Lech Walesa, Solidarity hero and President of Poland 1991-95, visited Indiana University on October 5, 1998, to give a lecture sponsored by Union Board and to visit student and faculty groups connected with Poland. He spent the morning at the Polish Studies Center, where he gave a short talk and answered questions from the audience. This special issue of the Polish Studies Newsletter contains a selection of his comments, translated by PSC graduate assistant Agnieszka Gmys-Wiktor. Videotapes of his public lecture, "Solidarity and Central Europe in the 21st Century," may be borrowed from the Polish Studies Center in English or Polish versions.
Once again, I have an opportunity to come to the United States. In the past, I visited America as head of the Solidarity Union, and later, as President of Poland. As many of you know, Providence has allowed me to play a significant role in recent history. I used to think that once we were done with communism, the world would be simpler. It turned out that we were mistaken. In fact, certain threats have vanished into the past, but now totally new threats have replaced the old ones. And they are no less serious. This is one reason for me to travel now, because I enjoy meeting with young people and with professors, so that we may discuss these problems.
Let's begin here. There used to be two camps: the communist one and the capitalist one. The very fact that there were two camps kept them both in line. Today, though, we have a unipolar system. Further-more, it is no longer held in check by religion. The question we must ask today is: what is the unipolar world going to be like? What principles are countries and continents going to be grounded in? Are money and power going to rule? And on what basis will countries compete in the new system? These are great challenges. Myself, I don't know the answers to these questions. And we must add another worrisome factor to this equation, nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, there used to be only two nuclear powers, and the nuclear buttons existed only in two places, Russia and the United States. But now other countries are getting the bomb, for example, India and Pakistan, and some of the post-Soviet countries have nuclear potential.
We need to look at things from a global perspective today, and first of all, from the perspective of entire continents. We are now building economic and security unity in Europe. Nobody is going to stop this process. There will be a unified Europe, and it will possess economic and security unity. The enlargement of NATO and the expansion of the European Union are two great signs of this process. But along with the anticipated positive results, we must imagine a negative scenario of bad results, if greed and monopolistic thinking prevail. You could imagine the continent falling into the hands of a small group of the super-rich and their international corporations. You can even imagine a proletariat arising to destroy that regime. I hope that Europe would not have to undergo another disastrous revolution of this sort. It is these sorts of problems, of historical developments across continents, that should be discussed at universities and educational institutions today, as the post-communist era is getting underway. We want to avoid allowing these problems to be settled in the streets--again! Very often in our culture's past, it was in the street, in revolution, where such issues were settled, but never to a people's real satisfaction. Neither the French revolution, nor the Leninist revolution or even the Cuban one truly benefitted their people.
It is time for educational institutions, for universities to provide the world with solutions for global problems. This is why I enjoy talking with young people at centers of learning, and I see my own role as a way of provoking people to dream up solutions. Ultimately we have to ask, which generation will be most likely to provide the truly creative solutions? Is it my generation, the older one, burdened with experiences of the past? Or might the younger generation do better?
This is my introduction. Now I'd like to hear your questions.
Question: You mentioned revolution in the streets, the French revolution and others. You didn't mention the Polish Solidarity revolution, which started with an ordinary citizen jumping over the Gdansk Shipyard wall to see how he could help shape the event. (This was Lech Walesa in 1980.) Where does Solidarity fit into your paradigm?
Lech Walesa: The Polish revolution was a different kind. All these revolutions were justified, in terms of the suffering and injustice in the countries I've mentioned. But in the other instances, demagogues and populists put slogans on the banners of the revolution, and they began the struggle. Very often, the masses would find the slogans convincing and they would support them, because the demagogues promised to fight injustice and suffering. Nobody really succeeded. In Poland, the Pope, the Church and the people's faith strengthened the Solidarity revolution. This made our revolution different. The Polish revolution was triggered by the Holy Father telling us the truth about ourselves, and he also made us realize how many of us there were. These truths we incorporated in the Solidarity movement. But the Pope insisted we struggle according to the philosophy of peace, through the principle of opposing evil with good. These were my principles throughout the Solidarity era, and they guided my choice of tactics. Without the Pope's impact, the Polish revolution would have started somewhat later, and it would have been a bloody conflict.
Recall that we were acting against the U.S.S.R., the great Soviet power. In fact, we didn't have any other way to struggle. Over a million Soviet soldiers surrounded Poland. There were nuclear missiles circling the country. Our only means to fight was through spiritual power, with our faith, and by the knowledge of how many of us there were. This is why we chose the name Solidarity. It was a unique type of revolution. Various factors contributed to the success of our revolution, inside the country and internationally, but most of all, it was the Holy Father. Obviously, Pope John-Paul II didn't participate in any kind of conspiracy with foreign powers--there wasn't any conspiracy. You can ignore some published speculations about a conspiracy organized among President Reagan, the Pope and Lech Walesa. From the very beginning, I was on the prow of this ship called Solidarity, and I know that the Pope had the greatest impact, but it was completely different from what it called power politics. Instead, with great strength, the Pope reminded us who were and told us not to be afraid. In short, he did a great job.
