Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, his uniform spotless and pressed, his chest lined with medals, is the Polish interior minister, the chief police chief. Lech Walesa, his rumpled tweed sports jacket adorned with a cross and a Solidarity badge, is the charismatic leader of the outlawed Solidarity trade union.
In an effort to produce a formula for round-table negotiations, these two men are expected to meet today for the second time in two weeks.
The two men's different personalities underscore the political struggle ahead. The 45-year-old electrician Walesa represents the workers from the 200 or so giant factories like the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. The 62-year-old General Kiszczak, a confidant of Polish leader Wojciech Jaruzelski, directs the feared and efficient ZOMO riot police.
``Generals are generals, they don't have much respect for union leaders and workers,'' says Krysztof Sliwinski, a Catholic journalist and former Solidarity spokesman. ``But Kiszczak is not an ideologue, and his appointment as the government negotiator shows that our communists have only force, and no longer any ideology backing them up.''
With a less confident Communist Party, many observers here agree that the police and the workers dominate Poland's political life. Back in 1980, Walesa's workers staged a nationwide insurrection which created Solidarity. Kiszczak's police struck back in 1981 by declaring martial law and jailing Walesa.
Just before releasing the labor leader, the interior minister interviewed him in jail. Until a new wave of strikes this August, the authorities dismissed Walesa as a ``simple electrician.'' Even during recent strikes, the mistrust between the two men has made arrangements difficult. Walesa's intimates say that he refused to see the general one-on-one, and insisted that a civilian politician and a church representative be included.
``If it was just Kiszczak, the chief of police, and Walesa, it would look like an interrogation,'' says Jacek Czapotowicz, leader of the Freedom and Peace opposition group. ``Walesa told them that, and that's why Bishop [Bronislaw] Dabrowski and Politburo member Stanislaw Ciosek were added.''
Arranging a second meeting has proved equally difficult. Over the weekend, Walesa demanded that the authorities make a clear statement of intent to relegalize Solidarity. Government spokesman Jerzy Urban denounced this ``provocation'' at a press conference Tuesday.
``These preliminaries are like shadow-dancing,'' says Marcin Krol, editor of the independent Res Publica magazine. ``Walesa insists one thing, the authorities say no, and it slows everything up.''
Many Poles doubt whether these two very different men, representing two very different forces, can ever reach an agreement. In their view, the general is manipulating Walesa, using union leader to end the August strikes.
``Walesa was tricked,'' says an angry Stawomir Majewski, a member of the Gdansk strike committee. ``He tried to play a high-level game, and what did he get? Empty promises.''
But there also is an optimistic scenario. In this view, the government realized that it needed Walesa to calm the unrest. While the police could contain the August wave of strikes, they could not alleviate the root causes behind the anger, a deteriorating economy, plagued by high inflation and widespread shortages of goods.
``How do you get from hell to heaven?'' goes a joke making the rounds. ``The answer is by talking with the devil.''
``It was sheer desperation,'' says a Western diplomat. ``The regime knew that without a change, a new wave of strikes would break out, and that the next time, the unrest would be worse.''
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev certainly contributed to the decision to talk to Walesa. His spokesman Gennady Gerasimov said that while Warsaw's decision to open negotiations with the opposition is a positive development, further strikes are not acceptable.
``There's a huge window of opportunity here,'' says the Western diplomat. ``Gorbachev will swallow almost anything to keep the peace.''
It will take a large amount of finesse to use this chance to achieve success. Mr. Urban suggested that Solidarity might be recognized as a national association with representatives in parliament. But Urban ruled out any return of Solidarity to the shop floor, saying this would lead to ``chaos and conflict.''
``All types of pluralism of association will be acceptable,'' Urban said. ``Our idea is to advance gradually, not explosively like in the past.''
It will be General Kiszcak's job to convince Solidarity that it should play such a limited role under the Communist Party's umbrella. And Walesa's job is to secure his political base in industry before entering into any such compromise.