After two hours of hearing Lech Walesa exhort regional Solidarity delegates here to be united and refrain from further strikes, a man in the rear shouted: "Long live Walesa!"
"That's my name," a grinning Walesa shouted back. This veneration for Solidarity's leader, who, in an irreverent colloquial style, calls on Poles for greater efforts and greater restraint, dominates Poland's turbulent political scene.
At age 37, Walesa has been transformed from Gdansk shipyard worker to the authentic leader of the Polish nation. As such, he now is burdened with singular responsibility for protecting Poland's democratic revolution, both from strangulation by the Polish communist apparatus and sudden assault by the Soviet Army.
He is still treated with condescension by both intellectuals at Solidarity's national headquarters is downtown Warsaw who want to guide him, and by communist insiders who want to co-opt him. But since the death of Poland's Catholic primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, he has become Poland's true leader. Unlike the austere cardinal, the charismatic Walesa has forged an emotional bond with the people unprecedented in modern Poland.
Walesa has so developed beyond the local strike leader of last summer that his absence from the country now raises concern. While he was in Geneva addressing the International Labor Organization, a regional strike was called (which Walesa quickly cancelled when he returned). That arouses fears of what will happen when Walesa is on a two-week American tour beginning July 3.
The overwhelming consensus in Solidarity is against strike action. But other leaders in the union were not happy about Walesa's recent declaration that Solidarity is strictly a labor union without political functions. "Walesa is not the trade union," Janusz Onyszkiewicz, a mathematician who is a member of Solidarity's national coordinating council, told us. "He often presents his voice as the only voice of Solidrity. When he speaks, the truth is, he generally speaks for himself."
Such Solidarity leaders may fear Walesa is being co-opted by the communist apparatus. Indeed, communist intellectuals suggest this technical high school graduate is outmatched in dealing with his counterpart in the apparatus, Deputy Prime Minister Mieczylaw Rokowski, a famous journalist well known over Polish television. They feel Walesa as an ex-army PFC is absolutely overawed in sitting across the table from his former commander in chief, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the prime minister.
Communist fuctionaries regularly praise Walesa while attacking Solidarity's "radicals." Radowski, talking to us and other Western newsmen in words meant for Soviet consumption, took a hard line against the militant reformers but went out of his way to praise Walesa's speech affirming Solidarity's limited scope as a trade union.
The true source of Walesa's caution, however, is neither Jaruzelski nor Rakowski but the Catholic Church which also opposes new strikes and urges restraint. Invisiting this southwestern Polish city (formerly Breslau) on a national tour, Walesa met privately at length with the archibishop of Wroclaw after attending Mass, as he does most days.
Both in addressing regional Solidarity delegates and at an evening rally here attended by 50,000, Walesa actually appeared less the ally of the regime than its teacher. "We have to make the government care about our needs," he said. He began his speech to the delegates by ridiculing Soviet and Polish Communist. Party charges of "counter revolutionaries" and "anti-scolialists" in Poland: "I've been traveling all over the country and I haven't found one yet."
What makes Walesa unique is less what he says than an emotional link between him and the Polish masses. His stimp style, at once conversational and volcanic, has traces of Fidel Castro, George Wallace and Bobby Kennedy. But he is treated less as a modern politician than as a rock star. Physically drained after his two-hour performance at the evening rally, Walesa was mobbed by adoring Poles seeking autographs and handshakes.
This link is why the Polish communist hierarchy has concluded it must support him. Nevertheles, heresy drips from Walesa's words: "Initiatives should come from the people," he said here. "No longer are we limited by government."
Such rejection of Soviet dogma and the very fact that Walesa is functioning as a politician independently of the party must be hard for Moscow to take. Nor could it have been pleasant reading in the Kremlin when Walesa promised here that Poland would learn the truth about the Soviet slaughter of Polish army officers at Katyn and expressed a desire to speak in Russian factories. Although he cautions restraint to avoid Soviet intervention, the rise of Lech Walesa as his nation's de facto leader is another cause to wonder how long the Soviets can tolerate what is happening in Poland.