Question: At Indiana University, a number of our students have been involved with Poland through work experiences in business and in public administration there, or working with Non-Governmental Organ-izations (NGO's or private non-profit organizations). What do you think is the role of reforming and strengthening these kinds of organizations in bettering Poland's future?
Walesa: All these institutions will help us, but none of them will save us.
If there's as little as one cent missing, you don't have a dollar. Without that missing dollar, you don't have a million. And we don't really know which cent is the most important one. They all are. And maybe, it's from those sectors which you just mentioned that we will find the most important cent. And definitely, without it, we don't have a dollar. Each of us with our individual talents should concentrate on what we are best at, and remember that each of us is irreplaceable. But it's still necessary to set your priorities in this whole mix of market-driven institutions. I travel around the world a lot, and it dismays me that there is no global thinking. We are split into thinking fragmentarily. We need to encourage young people to start thinking globally, without neglecting their particular kinds of technical expertise. Technically, we have made great advances as a civilization, but we have neglected the development of human conscience and human spirit. We left this to the church to handle, or other ad hoc groups, and we took it out of the public realm. This is probably the greatest mistake of our times.
Beyond our material growth, it is crucial to develop the human conscience. It is conscience that will make people work hard, study hard, and make people sensitive to others. We need to found a university of conscience, and consider the demands of conscience when we educate specialists in different fields. Without it, it's a dangerous world. You can depend on computers for certain solutions. But if you reject faith in God and in spirit, I really fear that it will be a dangerous world. Leftists who take a materialist approach say that everything should be based on law, and that we should concentrate on our rights and our duties alone. According to their belief this is sufficient to govern families, countries, continents. In my view, law is necessary but it should be rooted in human conscience, and stem from values and religion. Computers won't solve those kinds of problems. The reason is that everybody has broken the law on many occasions, and we didn't get punished. That's because the law punishes us only when we get caught. This just teaches people to learn how not to get caught. And that makes the world dangerous!
You know, there's a Polish story about this. Back under communism, the only way to really escape was to seek freedom in other countries, so people started to hijack planes. The communists wanted to find a legal solution, a technical solution to this problem. They introduced high fines for sky-jacking. At the same time, they put a group of armed guards aboard each plane to prevent the hijack. These guards were plain clothes men disguised as tourists. But sometimes it turned out that a plain clothes police guard hijacked the plane too. So they put guards on board to keep an eye on the first guards. Finally it reached the point where there were only guards on the planes and no seats for passengers. And still the planes got hijacked! This shows how inefficient and costly it is to rely on controls and laws alone. You don't find people trying to hijack planes out of Poland today. So my point is that conscience is the condition of truly good law. In my opinion, our future belongs to conscience. It will require moral education from the ground up, starting with preschool, to foster the development of human conscience, and it won't depend on religion and the church alone. They provide other needs. But if we don't go in this direction, we'll destroy our civilization. You'll see revolution after futile revolution, until somebody presses the wrong button.
Question: I work at the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Polish Studies Center. I understand your desires of fast movement. We're working on that. I am also working with some graduate students to look at the Polish motorway system and its application here in Indiana. Hopefully we can learn a little bit in both directions on this.
Walesa: The beginning of civilization was based on the wheel and on speed. There was no other way because human intellectual development wasn't much advanced then. But now maybe it's time to reject the wheel. Let's leave speed aside and talk about taking off. Let's imagine dissolving gravity. It would be much cheaper and much easier. Sooner or later somebody probably will do it. No roads would be needed. For now, both you and I will need wheels, though. And it is true we need highways, especially in Poland. Because we are in the middle of Europe. In the past, in the age of confrontation, it was a bad location. Russians and Germans crossed Poland very often because they longed to see each otherthey missed each other so much. But they tended to stay. Once they stayed in Poland for a hundred and twenty years. We hope this era of confrontation is over. Poland is in the very heart of Europe. Through Poland the shortest ways lead from west to east, and from north to south. So create new roads, motorways, gas stations, and shops. Now you can stay in this beautiful country all the time, and just operate your business from the States. There is good business to be made in Poland, on roads, but not only on roads. As I said, geographically, it is the very center of Europe. This makes the distances between places shortest and therefore cheapest. Where you have a highway you have business. Business not only for Poland, but business thanks to Poland as well. Sooner or later our neighbors rich in natural resources like Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine will have huge markets. They will need highway access, and they will still depend on wheels.
