President Lech Wałęsa

Lech Wałęsa

Lech Wałęsa (1943-), the legendary leader of Solidarity, Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize (1983), President of Poland (1990- 1995). With the persons of the 3 W’s: Stefan Wyszyński (Primate of Poland), Karol Wojtyła (John Paul II), and Lech Wałęsa (the genius of Solidarity) God prepared and realized the Victory over communism. The Evangelical Victory means the double victory: W – the end of communism without using violence.

On August 9, 2005 Lech Wałęsa delivered his Keynote Address on The Role of Solidarity in Poland, Europe, and in the World at the International Conference on Persons held in Warsaw, Poland (Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University).

Mary, Queen of Poland, pray for us!

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Professors and Guests
of the Conference!

I do not know if this is going to be a typical lecture that you are used to. Probably not because I am not typical and for thirty-five years I have been in many unusual situations. Although as Fr. Bogumił said, according to Walt Whitman Solidarity could have been predicted (essay Democracy, 1867), I did not predict it. So my speech will provide a practical look at the problems of the past, but also at the chances for the future. I want to state beforehand that I do not know whether I will be right or wrong in talking about this, whether I will speak wisely or less wisely. This will be my amateur point of view on history, but also on the future. Because of the story of my life and the hardships I have been through, it is my duty to talk about what I know from the past and say what I think about the future. I will try to talk for no longer than 20-30 minutes, then I will ask you to name the topics which you would like to hear my opinion on, and the topics in history which you would like me to talk about. Of course, if there are no volunteers to ask questions, I will continue my monologue, or lecture. But a monologue is just a monologue, and it may be boring. So I want to state two conditions right away: if after 20-30 minutes you choose a monologue then the first condition is that nobody can leave the room because I will not be delivering my monologue to an empty room. The second condition is for those who will be bored and are going to fall asleep: please move to the seats further away because snoring puts me off my stride.

Ladies and Gentlemen, so let’s get to work and to the subject!

As you know, after World War II the Soviet system was imposed on Poland; we found ourselves within the Soviet area of influence. We could not defend ourselves because we had lost a lot of blood during the war. Stalin was actually laughing then, that this system imposed on Poland fitted her like a horse saddle fits a pig. And of course we were continually trying to free ourselves from that gift. In the 1940s and at the beginning of the 1950s we were fighting militarily and the Polish resistance organization, the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), was called a spit-soiled dwarf of reaction. Later on young people and students were trying to fight by staging public demonstrations, they were called dunces, “banana youth,” and so forth. Later workers were trying to fight in 1956, 1970 and 1976, we were called troublemakers and bums. Everything was bloodily put down. Using the trial and error method we came to the idea of fighting together – all groups and professions against communism. We already knew how to do this, but we still did not succeed, for throughout this whole period we had lost too much blood. At the same time we noticed, or else it was shown to us that there were over two hundred thousand Soviet soldiers in Poland and around our country there was over a million of them, and silos with nuclear weapons.

In the ’70s and at the beginning of the ’80s we were already talking with the great people of the Western world. Almost all Western politicians: presidents, prime ministers, even kings were against communism. Nevertheless, nobody knew how to end it and when such an end would be possible. While we were in this state of powerlessness, and lack of faith, when we actually left our dreams of freedom for some other time, the end of the second millennium of Christianity in Poland came and a Polish man became Pope.

When John Paul II visited Poland a couple of months after the Cardinals elected him Pope, the whole world was looking at Poland asking: “what is happening in this communist country?” Almost the whole nation participated in the meetings with the Pope, even the atheists. The communists even learned how to make the sign of the cross, they did not know what it meant, of course, they just counted: one, two, three, four, five, as they touched their head, heart, left and right arms, and they also prayed.

