Walesa Focuses on Democracy in Public Address Sponsored by Creighton
In a speech laced with humor, former president of Poland and 1983 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Lech Walesa told a capacity crowd at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium Music Hall of his country’s serious struggle for freedom and democracy.
The March 28 public lecture was sponsored by Creighton’s Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences.
Walesa, an electrician by trade, led Poland’s anti-communist Solidarity movement in the 1980s, which began as a union of shipyard workers and would usher in the fall of communism in Poland and, eventually, elsewhere in Europe.
“Poland kicked the teeth out of the bear’s mouth,” Walesa said, referring to the former Soviet Union. “And once the bear was unable to bite you, people could go about bringing the Berlin Wall down.”
Walesa, who became Poland’s first democratically elected president in 1990, credited the late Pope John Paul II, a fellow Pole, for much of the success in bringing democracy to Poland and Eastern Europe.
“The year after his election (as pope), he came over to Poland,” Walesa said, speaking through a translator in his native tongue. “Suddenly, all the Polish people attend Masses with the Holy Father.”
While the pope did not encourage a revolution, Walesa said, “The Holy Father gave us the word, and the working people transformed this word into flesh.”
On a humorous note, he said he would give “more than 50 percent” of the credit for communism’s demise to the pope and “30 percent to Solidarity and Lech Walesa” – adding tongue-in-cheek: “Of course, I could give more credit to myself, but I want to be on good terms with the one up there.”
Moving forward, Walesa said the world has entered a new era, one less defined by borders and territories and more defined – thanks to technology, such as the Internet – by globalization. This interconnectedness comes with some new challenges.
“What economic system will be sustainable in the globalized world?” Walesa said. “Certainly not the one we have in today’s world. In today’s economic system, less than 10 percent of mankind owns 90 percent of the world’s wealth.”
“Since God has not given to us all equally – and we are all essential to the world – we must slowly adopt a planned approach to develop the world in order for us to create progress,” Walesa said. He added that the global economy needs consumers – which necessitates promoting development and employment growth worldwide.
Walesa ended with a plea for greater public participation in national and world affairs.
“This world is so beautiful,” he said. “I’m here to beg you, please be more committed and involved.”
Borrowing language from a proposed European constitution, Walesa added: “Let us base ourselves on freedoms only. Freedom of individual, freedom of association of any kind, economic freedom.”
He then closed with a smile: “If you fail to find the right solutions, if you don’t want to be the superpower, share it with Poland. We’ll know what to do with it.”