Question: Tell us about the research institute you have founded, the Lech Walesa Institute.
Walesa: If I only have listeners, I can go on for hours. But I know you are tired of lectures and monologues. So let me be brief. As far as my institute is concerned, at first I was planning to establish it at the end of my second presidency. In this case, however, life speeded up my actions rather unusual for me. I did not have a second turn. But there is a silver lining in every cloud. I have been busy with other important activities, like making sure that the reforms I have started are still being implemented. I have gathered various people at my institute and at the foundation named for me who keep a close eye on reforms. We sometimes interfere, although we try not to interfere too much. At the same time, we organize trips to discuss big issues. So there is a group of people in the institute who watch the reforms in Poland and also consider global issues.
Looking back on my life, it is true in my case, as well as in your lives that we never know what destiny has prepared for us, what kinds of careers or professions await us. If somebody had told me thirty years ago what would happen to me, I would have said, you can't be serious! If he had told me that I would meet a Nobel laureate in person, I would not believe it, not to mention believing I'd become one myself. Similarly, in thirty years you will be thinking the same way, one of you or many of you. Now people like me have a chance for Nobels and public careers. The world has opened up so much. In fact, the world seems not to know where to turn next. I sense this because I travel a lot in different countries. I sense the helplessness of people. Politicians are busy taking care of themselves. They concentrate on their interests and their electorates. So I doubt that they will come up with visions. Now we don't have politicians with a vision, just politicians on television. So who can come up with solutions? I think they'll come from individuals, from people before they become politicians. Here is where concepts and ideologies should be created. A politician may benefit from them later on. I count on your for this. I wish you this. If we have good ideas, we have better job opportunities and in consequence I will have a better retirement pension!Back to the contents
Dear Friends of Polish Studies:
As Fall Semester 1998 came to a close, I realized that we have had a tremendous year at Polish Studies in terms of activities. Lech Wałęsa visited Bloomington. This was a wonderful way for Polish Studies to become connected with a wider audience, and the Solidarity hero's visit made a real impact on IU students. President Wałęsa's lecture at the filled-to-capacity Musical Arts Center was also broadcast by WTIU to the surrounding community. And this was just one highpoint in the year's calender. Polish Studies sponsored two international conferences, "Alliances, Business and Culture in Poland after NATO Enlargement" in the spring, and "Home/Less: the Polish Experience" last month. We brought distinguished lecturers in literature and history to campus to talk with students and faculty, and several of my own colleagues and graduate students traveled to Poland on research visits. There has probably not been so much public attention paid to Polish Studies at IU since the fall of communism and the Solidarity era.
I thank you for the attention you have paid us. For some, this is thanks for attending Lech Walesa's lecture and other public events. We also thank friends of Polish Studies who contribute dishes to our annual picnic and our Wigilia party. I also thank the many people who take time to read our Newsletter and comment on it, or comment in such a way that Polish Studies enjoys really good "word of mouth" at Indiana University and in national circles. This has gratified me a lot in my ten years as director of the Center.
I particularly thank people who have made financial contributions to Polish Studies. Your generosity sponsors a number of activities. From your gifts, we fund several students and faculty each year to travel to conferences in the U.S. and Poland and present talks about Polish culture, and we support students on research and language study visits to Poland. We purchase books and videos for the Center's library from your contributions. I am particularly grateful to Monica and Victor Markowicz for a sizable gift last year when we moved to the Polish Studies house on Atwater Avenue; thanks to them we furnished the seminar room with handsome new tables and a dozen chairs. Donated funds also help us host receptions for visiting speakers, which the campus community particularly enjoys.
So as the new year begins, I am requesting all friends of Polish Studies who can do so to make a donation to the Center. Your gift will help us maintain the same level of activity and campus/community involvement that we have enjoyed in 1998. As a memento of the year, we have prepared a special Newsletter issue devoted to Lech Walesa's visit to the Polish Studies Center in October. His short talk here and extensive conversation with the student audience elaborated on some themes close to Polonian interests which he mentioned only briefly in his evening lecture. These include the role of the Polish Pope in Walesa's own activities as a leader, Walesa's belief in conscience over materialism as the true engine of society, some reminiscence from the Solidarity revolution, and a look forward to Poland's restored position at the heart of Europe. I hope your will enjoy reading this selection of Lech Walesa's current thinking.
It has been two years since I appealed to friends of Polish Studies to support the program with a financial contribution. I especially thank the friends who have made contributions in the meantime, without a reminder. It would be an excellent way to mark the new year by making a tax-deductible donation to our program.
With best wishes for a happy new year,
Director, Polish Studies
Please make your checks payable to Polish Studies Center, and mail to the Indiana University Polish Studies Center, 1217 E. Atwater, Bloomington, IN 47401-3703.