost the 2007 elections and Walesa offered his good services to the winner: Donald Tusk of the Civic Platform Party, the next Prime Minister.

Should we offer him a new heart?

Lech Walesa, a brave workers’ leader, then politician, should survive his cardiac crisis. He’s a tough man, after all. The Polish public medical services used to make heart transplants. Professor Zbigniew Religa, the Minister of Health in the last government, was himself a pioneer in heart transplants. As the public medical services in Poland are in disarray now, Walesa does not trust Polish doctors to plant him a new heart. He has more confidence in American specialists, and Houston is a famous transplants center. Should Walesa get a new heart from an American donor?  It really doesn’t matter from whom. But it certainly matters to keep the legend of Solidarity alive. Apart from the late “Polish Pope”, John Paul II, Lech Walesa is a living symbol of Poland and of the successful struggle against the Communist nightmare system. Let’s offer him a new, young and strong heart to beat for Poland and the Free World.

See: World’s Most Lovable Rebel Needs New Heart

�  David Dastych, 2007


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David M. Dastych -- Bio and Archives | Comments

David Dastych passed away Sept.11, 2010.

See:David Dastych Dead at 69

David was a former Polish intelligence operative, who served in the 1960s-1980s and was a double agent for the CIA from 1973 until his arrest in 1987 by then-communist Poland on charges of espionage. Dastych was released from prison in 1990 after the fall of communism and in the years since has voluntarily helped Western intelligence services with tracking the nuclear proliferation black market in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. After a serious injury in 1994 confined him to a wheelchair, Dastych began a second career as an investigative journalist covering terrorism, intelligence and organized crime.

Other articles by David Dastych


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