Strike leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner, state president: Lech Walesa turns 75 this Saturday. In the interview, he talks about populism, migration and the role of the Catholic Church in social change.
CBA: What about solidarity in a united Europe today??
Lech Walesa: We live in a time when borders have fallen down. The big discussion now is: What should Europe look like?? On what foundations should it stand? When we have clarified this, it is a question of: What form of economy do we want?? And the third question is: how do we cope with demagogy and populism? If there are no solutions to all this, then demons will be awakened like Trump’s and Kaczynski’s. Let’s talk on radio and TV about what Europe should look like and who should govern.
CBA: An important topic is also the handling of migration.
Walesa: We have united Europe and pretended that we did not know that migrants would come. What is happening at the moment is just a warning finger. There will be real problems to come when China and India open their doors. And this is what will happen. Such waves of migration are dangerous for the future of Europe. Smaller movements are manageable, but large ones are problematic because people will slowly start making demands. They are different from us, which will lead to conflicts. That’s why we should help them build their countries.
CBA: What should Europe be based on?
Walesa: In Europe we have different faiths and also atheists. That is why we should agree to draw up something like the "Ten Secular Commandments. And we should declare them the foundation. Whoever comes to the European Union gets these ten duties and rights. If something like this existed now, Poland and Hungary would not behave the way they do at present.
CBA: Right-wing conservative or nationalistic currents are very strong there – they are unlikely to be interested in such a catalog of demands.
Walesa: Let us improve the party structures. What other parties do we have? People are very comfortable these days: no one goes to meetings or pays membership fees for parties, but everyone rises to be a know-it-all. It’s like in Poland before the last elections. People do not know how to behave. There is a lack of political leadership. Our generation has succeeded in overcoming divisions.
Walesa: People don’t know how to proceed further. After all: The Trumps and Kaczynskis force us to look for solutions. In the end, we will have to erect monuments to them, almost out of "gratitude", because they shook us up and forced us to act. They are basically right about many things, but they solve the problems in the wrong way. How it should go instead, we must all discuss together.
CBA: What is the state of German-Polish relations and what can Germany and Poland do for European cohesion??
Walesa: We have to understand the times we live in. Until the end of the 20. Twentieth century was about thinking in terms of territories. It was about shifting borders, for example. In the 21. In the twenty-first century, we in Europe must now think in terms of large structures. European borders have been overcome. Instead there is Europe and the globalized world. But there is a lack of program and structures for this. This is why people are so dissatisfied.
CBA: In early June, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for the rule of law in Poland against the backdrop of the debate on judicial reform and warned against a breakdown of cohesion in the EU. Are his warnings justified?
Walesa: We are searching. The Union was born under different circumstances. The question is: Is it worth repairing the Union or should it be fundamentally rebuilt? We have two options. The question concerns France, Germany and Italy, because Europe expects answers from these countries.
Steinmeier is right when he warns. Poland and Hungary are also right in a certain sense: because what is present is also not always good. It is not clear what the duties and the rights are.
CBA: In the 1980s, the Catholic Church had a strong influence on the Polish freedom movement. Can you imagine that even today the church – or religious communities in general – are at the forefront of change?
Walesa: The church emerged from the people. The church behaves like the believers. It depends on whether we can find a good solution. Even exaggerations must be allowed. But it is crucial that we draw purposeful conclusions from it. Politicians should be given the opportunity to explain themselves.
CBA: Do not do it already?
Walesa: In the European Union, every day a different minister speaks to the people and says: We only want the best for you. Only we do not know how. That’s exactly the point: tell us! We have cleared the field and left it to populists and demagogues. No one is really fighting against globalization opponents. If there were an open discussion with these people, the audience would be able to see for themselves.
CBA: In the 1980s, Pope John Paul II, who was born in Poland, played. An important role in overcoming communism. What role could Pope Francis play today??
Walesa: The time had its own structures, which required a certain behavior. As you know, I am a practicing Catholic. And I believe that the church is led by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave us the Polish pope who united us all. We eliminated communism.
Now we have another pope who fits our era, who readjusts behavior and faith. This is very difficult. He has as much trouble with this as politicians. But the Holy Spirit will already lead him to a new time.
The interview was conducted by Leticia Witte.