Cheers - and doubts - at Polish rally
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and tens of thousands of union supporters gathered here yesterday for a worker's pilgrimage under gray skies, broken only by a few glimmers of light. The political mood was equally uncertain.Skip to next paragraph
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After two days of talks, Mr. Walesa and Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak agreed Friday to open round-table negotiations in the middle of October. But no guarantees were offered on the central issue: the legalization of the banned Solidarity trade union which was crushed by martial law in 1981.
``When we talked about trade-union pluralism, the authorities still gave no clear response,'' chief Solidarity adviser Bronislaw Geremek told the Monitor. ``The authorities seem blocked on this issue, not sure what they are willing to do.''
This confusion stems from a wave of strikes in August which paralyzed most of Poland's mines and ports for more than two weeks. To end the unrest, the authorities agreed to meet with Walesa. For the Solidarity supporters assembled here, this concession was encouraging.
``For seven years, they've been saying that Walesa and Solidarity were an illegal organization, and locking us up in prison,'' Mr. Geremek says. ``It's incredible progress that the same authorities now feel obliged to sit down at the same table with us and enter into a debate.''
This progress was visible at Sunday's Mass. When the pilgrimage to Czestochowa was first organized six years ago, it attracted a few hundred believers. It grew steadily. This year's pilgrimage was bigger and more open than any before. Stands sold underground literature. A sea of banners flew above the crowd. ``Thank you for the illegal strikes which will lead to a legal government,'' one read. ``Poland has no enemy worse than the party,'' announced another.
After the Mass, thousands waved Solidarity banners shouting, ``There is no freedom without Solidarity,'' and marched down Czestochowa's central avenue. Only a few police were visible, and they directed traffic. One marcher handed a policeman a piece of underground Solidarity literature. The policeman smiled and folded it into his pocket.
``When I tried to bring a banner last year, the police confiscated it,'' said Boguslaw Stanislawski, a university professor from Warsaw. ``This year, we all walked around town with the banners without any problems.''
Behind this energy and exuberance, the pilgrimage also revealed Solidarity's divisions. Although shouts of ``We want Lech'' greeted Walesa who sat on the podium, the leader's personal popularity no longer is sufficient to unify the movement.
Some here criticized him for ending the strikes without any concessions. Others were angry because he did not reveal details of his conversations last week with Mr. Kiszczak. In a short speech at the end of Mass, Walesa only said, ``After this sixth pilgrimage, it is clear: Solidarity is near.''
``To be honest, I would have liked to have heard more from Walesa,'' said a disappointed Jan Kubiak, an electrician from Wroclaw. ``These talks go too slowly.''
All the activists here know they want back their banned union - but what sort of union are they ready to accept? A trade union with limited rights to strike and no political aspirations? Or a broad social movement like the Solidarity of 1980?
``We'll get our Solidarity back like before,'' one pilgrim said here after the Mass. ``They can't take it away from us.''
But a bystander interrupted him. ``Be realistic,'' he said. ``This government won't legalize Solidarity and put its noose around its own throat.''