Thus we come back to personalism and to those personal decisions and attitudes which can start processes and these processes can start great changes. The Holy Father was saying many interesting things to us then, and among them was: “be not afraid, change the face of the earth!” Of course, it was not words which overthrew communism, as communism was least afraid of words. But these words arose the Polish nation and all the other enslaved nations. The awakened nations let themselves be guided through strikes, negotiations and fights. When the Soviets saw this, they panicked. Somebody from the USSR politburo remembered that there was a communist comrade somewhere far away, who was saying that communism needs to be reformed. This person’s name was Gorbachev. He was chosen to reform communism by perestroika (‘restructuring’) and glasnost (‘publicity’, ‘openness’). Together with others who were fighting, we knew that communism is an inalterable political system and that once someone in the USSR tries to alter and improve it, it will certainly collapse. For this reason, we encouraged Gorbachev to keep on doing this, as we saw the end of communism in his reform. Mikhail Gorbachev basically failed at everything, everything went wrong for him, not the way he had planned it. But Gorbachev’s greatness and his success lie exactly in his failure. So, Ladies and Gentlemen, please do not be discouraged by unsuccessful experiments as you can even be awarded a Nobel Prize for them.

Of course at some point Gorbachev’s circle realized that this was going in the wrong direction. When Gorbachev went on vacation, his Vice President, Gennady Yanayev, launched a counterrevolution, and sent tanks into the streets. We were lucky that at that moment a person named Boris Yeltsin appeared. Whether he was drunk or sober at that time we do not know, but Yeltsin clambered onto a tank and succeeded in stopping the coup. Had he not done this, all the processes could have been reversed and the Berlin Wall, which had collapsed earlier, would have been quickly rebuilt with the encouragement of the United States.

As you see, Ladies and Gentlemen, a lot depends on personalism, a lot in life and in history depends on personal choices. I am aware that you know history better than me, but I have told you all this so that you would realize that there are places in the world like Poland and others, which have been treated specially by history, they were tested and tried specially. The inhabitants of these places in the world learned to sense chances and risks.

The older remember, the younger can look into the history books – the Poles were warning the world against World War II before it started, but the world did not listen. Many used to say that they are not going to die for Gdańsk which was to them a local issue. It was not until the war reached London and Paris that people remembered the Polish warnings. Unfortunately, it was too late. After the Second World War we were the only ones warning against Stalin and against communism. The West broke diplomatic ties with the legal Polish government and recognized the government formed in Poland by Stalin. I hope that now that we are in the European Union and in NATO we will be heard better and that our voice will be taken into consideration.

And what do we say today from this and similar places? We say that in this generation not only centuries or millennia are changing, but actually epochs are changing. We are leaving the epoch of borders, of blocs and divisions. This epoch of land, as I call it, was the time of basic needs – to sleep, to eat, to live somewhere. We are moving on to the epoch of intellect, of information, of globalization, where from ordinary breadwinners we become consumers. We spend more money on things beyond those that sustain our lives, or beyond those simple needs, we spend money on computers, on cars, on the products of intellect.

Until the end of the 20th century the ordinary breadwinners could be eliminated one by one or with their entire nations. But with today’s development you cannot kill consumers, because they will not buy any products then. There is no longer a need to fight for land, because you can buy everything with the products of intellect. Summing up, of course with certain shortcuts, we conclude that this generation stands before the greatest chance and opportunity for peace, stability and for prosperity. There is only one condition: we must draw conclusions and answer some questions. And these questions are fundamental.

Practically all structures like the United Nations, NATO and others, and also programs, belong to the previous epoch. A question comes to mind, whether or not we will be able to improve in time all of these structures, organizations and programs to fit today’s needs and necessities. The first fundamental question is thus: what basis should economy and politics be built on? Through its Constitution Europe proposed a simple solution, it proposed freedom of an individual, freedom of assembly, economic freedom and no help. It left values, God, to private use. This is a beautiful concept, but it is also the last of such beautiful concepts of the previous system. It does not fit the requirements of today’s development, of globalization, it is no good for future development. The higher the stage of development and the higher the technology, the more we need values and the greater the need is for a man of conscience. Only a man of conscience is the cheapest and the most impenetrable. That is to say about political matters…

As to economic matters, the current capitalistic solution proves to be a very weak one once there is no communism. You could have had a situation where under 10% of the population had 90% of the humanity’s capital. However, this situation is impossible in a situation where there are no borders, no blocs, and when there’s globalization. We have to improve all this in the present century because otherwise we will be running the risk of demagogy, populism and revolution.

