Accessibility links

Breaking News

Lech Walesa Calls For Global 'Solidarity' Movement In Response To Russia

Lech Walesa (file photo)

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa, co-founder of Poland's Solidarity movement and the country's first postcommunist president, says a new international "solidarity" movement is needed to propel democracy forward in Russia and respond to Moscow's aggressive foreign policies.

At age 75, having served from 1990 to 1995 as Poland's president, Walesa is now a retired politician and labor activist.

But he maintains an office in Gdansk at the European Solidarity Center, a museum dedicated to the civil resistance movement he led during the 1980s against Poland's Moscow-backed communist government.

As Solidarity transformed under nearly a decade of martial law into a powerful political force, it also inspired a revolutionary wave in the late 1980s that brought down communist rule across Central and Eastern Europe.

But Poland was the first Warsaw Pact country to break free of Soviet dominance.

"We need Russia," Walesa told RFE/RL on October 19 as he gazed through his office window at the shipyard where his Solidarity movement began in 1980 as an independent trade union.

"It is a very good country to cooperate with.... We must help Russia in a calm, peaceful, subtle way. But it needs to be well-organized," Walesa said.

"Solidarity is a simple philosophy," Walesa explained. "What does it say? [It says] 'If you cannot carry your burden alone, ask others to help you.' Go, create such solidarity, and [you'll manage] Russia."

'Inventing Enemies'

Walesa, a political icon for Polish democracy, says Western powers need to understand Russia as a country that "used to be a super power," but has lost that position.

"It is important to remember that there has been never been democracy in Russia. It has always been ruled by using the threat of an enemy to sustain unity," Walesa said.

"Russia even used to invent enemies to preserve its unity," he said.

But Walesa also said the world should recognize that Russia has gone through many positive changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

"It has gone pretty far away from what it was in the past," he said. "It's not yet the Russia we would like to see. But it's moving in the direction we would like it to go."

Lech Walesa shows supporters the victory sign at the first Solidarity convention in Gdansk in September 1981.
Lech Walesa shows supporters the victory sign at the first Solidarity convention in Gdansk in September 1981.

Walesa told RFE/RL that he thinks President Vladimir Putin made a "huge mistake" when Russian military forces seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

"In the 21st century, this is not a proper way of resolving disputes," Walesa said. "There might be attempts to use those old methods, but it will be very costly" in the end. Ultimately, he said, what matters is the price a country has to pay for such aggression.

"There are ways [of dealing with international issues] that are more open and democratic, and they bring about better results," Walesa said. "It is just a question of time before Putin will have to abandon his policy [on Crimea]. The sooner he realizes that, the less the costs he has to bear will be."

'Solidarity For Ukraine'

Walesa insists that both confronting and working with Russia now requires "solidarity" between states.

As an example, Walesa said the international community should respond to Russia's seizure and annexation of Crimea by organizing countries together in a "solidarity for Ukraine" group.

"You chose 10 representatives from all over the world, people who are well informed about Ukraine and Russia," he explained. "You can allocate them either through NATO or the United Nations."

"Let that group of 10 people prepare 10 different propositions for different countries to choose that can hurt Russia," he continued. "Something not to buy, something not to sell.... Every country has different interests, so each country could pick something from the list."

"It would be great to have five people within this group who have good relations with Putin," Walesa said. "Every day, one of those five people could call Putin and tell him, 'Listen, Putin, we have lost so much. How much have you lost?'"

"The last person who calls him should tell him, 'Let's sum up the losses and let's think again, because your own oligarchs will never forgive you,'" Walesa said.

But Walesa concluded that nowadays, each country is acting in its own manner for its own interests.

"You can't win against Russia in such a way," he said.

Written by Ron Synovitz, with reporting from Gdansk by Current Time TV and RFE/RL Ukrainian Service correspondent Hryhoriy Zhyhalov
  • 16x9 Image


    RFE/RL journalists report the news in 27 languages in 23 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. We provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.

Facebook Forum