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Verleihung des Polonicus-Preises - Lech Walesa
Image: DW/A. Jarecka

Walesa: Germany must assume a leading role in Europe

May 10, 2017

Germany needs to put its complexes aside and assume a leadership role in Europe, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former Polish President Lech Walesa said in an interview with DW.


DW: Where is Europe headed at the moment?

Lech Walesa: That's a good question, and one that we need to find an answer for. We need to take a hard look at Europe's foundations, its economic system, its democratic model. We have to come to terms with populism, demagoguery, and abuse of political office. We have to take the mood on the street seriously, because people are unhappy, they have lost trust in established parties. Look at France: None of the established parties had a candidate in the run-off vote. Their new president is an independent, without the backing of a party. That teaches us that the structures we have don't fit with the reality. We're entering a new epoch, and we need a debate about new structures.

On June 4, 2014, former US President Barack Obama gave a historic speech in Warsaw's Royal Square before many European heads of state, and he thanked you for your contribution to the fall of communism and the liberation of Eastern Europe. How do you feel when you see that same location serving as the backdrop to a march by right-wing radical nationalists, as was the case a few days ago?

We don't have any solutions. And in the absence of solutions, demons will awaken. Some will go too far to the right in their search, others - like in the United States - will make an astonishing choice. And this is why we have to drive the debate forward in the search for better solutions. We have to improve our democracy, because if we don't, there will be a revolt.

Which direction do you see Poland headed at the moment?

Lech Walesa 1980
Walesa in 1980 founded Solidarity, a Polish non-governmental trade unionImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Lehtikuva Oy

Poland is moving too far to the right, and there is also too much mixing of religion with politics. People are trying things, because a lot of what we have built up in Poland since the fall of communism is incomplete. What's happening now is a response to undesirable developments, and it is challenging us to find good solutions. But it's the same situation you see across all of Europe. The discontent is everywhere, so now we need heal what ails us. The government in Poland is pursuing the wrong kind of therapy. You have to solve problems, but not in a way that breaks with democratic principles.

What can be done, then, to stop the rise of populism?

We have to be clear about what we don't like. We need to create the appropriate programs and structures, and use our power at the ballot box to force politicians to implement them.

The right-wing scene in Poland likes to employ anti-German sentiment and paint horrific scenarios about German dominance. Do you think Germany is a threat?

I feel I have the right to address this point, because I lost my father in the war. Today, Germany is the most honorable country in Europe. But the Germans have complexes. They need to put these complexes aside and assume a leading role in Europe, because as the largest power, they bear responsibility for Europe's development. We can see that there are forces out there that want to destroy Europe. It's up to Germany to be prepared for this, and to be ready to establish a new, better Europe!

Interview conducted by Bartosz Dudek.

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