By accident I discovered the interesting relationship between Utah's Steve Studdert and Poland's Lech Walesa.
During a concert at Symphony Hall, Studdert, who formerly served as Ronald Reagan's advance man and George Bush's "imagemaker," happened to be sitting directly behind me, and so we chatted during intermission. His last comment before the concert resumed was a light one aimed at the Polish elections.I thought nothing of it until my wife told me on the way home that she thought the comment was serious and that Studdert must have something to do with Poland. My wife is rarely wrong. So the next morning I called him and asked. Yes, he said, his company, Studdert Group, which does international strategic consulting, was in fact advising Walesa during the Polish elections - at no charge.
He said, "It's exciting watching these people putting their foot on the edge of the water to test democracy - it's fascinating."
Studdert's assistant, Frank Tsamoutales, who is trained in political communications, represented the firm in Poland. Tsamoutales, who traveled to Poland for both the first round of elections and the runoff held on Dec. 9th, says it was "an experience of a lifetime."
Tsamoutales worked closely with Walesa's chief of staff, the director of economic affairs, and the chairman of the campaign on a daily basis. Although the press was well represented, he was amazed to find that the Studdert Group were the only other Americans there.
Studdert says advising Walesa was an honor.
"Ten years ago the secret police came to Walesa's door and took him away to prison. Now look what's happened - this is a wonderful thing. But being a successful leader of a revolution does not mean that one is qualified to govern. This will be a very big challenge for Walesa. There is no historical precedent for a communist country making a transition to a democratic free-market economy. But Walesa has demonstrated the ability to gather good people around him."
Fortunately, most of Walesa's advisers speak excellent English, says Tsamoutales, although Walesa does not. So it was not difficult for The Studdert Group to advise them how to set up a campaign organization and how to send successful mailings.
"People were so excited about receiving something from Walesa that it solidified the support that he had." The phone system, on the other hand, is terrible, so they didn't even try to use that.
"It's like you and I being thrown into an operating room and not know where to start. So we compiled charts with job descriptions and titles and samples of direct mail pieces, and travel scheduling. We emphasized the concept of getting out your vote and staying away from the competition. If you know someone is not going to support you, leave him alone and concentrate on getting your supporters out to vote."
The government allowed only one hour every day for TV commercials, which meant 10 minutes each, and candidates were assigned on the basis of a lottery system. All candidates got equal treatment. According to Tsamoutales it seemed unlikely that anyone would watch the entirehour - they might watch the first one - and even then ten minutes is a long time for one candidate.
"That's why we had Walesa on the road doing a lot of traveling."
The commercials were "what you would expect from someone who's never done anything. They wouldn't work here, but none were any better than the others."
It was evident that there was a division in the country. Walesa was strong in the cities, but in rural areas "people were disenchanted with all the names" - Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the prime minister, Stanislaw Tyminski, a carpetbagger who had spent the last 21 years in Canada and Peru, and Walesa.
Tyminski was the shocker - someone who had only been back in Poland for a few months prior to the elections. As Tsamoutales puts it, "If you can imagine someone moving to Utah and being taken seriously as a candidate for governor only a few months later!"
Now Tyminski has left Poland after negotiating with prosecutors who have charged him with slandering Mazowiecki during the campaign. He shelled out $100,000 for the right to go, promising to return for trial. In Tsamoutales' opinion, he won't return.
Tsamoutales says that Walesa's advisers now realize there must be rules against carpetbagging, but initially they just lumped Tyminski with "others."
"I told them the guy would get some votes. He was a local boy who made good - a millionaire who will make you rich too. They were skeptical, so it shook them a bit when they saw how well he did in the first round. But they realized that you have to campaign and you can't just rely on your name."
Walesa was so disenchanted that he actually considered withdrawing. "At one point he threw up his arms and said, `If they want him, God help them!' "
On the other hand, most people failed to realize how much difference their votes made. Many voters were just as shocked as Walesa.
When it was established that Tyminski was a member of the secret police in the '60s, it hurt him in the second round. He claimed to be a highly visible figure in Canada, and so the Studdert Group inquired of Canada's prime minister, "who had never heard of the guy."
His wife, Graziella, went with him everywhere, and "she was a very rough-looking woman and didn't speak a word of Polish," says Tsamoutales. "Yet Mrs. Walesa is very active in the community and in helping children, and so she looked good."
When this information filtered out, many people were frightened, and it played a role in getting Walesa 75 percent of the final vote.
So even though Tyminski lost, "he really won," in Tsamoutales' opinion.
"As a political unknown taking on Walesa and coming in second in the first round of the elections - he made a name for himself."
Tyminski had wanted to debate Walesa, but Tsamoutales advised against it. Since Walesa was so much better known, there was an excellent chance that the unknown Tyminski would have improved his standing.
Tsamoutales says that "in person, Walesa is much, much tougher than the image we get here. He is a hard-line guy and he has to be. He is very well respected. But we get a vision of him that he is more diplomatic than he is. This is not a time to be diplomatic. He knows in his heart what is good for those people and he is going to give it to them and do it his way."
Studdert recalls being in Gdansk with George Bush a year ago when Poland was still a communist country.
"We saw tens of thousands of American flags with less than 50 states on them - flags that had been saved for years - and home-made American flags with the wrong number of stars and stripes - magnificent American flags and the people were waving them even though it was against the law. America was their ideal. It was a very, very touching experience."