Friday morning I went to hear Lech Walesa speak at the Dillon Lecture Series at Hutchinson Community College. This was the 25th anniversary lecture. It was an incredible morning.
He spoke through his interpreter, who was charming in her own right. But, that is to say that when I quote things here, they are the words of his interpreter.
The thing that really struck me about him was his humor. He made many jokes during the presentation and also at the lecture. It’s not something you expect from a world leader. I’m afraid I have not captured his humor here, as it does not translate well to the written word, but he was funny.
Walesa became the first democratically elected president of Poland in 1990, with a 74% majority. Ten years earlier, he had climbed a bulldozer and given a rousing speech during a worker’s strike in the Lenin shipyard. The strike spread to other places and the Solidarity movement was born.
Walesa stated that he had been a dissident for 20 years and had found about 10 people who agreed with him. After the Pope’s visit it was a change overnight to thousands of people who were willing to speak out against communism.
He said the Soviets developed a plan to reform Communism and put Gorbachev in place to “save it.” Walesa said, “we knew it was impossible… And that reformer failed in every attempt… we expected total failure, and that is his success… so do not feel discouraged if you fail. You might end up with another prize. That man was awarded another Peace Prize.”
Walesa talked about how things are different today than when there were two superpowers. “That era is over. Now we have another one… we must adopt a global apporach or we will not survive the 21st Century.”
He said we must enlarge our views. He said ecology and the environment are areas that we must look at globally and that others we need to determine if we should approach them locally or globally.
He said one of America’s greatest assets is that we have demonstrated to the world that peaceful coexistence is possible, that Jews live next door to Christains and Russians live next door to Germans and everyone gets along. He implored us to, “please, do all you can to not waste the opportunity. The world is beautiful and can be secure. We have to be prepared for the world to be peaceful. We need structure. When we think together we have the best opportunity to find answers.” He went on to say later, “This is an important time. In a few years your children and grandchildren will ask, ‘where were you?'”
At the luncheon he made some more remarks, and also took questions, just as he did at the speech.
He spoke more at length about Gorbachev at the luncheon. That was very interesting for me since I saw Gorbachev in October in Lindsborg. Walesa said, “Gorbachev played the role he was forced to play – not out of his own desire.” He said the last time he saw Gorbachev he told him, “You are a hero, but by accident.”
When asked about Putin he said he wasn’t sure yet, that he saw two sides of the man. One was very much about rebuilding and the other was about regaining power. He said the economic sitution was hard on Soveit block countries because Russia had set it up so Poland would build half of a machine, but the other half was built in Russia. The same with other countries. But, after the breakup, Russia was left with lots of halves of machines. He cautioned that, “The greater the progress, the greater the danger. The more we need values. Only values can help us survive.”
He said that all experts said there was no way Poland could break away and that it was only values that made it possible.
He ended his comments at the luncheon by saying that for 25 years he has wanted the “United States of Europe,” a gathering of leaders of Europe and he joked that he was sure they would vote for him for President. Then he said his next mission would be to work to get that organization with the United States of America and he hoped we would vote for him for president of that group. Then he said there would be the United States of Asia and of course he would want to be president of that as well. He had everyone laughing and greatly enjoying his visit.
He said the US must either reform the UN or establish another entity like it for a global parliment. That the US must develop something like the security council for a global government. And something like NATO for global forces. He said the US must take the lead, as they are the only superpower.
He said no one would give up their individual freedoms, but we would allow these entities to deal with awkward situations. He said there were three spheres of problems these organizations would handle. 1. border conflicts. 2. Anti-semitism, racism, ethic cleansing, etc. 3. Terrorists.
He said, “We cannot have a world where the US starts all conflicts. The rest of the world needs the US even more than you who are living here do. Otherwise, the rest of the world is deprived of hope.”
We are priviledged to have this Lecture Series, named for Ray and Stella Dillon, who started the Dillon grocery chain, now part of Kroger. The series was started by Jeanette Mull, who you can see in the luncheon photos, directly to Walesa’s right, and by Barbara Peirce, who I’ve written about on the blog recently when Gorden Parks died. Barbara died a few years ago and she is greatly missed in this community. To Walesa’s left is Ken, who was Barbara’s husband.
The lecture series is hosted by Hutchinson Community College. President Ed Berger presented Walesa with a logo shirt from the college. Dr. Berger is a really nice guy. He and his wife, Carol, are wonderful folks. That is Walesa’s interpreter off to the right in the photo.