Poland’s communist regime organized a referendum on political and economic reforms, which was held on 29 November 1987. Around a third of eligible voters did not participate, defying the regime. It was the first time that Communist authorities in Eastern Europe had lost a vote.
I covered the referendum for the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service. After the vote, I took a train from Warsaw to Gdańsk and interviewed Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa who by then had been already freed by the communist authorities from martial law detention but was still under strict police surveillance. I found Wałęsa at the parish house of his church in Gdańsk.
This was not the first interview, the VOA Polish Service did with Wałęsa. The first one was done by Polish Service reporter Peter Mroczyk by telephone in August 1985.
In his interview with me in 1987, Wałęsa did not attach much importance to the just concluded referendum, which — as he pointed out — was not organized according to basic democratic principles. For one thing, as he pointed out, Solidarity and other oppositions groups in Poland were not consulted and had no access to domestic media prior to the vote.
In the interview, Wałęsa said that Solidarity and the government have no choice but to reach an agreement.
He strongly objected, however, to the regime’s reluctance to enter into a real dialogue. In answering my question under what conditions Solidarity would participate in talks with the Communist regime, Wałęsa answered:
“If the authorities invent terms such as ‘socialist pluralism’, ‘socialist economy’, ‘socialist law’ ‘socialist safety net’, then there is nothing to talk about. We can say that the law is good or bad, the economy works well or not, but not to invent absurdities.”
“We propose to the authorities political pluralism, so that we would not find out after 40 years what we are learning today: that Stalin was a murderer, that Khrushchev was an ignorant man who did not use the opportunity to really show himself, that Brezhnev destroyed chances and opportunities and cut the legs under socialism. We need political pluralism so that such things would not happen and we would not be ruled by murderers and others.”
“The condition is to say that there is only one pluralism and that there is no [such thing as] socialist pluralism. If we will talk in these terms, then there are no conditions. We are ready to talk.”
Asked about an upcoming meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Wałęsa expressed hope that during these talks a point would be made that without real reforms, Poland and the rest of the Soviet block would continue to represent a danger to the rest of the world due to instability and risk of unpredictable events and potential violence.
Asked about the visit to Poland by Vice President George H.W. Bush two months earlier, Wałęsa said:
“I’m personally very pleased that I had a chance to get to know such an outstanding representative of the American people, and now I know that the United States is in such an excellent position because it has such outstanding leaders. I hope that he will lead after the next elections.”
Wałęsa in effect endorsed Bush for his planned presidential run in 1988. Asked whether he would like to travel to the United States, Wałęsa said that like everybody else he would like to see America but that current conditions prevent him from making a trip at this time.