Ladies and Gentlemen! 20 minutes have already passed. Of course everything that I am talking about has a personalistic conclusion, so it lies within your concepts. For truly much depends on the personal, or even individual, participation and conduct. I finish my monologue here, if that is what you wish. I would like to come back to the topics which are of interest to you, in the name of what I said about my duty to tell you what I know. It is my responsibility to explain the decisions that I have been making for thirty-five years and the decisions that were made when I was around. And bearing in mind the great achievements of the world, I also have to say what I think about the future. I have this obligation thanks to the attitudes and payment I received for my work. I was paid with two professorial titles, over a hundred doctorates, and around fifty times as many medals as Leonid Brezhnev used to have; and he had a whole jacket of them. I can’t wear them because I would not be able to stand up. For this reason, I give everything to the Jasna Góra Sanctuary, to the Queen of Poland of course, to Mary of Jasna Góra in whom I put my trust. If you do not believe this, go and check in the Jasna Góra Sanctuary in Częstochowa. However, I would also like to say that I am not a saint, I am a sinner, perhaps the worst of all.

So are there any volunteers to ask questions?

Professor John Hofbauer (Mount Saint Mary College, New York, USA):

Mister President, what is your opinion on the current policies of the Polish government relative to the personalist ideals that you fought for?

President Lech Wałęsa:

First of all I want to prove to you, and I do not know if I am right or wrong, but we are not well organized. The UN was designed for a certain situation when the world still had two superpowers, which disciplined and kept an eye on each other. Now we are left with just one world power. So a question arises as to what its place should be. This superpower is very efficient and energetic in defending its own interests. It leads the world militarily and economically, but not politically. On the other hand, we have the UN, an organization which can take many important decisions, but is bureaucratic and eventually unable to take decisions. Hence the United States is trying to fulfill its role, but it looks very bad, because the Unites States today seems to be like a policeman who is standing on guard by a red light. It is not a good situation for the US nor for the rest of the world. The US has always been the last hope. Anywhere there were problems, people used to look to the US as a place of rescue. Such a US had been taken away from us, we lost the last resort. We must do everything to restore the US to its morally leading position. It will not be good if we do not this.

Coming back to your question, we are in a state of discussion today about what economic and political systems, and what structures will be suitable for the world of today and of tomorrow. It will last a while, because some irreversible things have happened; Poland thought in 1980, and I thought as well, that we will get ahead of all the communist countries, that we will reach the development of the West, receive greater help and only then devote attention to these necessities of theory, of program, and of structure. However, the martial law imposed in Poland in 1981 stopped us; later half of the communist world started off and thus it all proved to be too heavy for one time. In this manner everything was halted, there was no time for ideas nor for their realization, so now we have to improvise. Additionally, the economic situation disrupts our good reasoning, so it will all take longer, all of those dangers and unresolved problems will last longer.

Professor Philip Cronce (Chicago State University, USA):

Thank you for coming Mister President. You spoke of the man of conscience, could you describe the man of conscience and the way in which he may work in the future to solve the problems?

President Lech Wałęsa:

If I had an answer to this and many other wise questions, I would have many more Nobel Awards. Of course, my point of view is this: reward for good deeds and maximally punish for the bad ones. My point of view is the Decalogue, my point of view are simple truths. Let’s talk with all the religions and decide what these simple truths are, and let’s state then: for good we will reward, for bad we will punish. We do not wish to enforce any particular religion on anyone, we only enforce values, which are practically within the Ten Commandments.

As you know, Ladies and Gentlemen, there were countries a long time ago where if somebody stole, his hand was cut off. Do you know that there are still no thieves there, or rather, not as many? I am not telling you to cut off people’s hands, I am just giving a drastic example to show that it is possible.

