Poland’s Lech Walesa loses state security protection abroad

October 13, 2016
FILE- In this Wednesday, April 6, 2016 file photo, Poland’s former president and legendary Solidarity freedom movement founder Lech Walesa gestures during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press at his office at the European Solidarity Center in Gdansk, Poland. The son of former Polish president Lech Walesa said Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, that his father, a longtime adversary of Poland's current leadership, is being stripped of state protection when he travels abroad. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Lech Walesa, the former Polish president and a longtime adversary of Poland’s current leadership, has been stripped of state protection when he travels abroad, and says he believes the motivation is political.

The Government Protection Bureau, which provides bodyguards to serving state officials and retired presidents, said it would no longer protect Walesa on his foreign trips. It said that also applies to the other living ex-presidents, Bronislaw Komorowski and Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Bureau spokeswoman Natalia Markiewicz said the agency is following the law, which gives former presidents the right to a bodyguard only when they are in Poland. She said earlier directors of the agency had gone beyond what was legally required, which “generated huge costs disproportionate to the threat.”

Walesa seemed to take the loss of security matter in stride. He told the TVN24 broadcaster on Thursday that he believes the decision is political but that “I will manage.”

Walesa, 73, travels abroad frequently, often to lecture on his historic role in the fall of communism in eastern Europe. He was an electrician at a shipyard, in Gdansk, who in 1980s led a massive protest movement, Solidarity, that played a key role in toppling communism.

Today he is a sharp critic of the ruling Law and Justice party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a onetime political ally that he has been at odds now with for years. Kaczynski is widely considered Poland’s most important leader, the true power behind both the government and the presidency.

Though Walesa is still hailed by many as a democracy icon, Kaczynski and many others in the ruling party see him otherwise, pointing to allegations he collaborated with the hated communist-era secret police before leading Solidarity, something Walesa denies.

Even in recent days the two men have traded insults, with Kaczynski saying Walesa has “a great intellectual deficit” and “character flaws.” Walesa accused his rival of being a demagogue who is damaging the country’s international standing and its heritage and predicted he will end up in prison.

Walesa’s son Jaroslaw wrote on Twitter, in an apparent reference to Poland’s current leaders, that “it never ceases to amaze me how much malice is in these people.”

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