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Building the European state

Interview: Bartosz Dudek, Barbara Cöllen / cdSeptember 29, 2013

Europe needs more solidarity and should become a single state, says the Polish Nobel Prize winner Lech Walesa, who turns 70 today. He told DW that rich EU countries needed to lend more support to their neighbors.

A large, water-color painting of Lech Walesa in a dark gray suit is viewed by a visitor dwarfed by it. Foto: Bartosz Dudek
Image: DW/B. Dudek

Lech Walesa, who turns 70 this Sunday (29.09.2013), is a trained electrician. But, in 1980, Walesa became the leader of the Polish union, Solidarity, the first trade union in the communist Eastern bloc. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. In the first elections after the fall of communism in 1990, Poles elected him president of their country.

Deutsche Welle: You have called for Germany to make more use of its influence in European planning and development. What do you think about Germany's policy toward European integration?

Lech Walesa: Germany is a heavyweight - and is one in every area. But Germans are also taking on responsibility for coping with the crisis, and they're developing ideas for the future, and they should continue doing so. At a time when we are removing borders, it's about being European - not German or Polish. It's only about Europe. We shouldn't think in categories hemmed in by national borders. There are many new, contemporary issues like information, ecology, crises - like the bank crisis.

Then there are questions of money: Germany has it, others don't. In Europe, we need a good interstate highway system, for example. Wherever funds are lacking, Germany should take over and then, over the course of 50 years, have that money paid back. That money should not be kept in a pillow case.

Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, a lot of stereotypes and prejudices remain. Wouldn't these be reinforced if Germans were to begin building autobahns everywhere?

In a regal, public room with a golden tapestry on the wall, an elderly statesman in a gray suit sits on a golden sofa chair while a formally-dressed man and woman sit on a golden sofa.
Lech Walesa celebrates his 70th birthday on SundayImage: DW

Of course not. For European integration we need prosperity in Europe. There are a lot of tasks, like building communications networks, for example. Countries that have funds should make them available to poorer countries and allow the money to be paid back slowly. That's a good transaction for everyone involved. This generation should begin building the European state, but should go about doing so very gently.

How exactly should they begin?

No one knows exactly. To achieve that, we need larger European structures. In nearly all of our activities, memories of war will resurface. But slowly, we're distancing ourselves from them. It will be a long process but we have already achieved quite a bit. It is important that we create a united Europe with shared values, which still vary from country to country.

We should develop a sort of catalogue of values, a kind of Decalogue, with ten commandments created by believers of all religions, and atheists alike. European development can be supported upon this foundation in the future.

DW: Many countries in eastern and southern Europe admire Poland's democratic transition and economic achievements over the last two decades. And yet tens of thousands have recently taken to the streets in Warsaw. What's going on in Poland today?

First, we didn't have 100 years to develop democracy, and had to accelerate as fast as possible to catch up with the West. A lot of things accumulate with such an acceleration. Second, what are 100,000 people compared to 40 million? Were we to round up dissatisfied people in other countries, including in rich countries, then I'm sure those protests would be of an even larger scale. Third, our democracy has proven itself. There were protests, but they were purely peaceful protests. Signatures were gathered, and the tally of popular discontent will be on display in the coming elections. Poland has passed the test of democracy and can serve as a model with regard to dealing with discontent.

Looking back, you helped substantially to bring about the fall of communism. Today, there are still many dictators throughout the world. Is there a secret to overcoming them?

My recipe is called "solidarity." Things will, of course, be different from country to country. Of particular importance is that the United States, as the only remaining superpower, lends help courageously to realign the world, so that everywhere that anti-Semitism, racism, ethnic cleansing or chemical weapons appear, it acts immediately and eliminates problems.