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Lech Walesa, former president of Poland
Landon Lecture
April 14, 2006

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like for you to leave some applause for when I finish, as well. Like this, you've made my challenge really hard -- I would need to earn this applause. Let me draw your attention to the fact that I do come to the United States quite frequently and I even thought that you Americans might have gotten bored of me. And it is true that I do happen to repeat certain things that I have said elsewhere but the point is I keep adding new observations so do not boo if the things I say you have heard somewhere else before. And well, do not necessarily applaud if you hear something new.

I'm so grateful for the invitation. I'm so happy to be here with you. There are so many things that I have not tackled before. The things that would refer to the past but also the things that focus on tomorrow. And on the other hand, don't forget I'm simply an electrician so be generous with me when you assess whatever I do. But nevertheless I will say a few things about history to draw your attention to the fact that there are locations, geographical places throughout the globe, places which have experienced a lot throughout history and people who happen to be living in those places thanks to that historical experience also learned to sense better than people living elsewhere the opportunities for the future progress and also the dangers, the threats.

The point is until now the world would not listen to what we had to say. Hopefully now the world will listen to those who live in those places because the situation in the world is completely new because we both, for example, are NATO members. We are the EU member and I come over to the United States. I have a lot of speeches here and I actually feel that I have the right to speak to you because after all the majority of my honors and awards and medals and honorary doctoral degrees come from the United States. Since you have awarded me those honors, you have to listen to what I have to say.

Well, let me recall to some senior citizens and let me advise the young ones that they can verify this in history books, from the place where I live we have tried to warn the world about the imminence of the Second World War and what did the world reply to us then? It said, well it's a local conflict. We're not going to die for Danzig. The world did remember the Polish warning when the war finally reached London and Paris. A similar thing happened at the end of the Second World War. The Poles were the only nation trying to make the world realize that Stalin was going to trick the rest of the world, that he was going to impose the communist system throughout half of the globe. And what did the world do to us then? The West broke off diplomatic relations with the Polish legal government and endorsed the government that Stalin installed in Poland.

The communist system was not a system that would fit any of the nations on which it was imposed, but it was especially unfit for the Polish people. If any one of you know people of some Polish origin or for the Polish people, you must realize that the Poles are extremely free souls and if you have ever come across two Polish people at the same time you would be sure to find three political parties among these two. And actually Stalin himself laughed after he had succeeded in imposing the communist system on the Polish people. He actually made a joke to himself saying the communist system fits the Polish people like a horse saddle put on a pig.

It took us fifty years of struggle in order to improve the errors made at the end of the Second World War. At first, in the 1940s and 50s, we would oppose the communist system with arms by means of our army. However, the Polish communists supported by the Soviet ones defeated...suppressed, that opposition to the system. Then we tried to oppose the system by the riot of young people, of students, demonstrating in the streets. They were treated really badly and beaten up. Then we tried to oppose the system by means of the working class -- the workers, employees, who would strike and protest in the streets. All these attempts were suppressed with bloodshed.

However basing ourselves on that previous experience and of the previous failures we reached a concept which we thought might be successful as a means against communism despite the fact that communists would demonstrate to us constantly you stand no chance to win against us, you are being controlled by more than two hundred Soviet soldiers based on the Polish territory permanently, then you are being watched by another million Soviet soldiers based in the neighboring countries, plus there are nuclear missiles all around all of them guarding the communist system. So naturally whoever was more sensible, whoever was wiser, did not believe that the end of communists was possible at all.

Actually throughout twenty years I had tried to group around me people who would be willing to oppose the system and throughout those twenty years I did manage to group around me ten people out of the forty million Polish population. And within Poland you would find another five to ten groups of similar dissidents, not more numerous than mine. The situation in this respect was even worse in other communist countries. In some there were really dwarfed opposition organizations, in others there were no dissidents at all. This was the result of the oppression of the communists that we had suffered.

Nevertheless the Poles did want to break free so we would discuss these things with presidents, prime ministers, royalties of the then world. We were telling them we have to get rid of that communist system and we would ask them, do we stand a chance? And let me say it plainly -- there were none of those great leaders of the then world whom I got to meet who would foresee the end of communism. They did support us but they could not see the end of communism in any definable future. However, we dissidents, we could foresee it. But you know, once we would ask those statesmen of the then world about the possible end of communism they said they would check our wishful thinking with the computers that they had at the time. Of course there were no PC's at that time. Naturally adding the data they like, you know, the number of soldiers, the number of tanks all the interests involved. And actually the wiser the computer the quicker it came up with the answer, no chance whatsoever.

Why should I be telling you all about this? Why should I be even repeating all this? Because this struggle -- this struggle in which we all contributed led us into the situation in which the United States has been left as the only super power in the world. And, your situation right now is really challenging. As long as we used to have another super power, it was called the empire of evil, anything that was bad about the world, that empire could be blamed for it. And everything that was good would be attributed to you the majority of them naturally well deserved. That's true. However today, your empire, this super power, has to lead the world unless you don't want to continue with your super power position. You might always share it with Poland then we will know what to do with it.