Ladies and Gentlemen! All of us here are decent people, I consider myself a decent man as well. But we all broke the law at some point in our lives, either by speeding, jaywalking, or forgetting to pay taxes on time, and see – we are not in prisons. It is because the law punishes for getting caught not for breaking it. What will this world look like once we learn to go around laws, when computers will aid us in this? It is inconceivable and I am afraid to live in such a world. We have accomplished great things, and found solutions to many serious problems, but we have eased up on values, on morality, on the law. We left them on our way and this is the error of our development. In my opinion, the higher and smarter we are in our development, the more values and conscience there should be.

Of course, somebody will say: “yes, but how do we check it?” God can obviously do this, but so can we, if we are more active, if we keep an eye on our trade unionists, on our capitalists, and on our politicians. If we punish for each wrongdoing for five generations, then everybody will think before they do something. This is possible, but most of all, it is necessary. Somebody said that we are not going to survive the 21st century with today’s solutions. I believe this, but I also believe in chance, or opportunity, and for this reason I come to meetings like this one and others. During such conferences I say what I believe in, and I believe in opportunity in this generation. So far I have not achieved much, but I receive more and more medals and doctorates.

Another question, please. And one more comment: there are no wrong questions, or rude questions. I only ask for good manners, but I am sure that I do not need to ask for this at this conference. The more difficult the question is, the better, because then I simply wake up forced into action.

Professor Neil Manson (University of Mississippi, USA):

Countries such as Russia and Belarus seem to be going back to authoritarianism, returning to dictatorship perhaps. Mister President, where do you see them going, and what will the impact be on Poland and other Eastern European countries?

President Lech Wałęsa:

I do not have to prove to you that the degree of using democracy is directly proportional to how fat your wallet is. You can have freedom and not use it, because, for example, there is a hundred people waiting in line to take your job. And the countries which you enumerated are not very wealthy, many of them cannot use their freedom.

As to the greater solutions, it is visible, in my opinion, that countries are highly dimensioned today, just like Lego blocks. Their dimensions are: pluralism, democracy, freedom, economic freedom. Whoever has better dimensions, is also more clear and attractive, and can rely on various structures. But the situation of those who try some strange dimensions can be likened to that when children play with undimensioned, not fitting blocks. I watched children play with such blocks – they throw them into trash. Countries cannot be thrown into trash, of course, but they are still bound to have problems in cooperating. Because if they have no religious freedom, for example, I will not travel there, as I need to observe the Sundays. I will not do business with them, because this poses a problem for me and it is problem in general: if they do not put their trust in anyone, then how is one to put his trust in them? Therefore they can hurt us a little, we can suffer some losses because of them. Nonetheless, development forces certain structures and certain behavior on us.

When the production was low and the industry was simple, one could hold up a gun and say to another: “you will dig a ten meters long hole in the ground or I’ll shoot you.” This was so obvious that everyone knew what could befall them. But if somebody held up a gun to your head today and you were in front of a computer, you would not even hit the right keys with your trembling fingers, not to mention that it is impossible to invent anything at gunpoint.

Consequently, every epoch has its own rights. May we correctly read the challenges of our epoch. So far, humanity has not always succeeded in doing this, but unlike them we have computers now. Today we can help ourselves to a greater extent, we can find all the information we need on the computers.

This is why I do not worry in the long run. Of course, I hope that seeing today’s struggles, the world will interpret its challenges correctly, it will be either supportive or disruptive. Technology will certainly be even more helpful in the future.

I predict that in the future we will be solving all problems on a basis of a triangle. On a national scale, I see an equilateral triangle as our basis for today. One side of this triangle would represent the social factor, including labor unions. The second side would be taken by the owners of the means of production. The third one would be reserved for the administration from local to the national level.

