Why I will Not Vote for Lech Walesa Charisma Must Give Way to Legal Institutions


Warsaw.---LECH WALESA wants to be president, and I do not blame him for this ambition. It worries me, however, that he wants to be an "ax-wielding" president who rules by decree and who likens democracy to a driver's control over a car. "Now that we are changing the system, we need a president with an ax: a firm, shrewd and simple man, who does not beat around the bush." These are Mr. Walesa's words.

What worries me more than his words, however, is the way he treats Solidarity as an instrument for the fulfillment of his personal ambitions. It is also the confidence with which he announces that he will win at least 80 percent of the votes in the compulsory, open election that he demands. And his threats of a street revolt. It also worries me that he always speaks about himself, and never mentions his program. In conclusion: It

worries me that Mr. Walesa will use any means to get into the Belvedere Palace.

As Solidarity chairman, he has proposed no program for the trade union in periods of austerity. For the last year, we have not heard a single word from Mr. Walesa on the union's role or activity in the process of transition to a market economy, on methods for defending the interests of the working class, or on ways to deal with unemployment.

Instead, we have repeatedly been told that Solidarity had to split. Eventually, Mr. Walesa came and split it. He got rid of all those capable of opposing him and barring his way. In order to remove them, he considered it useful to describe them publicly as "eggheads" and "Jews."

Mr. Walesa has always been a charismatic leader who would not respect a statute or a program, acting as if he did not understand the rules of democratic procedures. In August 1980, his ignorance was justified. Later, during martial law, Mr. Walesa decided that he did not need any understanding of those procedures. It may have been this decision, and his charisma, that made Mr. Walesa such a good leader during that period.

What is the nature of charismatic power? Charisma is the ability to control people's emotions. Emotional subordination and the acknowledgement of a leader's special abilities and talents create a special relationship between the leader and the ordinary man. The ordinary man's blind trust in his leader makes him obedient. In the ordinary man's opinion, the leader knows best what to do in any situation. The leader's power is subject to no restrictions or regulations. His qualifications and competence become unimportant. So does the law. What becomes important are the random decisions of the charismatic leader.

This leader emerges from the void of a destroyed political stage, marked by the lack of, or the sudden surge of, hope; he is the result of a collective dream and of the desire for a new myth. He may be a prophet, a popular leader, or a street demagogue. He epitomizes the myth of the just, invincible leader. He evokes admiration and awe.

Charismatic authority is inherent in the most revolutionary historical processes: It helps to overcome fear and apathy, to destroy traditional order and to overthrow old governments, whether monarchies or foreign occupations. Once victorious, this authority becomes domineering and anti-democratic; it towers above the people. Born of collective hope for a free, dignified life, it leads toward a new dictatorship. The faith in the charismatic leader's infallibility becomes the subjects' duty. The leader and his team demand that the faith be completed with voluntary acts of submission. A refusal to perform them is subsequently treated as a felony, a crime, as high treason.

This is when a charismatic authority begins to wane. Such a leader, endowed with "divine grace," proves unable to work wonders. But it is too late for the people to change anything: The leader has lost his charisma, but has kept the police. His team, chosen on the principle of obedience, rather than for professional qualifications, will not hesitate to use force to defend its power. The history of revolutions confirms this pattern, from Cromwell, through Lenin, down to Khomeini.

A victorious charismatic leader becomes pathologically jealous of his power and popularity. He becomes suspicious, sensing enemies and plots all around himself. In order to get rid of rivals, that is, of ordinary democratic mechanisms, he will promise anything to anyone. He will not discuss political programs: He himself becomes his own program. He always talks about himself, his merits and congenial achievements, describing his plans in the most scant and general terms. He promises acceleration: fast improvement for everyone.

Mr. Walesa may win the presidential election, but if he does, he will not be president of a democratic Poland. Rather, he will become a destabilizing factor, creating chaos, and isolating Poland from the rest of the world. Mr. Walesa said: "I do not favor classic concepts of the presidency, neither the French, the Italian, nor the American models. I will do it my way. I want to surprise everyone. My model is not wine drinking and dinners: It is a 'flying Dutchman' who travels around the country and intervenes wherever necessary. There will be too much of Walesa, and this is why so many are afraid."

Mr. Walesa's merits and virtues are unquestionable: As a politician, he is wonderfully sensitive to public feelings and extremely gifted in the game of politics. Millions of people associate his name with the end of communism. However, this excellent politician apparently ignores the fact that the era of charismatic leaders is past. Today, charisma can only serve destruction.

Poland is not the only issue here. Poland is the most developed example of the process that we see in all post-communist countries. Democratic institutions are not deeply rooted, the economic situation is very difficult, great expectations have been aroused, and the procedures used for resolving conflicts have not been really tested. So, stabilization is fragile.

The evolution from a totalitarian system to a democratic order is unprecedented and unprecedentedly painful. Great hopes generate enormous frustration. Many people do not understand that the reconstruction of a democratic state and a market economy must have its own consequence in the form of new work standards, new prices and the bankruptcy of unprofitable businesses. The breakdown of the standards and ideas characteristic of communism and anti-communist opposition has not been accompanied by the fast approval of new ideas typical of democratic systems. The picture of the world becomes dim and shaky. This is the ideal time for demagogy.

Demagogy that aggressively attacks the government may be successful, which must lead to destabilization. Destabilization in turn elicits chaos. Chaos generates a new poverty and a new dictatorship. Make no mistake: all post-communist countries will have to face this. Everywhere, in Russia and in Czechoslovakia, in Hungary and Romania, the phantoms from the past awaken; movements that combine populism, xenophobia, personality cults and a vision of the world ruled by a conspiracy of Freemasons and Jews.

Lech Walesa's presidency may be catastrophic for Poland. It may be the first case of a Peronist-type presidency in Central Europe, where only the shreds of a beautiful pennant, sacrificed to the absolute thirst for power by Solidarity's leader, remain from the hopes for a national revival.

I do not attribute any ill-will to Mr. Walesa. I do accuse him, however, of a complete lack of imagination and knowledge about a democratic state ruled by the law. Mr. Walesa's style of political action, which was his power during strikes and in the setting of covert activity, has become a dangerous trap in the era of building a democratic order. The same behavior that was used to destabilize a totalitarian order must now lead to the destruction of the political culture of the young democracy.

We must listen very carefully to what Solidarity's leader says today. We must listen to his threats and promises. Because, perhaps unintentionally, Lech Walesa clearly promises neglect of the law and democratic procedures, revenge on his political opponents, unprofessional ideas and rule by incompetent people.

Lech Walesa is a politician with a great talent for setting people at odds, and that is why he is so dangerous. His great merits will change into their opposites. They will become a curse for Poland. That is why I will not vote for Lech Walesa.

*Mr. Michnik is editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, from which -- this article is excerpted.

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