Lech Wałęsa

Visions for Europe

Abstracts of Lech Wałęsa’s thoughts from his keynote speech during the Arts Festivals Summit on Usedom

© Geert Maciejewski

Lech Wałęsa was born in Popowo, Poland, in 1943. First mention of his activity in the anti-communist opposition originates from 1968, when he was an outspoken critic of the Gdansk shipyard management. He played a key role in public affairs, taking part in the work of an Interfactory Strike Committee and engaging himself in free trade unions activities to educate labourers about their rights. On 31 August 1980, he negotiated the Gdansk Agreement, which gave the workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union. Following this victory, he co-formed and led the first independent and oppositional social movement in the Soviet bloc, ‘Solidarność’ (Solidarity). In 1981, the Polish government imposed martial law, Solidarity was outlawed, alleging that this was the only way of preventing a Soviet invasion, and most of the leaders of Solidarity were arrested, including Wałęsa, who was detained for nearly a year. His unyielding efforts and courage were recognised by the global community in 1983, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, citing his campaign for “non-violent struggle for free trade unions and human rights in Poland”. In 1990, Wałęsa became the first elected president of Poland. He presided over Poland’s transformation from a communist to a post-communist state and strongly supported Poland’s accession to NATO and the European Union. Since the end of his presidency in 1995, he has founded a think-tank – the Lech Wałęsa Institute – to support the development of local governments in Poland and of democracy throughout the world. He also has honoris causa degrees at 38 foreign universities and honorary citizenship of 35 cities around the world, as he lectures on Central European history and politics at various universities and organisations, educating young generations, calling for a world based on universal values, and promoting ways of peaceful cooperation between the nations in the 21st century.

With the first independent and opposition social movement in the Soviet bloc, ‘Solidarność’ (Solidarity), Lech Wałęsa – winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace and President of Poland – made a significant contribution to political change in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe.

In his keynote “Visions for Europe” at the European Festivals Association’s Arts Festivals Summit on 13 May 2024 in Peenemünde, Germany, hosted by the Usedom Music Festival, Lech Wałęsa put forward many of his more recent ideas and offered advice to the festival makers, artists, cities and regions representatives. He reminded them to seize the moment and build on opportunities and the world’s needs.
Here are some extracts from what he said, translated from the Polish.

  • I hope for change in Russia led by the citizens there. Russia needs a movement similar to Solidarność in Poland in the 1980s in order to achieve the necessary upheaval. The Russians are responsible for what is happening now in Russia and Ukraine, as they are the ones voting for their authorities. If everyone acted together, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin could be overthrown. Europe as a whole faces major challenges, which call for even closer co-operation.

  • Drop leaflets in various Russian cities by aircraft or drones is a modern approach of an awareness campaign that can cover large areas efficiently. The content of the leaflets should carry personal news about individuals affected by the situation and highlighting the human impact and personal connections within communities. You should tell these people, look, this buddy of yours that you used to drink beer with, he’s no longer there. And that neighbour from upstairs, her two sons are gone, thanks to Putin. The leaflets should encourage people to go into the streets and demonstrate.

  • At this moment of great discussion about what the world should look like, how should we move forward, who is going to lead it? If you do not fight, how can you act? This is our common fault. We can’t get into the mindset to spot opportunities and threats.

  • In thinking about how to convey this message, it is important to consider the sensitivity of the information and the emotional impact on the recipients. Effective communication would involve not only disseminating these messages but also providing support and information on how people can help or get help. This kind of approach necessitates careful planning to ensure the information is accurate, respectful, and considerate of the feelings of those who receive it.

  • I understand that you are thinking about the future of Europe, with an interest in the role of Germany and the challenges facing the continent. You are obviously concerned about future steps and the impact they will have on the cohesion and stability of Europe. You also express concern about how Europe will move forward after the current problems and how Germany and others will play a key role in this process.

  • Your words reflect concern for European unity and the potential consequences if effective solutions to ongoing challenges are not found. If you want to discuss concrete strategies or policy proposals to deal with these issues, I am here to discuss and consider possible solutions.

  • You seem to be emphasising the issue of shared responsibility in the face of global challenges and discussions about the future of the world. You talk about the need to recognise both the opportunities and threats that changing reality brings, and about the difficulties we encounter when trying to effectively use these opportunities that appear as “coincidences” in our lives.

  • From this perspective, talking about “who sits in the seat” may refer to deciding who should have a say in shaping future decisions and policies in the international arena. It is a question of what voices should be represented in global discussions and who should have the final say on issues that affect the entire world.

  • Leaders of the independence movements really helped to break the Iron Curtain and all the borders in Europe. We have many famous composers, writers, poets who led societies, communities in shaping the political landscape, particularly during the transition away from communist rule. These figures shared common European values: uniting people and encouraging democracy in our countries. And then, in a few years, they almost everywhere lost to former communists who had politics as a profession or as a business, and that unfortunately continues in many of our countries now, and it is really very difficult to stop them, because they have much better experience of being in power, in political positions. Arts and culture can spread ideas of freedom. They don’t play to zones of interest, as many politicians do.

  • You’re grappling with two contrasting ideas about global governance and the role of international bodies. On one hand, you mention a viewpoint that advocates for the United States to take a leading role in implementing strategies beneficial to all continents, essentially acting as a global leader. On the other hand, you express a desire to dismantle the United Nations in favour of a new, more inclusive, and representative entity – a “united people body.”

    These two ideas indeed present a tension between unilateralism and multilateralism:
  1. The Role of the United States as a Global Leader: This idea suggests that a single nation could lead in setting and implementing global strategies. Advocates might argue that the U.S., given its economic and military capabilities, is well-positioned to tackle global challenges effectively and can act more decisively than a multilateral organisation.
  2. Dismantling the United Nations for a United People Body: This concept advocates for a transformation or complete overhaul of international governance. It suggests that the current system, epitomised by the United Nations, is insufficiently democratic or responsive to the needs of all people. The aim would be to create a new, more democratic system that better represents the diverse populations of the world and can address global issues more equitably and effectively.

    These ideas could enrich each other if a balance is found where the U.S. plays a leading role within a reformed, more inclusive international body. Alternatively, they could oppose each other if the push for U.S. leadership undermines efforts to democratise global governance structures. Your aspiration for the UN to transform into “United People” implies a preference for reforming global institutions to be more participatory and representative, rather than relying on a single nation’s leadership.

    Reconciling these views involves addressing how the U.S. could use its influence to foster a more inclusive and representative global system, rather than reinforcing a unilateral approach that may perpetuate existing power imbalances. The challenge lies in crafting a strategy that aligns these ambitions, promoting both effective leadership and global democracy.

    France, Germany and Italy should take a lead in reforming world governance and particularly European security.

This text presents some abstracts of thoughts by Lech Wałęsa from his keynote speech during the European Festivals Association’s Arts Festivals Summit on Usedom, Germany on 13 May 2024, hosted by the Usedom Music Festival.

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