Polish authorities gave Solidarity leader Lech Walesa permission Saturday to leave the country for the first time since martial law was imposed in 1981, allowing him to visit France next week for International Human Rights Day.
"This morning Lech received a phone call from the passport office to pick up his passport," the labor leader's wife, Danuta Walesa, said by telephone from their home in the Baltic port of Gdansk.The Dec. 9-11 trip to France would be the first one abroad for Walesa since the imposition of martial law in December 1981 crushed the independent Solidarity trade union.
Danuta Walesa said her husband is suffering from the flu and would probably pick up the passport Monday or Tuesday.
Walesa - who was seen on Polish television Wednesday for the first time in eight years - said Friday he had been invited by French President Francois Mitterrand for ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10.
The decision by Polish authorities to allow the trip followed a visit to Paris by Polish Foreign Minister Tadeusz Olechowski during which both he and his French counterpart, Roland Dumas, spoke of a new era of Polish-French relations.
The visit by Olechowski also resulted in an announcement that Mitterrand will visit Poland next year.
Olechowski said as he left Paris that Walesa should be the first to make use of the "present atmosphere." He did not elaborate.
Walesa, who won the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize, has received countless invitations to go abroad but Polish authorities in the past have refused to release his passport.
Polish citizens' passports are held by authorities and permission is needed to obtain them to travel anywhere except Soviet bloc countries. The system is changing Jan. 1 and Poles will be able to keep their "external" passports at home.
The relative ease with which Walesa obtained permission for the trip to France is apparently another signal authorities no longer consider Walesa a pariah.