-I hope he does not win

From the Solidarity Center in Gdansk, Poland, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mr Lech Walesa is actively following political processes around the world.

Lech Walesa: -I hope he does not win

He once defeated Communism, and witnessed the global effects of peaceful actions from his fellow workers in Eastern Europe. In a recent interview from his office in Gdansk, Walesa now expresses concerns for the ongoing elections in America.

February 24th 2016

These days it is about 25 years since freedom fighter Lech Walesa assumed the role of president of Poland following the first free election the country had ever had, and where an entire nation took the step from repression to democracy.

The birth of the new democracy had been long and dramatic, and was followed by the whole world. The struggle for freedom created a new movement which also became an international symbol for the fight for freedom and democracy. At the center of this movement was a young electrician from Gdansk, a man who would become one of the greatest folk heroes in European history.

The story of the electrician from Gdansk has been told many times, and his story of the struggle for freedom and ideals of solidarity created reverberations throughout the world.

Solidarity was a term that inspired people into collaboration and cohesion, and stands out as one of the greatest reasons why the communist regime in the Soviet Union fell.

The Solidarnosc political movement was both Poland´s and the Soviet Union’s first free and independent trade union. It first emerged from the shipyard environment in Gdansk and eventually grew into a national and international ideology and movement.

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th 1989, was covered by news media around the world.

“The fall of the Berlin Wall gave us many agreeable pictures, but the basis for these events was laid in the streets of Gdansk”, says Lech Walesa. Although he experienced all of the regime’s methods to limit his activities and involvement — monitoring and surveillance of both himself and his family, imprisonment and displacement — the electrician from Gdansk had the people behind him. He was a formidable foe.

The union created cohesion and security far beyond the shipyard’s gates. It was the people’s vote, and spoke on behalf of almost 10 million members. The voice of the people became united behind the electrician from Gdansk, a man who had shown that he was not afraid to speak out against the authorities.

In 1983, his efforts were rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize. This was the ultimate legitimisation and confirmation of the work of Solidarity.

“It may sound strange”, says Walesa today, “but in fact we waited for the Solidarity movement to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The movement had grown so strong that it was difficult to see any other candidates who were anywhere close to our efforts”, he says pensively.

Regardless of this, the prize came at a particularly important time for the movement. Solidarity was under constant pressure from the regime, and it sapped the forces of both the people and management.

“The Peace Prize gave us new courage and new energy. It was the recognition that we needed for our work”, says Walesa. “I do not think the regime in the Soviet Union would have fallen if we had not received the Peace Prize”, he says thoughtfully, and underlines how important the prize is for world peace.

Solidarity changed Poland and the World — the Nobel Peace Prize changed the life of Mr Lech Walesa.

As Solidarity changed Poland, the Peace Prize changed the life of Lech Walesa. The electrician from Gdansk suddenly became a world celebrity, and his opinions and utterances were listened to by journalists and government leaders all over the world. Serving as president of Poland from December 1990 to December 1995, he was also responsible for the transition to a market based economy.

Today he follows events in national and international politics from his office in the European Solidarity Center in Gdansk. The center is located at the entrance to the city’s shipyard and is built in rust-colored steel, a reminder of the materials the Solidarity movement started with and how their work has evolved into something new. The center currently contains a modern library, conference center, and museum, which recounts the story of the fight for freedom in Poland and Eastern Europe.

“Both the UN and NATO are built on models of an ancient world where two superpowers stood against each other. Now one superpower is gone, and the view of the world has changed totally”, says Walesa. Should current borders define our politics? Or is it time to rethink”, he asks. Walesa believes in global structures, where political issues are viewed as part of a much larger picture.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa addresses the audience during the Ronald Reagan Centennial Gala in Washington, D.C., May 24, 2011. (Photo from Wikipedia).

He is also following American politics, and sees challenges that are familiar to many of our democracies. “We need to rethink our current democratic system”, says Walesa, as he is afraid that people who can contribute and should be involved are losing interest. More and more politicians are demagogic, and this is bad for any debate and for democracy.

To maintain confidence among voters, we also need to make sure that all governments, parties, and organizations provide complete transparency for all financial contributions.

“Donald Trump is an example of a demagogic politician doing well in the US right now”, says Walesa, adding that he hopes he does not win.

Walesa is an active social commentator and has in recent years been an avid user of newspapers’ online forums. Unlike many others, he uses his own name when he comments, which often confuses his other debaters. Not many people expect to get into open discussions with a Nobel laureate, and ironically, some do not believe him when he makes comments in his own name.

Mr Lech Walesa recently met with Norwegian journalist Heine F. Birkeland at his office in Gdansk, Poland.

One of the themes often debated, is the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. Stories, destinies, and political challenges have made headlines all around the world, and this is also something that occupies Walesa.

In the news, he has both garnered attention for initiatives stating that he is skeptical of the cultural differences of many of the refugees who are now coming to Europe, while he also believes many of the refugees come from conditions surpassing those in which many of his countrymen live. He still recognizes the need to help those fleeing the war in Syria and has even offered to accommodate refugees in his own home.

When asked about the refugee crisis in Norway, he is, however, careful to answer and points out that he does not know the circumstances well enough to enter into a discussion.

On a general basis, he believes, however, that we are not ready to open our borders. “The economic and legal relationship we have today is not designed to handle the migration we are now seeing”, he believes and repeats his view of a world in need of several structural changes.

Like many leaders, Walesa needs to find inspiration somewhere. When asked what books have inspired him, his answer comes quick and clear. “There are many books that are good”, says Walesa, “but the Bible is my main source of inspiration. I must have read it a hundred times over, and every time I learn something new”, says Walesa.

So is it right to say that the Bible was his inspiration for the solidarity movement? “Yes, of course”, he replies. “The Bible is without comparison the book that has inspired me the most”, he says. “There are, of course, other important books, but this is the book that has been most important to me in my life and in my work”, says Walesa.

The principles of Solidarity are quite simple according to Walesa. “When something is too heavy for you, you ask for help. If we are able to help, then we all have a responsibility to help each other. That is what Solidarity is all about”, he concludes.

Text: Heine Ferking Birkeland
Photos: Magdalena Kaszubowska
Translator with Mr Walesa: Piotr Wodz