GDANSK, POLAND -- The man who began the destruction of the Iron Curtain a decade ago, Lech Walesa, remains virtually unchanged.
He was an unemployed electrician in 1980 when he scrambled over the wall at the Lenin Shipyards here to lead strikers in a movement that eventually brought the communist government to its knees.
In the intervening years, Walesa has spent time in prison, won the Nobel peace prize and ended up wielding enough power to negotiate a peaceful transfer of power to a noncommunist government.
Walesa uncharacteristically wore a tie to our interview, but under the table he was wearing bedroom slippers. With a straight face he told us that the long years of martial law were good for his marriage because he and his wife, Danuta, assumed their apartment was bugged. ''Many people didn't like their flat being bugged, but I liked it because my wife knew it was bugged and she didn't quarrel with me.''
Switching quickly to serious introspection, Walesa allowed that the bugging may have been the genesis of his leadership style. He makes up his mind without much discussion and often surprises his followers with what looks like a sudden decision, simply because he hasn't talked it out.
Walesa was surprisingly generous to his former captors and tormentors. They made his life miserable, but Walesa said he will leave the punishment to Polish judges and courts.
He confirmed reports that the Solidarity movement nearly cost him his life more than once. Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot Pope John Paul II, testified in court that Bulgarian secret police wanted him to kill Walesa, too. For two years, the Polish security police plotted to kill him using an ex-mental patient to pull the trigger. The trigger man foiled the plot himself by showing up on Walesa's doorstep to confess.
Walesa wasn't intimidated by the threats. ''The only thing in the world I am afraid of is God and his judgments. That doesn't mean I am going to put my head on the rails and wait for the train to cut it off. I don't expect that angels will lift the train so my head will not be cut off.''
Walesa is deeply religious in a country that is more than 90 percent Catholic, but he said the church has never dictated his politics. Even the Polish-born pope never told Walesa what to do, but the church, as a focal point for anticommunist sentiment was indispensable during the Poles' struggle for freedom. Even atheists went to church in those years of struggle because the church and opponents of the government often coalesced. Walesa carried a wood and silver crucifix with him and hung it on the wall whenever he spoke.
He doesn't like to talk about the private Walesa. ''It was the situation which created Gorbachev, Walesa and Solidarity, and not the other way around,'' he said. ''Living in your country, I probably would have just stayed an electrician until the present day.''
Instead, when Walesa came to the United States last fall, he came as ''the spiritual godfather of a new generation of democracy,'' in the words of President Bush. He was the first non-head of state to address a joint session of Congress since the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. Walesa, the one-time unemployed electrician, was interrupted 25 times by applause.