THE CURTAIN RISES: EASTERN EUROPE, 1989 : CHAPTER 4 POLAND : 'It's the End of an Age'--and a New Start : Solidarity's overwhelming victory moves the country into uncharted territory.

Two days after the vote, virtually everyone in a key political position in Poland, on either side of the political divide, knew that the country was moving into uncharted territory.

The results of the vote became fully known to insiders by Monday night, June 5, although official results were not to be released for another day. On June 6, Rakowski met over breakfast with his inner circle, and they had just been hit with the full scale of the disaster. The group was weary, and the sense of loss hung in the air. One participant, acid-tongued government spokesman Jerzy Urban, summarized the news.

"This is not just a lost election, gentlemen," he said, "it's the end of an age."

"We looked at the situation and came to the conclusion that a government should be formed by Solidarity," another participant, Labor Minister Ireneusz Sekula, said later. "But this was not a motion that was going to be accepted by the party."

They saw the situation as hanging in the balance and extremely dangerous. There were fears of a party rebellion--perhaps even of action by the army or police.

At the same moment that Rakowski and his colleagues were conferring, Kiszczak was meeting with representatives of Solidarity.

"He told us," Solidarity's Geremek recalled, "that the situation from the government point of view was very difficult. He asked us if it was our intention to take power. Our answer was that we would keep to the round-table agreements as they were established."

The part of the accord Geremek referred to was the agreed balance of power in Parliament--the 65%-35% split between the Communists and Solidarity. The ignominious defeat of the national list candidates threw the balance out. Now both the government and Solidarity were stuck with trying to find a solution.

On June 8, the Magdalinka group convened to work out the problem.

"You could feel the tension in the room," one Solidarity leader said. "Kiszczak opened the meeting. He said Solidarity had conducted a confrontational campaign, had violated the spirit of the round table. He said we should know that on that morning, the committee for the defense of the country was sitting and that some military units were on alert."

Walesa was ready with an answer.

"General, we have been through all this many times since 1981," Walesa said. "It is not our fault the national list lost. It lost because, for the first time, the people could make a choice without manipulation. That is why, when I had the chance, I marked out your name, not once, but so many times I had holes in the paper."

Walesa's comment, which brought a laugh from at least the Solidarity side, lowered the tension. And Solidarity made it clear it would accept any solution, as long as it had a legal basis. It was up to the Communists to find it.

The meeting went from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. In the end, 33 new candidates were simply added to the Communist ballot in the second round of the elections. It solved the immediate problem, but psychologically, a corner had been turned. In effect, Solidarity had bailed out the party.

As some pointed out, Solidarity paid a price with its supporters, most of whom wanted to see the Communists thrown out immediately. The task of the leadership, Geremek said, was "to avoid a triumphant tone." It was largely successful, but pressure was building from "mid-level" Solidarity activists and vociferous rank-and-file followers.

In Budapest, a solemn crowd estimated at 200,000 paid tribute to Imre Nagy, prime minister for 13 tumultuous days during the 1956 Hungarian revolt.

Convicted in a Communist show trial, hanged and buried face down in an unmarked grave in 1958, Nagy and four associates, executed with him, were reburied as heroes, on a day the authorities declared a "national day of mourning."

For more than three decades Nagy's name had been taboo in Hungary.

In Prague, in closing remarks to a Central Committee meeting of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, Milos Jakes, the party chief, said that pessimism and nihilism were creeping into the minds of Czechoslovak Communists for no reason.

The next problem to arise was Jaruzelski, who announced that he would not be a candidate for president, pointing out--correctly--that most of the public associated his name with the hated period of martial law and not with the reforms he had pushed through the Communist Party. The party immediately passed a resolution urging him to reconsider.

On July 3, a front-page editorial in the Solidarity newspaper argued that in exchange for giving the presidency to the Communists, Solidarity should be allowed to choose the prime minister and form the government. Now, in the Solidarity camp, the issue was openly debated.

After three weeks, Jaruzelski agreed to stand for the presidency. The parliamentary vote on July 19 was a cliffhanger: He won with the absolute minimum of votes--and only because some Solidarity members stayed away or actually cast votes for him. The narrowness of the vote was yet another important sign.

Less than two weeks later, Jaruzelski nominated Kiszczak as prime minister. But by now a full-scale rebellion was under way among the Communists' erstwhile allies in the Sejm: the United Peasants and the Democratic parties.

What happened next was one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of Polish politics. Views of it differ, according to the perspective of various participants, but the accounts match in the essential points.

Solidarity's parliamentary leaders had been quietly working the corridors in what was looking like a promising effort to pry the United Peasants and the Democrats loose from their Communist allies. Their advances were directed at Alexander Bentkowski, the floor leader of the United Peasants, and his Democratic counterpart. Both were receptive to cutting a deal. Bentkowski, especially, saw no future for his party in a continuing partnership with a Communist Party that was in obvious decline.

The Parliament's vote on Kiszczak was set for Aug. 2. On the day before, it appeared to Bentkowski that an agreement had been reached. A lawyer by profession, intense and nervous by nature, his immediate concern was to sell the proposition to the 75 other United Peasant Party deputies.

Both the Communists and Solidarity would offer generous rewards to his party, but, Bentkowski said, "Poland needed a political shock"--a clear change in direction.

"There were cameras in the hallway of the Sejm, outside the room where we were meeting," he recalled. "And a reporter asked me if the Peasants were going to vote for Kiszczak. We had not made a decision, but I decided we must go ahead, so I said that at least 60 Peasant Party deputies and perhaps as many as 12 Communists would vote against Kiszczak."