As you may know I do travel around the whole world and I have realized that no one around the world has the least doubt that you are the economic leader to the world. No one has the least doubt that the United States is the military leader to the world but I have heard a lot of doubts regarding the moral and political leadership of the United States to the world and I have come to realize that today's world lacks that political and moral leader.

Everything I have said up to now refers more to the past and what are the observations that I have from my geographical position today? I've already said about your super power position, about the leadership, but I would also like to make you realize that it happens in our generation that you are the sole super power and that it is in the lifetime of our generation that we have witnessed a beginning of a century and of a new millennium but we actually witness a beginning of a totally new era. Out of the era of borders in the world, antagonistic systems, and great divisions. Out of the era of land and fighting for the territory we have succeeded during the lifetime of this generation in entering the era of information, of intellect, of the internet, of globalization. No other generation before us has succeeded in having this transition so swift and no other generation had been faced with an equal opportunity. But at the same time you must realize being the super power that everything that we have had in this world up to now, that is all the structures, all the platforms, fit well. But in the old era fit well the era of divisions, of antagonistic systems and blocks to the extent that these institutions, those structures, did function well but within those circumstances.

However, they are unfit for today's world and we are faced with some big question marks that it will be up to you, the super power, to find the answers to. Because we actually have no choice people might say, well some say, globalization is good, others will say it's bad, which is not true. It will actually depend on what contents we put into globalization. Again, you represent a huge country. You live here in the big country perhaps you do not see things clearly. If you look at the map of Europe you will see how full it is of small countries and of countries in general, how many borders there are in Europe. Some countries happen to be quite affluent. There is one that has nothing but banks, I do mean from all over the world. But so you realize that that country can hardly have its own airplanes because by the time the airplane takes off it already enters the air space of the neighboring country. Our technology is so advanced that we can no longer confine within the borders of small countries. And in this generation we have no alternative. We have to enlarge the structures in which we are organized. So actually the question is not whether but how? Certain aspects of our life have been globalizing themselves with only small interference. For example, information. Look at mobile phones, the internet, satellite television. This has already globalized itself which is quite good.

There are other issues in our lives that have been globalizing themselves without much of our interference but there are other aspects of our life that unless we adopt to them a global approach, this means we will not survive the 21st century. For example, ecology.

Chernobyl - can you remember that name? Things like acid rains? Northern Korea, or Belarus, if uncontrolled can just blow us all up at one point. So we are actually forced to adopt a global approach to ecology or we shall not survive.

Then once again here is the question asked to you the super power, which issues need a globalized approach and which do not require? And which of those must we inevitably globalize? Once you get involved in making the list of those primary issues that need to be globalized bear in mind the fact that Walesa is against one thing being globalized and that is my wife, Danuta, whom I shall never allow to go global.

I can discuss any other issue with you. There remain other unanswered questions. What should be the economic systems in this globalized world because this system that we have in place will not be sustainable in this century. You know perfectly well that less than ten percent of mankind owns more than ninety percent of wealth of the globe. That number, that little number, of the owners will be unable to safeguard the wealth that they actually possess. Simply speaking, demography and populism will totally undermine this system unless we can improve the system before things actually happen.

The same applies to democracy and the political system. Those that we have had so far fit well -- the borders, the antagonistic blocks. And actually the model of democracy for the rest of the world was the democracy that you have here in the United States. Although this was slightly undermined during your previous presidential election when you almost ended up with two presidents for one term of office. Well at one point we really began to think that while the United States is a huge country perhaps it could do with one president coming in the office on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and the other one on alternative days. Though this would certainly not be a model for us to follow. But as now you have coped with this minor fault of democracy however I can see a bigger challenge elsewhere.

Assuming that we will go on globalizing very shortly China will join in different institutions, organizations, and India too. And once these countries join in they will say the following, we are so grateful to the powerful United States for democracy. It is such a great system. Do you Americans still believe in democracy, they would say. Naturally you will say yes, of course. Then a Chinese will say, that's great. That means we will have all the major decisions passed in a referendum. Can you imagine Europe winning any vote or any referendum against the Chinese, can you imagine all the United States winning any vote or any referendum against the Chinese? At one point the Chinese might say, why don't we have Europe join China and they will have the majority to, pass that vote. All according to the principles of democracy. So unless we find some readjustment in this respect we have just one alternative. That is all of us immediately should try really hard to have at least thirty children in every family. Then perhaps we might stand a chance of winning a referendum against the Chinese.

You know Ladies and Gentlemen, since we are in the search of the new solutions, Europe decided that it would formulate them in a constitution. Europe decided to base its constitution and all those new solutions on a very simple foundation, the foundation made up by the following principles: The first one, freedom of every individual; the second principle being freedom of any type of association; the third principle being economic freedom, meaning no subsidies, no state interference, let the free market sort the economy out. As for God and values, these should be restricted to a private sphere of every individual. As you may know this idea, this constitution, has not been adopted by all the countries because people came to realize that such solutions do not really meet the challenges of the Twenty-first century because the higher the progress the greater the technology the more badly we need values. We must educate, bring up an individual of conscience, and then we can be safe about our solutions.

