Mitt Romney's hopes of meeting with former Polish leader Lech Walesa mark a signal to Americans his respect for the Solidarity hero, who has had a rough relationship with President Obama, and his continuing hostility to Russia.
But for Romney's allies in Poland — the political end economic conservatives who have controlled the government for much of the last decade — Walesa represents something totally different: A soft line on Communists and ex-Communists.
"The right in Poland hates Walesa as much as left hates Limbaugh in the US," said Michal Kolanko, the co-founder of the Polish political site 300polityka , who traced the dislike to Walesa's decision, during his time as president in the 1990s, to stop the process of opening the archives of Communist-era secret police agents and collaborators.
After Politico broke the news of Romney's hopes of meeting with Walesa, Polish conservatives — allies of the late President Lech Kaczynski and his brother Jaroslaw, who now leads the opposition, and drawn largely from Catholic and nationalist circles — erupted on Twitter. They ">demanded
">demandedto know "what kind of advisers Romney has," derided Walesa as "Bolek" — allegedly his name as a secret police informant as a young man, and referred to an infamous Walesa line encouraging police to beat protesters.
Polish conservatives "think that the meeting with Walesa will backfire in regard to Poles in the US — who are rightwing tilted as well," said Kolanko.
If conservatives grumble, however, the country's governing Civic Platform will likely welcome Romney with open arms, alienated — like the right — by Obama's attempts to improve relations with Russia and his cancellation of a planned missile shield that had angered Russia.
The complex local politics of international trips rarely feeds back to an American public that pays little attention even to the broad strokes of foreign policy. But the very different significance of Walesa in Warsaw and Washington offers a glimpse at some of the challenges Romney will face on his coming trip.