Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland's Walesa Says Change 'Must Happen' In Belarus

Lech Walesa addresses a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first free parliamentary elections, in Gdansk on June 4, 2019.
Lech Walesa addresses a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first free parliamentary elections, in Gdansk on June 4, 2019.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa has urged Belarusians not to give up on democracy and the rule of law as the country heads toward a presidential election in August.

In an interview with RFE/RL on June 3, Walesa said changes were realistic even when the opposition is tightly controlled, and people should believe that a lot can be achieved without violence and bloodshed.

"The only question is the time and the price we are ready to pay for freedom in Belarus," the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said. "But this has to happen because there is no Europe without Belarus -- simply, there isn't -- so [changes] must happen."

Walesa, co-founder of Poland's Solidarity movement and the country's first postcommunist president (1990-1995), said it's important for people to believe in democracy and the rule of law.

When people believe in the rule of law and "make it right," they can enjoy democracy and progress, he said.

Belarus is set to hold a presidential election on August 9, with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka widely expected to win a sixth term in office.

None of the elections since the 65-year-old leader took power in 1994 has been deemed free or fair by Western standards.

And Human Rights Watch has warned that Belarusian authorities have intensified their crackdown on government critics with a "new wave of arbitrary arrests" ahead of the vote this summer.

Asked about the Belarusian police force and its role in suppressing dissent in the country, Walesa said it should support all Belarusians and not exist just to prop up Lukashenka, but he added that it took effort to achieve this.

Walesa also took exception to suggestions that voters would be best served by sticking with Lukashenka, because otherwise they risk angering Russia as Ukraine did when protests in Kyiv led to the overthrow of pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula shortly thereafter and backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, sparking a war that has resulted in more than 13,000 deaths. That armed conflict continues to this day.

"All this talk about invasions and conquering -- this is no longer the way" in the current era of technologies and open structures, Walesa said. "These are obsolete methods and old fears that do not fit our times anymore."

In the current climate, politicians have to win people over through persuasion and put forward new solutions that appeal to the youngest generations, he added.

Walesa, whose Solidarity movement is credited with inspiring a revolutionary wave in the late 1980s that toppled communist rule across Central and Eastern Europe, said his best advice for Belarusians is to believe in themselves and not to wait for anybody's help.

A lack of unity and other problem have caused "such a mess" in Europe that it is too preoccupied to provide Belarus and Ukraine with the help they need so that all countries can progress, he said.

"Be your own helping hand, then others will come to help you," he said.

  • 16x9 Image

    RFE/RL's Belarus Service

    RFE/RL's Belarus Service is one of the leading providers of news and analysis to Belarusian audiences in their own language. It is a bulwark against pervasive Russian propaganda and defies the government’s virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.