For years Danuta Walesa humbly stood in the shadow of her famous husband. It was only last year when she decided to speak and tell her story. The story of a simple village girl who dreamed of an ordinary life and usual family while it happened to her to become a wife of a leading Polish dissident activist and the future president.
Written in a deep secret and released in the fall of 2011 the autobiography “Danuta Wałęsa. Marzenia i tajemnice” (“Danuta Walesa. Dreams and Mysteries”) surprised the Poles, but also from the first moment became a bestseller. It became highly interested for those who wanted to have a look behind the curtain of Walesas’ marriage, but above all for Polish women who saw themselves in Danuta’s life. Busy with homework and children, silent and neglected heroines of everyday life, without whom and their sacrifice many of men would not have get successes. In this autobiography you can also find a piece of History – the ugly one and the sublime.
The life of Danuta Walesa consisted not only of the lonely care of the exceedingly large crowd of children (her husband was too busy with politics, imprisoned or had no time or the inclination for parental duties). She was also the first “normal” First Lady (the predecessor of Lech Walesa, Wojciech Jaruzelski, was president only for a short transitional period), who – without help of professional staff – had to deal with everything alone. She may not be an ideal pattern for modern, liberated women because of her high moral conservatism (for example, she rejects abortion), and typically Polish woman’s submission for fate (which resulted in having eight children), this so hated by feminists 3 x K (Kinder, Kirche, Kuche). But no doubt Danuta Walesa deserves the respect for her inner strength and sobriety, so that she had not buckled under the weight of challenges and responsibilities. And not having the life she had dreamed of…
She was born on February 25, 1949 in a small village Kolonia Krypy in eastern Mazovia as Danuta Golos (Gołoś), the daughter of a small farmer on less fertile sandy soil. Life conditions were uneasy there, there was even no electricity, so Danuta always knew she wanted to run away. “I had lived there but as if I was not there” – she wrote years later. Her maiden dreams were not excessive and original: “I dreamed of a good husband, children, having own place to live in. Only that and so much“. To accomplish this, she had to leave for ever. When she entered the bus she was 19 years old, low educated, having a huge baggage of complexes but also a strong sense that in new place she must be born again.
Re-birth occurred on February 5, 1968, and the place which she chose for her new life, became Danzig (Gdańsk). There lived her aunts and sister who offered her a place to sleep. Here, on March 5, 1968, she took her first job – a florist in a small shop. On October 14 a young worker Lech Walesa entered there to change some money. He did not impress Danuta much but intrigued her a bit. She liked to watch at him as he often passed a flower shop – always focused on something, mysterious, brooding. Certainly it was not love at first sight. Their familiarity developed gradually and today they both argue about who was the first to suggest marriage (after only a month of acquintance!) Danuta claims she was in love, but Lech Walesa said in an interview for weekly magazine “Polityka” that it probably was just a destination. It is significant that immediately after the wedding vows (wedding took place on November 8, 1968) he exclaimed: “Oh my God! What have I done?” What his wife remembers well.
Six years younger, inexperienced and highly insecure Danuta from the beginning recognized the leadership role of her husband, had set herself only as a performer of tasks. After years recognizes that this was a serious mistake. They were also different in their personalities. She is spontaneous; he introvert, orderly planning everything to the detail.
The period until the August strikes in 1980 was the happiest in Mrs. Walesa life, although it is difficult to recognize her relationship with Lech Walesa as romantic – in her autobiography she calls him only “a husband”. “Everyone of us did without [unnecessary] words what was supposed to do – she wrote in her memories. – Every day the same duties“. At first years they lived in the hotels and rental accommodations but in October 1972 they got their first appartment in the suburbia Stogi. She worked for a while at a small shop, but after the fall of interest her only occupation became being a wife and a mother of the growing crowd of children. “We have never considered the number of the children” – she wrote. When she was pregnant with the third son Przemyslaw, she was horrified because she already knew that she would have to relay on herself only. Then she stopped to care of the number of the kids. She accepted the fact that “It will be as many as God will give”. The news about becoming a father did not raise much enthusiasm of Walesa. After years Danuta recalls with great regret that he did not give her a flower for the occasion of the deliveries.
