WARSAW — SOLIDARITY leader Lech Walesa's attempt on June 4 to fire longtime activist Adam Michnik is the most dramatic evidence of an emerging split within the movement which, for nearly a year, has led Poland's first postwar noncommunist government. Mr. Michnik, who edits the Solidarity daily Gazeta Wyborcza, is the third left-wing supporter of Solidarity Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki targeted by Mr. Walesa in recent weeks. Former adviser Henryk Wujec was ousted as secretary of the influential Citizens' Committee last week; and parliamentary leader Bronislaw Geremek was eased out as de facto head of the Citizens' Committee in April.
These moves signal the transformation of Solidarity from a vast, umbrella movement into several distinct, competing political parties, say Solidarity activists and diplomats interviewed here.
Until now, Solidarity's ``holy unity'' has been its strength. Only the public's deep faith in Solidarity allowed the new government to implement Draconian economic austerity measures in January, they say.
``Basicially, the only safety net there has been is public confidence in this government,'' says Jan Litynski, an adviser to Labor Minister Jacek Kuron. ``The danger, if there is one, is in disintegration,'' he adds. ``As things stand now, we have the government enjoying vast social confidence. ... Given conditions when the government's and prime minister's prestige plunges, a void will develop. It may be filled by nationalism, but the first thing to happen would be the disintegration into tens and hundreds of groups.''
Others, like Walesa, warn that an explosion of populism could be provoked by a failure to respond to growing popular dissatisfaction over issues such as the economy, by the fact that retribution has not been taken against former communist rulers, and by what some perceive as a growing alienation between a new political ``elite'' and the people.
``The legitimacy of this government is not by democratic mandate, it's by popular mandate,'' says longtime Solidarity activist and political columnist Kostek Gebert. ``There's a big difference. It means you also have to give a voice to the concerns of those who under normal conditions would be in the opposition.''
Many of the opposing currents now surfacing are rooted in Solidarity's identity as both a political movement and a trade union. ``Right-wing'' trade unionists seeking more protection of workers clash with ``left-wing'' intellectuals who back the Solidarity government's radical free-market changes, which have thrown hundreds of thousands out of work.
Until recently, Walesa, who is not in the government, has cooperated with both camps. Last month, for example, he convinced workers to suspend a rail strike, after the year-old Solidarity government refused to negotiate on wage demands.
Solidarity includes activists committed to the gradual evolution of democracy as advocated by the Mazowiecki government, as well as those who want to see much quicker change.
Last month, a group of Solidarity members of parliament close to Walesa formed a group called Centrum, calling for swifter political change, including getting rid of all vestiges of communist rule. Centrum leaders back Walesa for president, but insist that they are still loyal to the Mazowiecki government.
``The government wants to move forward in small steps. We wish to speed up the pace, because the present pace is turning out to be ineffective, and this threatens to destabilize the political arrangement,'' said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Centrum founder and Walesa's hand-picked editor of Tygodnik Solidarnosc, the Solidarity newspaper.
A senior government official predicts that political platforms, groupings, or movements in Solidarity will begin forming within two or three months. ``They won't necessarily be `parties,' as `party' still has a bad connotation dating from the years when `party' simply meant the communists.''
Poland's first fully free elections in half a century confirmed that Solidarity is still the only political force the electorate trusts, but a low turnout raises questions of public dissatisfaction.
Solidarity candidates in these May 28 local election won more than 40 percent of the votes in the local poll. The Peasants Party won 7 percent. None of the other 80 or so parties or movements fielding candidates - be they former Communists, Christian Democrats or right-wing nationalists - won more than 2 percent.
At the same time, however, 58 percent of eligible voters stayed home from the polls.
It was not clear whether apathy, inertia, or dissatisfaction with the Solidarity government was the main factor in the low turnout.
``There is also still sort of mental Sovietization,'' said Janusz Onyszkiewicz, former Solidarity spokesman who is now deputy defense minister. ``People still look to the government to sort out things for them [on the local level]. ... This conviction that this country is our country, that this parish is our parish, is still something new and for many something alien.''
Government spokeswoman Malgorzata Niezabitowska admitted the low vote was ``a disappointment,'' but said the government refused to consider the poor turnout a ``plebiscite.'' Others saw it differently.
``The fact that the government and the Solidarity establishment refuse to acknowledge that this was a defeat ... is more worrying than the defeat itself,'' said columnist Gebert. ``We are speaking of a country where the level of electoral boycott [under the communists] was always seen as a measure of the opposition. You can't have it both ways.''