After 11 months in captivity, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, arrived home tonight to a rapturous and chaotic welcome from hundreds of supporters and pledged to remain faithful to the ideals of his banned labor movement.
In a fighting speech to the cheering crowd from the window of his apartment, Walesa told his supporters, "We must win since there is no other alternative." But he asked Poles to allow him a few days' rest as he had been cut off from developments in Poland for so long.
Walesa's arrival in a convoy of four horn-honking official cars beneath the glare of television lights came after days of confusion surrounding his whereabouts following the decision to free him. He partially cleared up the mystery by saying that, since leaving the government guest home at Arlamow in southeastern Poland yesterday morning, he had "a couple of talks" -- presumably with senior government officials.
Walesa told the crowd that the order for his final release from government custody had come only "a few minutes before" his arrival at the Zaspa housing development on the outskirts of Gdansk at 10.10 p.m. tonight (4:10 p.m. EST). He said he realized people had been waiting a long time but that he was not responsible for the delay.
The government announced Thursday that the union leader was being released because he had written a letter to the Polish leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, saying each side had enough time to assess each other's strength and both sides should seek national reconciliation.
In an indication that martial law may be lifted next month, the government also has reported that a special session of the parliament will meet Dec. 13, the first anniversary of the crackdown. The parliament is the legal body empowered to lift martial law and replace it, if necessary, with decrees giving the government special powers.
Walesa's emotional and long-awaited homecoming demonstrated that he is still a leader of considerable charisma and, whether the Communist authorities like it or not, an enormous political force in Poland. The crowd, many of whom had been waiting for three days, repeatedly interrupted his short speech with cheers, applause and rythmic chants of "Lech," "Solidarity" and "Long live Walesa."
The 39-year-old labor leader greeted his wife Danuta at the door to their apartment after being carried up the stairs over the heads of the jubilant crowd. It was the same spot where he was taken into custody by police at 3:30 a.m. Dec. 13.
Exhausted but exuberant, Walesa returned home with his famous mustache but without the beard that he had grown in internment. He has put on a lot of weight and explained that he sounded hoarse because his voice had been "weakened" because of lack of practice in talking during the past year. His face seemed puffed, and his eyes were rather glazed.
There was a final agonizing wait for Walesa when his police escort refused to take him home until the crowd, which had been growing all day, had thinned out. Under martial law, public gatherings of any sort are banned, and the government's insistence on making many in the crowd go away can thus be interpreted as the first step in what could become a protracted war of nerves between the Communist authorities and Walesa.
By the time the convoy finally arrived, many people had gone home. The hundreds who were left surged around his car, banging on the doors and singing the national anthem.
The dozen security men who had accompanied Walesa home screamed frantically at the crowd to move back to let Walesa out of the car. But it was only after Walesa's personal bodyguard from Solidarity days, Henryk Mazul, jumped on the roof of the car and issued an appeal that the door could be opened.
With both his arms up in the air in the victory sign, Walesa was carried over people's shoulders. Nearby apartments were decorated with Solidarity banners, flags and slogans welcoming him.
One read, "We will never let you go again" and was signed "Poles."
Another red banner, made out of a sheet, read: "The nation has appointed you general." This was a reference to Walesa's conciliatory letter to Jaruzelski, last week in which he signed himself "Corp. Lech Walesa," the rank he holds as a reservist.
In his impromptu speech, Walesa confirmed that he had recorded an interview with Polish television in which he said he wanted agreement with the government but did not intend to go down "on my knees" to get it.
When he said he did not know whether the interview had been shown yet, the crowd shouted back, "No, it hasn't."
Screening of the 40-minute interview was originally planned for yesterday, but it was held up apparently after differences of opinion among officials about whether it should be shown. Some officials obviously fear that it gives Walesa too much of a public platform, even though the fact of his granting the interview could be interpreted as a sign of his willingness to cooperate with the government.
Walesa told his supporters tonight that he intended to act in "a courageous but balanced" fashion in the future.
"We must win -- of that there is no doubt. But you must understand that I have always felt that to win doesn't mean to overcome and destroy, but to gain friends and allies . . . . I must look around in order to follow a sensible path sensibly," he said.
Walesa said that unity was needed among workers as much today as during the Gdansk shipyard strike in August 1980, which gave birth to Solidarity.
"As I said in August, if we understand each other and travel together, we'll travel on a common road to victory," he said.
Asking for "time to think," he promised to speak in public and mentioned the anniversary of martial law. "I promise you that I won't leave the road and ideals that we came up with in August," he said.
The crowd dispersed peacefully after Walesa's speech.
The area surrounding Walesa's apartment had been saturated with plainclothed policemen, and ZOMO riot police were reportedly stationed in neighboring buildings.