PRESIDENT Lech Walesa has won modest but tangible British support for his efforts to lead Poland toward a full market economy by mobilizing his skills as a tough trade-union negotiator. On a three-day state visit, he persuaded his British hosts to write off $1.3 million of official debt and to back more investment by British companies in Polish industry.
Mr. Walesa is the first leader of post-communist Europe to get the full state visit treatment by Britain's royal family.
"People can underestimate Walesa," said Anthony Polonsky, an analyst of Polish history and politics at the London School of Economics, after the visit. "He looks and acts like a rough diamond, but his technique is to make big demands, then back gradually away, making concessions in return for what look like small gains. If at the end you add up the small gains, the results can be impressive."
A British diplomat said: "We wanted to put the emphasis on the pomp and spectacle. He wanted British backing for Poland's reforms. Walesa somehow managed to get more from the visit than we had in mind."
Walesa also persuaded the British government to pay for the S. G. Warburg and Co. Ltd. bank to act as consultants to the Polish government in the privatization of 500 state-run enterprises. The program will be financed out of an Anglo-Polish "know-how" fund of $90 million.
Accompanied by his wife Vanuta, Walesa was welcomed by a 21-gun salute and driven to Windsor Castle (Queen Elizabeth's country palace near London) in a horse-drawn carriage. Later he slept in a bedroom decorated by a Polish eagle, took tea with the Queen Mother, and was guest of honor at a banquet thrown by the top money men of the City of London (the British capital's financial district).
Addressing British bankers and politicians soon after his arrival, Walesa argued that Poland helped to break down the barriers that had divided Europe ideologically for 40 years.
"The political Iron Curtain should not be substituted by a silver curtain of indifference. Prosperity in Europe should not be limited by frontiers," he said.
His diplomatic style appeared to have the desired effect. Soon afterward, at the banquet, Walesa and Prime Minister John Major signed a four-page joint declaration committing Britain to support Poland's campaign to become an associate member of the European Community (EC).
One of Walesa's long-term aims is full EC membership for Poland. The declaration said: "The option of full membership should be available to Poland when she is able to meet the political and economic obligations it entails."
According to Dr. Polonsky, Walesa had extracted from Britain all he could reasonably hope for. "He pressed for a lot, but was happy to settle for less. It was pure Walesa," he said.