The news shot through political circles. Mieczyslaw Rakowski, newly installed as Communist Party leader, raced to the Sejm from a hospital bed and read the riot act to a joint meeting of the coalition. He told them, Bentkowski said, that their defection would be the cause of an "unnecessary growth in tension in this country"--a choice of words that some deputies considered a veiled threat of martial law.

The next day, Solidarity leaders believe, Bentkowski either lost his nerve or decided to delay and press for a bigger price for his cooperation. According to the plan, Bronislaw Geremek was to open the Sejm meeting with an announcement that Solidarity was prepared to welcome the United Peasants and the Democrats into a new Solidarity-led coalition.

But Geremek's statement contained no such bold declaration, only a statement that Solidarity would vote against Kiszczak.

At last, Kiszczak's nomination was introduced and passed easily. Only a handful of United Peasants' Party deputies voted against it. Bentkowski was furious.

And so, indeed, was Walesa.

His closest aides said he first began to talk of a Solidarity government the day after the June election, in a state of near-euphoria. But the trade union's brain trust, including Geremek and longtime activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki, counseled against it, arguing that Solidarity was not prepared to run a government and that the trauma would be too great for the Communists, who might overreact in opposition to it. Walesa went along. But as events unfolded, it seemed to him the time had come.

The night of the United Peasants' Party's aborted revolt, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a newly elected senator and one of Walesa's closest aides, drove to the country home outside Warsaw where Walesa was staying with his wife's family. He got the Solidarity leader out of bed at midnight to tell him the story and to warn him that the United Peasants' Party was under heavy pressure. Walesa, Kaczynski said, had left instructions with the Sejm leadership to call him if a deal was about to be made. To his consternation, no one had called.

From this point on, Kaczynski said, "Walesa decided to take this matter into his own hands." On Aug. 7, he issued a statement inviting the United Peasants and the Democrats to join a coalition that would exclude the Communists.

Two days later, Kaczynski left Warsaw and met in northern Poland with Walesa. Also present was Kaczynski's twin brother, Lech, and another key Solidarity aide.

"Walesa was now convinced," Kaczynski said, "that if he wanted to do this, he was going to have to go around the top leadership. So we worked out a plan, and I was assigned to go back to Warsaw and carry out the talks to arrange it.

"We talked about who should be prime minister, and it was decided--Walesa decided--it should be Mazowiecki. Later, there were other names mentioned, but the decision was Mazowiecki. It was always Mazowiecki."

But Kaczynski, his brother and the other aide "were convinced that Walesa himself had to be the bait--he had to offer himself for the job of prime minister. He was very nervous about this. He did not want the job. We told him, 'Look, you're just the rabbit. Don't worry.' We talked from noon until about 5 p.m. He agreed."

Certainly, when the upper-level Solidarity activists speak candidly, they did not welcome the idea of Walesa as prime minister either. One said of him: "He sings the tune, the rest of us march." The niggling, endless detail of the job, they all agree, "would drive Lech nuts." And yet the notion that he might take the job was the last, the irresistible, force. The deal, from that moment on, was essentially done.

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, at that point the editor of Solidarity's weekly paper, was a close Walesa ally. Also important, he was close to the Roman Catholic Church. He was modest, never ambitious for power or influence, and Walesa trusted him.

Kaczynski returned to Warsaw and cut the deal with the United Peasants and the Democrats. On Aug. 11, the Soviet ambassador in Warsaw met with the heads of both parties, apparently reassuring them that Moscow would not block their defection from an alliance with the Communists that went back 40 years.

Two days later, Walesa came to Warsaw and sealed the alliance. That night he met with the Solidarity presidium in the Sejm. There was a long discussion, and at the end of it, Walesa said he would submit three names to Jaruzelski as candidates for prime minister.

The next day, Walesa returned to Gdansk, and Czeslaw Kiszczak resigned.

On the night of Aug. 16, the arrangement complete, Solidarity, the United Peasants and the Democrats met in the Sejm in a joint caucus. This time Walesa arrived, triumphant, and played the act to the hilt. Walesa told the assembly that he would accept the post of prime minister. Referring to himself in the third person, Walesa said: "I never dreamed that Lech Walesa could be prime minister."

Once the formal ratification of the new alliance was done, however, his tune changed. When, as he left the building, he was asked by journalists if he was going to be the new prime minister, he said, "Naw, there are . . . better men for the job."

The next day, Walesa met with Jaruzelski. He handed the general a slip of paper. Three names were written on it.

"This is my nominee," Walesa said, indicating Mazowiecki. "You can also say you considered the other two."

The next day one Solidarity leader encountered Mazowiecki on the stairway of the Sejm. He remembered that, not long before, Mazowiecki had been among the four or five men who had reasoned most persuasively that the time still was not right for the government to be taken by Solidarity. Now, Mazowiecki had been chosen to lead it. How did it happen?

Mazowiecki said it had happened on the night the leadership met with Walesa in the Sejm.

"He came to me in the night, after the meeting," Mazowiecki said. "He said, 'I want you to be prime minister. You have a night to think about it.' " Mazowiecki smiled tiredly.

"What else could I do?"

In Prague, rumors circulated widely that police would be issued live ammunition to control crowds at a planned demonstration to mark the 21st anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion on Aug. 21, 1968. Vaclav Havel took them seriously enough to issue a public appeal to cancel the protest. Ominously, the Czechoslovak government warned diplomatic missions in Prague that foreign tourists and journalists could be endangered by "illegal" demonstrations planned for the anniversary.

On Aug. 21, about 10,000 people demonstrated in Wenceslas Square. Police broke up the march by employing the usual method--the truncheon--and arrested 320 Czechoslovak citizens and 50 foreigners.

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