Lech Walesa is the first democratically elected president of post-communist Poland and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. A Gdansk shipyard electrician, he was an opposition leader under the communist rule in Poland and co-founder of “Solidarity,” the first free and independent trade union in the Soviet Bloc that later on transformed into a nationwide movement against the regime.  This resulted initially in a martial law imposition and him being interned. However, ten years later his and Solidarity’s actions evolved into a peaceful, bloodless revolution and a political system change in Poland, the very first time in the Soviet Bloc. This opened a path to subsequent similar transformations in other countries of the East. A politically influential figure on an international level, Walesa was named Man of the Year by Time Magazine in 1981 and one of the “Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.” He remains a human-rights activist taking part in various worldwide programs of the Lech Walesa Institute.

The Politic: More than thirty years have passed since the creation of “Solidarity.” Not long ago we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of your being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and your seventieth birthday. In many ways, Mr. President, you are a living legend. How do you feel in this role?

I do not have the time to ponder about how I feel about myself. My friends constantly provide me with enough necessary emotions, so I do not think about that at all. Rather, I think about today and tomorrow.

The Politic: What do you think about the position of Poland in the international arena?

This is a simple question, but the answer is not that straightforward. By now, probably everyone has noticed that we are a generation living during the change from one age to another one. The age of nations, countries, the age of wars, especially in Europe, has ended. This age that I like to call the “earth age” — an age during which we fought for the earth, for the ground, the age in which moved the borders around–has ended. We entered the age of intellect, information, globalization. And this age requires slightly different programs and structures. Of course, Western capitalism and countries do not feel this. Poland, however, situated between Germany and Russia, has developed something that we are not yet fully aware of: Poles have developed a kind of a foresight. We had to be alert and be looking out constantly: “Will they enter or not? From this side or from that side?” We had to always keep our eyes open. And because we were relentlessly cautious and on guard, we learned how to smell out opportunities and dangers. And today, we are probably the only ones to say, through our arguments, that this is not what we were fighting for and that Europe should change and improve some of its elements.

But because we do not formulate it this way, we fight with each other because we do not feel Europe the way we want it to be. Europe and the world were surprised that we did away with the Soviets and communism. Therefore some people now expect that Poles will once again propose what is needed today. They do not say it openly and even tease us or make fun of us, but I feel that they are waiting for Poles to come forward with initiatives that will embed us in this new age that we have begun.

The Politic: What is the significance of the fact that the Summit of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates took place here, in Warsaw?

My friends decided to show Poland through this summit as a gift to me. Each one of the laureates chose to walk down their own path. Each one of them has their own idea, their own conception that they present and defend. The problem is that we do not come together to achieve something great.

The Politic: Mr. President, are you an advocate of the United States of Europe?

When our ancestors invented the bicycle and could no longer fit into their village, they had to build something bigger and therefore they created countries. We created Poland; others created Germany and France. Now we invented airplanes, the Internet and other things that no longer fit into our little countries, just like this bike before. We no longer fit into this organization and therefore have to enlarge structures. Of course there is the question of which structures are to be enlarged, because we do not have to enlarge them all. Some things globalize themselves just like information, satellite television, the Internet. However, some things need help to become larger and we should provide this help to avoid a great danger. Ecology, for example, has to be under the process of enlargement. So I am supporter of this because I look at this age, with its technology, both good and bad, and I see that the structure called “country” is not enough for today’s development and security. Therefore the question whether we should enlarge is not relevant according to me; what is relevant is how to do it.

The Politic: In October, you said that Barack Obama is the ideal leader of the United States.

No, that’s not what I said. I said that I hoped he would be ideal, that he would notice what the world needs — reconstruction, reform. I called him the “reform” of the States, but also the reform of the world. Being the only superpower now, it should not get entangled in wars. It should be organizing the world and Europe to solve problems. And I thought that Obama would fulfill that role. But he did not. And from that point of view, I am disappointed.

The world is a very dangerous place, much more dangerous than its was in the communist times. Back then, there were two blocks that had to be cautious of each other, controlled each other. But now their power and the power of other countries became entangled, and spread. The nuclear weapons spread too. The world no longer has a leader. At that time, the United States was the last lifeboat for the world. It was the world’s last hope. When something happened the States would always help. But now the world has lost that lifeboat, that last chance, and therefore we live in dangerous times because there is no one who could be the last hope of the world. And from that point of view, I have objections when it comes to Obama.

Lech Walesa speaks with Politic staff writer Jacek Olesczuk
Lech Walesa speaks with Politic staff writer Jacek Oleszczuk

The Politic: But Mr. President, you said in October that the political style of Barack Obama would not work in Poland.

No, what I said is that you could be a great president in Poland and not be able to manage the same role in the States but also, you could be a great president in the States and not manage in Poland.

The Politic: In that case, what kind of leader does Poland need today?

Back in the days, I proposed a leader for twenty years, for this period of change, a presidential system, decrees to cope with the problems and be just. But my compatriots chose another system, refused my propositions and what we have now is what democracy chose; I fought for that democracy.

The Politic: What is your opinion about the idea of a world government?

