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Interview with Lech Walesa

Interview conducted by Nina Werkhäuser (ktz)
May 26, 2004

In an interview with the online services of Germany's public broadcasters ARD and Deutsche Welle, Poland's former president Lech Walesa outlined his political plans and described Poland's position in the EU.


Deutsche Welle: What did you do on May 1, when Poland entered the EU?

Walesa: I didn't celebrate on May 1, but rather on (Poland's) Constitution Day on May 3. I don't like such formal events, and I try to avoid them whenever possible. I stayed at home in my garden and spent the evening with my wife.

DW: What are you currently doing and how do you view your role today?

Walesa: I give lectures, among other places in Holland. I have a lot planned for this year, my head is full of ideas. Before it used to be that I would indicate the direction; now others are working to realize these ideas. I don't think anyone would question my historical contribution, but today the times are different. Nonetheless, I try to continue having a positive influence in Poland.

DW: Will you run again for the office of president?

Walesa: Yes, I think I will try to campaign again. When the next election takes place a year from now, the Polish people will probably want to leave the EU. They will most likely be unhappy with the EU. I want to counteract that. I will not allow Poland to leave the EU now that it is a member. My arguments will be the right ones, but that won't matter -- I'll lose the election.

DW: Many of the workers who once supported you would no longer vote for you today. Why is that?

Walesa: The price we paid for the change in systems was high, and we now see the effects in the high unemployment rate, among other things. But we should ask the workers: "Do you really want to return to communism?" I am the person responsible for the current situation, I led the battle to get us here. I was the one who did this, not Gorbachev. Therefore I must pay the price. I have an office, I don't earn all that much, but many people are unemployed and jealous of me. But does that mean I was wrong to do what I did? The more people complain about me today, the more monuments I'll have tomorrow.

DW: Do you ever go back to your former workplace at the Danzig shipyard and talk with the workers?

Walesa: Of course, and those are difficult conversations because the shipyard is slowly dying out. It's not the fault of the workers, but it's hard to talk to people who are losing their jobs. The workers had hoped everything would improve quickly, but things have turned out otherwise. When they blame me, then I say: "My friends, you are right. But should we have left these difficult changes for our children and grandchildren to deal with?" I would say: "You can vote now and you have more freedoms."

DW: Is there anything you would fight for today?

Walesa: In the 20th century the world was divided and full of bans and obstacles. It was normal for the people to take to the streets in protest and throw stones. The 21st century is a whole different era. It is the time of the intellect, the age of information and globalization. Whatever ideas we have, we can realize them. Every one of us has the right to become president or parliamentarian. It's no longer sensible to throw stones. That's the reason I don't take to the streets anymore, and when I do, only to show how content I am.

DW: Would you have sent Polish troops to Iraq?

Walesa: If I had still been president of Poland at the time, I would not have sent troops to Iraq. I would have met with the heads of government from Germany and France and worked for a common European position. It's not the United States that is to blame for the war, but rather the EU, and in particular Germany and France. They knew the war was coming and they failed to prevent it. They neglected to bring together the old and new EU member states. Such an important organization as the European Union should have spoken out with one voice against the war. If that had been the case, the United States could not have ignored it. Instead, France and Germany allowed Europe to split on the issue, and therefore we had war. France and Germany are responsible.

DW: How do you see German-Polish ties today?

Walesa: The Germans are still very much occupied with the reunification of their country. They are not as active in the relationship as we would like to see them. The real drama, though, is that we live in a new era while still holding on to the old ways of thinking. We see that for example in the dispute over the EU Constitution. It's as if the EU were only there for the purpose of Germany or France. That's an old hat and doesn't fit this new age of thinking. The concept of nationalities is outdated. Today there are only those who are smart and those who are dumb or diligent and lazy. We have to finally learn to think globally.
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