Fot. Mariusz Kosiński/MSZ
“By knocking the teeth out of the Soviet bear, we helped other nations win their freedom,” Lech Wałęsa, ex-President of Poland, legendary leader of the Solidarity movement and Nobel Peace Prize winner tells Polska.pl on the 35th anniversary of the Solidarność (Solidarity) Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union.
Magdalena Majewska, Polska.pl: The Lech Wałęsa Solidarity Prize goes to people who embody the idea of solidarity and who look up to you for inspiration and guidance. What is the significance of awarding the Lech Wałęsa Solidarity Prize to Zhanna Nemtsova?
Lech Wałęsa: Solidarity is about helping others. If you cannot do something, then you ask others for help and together you organise yourselves. Solidarity also needs the right time and place. The world is different now from what it was 35 years ago. Naturally some things never change because we still organise ourselves, unite, but the burden is different. Then it was the communist regime and the Soviet Union. Today the burden has shifted to other places. In a sense, the message behind the Solidarity Prize is similar to my Nobel Peace Prize’s. We express our gratitude to people for their peaceful struggle – beautiful and classic – and at the same time we encourage them to continue their struggle. We are also thankful for the fact that there is opposition in Russia and that this opposition is upholding the right line vis-à-vis the authorities. But difficulties are so great that we want to encourage them to continue in their efforts.
Why did Poland establish this prize?
We have our experiences and distinctions. We received assistance when we struggled. Now is the time to help others who are in a similar situation and Russia is a country that we care for in a special way. We would like Russia – a country with great potential – to be together with us in Europe and the world. Not the Russia that opts for military solutions, for tanks and gun fire, so out of place in the 21th century, but a Russia that, like us, embraces methods that have been tested and proven around the world. Not the ones that our civilisation has cast away.
In 2015 we will celebrate the 35th anniversary of Solidarity. From where did Solidarity draw its strength?
Right after WWII, when Poland came under a communist regime, we tried to shoulder our burden. First, we waged a military struggle . Take Łupaszka, for example [Zygmunt Edward Szendzielarz, a.k.a. “Łupaszka”, a Polish Army and Home Army mayor, sentenced and shot in 1951 by Poland’s communist authorities – editor’s note]. He could not do it. Then came 1956, 1970, 1976 – where we had different groups: workers, students who tried to regain freedom, putting their lives on the line and sometimes paying the full price, but they could not do it, either. By trial and error we came up with the idea that we have to bear this burden together: youth, workers, intellectuals – all of us, together. But the communist authorities knew that, too. The authorities disrupted each and every attempt at forming an independent organisation, at lifting that burden.
It would probably have taken much longer if luck had not smiled on us . A Pole, Karol Wojtyła was elected Pope. As John Paul II, he organized us, not to fight, but to pray. At that moment we realised that what the authorities kept telling us : “You do not exist, whom do you represent? What is this strike about?” was not true. We were derided so much that we began to have self-doubts that no such thing as “we” exists that there are only individual people. The Pope, in turn, organized us to pray together. We saw that there are so many of us praying together, professing the same values. The scattered remnants that did exist at the time, like Free Trade Unions (WZZ) or Social Self-Defence Committee (KOR) and many others were able to take over the masses organised in prayer and lead them to fight. The Pope inspired us with his words and we turned his words into actions. Without the Pope, we would not have been able to assemble together, count our numbers and gain self-confidence. Before then, for twenty years I had been recruiting people to fight. I succeeded in signing up 10 persons. After the first pilgrimage to Poland by Karol Wojtyła as Pope in 1979 , I enlisted 10 million in one year. I was no more smarter or richer, but people came, believed us and let themselves be organised and led.
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