When the time rolls around to recount summer exploits, not many families will be able to rival the tales of Lech Walesa, leader of Poland’s Solidarity trade union, and his son Slawek, 17. Dad, of course, helped engineer the peaceful transfer of power in Warsaw, as the Communist regime yielded partly to a freely elected government. Slawek, meanwhile, spent the past two months in the U.S., learning English, studying the local folkways and tooling around as a roadie for a polka band. Logging more than 12,000 miles in a van with the 10-piece Polish-American Jan Lewan group—now that’s something to write home about.
In truth, the political ructions in Poland, and his father’s role in the spotlight, created complications for Slawek. Almost every time the band played, Slawek was mobbed by Polish émigrés eager for a look at the son of their hero. At the recent Bethlehem Musik Fest in Pennsylvania, Slawek, accompanied by Lewan, his father’s old friend, appeared onstage and led the crowd in patriotic songs, including a bittersweet version of “Let Poland Be Poland,” the Solidarity anthem.
While immensely proud of his famous father, Slawek, one of eight children, admits that he doesn’t have much enthusiasm for politics; he’d rather be just an ordinary teenager. “There are so many things happening in Poland right now that are so important, and here I am in America, liking girls and fast-food hamburgers and cars and video games,” he says. “I’m out of touch.” Every chance he got, Slawek turned reveler without a cause, slipping away to local arcades to plunk quarters into the Space Invaders game. He also adores the music of Madonna, though he concedes that if his devoutly Catholic father were to find out “which Madonna I like, he might not be pleased.” As Slawek made ready to return to Poland last week, he wasn’t pleased to be saying Do zobaczenia to his American girlfriend, Kristen Wasilewski, 15, of Shenandoah, Pa. The end of a summer romance might not set the world order atremble, but on the hair-trigger scale of teenage emotions, this Walesa knew one thing: It hurt.