IT wasn't supposed to happen. Only a month ago Communist Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak had been named prime minister, and Solidarity leaders doubted the possibility of taking power.
But now Solidarity Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki is preparing to name Eastern Europe's first noncommunist government. The Soviet bloc's largest, most populous, and most strategically located country is to be governed more or less democratically.
``In a normal country, people go into politics to win power. We went into politics with the goal of becoming only an opposition, legalized, and recognized as able to influence and criticize,'' says David Warszawski, a leading Solidarity journalist. ``Perhaps our grandchildren might take over, but nobody among us thought that we ourselves would do it.''
Poland's semi-free election in June left the country with what amounts to a hung parliament. Although Solidarity's share of the Sejm, the lower house of parliament, was restricted to 35 percent, the Communist Party no longer had a majority.
Its satellite parties, the United Peasants' Party and Democratic Party, held the balance of power.
Enter a little-known team of advisers to Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, the twins Lech and Jaroslaw Kascynski. Back in July, Jaroslaw Kascynski opened secret talks in Warsaw with the Peasants and the Democrats. He came away convinced that the two parties were ready to abandon the communists.
``I found them interested in a Solidarity coalition,'' Mr. Kascynski told the Monitor. ``They knew that either they joined us or lost all credibility among the people.''
Much less interested was his boss. ``When I told Walesa, he didn't react,'' Kascynski recalls.
Like most other Solidarity leaders, Mr. Walesa judged the time premature. Even with Peasant and Democratic support, Solidarity could not form a strong government. Better, he argued, to leave the Communist Party in charge of the government - and with the responsibility of dealing with the country's economic mess.
Events soon overtook this caution. On Aug. 1, food prices were freed, leading to a jump in meat prices of up to 400 percent. On Aug. 2, General Kiszczak was named prime minister.
The two decisions provoked social unrest. As in 1970, 1976, 1980, and 1988, workers began striking. They first demanded pay increases to cover their rising costs. But the work stoppages soon turned political. With Wojciech Jaruzelski installed as president, Kiszczak's nomination meant that that the two men responsible for declaring martial law in 1981 would again lead the country.
``The communists really blew it,'' reflects Bogdan Lis, a Solidarity senator. ``They could have conducted a housecleaning, changed leaders, and offered new policies. No one could support the same old faces and the same old policies.''
Solidarity parliamentary leader Bronislaw Geremek opened public negotiations with the Peasant and Democratic parties. But little progress was made. Solidarity deputies were divided about the idea, and Mr. Geremek insisted that no communists be included in a new government.
WALESA then pulled off what became known as a coup d''etat. In Gdansk, Lech Kascynski typed out a telex proposing a broad coalition including any ``pro-reform elements'' and sent it to Western news agencies. Translated, this meant that the communists could retain the defense and interior ministries to ensure Poland's ``international'' responsibilities. Walesa also promised not to pull out of the Warsaw Pact.
In Warsaw, Jaroslaw Kascynski redoubled his secret contacts with Peasant and Democratic Party leaders and informed the Soviet ambassador of his talks. ``He didn't do anything to stop me,'' he recalls.
Confident of Soviet non-interference, Walesa met with Peasant Party leader Roman Malinowski in Warsaw. With Kascynski present, the two men placed a telephone call to President Jaruzelski asking for an appointment.
``We all were holding our breath,'' Jaroslaw Kascynski recalls. ``We didn't know what Jaruzelski would do.''
But Jaruzelski's choices were limited. Either he accepted a Solidarity prime minister or he would be forced to call new elections which would likely lead to another crushing communist defeat.
``The president agreed right away to receive us,'' says Kascynski. ``We knew we had won.''
Not quite. Solidarity's deputies were furious. They hadn't been informed of Kascynski's private negotiations. Parliamentary leader Geremek had been visiting Italy when the decisive meetings took place. Summoning Walesa to a dramatic caucus, they accused their leader of acting in an ``autocratic'' and ``undemocratic'' fashion. Walesa shut them up.
``He told us, `I gave you guys the possibility of acting, I didn't interrupt, but you didn't manage to succeed. I succeeded,''' recalls Mr. Lis, who was present.
The next question was who would be prime minister. At first, Walesa hinted that he himself would take the position. Then he switched gears. A better leader than an administrator, he decided to hold himself in reserve.
``Walesa is our last card,'' explains Jan Litynski, a Solidarity deputy. ``We don't want to play him too soon.''
Three prime ministerial candidates were presented to Jaruzelski: longtime dissident Jacek Kuron, parliamentary leader Geremek, and Mazowiecki. Walesa indicated that the third was his choice. Rabble-rouser Kuron was unthinkable. Geremek, a Jew in a country where anti-Semitism runs deep, was judged too strong and divisive. Mazowiecki was considered more malleable, and as an ardent Roman Catholic, he enjoyed the support of the Catholic Church.
`MAZOWIECKI was the least controversial choice,'' Mr. Litynski says. ``But he also is least courageous to make fast and tough decisions.''
Walesa will be consulted on all the big decisions, while leaving the new prime minister with the day-to-day administration of the new government. They hoped to announce new ministers by this week, only to find haggling with coalition partners complicated. Once a government is named, it must deal with triple-digit inflation and almost empty stores.
``We want bread, not a prime minister,'' hecklers yelled when Walesa and Mazowiecki appeared together at Gdansk's St. Brigyda's church. ``If you know how to make bread, come forward,'' an emotional Walesa told them. ``Poland must be built. Bread must be baked. Change requires effort.''
The hecklers quieted down.
``We have a few months of grace to accomplish something,'' concludes Bogdan Borusevicz, a Solidarity leader in Gdansk. ``Forming a noncommunist government has created some hope. Unless we use it fast, it will evaporate.''