I proposed it twenty years ago. Seeing globalization, I thought that regional bodies should be established where the people would submit propositions and the propositions would go to a global parliament instead of the United Nations, to a global government instead of the Security Council, to a ministry of global security, instead of NATO, and there we would come together to solve some of the most pressing problems of today. But no one thought of moving in that direction. It has been twenty years and people talk of globalization but there is no organization that would gather together people who would come up with propositions that would push for a global agreement, taking into account that tomorrow we will face growth of civilization.

Once we unite Europe, it will be necessary to further enlarge structures. And in order to succeed we have to create the United States of Europe as fast as possible, next we have to combine with the States to finally start talks with China. The cooperation with China would be the hardest. Both sides would have to give in for globalization to be possible. There is no real globalization without China. So these were my ideas from long ago that I left behind and forgot, and you reminded me of them.

The Politic: It is hard not to notice that you are still active in politics and you are engaged in various projects, campaigns, foundations and programs like those organized by the Lech Walesa Institute — such as Poland in the World, Solidarity with Cuba, Solidarity with Tibet, Solidarity with Iran, Solidarity with Burma or Solidarity with Maghreb. What do these programs consist of?

The problem is that I feel responsible for the dismantling of this world from a bipolar one to a unipolar one. I do not want our times to be wasted. I would like the world to develop in a smarter way and that’s why I have propositions; I do not know whether they are good or bad, maybe they are fateful, but I have them and I say: “Consider my propositions and either refuse them or put them to life.” Therefore I instigate discussions and try to move towards this direction seeing the development of this world and feeling as the perpetrator of the happiness but also the afflictions caused by the fighting of my generation.

The Politic: What advice would you give to the students of Yale University?

“Every generation has its Westerplatte as the Holy Father said. I would not entirely agree with that because we have lived a few generations in misery and happiness, but we can accept that. Our generation has to start from the enlargement of structures. People of my age can do that, but we are constantly limited and held back by the past, agents, wars, revolutions; and therefore we always look back. Consequently, we will not be able to accomplish that properly. It should be done by the educated youth, which does not bear this burden of the past. We should only be advising and helping. The young generation has to instrument this age. No one will do it for them; we are limited by the past.

The Politic: Do you think it would be possible to organize greater cooperation between the U.S. and Poland? And is it important for the future?

Until now, all we were doing came from the necessity to do so, from the danger we were facing. The world that we opened does not accept that. This world does what life — what the economy — requires. Is a great cooperation between Europe and America needed today? I do not think so. Of course, some kind of cooperation exists but what we have to focus on in Europe is the equalization of the standard of living and the removal of obstacles caused by divisions, borders, the concept of the nation and the country. Once we remove these obstacles, we will be able to build the United States of Europe, combine with the United States of America and readjust China to globalization.

The Politic: Do you believe that European Union fulfills its role well today?

No, it does not. The question is: would it be possible for it to do so? We have so little trust after this concept of the country, after all this fighting. No one trusts anyone and this is why everyday we send people to Brussels and to Strasbourg to make sure that no one is deceiving us and the bureaucracy is constantly growing. There will come a time when we will start trusting each other and when that moment comes we will notice that this system is not good and that we have to abandon it. Coming out of an age of fighting, it is hard to behave differently. We will remain this way for some more time, but maybe we will be able to change directions and start the right development tomorrow.

The Politic: In what way should this change occur?

Generations will have to replace each other and we will have to start trusting each other, and that will take time. We have to understand that it is impossible to build European unity with such a discrepancy in taxes and development, and therefore we have to start smartly equalizing the differences. We just have to live through it. Even if today there were a prophet no one would listen to him; there is no trust — no faith — but there is a terrible past. We have to argue with each other, fight with each other, make some mistakes and tomorrow new politicians will rise who will understand the name of the game and will write down programs and structures. They will be elected for this new reality. Now we live in the age of the word: first there was a word and then ‘the word became the body’ just as they said in the church this Christmas. This is why first we will argue and tomorrow we will chose wisely. I count on it.

The Politic: Is it hard for countries to build up this trust when we learn that governments spy on each other?

Yes, it is very hard. But it is what development brings and we have to do it. I always like to watch anti-globalists, who scream and shout against globalization and then walk away and use a mobile phone. They should have carrier pigeons in their pockets. The first globalization is the globalization of information; it’s the mobile phone. Even anti-globalists adopt globalization, adopt mobile phones, open borders, but they don’t like it because we don’t trust each other. They think: “They made money on wars, on colonization and now they want to make money on globalization.” It is a result of damaging experiences of the past.

The Politic: So should Poland build a closer cooperation with Europe?

Poland should pass on its experiences, saying: “We surprised you by fighting with communism. Now we also surprise you by saying that this is not the Europe we need; these aren’t the programs that are needed. There is no solidarity between us. We are not equalizing the development.” Of course, this does not mean that Germany should be giving out money. No, not at all. But they should start a clear realization program, which would be bringing business to them and also to us, which would lead to one homogenous state.

The Politic: Should we look to the East too?

For the moment we have a problem with equalizing. We are not able to help Ukraine or to take care of various other problems because we are disorganized, because we don’t have programs. So let’s do the equalization as quickly as possible and then we will have the strength and the means to take care of Ukraine and other countries. We have to do so or otherwise we will be suffocating in this Europe. We will have to move to the East, to China, because development will require that.

Interview conducted in Poland on January 8, 2014.

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