Lech Wałęsa, 18. 10. 1987, Gdańsk, Poland


Location Gdańsk, Poland
Date 18. 10. 1987
Length 17:48

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What was in your opinion the main achievement of Solidarity?

This is the question that should be developed. To speak about Solidarity we have to understand what is Solidarity itself. Solidarity was just a fine name given to the reform movement. We were from the beginning, we are now and we will remain - a reform that called itself Solidarity and now in our conditions that reform takes on various shapes. The first stage of this reform that was called Solidarity was very spectacular, very emotional. And from this stage we are known to the millions of people in Poland and throughout the world. Nevertheless if one thinks it over more deeply than that stage apart from the emotions did not bring lasting results. Whereas the second stage that we are currently in is a stage that collects all these emotions and tries to create on their basis positive programmes suitable for realisation. The struggle for our victory of those days is played out right now and for the victory to be continued for the future. If we ask the question in such a way then we can discuss about Solidarity. What is happening today, what is going to happen in the future. Where are we now and where we are going.

How do you account for the birth of Solidarity?

Poland over the last forty years, that is the period we discuss, Poland has followed the path defined by the outcome of war in a certain way - not otherwise. It was a transplantation and the transplant that we were not prepared for as a society. And that is why some models were not adapted immediately or were rejected immediately. Other models were verified. That is why even now this society still does not accept certain solutions. Some solutions are not compatible with Polish characters and generally are not acceptable for people. Hence Solidarity was a stage showing the lack of acceptance for certain solutions and demanding reforms, demanding changes.

Why do you think the Party stopped negotiating? Why did the relationship between the authorities and Solidarity break down?

The Party should be asked about it. We have been ready for a long time for the reforms. We have been also ready for democracy for a long time.  While our partners on the side of Party and the authorities have not grown up to that. Today they ask  us if we are ready for economic reforms or democracy.  It is funny. They should be asked about it. Nevertheless we do not live on a deserted island. There are certain political and other conditions that make finding the solution impossible or more difficult to find. We have to understand that and we do understand but we still see the chances and necessity of changes in economic, social and political solutions.

Solidarity wanted independence without seizing power. Looking back at the outcome of the events, meaning December 13 of 1981, would you still have followed the same strategy?

You have to bear in mind that before December 13 the situation was a classic chance to seize power. And because of that we have demanded pluralism in economy, social life and politics so we can live... Listen, I have forgotten the question.

Shall I repeat the question once more?


Solidarity wanted independence without seizing...

This is a mistake. Once again, this time I understand it correctly. This is a mistake, because, this is not what we were interested in. We were interested in better structural solutions and in rejecting these elements in our social, economic and political life that prevented our development. The elements that make us the beggars of Europe, that make of us the obstacle in the development of Europe and the world. All this we wanted to reject. And at the same time the question of independence should be treated in the broader sense. The times are very different now. Our times do not require to stand at frontiers with a bow or with tanks. Today the economy levels are getting more even. The economic transfers are done on different principles. And the independence itself is and will be based on different principles. That is another subject and I would not like to discuss it right now. I am a trade union member and I would like to discuss trade union matters and  matters related  to Solidarity movement which I am trying to lead.

But what would you say to people who think that this strategy has failed and that Solidarity has been defeated?

Once again I repeat: such a strategy has probably not been used before in the world. At least I do not know  about a similar attempt, on such a great scale, in such conditions and so on. We are the winners in  applying this idea. Since we have decided to lead a  non-violent struggle, struggle for reform. Today everybody acknowledges that we were right. Even Gorbachov and the whole eastern block is talking about reforms. We were speaking about reforms in a positive way and we were prepared for reforms as an organisation. That is why we are the winners but in a different category. We are the winners in the category of new programmes, new solutions, new concepts and new methods. Whereas practically we had no intention to win  in fights and so we did not beat anyone  or kill in the streets and we did not try to seize power. Although we were accused of this. And we simply did not fight in this category. The other side has won in the category in which we did not fight. In the category we fought - we have managed to completely maintain our principles.