Understanding is indispensable on various levels. People are only people, and they sometimes find it difficult to communicate and understand each other. In the future, however, we would sit at a table together and the first question would be: “what kind of computer do we choose, what brand?” “OK.” “Did everyone bring a floppy disk or a CD-Rom with their demands and their proposals?” Then the trade unionists, or the society give the first disk, the owners of the means of production, or those who pay give the second, and the governing authorities give the third one. We insert all three of them into the computer and we receive an answer after three seconds. Everyone receives a CD-Rom with a list of what they can expect. Somebody will obviously say: “but wait a minute, their demands will be too great, the computer will simply break down.” But the computer will reject excessive or illogical demands. Nonetheless, everything I am talking about would have to be based on values and on the man of conscience. These are my proposals, whether they are good or bad you decide. Nevertheless, it is always better to have proposals, than not to have them. If any of you has better ideas, then please present them.

Next question, please.

Professor Jan Olof Bengtsson (Lund University, Stockholm, Sweden):

Thank you Mister President for an inspiring address. Today there is considerable risk that people will continue to listen to demagogues as you mentioned. My question is whether you see any problems with the Western European influence, the brazenness of the draft of the EU Constitution, the more or less secular basis without taking into account the historical values of Christianity. I think Poland has a unique mission here to teach the rest of the European Union the historical lessons that you have talked about. Mister President, what do you think about the future of the European Union?

President Lech Wałęsa:

Ladies and Gentlemen! I do not enter into professional or detailed discussions. For example, I do not take up surgery, because I would amputate the wrong leg. However, I have my general concepts and visions. And this is my standard answer to the question about the European Union.

As a politician and a practical person I know that in this generation we have to start going beyond countries and nations, as we do not fit countries or nations with today’s technology. Let’s look at where we do not fit anymore: for example information has gone far, it is global already with its Internet and cell phones, and it has just become global by itself. But there is need for our help when it comes to ecology. If we will not to be globally under control, then something like North Korea or Belarus will blow us up. And I do not mean the unmaintained atomic submarines, but what I am saying is that if we want to survive at all, we have to be global. So the question today is: where else do we have to be global to survive, and where do we have to be continental to advance?

Did you know that a Polish government plane was recently forbidden by Belarus to enter its airspace? And what if everyone starts acting in this manner as a way of giving vent to their frustration? Then all of those wealthy European countries would not even be able to fly fast planes, because once these planes would take off, they would land in a different country. Therefore, broadening the structures has to start in this generation.

As we know, the question is about what should be global and what ought to be continental. We have two major topics on the continent. The first one deals with evening out of the stage of development left after the period of divisions and borders. Because if somebody has a civilization of a camel, or an elephant, then he will not buy a Mercedes, it would not work. So we bring equality closer. The second, more important topic is wise development. God did not give equally as much to everyone. One person has oranges, bananas, wheat, and oil deposits in addition to that. And another person only has rye. If the one who is endowed by God with so many things does not give up something, then he will die from overeating, and the other person will die from starvation. They will both die.

For this reason, we should finish the 20th century and the epoch of land with the following paraphrase: until the end of the 20th century it was common that man was a wolf to man (homo homini lupus) and treated others like an animal would. End of this.

The next epoch, the 21st century is an epoch of solidarity where everyone is needed, everybody is a customer, everyone in Europe, even somebody unemployed, or one who does not pay taxes to the European Union, or who does not shop in Sweden or anywhere else and can even stage a revolution. The 21st century and the epoch of intellect is an epoch of wise work, an epoch of new, greater solutions, but an epoch of solidarity.

Today we have a tragic situation – we carried out the revolution in just one night, we improved the law with just one European Parliament, but it will take several generations before we change our mentality. How can we speed up the change in mentality? First of all, France should not pull the European Union to itself, and Sweden or Germany should not pull the Union to serve their needs, and Poland should not say: “oh, I’ll make money on the EU.” The European Union is the more important reality, the Union consists of us. And the computers there say: “what chances do you have of surviving with this Polish land and intellect?”

