For a brief moment on Monday, Lech Walesa could have been forgiven for imagining that the old Solidarity days had returned. In his crowded living room, journalists and television crews from all over the world were recording his every word. Outside his window, adoring crowds were chanting his name.
On Tuesday morning, he woke up to the reality of Poland under martial law. The crowds had disappeared, the reporters had returned to Warsaw, and the welcoming Solidarity slogans had been erased from the walls of his apartment building. With his independent trade union outlawed, and no means of communicating directly with its 9 1/2 million members, he went fishing with his friends and pondered his next move.
At least two key points emerged from Walesa's homecoming after 11 months of internment.
The first is that Poland's military authorities view his release as part of a bigger political game involving the probable lifting of martial law next month, a year after it was imposed, and the attempted dismantling of the Solidarity underground.
The second is that, while the government is determined to treat Walesa purely as a private citizen, he clearly believes that he still has an important political role to play.
From the point of view of Poland's military ruler, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the freeing of Walesa can now be seen as a very astute move.
It has confused the opposition within Poland and taken some of the steam out of Western protests at the dissolution of Solidarity.
And, despite grumbling by Communist Party apparatchiks who were angry over the lack of consultation by the government, in the short term there is little political risk involved in allowing Walesa out.
Political analysts here believe that Walesa's release is likely to further divide Solidarity supporters, forcing them to choose between what can be termed "loyal opposition" to the system, as exemplified by the Roman Catholic Church, and the uncompromising resistance demanded by the underground.
Walesa was vague in his public statements this week, but his instincts clearly favor the church approach.
A Solidarity sympathizer commented: "For 11 months, 'Free Lech Walesa' was our rallying call. It united the movement round a single slogan. But now that he is out of detention, what remains of Solidarity is again divided between those who want to save as much as they can and those who believe that the regime is unreformable."
Suspicions have already been aroused by the manner of Walesa's release and the fact that he granted an interview to state television. At the Lenin Shipyard, scene of the great strike of August 1980 that Walesa led, a couple of young workers shrugged their shoulders when asked about the Solidarity leader now. "What can he do to help us?" they replied.
In a sarcastic comment about Walesa's letter to Jaruzelski in which he signed himself "Corporal Lech Walesa," another worker said: "Well, perhaps they'll make him a sergeant -- and that will be that."
These remarks may seem unfair, but they reflect a growing mood of impotence among ordinary workers. The military authorities have steadily tightened their grip on the big factories -- the backbone of Solidarity's former strength. At the Gdansk Shipyard, which was put under direct military discipline last month following protests against the new trade union bill, workers were watched closely by uniformed soldiers during last week's attempted nationwide strike.
The failure of the strike, which had been called to mark the second anniversary of Solidarity's legal registration, seems to have convinced many Poles that there is no hope of forcing the regime to liberalize by mass protest.
Jaruzelski is taking advantage of this sense of disillusionment to move into the next phase of "normalization" without jeopardizing his political control.
A two-day session of the Sejm, the national legislature, has been set for Dec. 13-14. The agenda has not yet been announced but officials have hinted that, if all goes well, martial law will be lifted and the government equipped instead with some kind of "emergency powers."
By convening the Sejm on the first anniversary of his military takeover, Jaruzelski is also cleverly undercutting Solidarity's plans for further nationwide strikes and demonstrations on that day.
Walesa is perhaps a bigger problem for the authorities because, whatever his and Solidarity's mistakes, he remains for many Poles a symbol of their national aspirations. To destroy the "Walesa myth," the government seems to have adopted a two-prong strategy. The first consists of attempting to compromise Walesa in the eyes of his supporters. The second is to depict him, in the words of the government spokesman, Jerzy Urban, as "the ex-chairman of the ex-union Solidarity." In other words, a man of no political consequence whatsoever.
This is the reason why the television interview was never broadcast: the propaganda chiefs obviously decided that it would only give Walesa a public platform. It is also the reason why no meeting between Walesa and Jaruzelski is planned.
Needless to say, Walesa and his advisers are well aware of what the regime is up to. Their goal is to keep his image and reputation intact until the time is right for some form of political comeback.
One of Walesa's advisers pointed out that there is a long tradition in Poland of leaders who return to positions of power and influence after lengthy periods of imprisonment or exile.
The most illustrious case is that of marshall Jozef Pilsudski, who in November 1918 became leader of the first independent Polish state in more than a century after being freed from a German prison.
More recent examples are Wladyslaw Gomulka, who became Communist Party leader only six months after his release from prison in April 1956, and cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, whose forced exile between the years 1953 and 1956 consolidated his position as the nation's true leader.
"At present it's difficult to predict what will happen with Walesa. But I think it will be decided one way or the other in the next six to nine months," his adviser said.
With the majority of Walesa's former associates still interned, he is now heavily dependent on older men who were not picked up when martial law was imposed. The key figure at present seems to be Wladyslaw Sila-Nowicki, a 69-year-old lawyer well known for his brave defense of many political dissidents in the past. Sila-Nowicki attended interviews Walesa gave to the foreign press Tuesday -- and gently interrupted when he felt that Walesa was treading on dangerous ground.
The bald-headed lawyer is a shrewd man whose mood of one step at a time seems to match Walesa's own. A participant in the Warsaw uprising against Nazi occupation in World War II, Sila-Nowicki learned the need for caution the hard way after being sentenced to death in 1947 for opposing Communist rule in Poland. The sentence was commuted and he was released from prison during the 1956 upheavals.
Walesa has made it clear that, for the next few weeks, he wants to be left alone by the foreign press to develop a new political strategy with men like Sila-Nowicki.
The task they face is a daunting one. Walesa must somehow rekindle the dying hopes of Solidarity supporters while at the same time reassuring the Polish regime and the Kremlin that he does not threaten their interests.