We have kept our principles and our standards and we have scored a victory. For today there is no doubt who has won and who has lost. There is no doubt who is blocking further development, who does not let us develop. We feel secure about our victory. Our victories did not involve in the past, they do not imply now and they should not imply battling or trying to seize power. Yet structurally we have changed our country and we are changing  the country. I would like to stress one point. We are not saying that all what our government is doing is wrong. That our government is not implementing reforms. Of course they are taking steps in the right direction in many subjects. I have often said that. The problem is that the government will achieve results in two hundred or three hundred years. So we are not satisfied, we protest and we want to speed up the process. We do not want to wait for two or three hundred years for we will not be around that long.

You have said you always wanted a dialogue with the authorities and general Jaruzelski also said he wanted dialogue with the society. What would be the specific conditions that would make such a dialogue possible?

I have spoken many times about our victories, about dialogue and what is going on in Poland. I will repeat my example that I have invented myself in the beginning, long time ago. So Poland is depicted in my example as a chessboard. On this chessboard the government proposes to play checkers, with captures and beatings. We suggest playing chess, a more intelligent game, we invite to such a game. In such a game we announce our victories because we have our victories and the other side announces their victories - they have them too. It is time to play a common party, common game. Then there will be no losers and winners but people would be satisfied and happy - people on our side and also others. That is why talking about the dialogue on the basis of the rules of checkers - we do not accept that. But we accept talking about dialogue on the basis of the chess game rules. Of course it is a metaphor and you can develop it as you wish.

What are specific conditions for that dialogue?

Once again the West and others do not understand us. If we are talking about dialogue, if we are talking about an agreement it does not mean that we want to sit down at one common  table. But we want to meet in the process of implementing the projects we suggest according to our programme. So it is an agreement based on meeting on the road to reforms and not based on signing new agreements or a small talk in front of the cameras.

In 1956 Hungarians have tried an unprising, in 1968 the Czechs have tried to reform the party from within. In 1980 Solidarity tried to gain independence for society. It seems that everything was tried but everything has failed. What else is possible?

Well, no. We as human beings we have to keep trying to do more and in a better way - to keep up the pace of our era that we live in. Of course there were things that could not possibly been resolved at certain moment. In the same manner as it is not possible to plant oranges (or whatever other crops you have to plant) in the snow for they will not grow. In the same way in the social issues, in the question of freedom even. in the question of implementation, there are moments when you could not disturb it at all costs. And there where times when our communist system was even progressive. The progressiveness of the communist system was based on taking away land from one owner and giving it over to a hundred owners. It was a progress because a hundred people were happy and one was dissatisfied. And so then we could talk about the proletariat and the satisfaction of the proletariat. It was so because the proletariat fought for one change of clothes and for just one bowl of soup. But today when we are - maybe not the capitalists - but still we are the owners of our tv set, our car, our bicycle or other things. We need a system adapted to represent the owners of these various goods. So if the system is still based on the proletariat and the electrification and other such things that were left behind a long time ago then the system is not suitable for people and the conditions we live in. So that system is over. We are not even discussing that it is over. It is the system not suitable for the times we live in. But our problem is how to get out form that system. It has created many absurd situations. Almost every situation we encounter in this country and in the entire block is absurd. None of the system elements is based on logical conditions, on logic based prices - without logic whatsoever. And the second question for us is: how to get out from that non-logic based  labyrinth, which road out to take. Some people think there is no way out, others think there is a way out but it will be an earthquake. Some think like I do, that we can try to get out of that illogical labyrinth looking for logic. The road leads through economic transitory solutions. I would not like to enter that broad subject.

Does the Gorbachev factor make a difference to the possibilities of  changing Poland?

