Walesa: prisoner with a conscience
THIS Week the people of the Soviet Union had still not heard that Lech Walesa had won the Nobel Prize. But Izvestia editorialised on his supposed greed for foreign currency.
Walesa is a "money-grubbing, foul-mouthed demagogue", the Soviet newspaper said under the headline "Dollars that smell nasty".
All this is clearly intended to prepare the people of the Eastern block for the news that the Nobel Institute has awarded the man Izvestia calls the "former ringleader of Solidarity" more than £100,000.
The energetically obvious attempts to discredit Walesa in the Soviet Union and Poland itself combine uncomfortably with the other half of the official attitude that Walesa is of no significance, that he is a has-been, buoyed up only by the deliberately distorted Western media.
At the same time the power of the Church in Poland provides a counter-balance to the official government line.
While the government spokesman reacted to the prize announcement by saying that this year's choice undermined the stature of the Nobel Institute, a spokesman for the Polish Bishops' Conference said: "He deserved the
Lech Walesa—expounding Church teaching
award. He needs it to keep up his spirits."
Pope John Paul clearly did not feel constrained by claims that the 1983 award had political overtones. He sent a telegram with his "cordial congratulations" and praised Walesa for his attempts to solve the problems of workers and society.
The Pope noted that his efforts were undertaken "through a peaceful method of sincere dialogue and reciprocal co-operation of all."
Walesa, who characteristically was picking mushrooms when the prize was 'announced, reciprocated the support from the Church by deciding to donate the money to the controversial Church scheme to subsidise private farmers.
This involves money collected in the West, and the Polish bishops have been strenuously negotiating with government ministers to make sure that the cash gets through to the people they want it to.
Mrs. Danuta Walesa, sitting beneath the picture of Pope John Paul in their Gdansk flat, commented "Oh God, I am very very happy," when she was contacted by phone on the day the prize was announced.
She may travel to Oslo to collect the prize as her husband fears that if he leaves the country he might not be let back in.
As Lech Walesa's prominence has grown, Danuta's burden has become heavier; she kept the flag flying as well as looking after the children during his long internment.
Walesa's own reaction was to see the prize as an honour for "the whole working world." At the same time he took the opportunity to remind the press of the plight of former Solidarity members. "Many people are not as happy as I am. Many people are in prison, many are out of work. Many lesser-known people deserve the award."
The Nobel committee's citation mentioned Walesa's "contribution, made with considerable personal sacrifice, to ensure the workers' right to establish their own organisations. This contribution is of _vital importance in the wider campaign to organise a human right as defined by the United Nations."
The committee said it believed "Walesa's attempt to find a peaceful solution to his country's problems will contribute to a relaxation of international tension."
Whether that is true remains to be seen, but it is clear that Walesa's struggle agrees in spirit and detail with the Pope's own vision of workers' rights as expressed in his encyclical, Laborem Exercens.
Walesa has presented to the world one of the most radical expressions to date of Catholic social teaching Whether he can continue to do so depends on his own health (he has been off sick with a stomach ulcer) and the health of the Polish nation. And that depends on Mr. Andropov as well as General Jaruzelski.