Friday, July 22, 2011

LECH WALESA INTERVIEW






The full interview appeared in The Toronto Star, The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) and the (UK) Sunday Mirror on July 29th, 1984


Gdansk, Poland -- On the weekend that Poland's premier, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, announced that 652 political prisoners would be released, I interviewed Lech Walesa, the founder of Polish Solidarity, at his modest home in Zaspa, a residential district in Gdansk.

I had traveled up from Warsaw at night on winding back roads, through hilly countryside as a safeguard against being turned away from seeing the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Walesas sitting-room is dominated by a large painted portrait of Pope John Paul II. Next to this hangs a signed photograph of the late Stefan Cardinal Wyszinski. Solidarity memorabilia adorns other walls and the bookshelf. Taped to the telephone is the number of United Press International in Warsaw.

The flat was alive with the sounds of children playing, laughing, crying. Neighborhood children stopped in to catch a glimpse of their local hero and to request an autograph. The family had just been on a camping holiday. Mrs. Danuta Walesa busily wandered in and out of the sitting room, which doubles as Lech's office.

Walesa looked fit and refreshed, if a little overweight. His walrus mustache is thicker than ever. He wore an open blue shirt, exposing a gold cross on a chain, and, as always, sports a badge of the Black Madonna; pale-green trousers and blue socks without shoes.

During the interview, he smoked Salem cigarettes, sipped lemon tea, and fiddled with a Swiss Army Knife.

Following the interview, I peered out the sitting-room window through white-lace curtains and saw a sinister-looking figure on the ground peering up at me.

When we emerged from Walesa's cionderblock apartment building soon after, the same figure followed and passed by.

After walking barely a hundred yards, a dull gray car marked Milijia drove up from behind and stopped us while I chatted with Andrzej Drzyzcimski and Adam Kinaszewski, Walesa's closest advisers.

Our identity documents were inspected and noted. The soldiers departs, but the plainclothes figure soon reappeared behind us. As he passed by a second time, he growled, "Press us a little more and we will stomp on you."