Walesa Is Sworn In, Pledges to Press Reforms
Lech Walesa was sworn in Saturday as president of Poland, capping a decade-long struggle by the Solidarity movement, under his leadership, to drive the Communists from power.
Walesa, 47, immediately establishing a tone of presidential confidence, pledged to press on with Poland’s economic reforms, promising to continue decentralization so that “as many decisions as possible are made at the grass roots.”
In a move that is certain to please Poland’s international creditors and economic advisers, Walesa also pledged to continue a “modified version” of the economic reforms launched by Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, widely credited for moving Poland far ahead of its East European neighbors, all struggling to overcome 45 years of Communist central planning.
The swearing-in ceremonies were held before a packed session of Parliament.
Conspicuously absent was the outgoing president, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, a former Communist Party leader whose declaration of martial law in 1981 cracked down on Solidarity and resulted in a yearlong detention for Walesa. Jaruzelski was not invited to the ceremony.
Walesa, a former shipyard electrician born of peasants and educated in a trade school for mechanics, wore a formal blue suit for the occasion and, as always, wore a pin of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, a holy symbol, on his lapel. His wife, Danuta, the mother of their eight children, stood at his side. He reminded Poles that he is the first directly elected president in the country’s history.
“The evil era when the authorities of our country were appointed under pressure of foreigners or as the result of forced compromises is ending,” he said.
“Today we are making a significant step on a long and bloody road to reconstruction of our independence.”
Walesa offered what could be taken as a brief sketch of his foreign policy horizons, noting historical connections with Poland’s neighbors, pointedly omitting any direct reference to the Soviet Union.
“Independent Poland wants to be an element of the peaceful order in Europe. It wants to be a good neighbor. Centuries of mutual history link us with the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Lithuania. This applies also to Germany, in which we want to see a friendly gate to Europe. Being culturally connected with the West, we simultaneously want to build a spirit of sympathy and cooperation in our relations with Russia. But we are aware that only a reformed and economically strong Poland will be an equal partner for others.”
About a third of the new president’s brief inaugural address dealt with economic issues, which were key in his campaign for the presidency against defeated Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who watched the proceedings from the Parliament gallery.
Walesa’s campaign criticism of Mazowiecki seemed at times to cut in two directions at once, as Walesa argued that reforms were too harsh to ordinary working Poles but that the changes were also moving too slowly.
In the days since his election, however, he has appeared committed to speeding up change, a theme that ran strongly through his speech Saturday.
“Poland has achieved much” during its year under Mazowiecki, he said. “Today, the nation expects from us even more--it expects changes in economic policy and the manner of ruling. The attitude of millions of voters was unequivocal about that. Our reforms must unfold more quickly and more skillfully. . . .
“Universal privatization is an equally huge task. Poland should become a nation of owners. Everyone can and should become an owner of a part of the nation’s property, part of our homeland. This is the simplest, time-tested road to responsibility. Only in this way can we multiply our prosperity and teach ourselves economy.”
Walesa has delayed choosing a prime minister until after the holidays and has run into problems finding a leader for a government that might serve only until parliamentary elections, scheduled for the spring. Some potential candidates withdrew when told that Balcerowicz would continue to hold sweeping authority over economic matters.
Insiders now say that Balcerowicz himself is Walesa’s leading candidate to become the prime minister.
Walesa is still considering whether to postpone the parliamentary elections for a year--to give a new government time to establish itself--or to go forward with the elections as scheduled.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.