As a young Solidarity activist in 1980 Radek Sikorski worshipped Lech Walesa. Ten years later, as deputy defence minister in Poland's first freely elected government, he met President Walesa, a political thug bent on buying nuclear weapons from the Russiansby Radek Sikorski / October 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
By my final year at secondary school, aged 17, I was a hardened anti-communist. On 1st September 1980, the ceremony marking the beginning of my last academic year was as tedious as always: the same communist slogans, the same wooden speeches. But in the boys’ lavatory there were excited whispers. “Who is this man Walesa? Why did he need such a huge pen?” Television pictures had showed him the night before signing the historic Gdansk agreement with a pen in the shape of a huge cigar. We eagerly exchanged bits of information we picked up from the official media, foreign broadcasts and the grapevine.
Outside school, the streets had changed. Usually, tired, grey people shuffled from shop window to shop window in the hope of hunting down a piece of meat or a roll of toilet paper. But now the crowds were smiling; queues reverberated with chatter. I noticed a driver stop at a zebra crossing and motion pedestrians to go first instead of charging ahead, horn blaring. I had experienced this mood twice before: it was the same feeling of participation in something greater than ourselves that we had felt when Karol Wojtyla was elected pope, and then when he had come to Poland the previous summer.
Everybody was talking politics. My father was elected head of the Solidarity branch in his architectural office. My mother travelled to the Solidarity headquarters in Gdansk, and brought uncensored newspapers to her co-workers. Then we saw Walesa in the flesh. He had a brother in Bydgoszcz, my home town; Walesa’s rally there was one of his first public appearances outside Gdansk. The largest hall in the city was full to capacity. We came away charmed and impressed. Nobody could repeat what Walesa actually said-he spoke ungrammatically, in a proletarian jargon-but he gave the impression of being sincere. We guessed what he meant because we assumed that his were the same thoughts as ours, long stultified by lies and censorship.
In Bydgoszcz, as in the rest of the country, Solidarity branches sprang up in most factories and offices. Within days, the regional Solidarity headquarters (by the river Brda, in the same building in which my grandmother lived) became a power in the city. Bydgoszcz had two leaders who complemented each other: Antoni Tokarczuk, the nephew of a patriotic bishop, and Janek Rulewski, who became one of the dozen best known national Solidarity…