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Walesa watches history pass him by

The Polish ex-president and Solidarity leader longs for action.

But the success of the 1989 partially free elections, which decimated the communists, was followed by Walesa’s presidency, which was much less successful than his time as opposition leader. He unleashed a civil war within the former Solidarity movement, which allowed the ex-communists to return to power in 1993.

In 1995 Walesa lost a reelection bid by 2 percentage points to suave ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, a fact that still smarts.

“Kwasniewski knew he didn’t have any arguments to help Poland,” said a bitter Walesa. “He shouldn’t have forced his way in, he shouldn’t have taken away Poland’s five minutes in the limelight.”

He is just as caustic about his other foes, including the Kaczynski twins, Poland’s president and opposition leader. He calls them “losers” and “demagogues.” But Walesa makes even his allies uncomfortable. Tusk, who has frequently come to Walesa’s defense, was nonplussed to see the Nobel laureate flirting with the Libertas Euro-skeptical party set up by Irish millionaire Declan Ganley during the recent European parliament elections.

“I decided to get to know my opponents and their arguments,” said Walesa, before admitting that he was partly motivated by the lucrative speaking fees he received. “Of course I take more money from Libertas … I need money because I only have a small pension.”

Walesa is particularly upset over accusations that he had cooperated with the secret police in the 1970s under the code name “Bolek.” “The young wolves are attacking,” he said of the historians, who have pushed the idea in recent books.

“In the 1970s, I was essentially the leader during those battles; should I have not been talking to the secret police?” he said. “I was the only one allowed to talk to them, no one else was allowed, because that would have been treason. If I hadn’t gotten to know the secret police in so many ways, could I have fought as well as I did in 1980?”

Throughout the conversation there is a sense of loss — that Walesa wants to be at the center of the action again, but knows history has passed him by.

“It’s not the time to have people on the streets,” he said. “Now is the era of intellect, information and the internet.”

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