Well Ladies and Gentlemen, as I was saying before when we were opposing the system no one could foresee that we stood any chance of winning against communism and many of you may have wondered how come that it actually happened? I would like you, therefore, to realize one thing and where was our error when we calculated our chances? Very simply because we forgot about values and faith. When we calculated we insisted only on counting the dollars, the tanks, the military power and once we calculated those the computers too said we stood no chance whatsoever. However, under those circumstances of total apathy and helplessness a Pole was elected -- the Pope. Well some of you might say, does it mean anything? Try to recall what it was like a year after his election. He came over to Poland and the whole world looked at Poland with astonishment asking themselves what's happening in that communist country? Almost all the Polish people flocked to meet with the Pope, even the communists and the secret police learned how to cross themselves. Of course they didn't know the proper words but they would go on saying one, two, three, four, five but the cross was there.

So when constructing the foundations of new systems, remember that a year after this pilgrimage of the Pope to Poland I was the leader of ten million people and I suddenly did not become any wiser. I didn't become any richer at all.

But I was at that stage, a year later, there was such an impulse of all the people that could hardly cope with printing their membership declarations. When the Pope, the Holy Father as we call him, was in Poland he did not encourage us to carry out the revolution. He was not involved in any conspiracy but he allowed us to see how many of us there were. He awoke the Polish people and also the peoples around us. And, of course when we saw even the communists saying their prayers which was against their ideology of course, we realized that they were not really true communists, that they resembled radishes -- red only on the outside.

The Soviets naturally were aware of what was happening, how the nations were being awakened. Someone tried to assassinate the Pope but as you know at that time he turned out to be immortal. Yet the upheaval was growing, So at that point the Soviets realized that the communist system needed some reform or it would not survive and they remembered, the Soviet leaders remembered, that there was a Soviet secretary somewhere in the provinces that when having drunk a little bit he would claim, that the communist system needed reform. Naturally he couldn't have said it too openly because he would be afraid that other people would overhear it. That guy was brought over to Moscow and he was appointed to the leader of the Soviet Union, this past secretary of the Communist Party, and he proposed perestroika and glasnost as the means to reform the communist system.

Many of you, and me too, knew perfectly well that the communist system was not reformable. That's why we kept encouraging him to carry out the reform. Go on, go on, we would say and we were just waiting for him to pull out one brick so that the whole structure would collapse. And this is exactly what happened. He actually failed in every attempt. He never reformed the communist system nor did he reform the Soviet Union. He did not reform the Warsaw Pact either which means a total fiasco. But why should I be reminding you of those facts?

Only because I want you to remember that you should not feel discouraged by the failures in life if you mean well, if you head in the right direction, you may even end up with another prize because that particular reformer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his failed reforms. But things weren't really evolving so smoothly for us because at one point that reformer got really tired and he went on vacation. He was put under house arrest for a while and his deputy president ended up prime minister of his cabinet, let out the soldiers and the tanks into the streets in an attempt to put an end to his reform but we were lucky at that point. There happened to be another Soviet guy who climbed upon the tank delivered a very inspiring speech and ended up his speech by saying, and now go back to the barracks. He actually stopped the coup d'etat. Until today we don't really know for sure whether he did it when sober or when drunk because he was Boris Yeltsin.

So if any one of you wanted to assess in percentage who contributed to what extent we would have to give 50 percent of credit for bringing communism down to the Pope, 30 percent to solidarity and Lech Walesa, that means myself. Certainly I could have attributed more credit to myself but I want to remain on good terms with the one up there. Let me remind you that I do not speak about certain obvious factors, about such things as had it not been for your great leader, President Ronald Reagan, the end of communism would not have been so easy, for President George Bush, who both greatly contributed to bringing communism down while their contribution can be seen in a different perspective because we did the physical job, the direct job.

Here I would like to end up my introductory remarks because I would like to talk now to focus only the issues that are of more interest to you. You have a great responsibility versus the world because the best daughters and sons of I think all the nations around the world have prepared the grounds for globalization. Here on the example of American soil you have demonstrated to the world that a Jew and an Arab can be neighbors. You have proved that a German can be a good neighbor to a Pole and to a Russian. Such a thing could have been proved only by the greatest people of this world and you and your predecessors here have accomplished this. Now when our technology forces us to enlarge and to unite the world you have prepared the grounds for it. We must not be afraid of it, on the contrary we have to work together the best solutions for this united world. You have to carry out similar meetings as this lecture so that you while hearing other people share their perspectives pick the best solutions and I'm deeply confident you can do this. If anything of what I have said here today can be useful to you any way, I'll be more than happy. If nothing turns out to be useful, I'm sorry. And that means you have wasted an hour of your lifetime and just forget that this guy came to talk to you at all.