Again I would not like to go into that subject. I would like to say: it is necessary to say that we have no choice. That system is finished for now and forever and we have to look for solutions, peaceful solutions. No fights, no messing around, nevertheless we have to organise the economic, social and political system in the  logical way. Now there is a question: is it possible? Many people say - no. Yet Gorbachev believes - like me and all of us - that the system is reformable. We have to keep in mind our experience, my experience, Mr Gorbachev experience and many others. To believe that the system is  reformable after all our efforts, work and experience we have to understand our proposals and what are the prospects. The system has created terrible apparatus of oppression. The worse the  conditions - the bigger the system of beaurocratic, militia, state and party control etc. If we are to get out of the system we have to dismantle that apparatus. The question for me is how to do it, with surgical methods or something else? By surgery I mean here: in revolutionary way. I believe that it is not necessary, that  we can use a far reaching pluralism that will create new conditions. In these conditions the surplus of people involved in the apparatus will be transferred to the organisational spheres where they can expect better standards, money and prospects. In such a way I can see a chance to eliminate that terrible additional construction without the need to use surgery methods. That construction  is capable even of destroying reforms as we have seen in Poland several times. The apparatus can destroy the reforms not out of its viciousness but it is a natural feature of this system, they cannot act in a different way.

What is the state of Solidarity today?

That is the question asked by a Western journalist without knowledge of Polish realities. The question should be put like that: what Solidarity has achieved and what Solidarity should be now fighting for? Now, what we have achieved? As a society, as Poland we have achieved the most important thing, impossible before: individual pluralism. Every Pole individually can be pluralistic in his/her views, a Pole can even be a stark opponent of this system. The opponent of the system will survive, would not be hanged, would not be imprisoned - for the time being. This is a great achievement of Poland and not only for Poland: that chance of an individual person to hold different pluralistic views. As I have said - this is great. Since Poland consists of far reaching individuals pluralistic in their views  then there is the second step that Poland and Poles should implement. Then pluralistic individuals should get together in groups according to the subject in order to work out solutions. They should get together to prepare solutions and to try to implement them. These subjects are economic, social and political. In these three categories of subjects in a democratic, pluralistic way we should unite according to our predispositions, aspirations and strength. We should work out the solutions that as a next move we would propose these solutions to the gentlemen on the opposite side. We should propose solutions to people who do not want reforms, who are blocking reforms, who thing that they are always right and so on. We have to show the solutions so well prepared that they are unquestionable. Then the fight would be continued through the specialists who would prove that that system is ridiculous and it is absurd to stick to old ways.

Last question. What is the relationship between Solidarity and the Church. We are after all in a church here.

The relations exist and the Church has survived because the Church has never entered even interesting causes. The Church has never got involved even in the best solutions, always  keeping distance. The Church has supported us whenever necessary and admonished whenever necessary and kept above our level. And that was great. We can have doubts concerning this past approach of Church. I would have preferred they full support for Walesa. From the perspective of eternity, from the past and for the future, we should support the Church and understand the great mission of the Church. The Church mission is  for better and for worse times. Without mixing the Church up in the issues that provoke any shade of doubt  to that mission.  As the President of Solidarity Trade Union I am very satisfied with the Church's mission and Church's role. I understand the role of the Church.

Lech Wałęsa (1943)

Lech Wałęsa

Lech Wałęsa (born 29 September 1943) is a Polish statesman, a leading figure in the Polish opposition against the totalitarian communist power and a political prisoner during martial law, the leader of Solidarity Trade Union (1980-1990) and Nobel Peace Prize  laureate (1983).  A shipyard electrician by trade, he led a successful pro-democratic non-violent fight for freedom which in 1989 ended the communist rule in Poland and ushered in the end of the Cold War. In 1989, Wałęsa was the first foreign non-head of state to ever address the Joint Meeting of the United States Congress.

He served as the first democratically elected by popular vote President of Poland  from 1990 to 1995. He presided over Poland's successful transition from communism into a free market liberal democracy. He remains active advocate of human rights and freedoms.  Since 1980, he has received hundreds of prizes, honours and awards from all over the world. The Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport bears his name since 2004.