I guess that you visit Rome from time to time. I am always terrified when I am there: you can practically only go sightseeing there; but next to the monuments of our civilization they have there chemical factories, next to which they grow wheat. And later we eat buns made of this wheat. It cannot be like this. Each of us has to care for the entire Europe. We have to prove to everyone that the European Union, or globalization is indispensable. Globalization by itself does not mean anything, of course. What will its content be? Will globalization carry values, will it be a man of conscience? Will the European Union carry values, will it be a man of conscience, will it stand for decency and honesty? If it will be these things, then we will advance more quickly and easily. But if it will reflect the solutions of the European Constitution, then it will not be good.

Law alone will not sustain man with today’s technology. Today I do not know what France is doing – it seems as though they have a free market economy, but they propose some not-free-market solutions. Consequently, we ask again: how can we change the French mentality? For the good of France and for our own good. We do not wish to take anything away from anyone. We just want to create conditions where we could work and earn money; we want to draw conclusions from the past. This is the thinking I promote here and there.
Next question, please.

Rev. Krzysztof Bochenek (Papal Academy of Theology, Cracow, Poland):

Mister President, was not solidarity much easier in the society of land, where the level of solidarity depended exactly on the habitual eating and drinking together? Is solidarity at all possible in a consumer society, where rat race and efficiency are key issues?

President Lech Wałęsa:

Every generation lives in certain circumstances. Our generation has its own challenges and circumstances. And of course what you said is true, but we are to be wiser, we are to draw conclusions. God gave us this cross and He knows that it is not too heavy for us, we can carry it. I believe that we will manage, although it is difficult. But it fits our intellect, our stage of development.

Why do we have computers anyway? So that we could prove to others that if they do not want to believe us, they can use computers, calculate, and prove things to themselves. For this reason, we have the means, and we should also have the strength to go in this direction. Because at the beginning it seems romantic or naïve, but it is all true, this has happened to us! Who believed in the end of communism? All the more that we were powerless, we had no chance to win. But at the end of the second millennium of Christianity in Poland our prayers were heard, and against everyone, against the whole world, the Holy Father caused us to have a clean third millennium. Well, you do the rest yourselves, do not count on God all the time. We got to share in such a great achievement – a clean card in history! Stalin and Hitler were trying to achieve European unity and we accomplished it without firing a shot, with the Holy Father explaining the nature of the problem in detail.

When I was informed about the Holy Father’s death I prayed and quarreled with God, “Lord, what have you done to us? What are we going to do now about the European Union, the Constitution, or the globalization? The Holy Father’s messages were best translated and transmitted to the masses and you are taking him away from us? I don’t understand this one bit.” After about an hour I received an answer, “Boy, give me one subject, one important problem that the world is facing, that the Holy Father had not responded to. What are you thinking, that the Holy Father will be repeating himself and you will keep on doing the same things? Didn’t he tell you: ‘write the Christian roots into the European Constitution’? Didn’t he tell you: ‘values are the most important’? Didn’t he tell you: ‘no to euthanasia’, ‘no to abortion’, and you did what? Did you think that he will plead endlessly? You have received everything, the rest belongs to you. I will not even remind you that John Paul II ended communism for you as well.”

When we draw such conclusions, everything becomes clear and simple. Personally, what you are discussing today, again shows how much depends on you, you just have to believe in it. Because who would believe: Lech Wałęsa – a worker, an electrician, has a large family, eight children – is talking to professors and they have not even fallen asleep, they are listening! These are unbelievable things and you only need two realities to accomplish them: faith in God and faith in what you do. Of course, you can have so many doctorates today, so many Nobel Awards; it is a whole new situation and everybody can distinguish himself with so much more…

Ladies and Gentlemen, the hour has passed. We have not discussed everything, of course, but I’m hoping that you will continue inviting me here and there. At the same time, I want to tell you that what I said today is what I know, I do not know the extent to which it fits your needs, or whether it helped you in any way, I only know that I did it with conviction. If there was anything in what I said that you will need I give it to you, it is yours. If not, you just wasted an hour of your life.

On the way of search and the way of reform, you can always find me, I invite you. And I hope that on this way God will bless us.
God be with you!

International Conference on Persons
Warsaw, August 9, 2005

Translated by Gabriela Gacka

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