The problem with flowers is a best illustration of the difference between their personalities. For Danuta, who was after all a woman, a flower personally bought by her husband was an important determinant of his love. Walesa manfully played down the problem. Did he have to buy new one while he used to bring her a lot of flowers and bouquets that were handed to him? Only from his wife’s book he learned – with a big surprise – that it was so important to her…
In December 1970 an important event took place, which largely shaped the strong personality of the future wife of the famous Polish dissident – Walesa’s arrest in connection with workers’ protests on the Coast. When they were taking him from home Lech gave Danuta a watch and a wedding ring to be sold in times of trouble. She reacted calmly, even wrote that it did not make much impression on her. “Over the years, I believe that the first lesson was a strong impact on my later attitude. It taught me not to panic, do not do the problems of what is going on, just wait patiently. Wait unfolds” – she wrote. This proved very helpful in the future.
The 80s. In the heat of the battle
Extremely busy with kids Danuta was not interested in politics (nor Walesa informed her about his activities, neither she was asking), but politics brutally invaded in her life. There were moments of sublime, when in the August 1980 she was visiting her husband during a strike in the Danzig Shipyard, or when she put flowers at the monument to fallen shipyard workers ignoring the ban of the communist authorities. She helped to print leaflets, which her husband tried to spread pushing the cart with another child. (It was even funny as arrested Walesa was marching on a pavement with a child’s carriage while police car was following him, but it annoyed Danuta much for sure.) But her privacy lay in ruins. Their flat (already a multi-room, during the extended overhaul) was transformed into a center of opposition and constantly tottering after some activists. “From the pale dawn until late at night our apartment was full of swarming crowds of union members, counselors, politicians, journalists and other people. One of the men later boasted that he ate tasty scrambled eggs at Walesa’s home at seven in the morning. Indeed, people sat at the table and I had to serve them. (…) And in addition to the repair crew and guests I had still several weeks old Ania and five other children under my care” – says Mrs. Walesa. No wonder that one day she did not stand it longer and after a heavy argue with her husband the union visits ceased.
In that memorable August she realized that something in her marriage had changed for the worse, that her husband was on the other side, that politics will be more important for him than a family. Since autumn 1980 Danuta Walesa, for whom this discovery was quite a shock, started to get used to the idea that from now on she will have to manage without the help of her husband. But by 1990 she was still in love with him.
A further disadvantage in the life of Walesas was that the Security Service (SB) started their full 24 hours surveillance, including eavesdropping and harassment. Danuta did not bear this passively and no one time she argued with secret agents so finally they decided to respect her somehow and keep away of her. This state of affairs lasted for a half of the first decade of the 80s.
The introduction of the martial law (December 13, 1981) and internment of her husband Mrs. Walesa accepted with equanimity. She didn’t want to stir over her bad situation. “I had to be independent, take care of six children, home, everything.” On December 14, six months pregnant, she goes 250 km for a pig’s meat (in those years people used to buy the meat from illegal slaughter, even risking control of the militia and troubles). She visists her interned husband once a month, with a baby in her arms, although the malicious authorities placed Walesa in Arlamow prison near Przemysl (south-eastern Polish border), which is as far away as possible. (Once Danuta was carried by agents from one place to another in a car in three hours in the extreme heat, although she carried a baby). In this time she played role of a go-between Walesa and a press and free world.
Since the mid-80s – Walesa was already free – when the wind of History changed, the family situation had slightly improved. But some years earlier in Danuta’s life happened something which appeared to be one of the most important events in her existence (not counting her meetings with Pope John Paul II). On behalf of her husband she received the Nobel Prize (December 10, 1983). She went to Oslo instead of him because he just arbitrarily decided so (Walesa was afraid that the authorities would not let him back into the country). “The command and execute” – says Danuta. The command has been executed but on her own way. She accepted the award on behalf of Polish women, thanks to which their husbands could fight.
“For me the Nobel Prize was a payment for the fact that thanks to me my husband could be free and able to deal with Solidarity and politics” – writes Mrs. Walesa.
First Lady (1990 – 1995)
Decision of the run for presidency Walesa made himself, only informing his wife about it. (“I always was playing all alone, without any consultation” – said in an interview). Danuta did not help her husband in the campaign, didn’t even care much about result. Then they decided that for the sake of children she will stay in Danzig, at Polanki St. (there Walesas possessed already a house). Being the first real president’s wife was not easy for Danuta. Lacking education or political savvy, she had to create the office, which until now did not exist. And it had to be accepted by the Poles. Suffice to say that when she was forced to hire someone to her office (for growing correspondence and problems), there was a wide protest against her vagaries and the issuance of public money on it.
No smaller problem was picking outfits for representation, including meetings with the queens and presidents. In Poland of the early 90s you could not just go into an elegant boutique (coz they didn’t exist yet) and buy a complete set of clothing, including hat and gloves. It was necessary to properly flush the shops or to ask salilors for help. Forget professional stylist advices!
With Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands and Prince Claus in Gdansk
But even in those exalted (though not remembered well) time Danuta has not lost the innate sobriety. Once during a visit to Queen Elizabeth II, Walesa, lying comfortably in one of the huge palaces bed, said to his wife: look, could we, such simply people, ever dream of it! Her answer was rather cold: it will not last forever. With such an attitude Danuta much better than her husband copied with return to normality.
“When my husband ceased to be president, for a time I did not know where I am and who I am. I was a little bit scared. I was afraid about the shape of my future – confesses Mrs. Walesa. – Such detail: for five years I used a car with security officers. I did not have to worry about how I get somewhere; it was enough to give the address. And suddenly it is not! I thought about it sensible and said to myself: girl, you control yourself and start a normal life. If you have to go to church, go. If you have to go to the store, then go.” And she had to get used to the people pointed at her with their fingers. Now she finally has time for herself and her pleasuries. She acts for her foundation for impaired but avoids a broader policy or social activities, refusing help even women’s institutions. “I do not drive a car, I do not have counselors, I have no office, which would arrange for my business. I am a typical mom and grandmother. And this kind of person I want to stay“.
The real breakthrough in this quiet and peaceful life was publishing her autobiography (written with Peter Adamowicz). Thanks to the “Dreams and secrets” Danuta Walesa has brilliantly emerged from the shadows and gained independence. A lot of time now she is spending on the meetings with her readers, mostly ladies of course.
“I would not do that”
Mrs. Walesa autobiography and personal change seriously shocked Lech Walesa, who dislikes much his wife memoirs. He knew that she was writing these memoirs but highly disregarded them (“what she could have written there?”). And now regrets not reading the book before printing. If not his religious beliefs, it may even lead to a divorce – who knows? Presented in not a positive way, the former president considers that it is not fair to reveal home secrets publicly. Raised in a traditional peasant way, he can not accept the independence of his wife. “(…) if I wanted to have an independent woman for a wife, resulting in very different lives, I would have married with another woman. Today many things are more important for her than me, what situates me in second or third place because of the importance of literary meetings and trips. For me it’s a big psychological change” – he said. There is also the issue of a jealousy. Danuta Walesa autobiography was sold in a number what has been never achieved by any of his books (even though they say about things much more important, of course!). What looks a present life of Walesas like? They are still together, but live separately. Emotionally, this relationship has been burned out for a long time. Presently Danuta travels across the country while Lech spends hours by the computer surfing through net. He also listens by hours the infamous Radio Maria which is wildly against him. Recently he tried to persuade his wife to communicate via Skype with him, but the proposal was rejected.
It was announced recently that as Mrs. Walesa meetings with the readers of her book were a huge succes, Danuta plans to write another book – about those meetings.
All Mrs. Walesa quotations and images are taken from the autobiography “Danuta Walesa. Dreams and Mysteries “. Mr. Walesa quotations come from the interview “I will buy her the flower”, “Polityka” ( 14/2012).
Supplement – Wałesa’s children
Bogdan (☼ 1970) – employee of the Internal Security Agency, married twice; his present wife also works in ISA
Sławomir (☼ 1972) – unemployed for years, alcoholic, twice married and twice divorced
Przemysław (☼ 1974 – † 2017) – worked in the Border Guard, alcoholic, suffered from diabetes, which refused to heal and which contributed to his early death
Jaroslaw (☼ 1976) – the only who makes a political career; activist of the Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform); earned a degree in political science at the College of St. Cross in Massachusetts, member of the European Parliament of the VII and VIII term; married, has a son
Magdalena (☼ 1979) – a former talented ballet dancer who due to injury had to accuse dance, educated theologian, now teaches catechism in the ballet school; divorced and a single mother of a son
Anna (☼ 1980) – a social worker by profession, is happily married and has three children; until recently she worked in the office of Lech Walesa, whom used to call officially „Mr President”, now taking care of her children
Maria Wiktoria (☼ 1982) – tried unsuccessfully to operate the business (her boutique made a big debt) and to appear in show business; recently founded the “Celebrity Nation” Foundation, which aims to promote young talent; it is said that she is to run Mr Wałęsa office in Warsaw
Brygida (☼ 1985) – she graduated the University of Gdansk where she studied culture; feminist, who left the Catholic faith and married the anticlerical
Official photo of the Wałęsa family, early 90. of the 20th century
Published: 19 June.2012 / update: 5 February 2017