Polish president snubs national icon Walesa

Image: Former Polish President and Peace Nobel Prize Laureate Lech Walesa
Former Polish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa wasn't invited to his country's independence day gala.Valerie Kuypers / EPA file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Lech Walesa is a national icon — an anti-communist hero, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president. But he wasn't invited to Poland's independence gala, and the current president is facing criticism for the slight.

President Lech Kaczynski will greet the leaders of Germany, Afghanistan and Ukraine at Tuesday's gala marking the 90th anniversary of Poland's independence. Poland regained independence on Nov. 11, 1918, after more than a century of partition and occupation by three 19th century powers — Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

But Walesa, the founder of the Solidarity pro-democracy movement, won't be there. Kaczynski said Monday that he had been insulted by Walesa so often that he didn't want to subject himself to more.

"Every citizen — including you and me — has the right not to be insulted with extremely boorish words," he said in comments broadcast on TVN24.

Kaczynski was once active in Solidarity and was an adviser to Walesa when the latter was president in the early 1990s. But the two fell out later when political disputes turned personal and bitter.

Walesa fired Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw, also a former dissident and politician, from his team in 1992, accusing the brothers of intentionally sowing political discord. Since then, the Kaczynski brothers have not hidden their dislike of Walesa.

Accused of spying
Adding to the bad blood, Kaczynski this year accused Walesa of being a communist-era spy for the secret police — an accusation Walesa vehemently denies.

Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said he would attend Tuesday's event with some discomfort.

"What do I tell our foreign guests if they ask me, 'Why didn't you invite the best-known Pole in the world, who we believe helped overthrow communism and contributed to freeing Poland and the world from totalitarianism?' I don't have an answer to that," Sikorski told TVN24 television in comments broadcast Monday.

The archbishop of Gdansk, the birthplace of Solidarity, said Walesa should top the guest list.

"Thanks to Walesa, a sovereign Poland joined a free world and a united Europe — it is precisely Walesa who had the dominant role in all of this," Tadeusz Goclowski said Sunday.

Walesa himself played down the flap, though he got in a jovial dig at the current president.

"It's their business," he told reporters. "It's too bad I wasn't invited because I really wanted to party and dance with Mrs. Kaczynska" — a reference to the president's wife, Maria Kaczynska.