Geopolitics

Lech Walesa: Here's How To Handle Putin

The Polish Solidarity leader and Nobel Peace Prize Winner offers a combative vision for how Europe can stand up to Moscow. He speaks from experience.

Walesa turned 71 last month
Walesa turned 71 last month
Marco Bardazzi

GDANSKLech Walesa likes provocations. If you ask him, for example, what politics in the 21st century needs, he'll smile beneath his famous mustache and tell you all that is needed is "a microchip."

A microchip? "Absolutely. Everyone in politics must agree to be implanted with a microchip that records everything they do — complete transparency. And if you try and deceive voters, you and your family will be banned from politics for 50 years."

At 71, the former president of Poland and leader of the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) party – who was awarded the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize – has no more public roles in a country he led away from communism. But still he remains a global icon and well-respected voice, despite some of his eyebrow-arching ideas.

Walesa's office is still in Gdansk, overlooking the Dlugi Targ, the "Long Market," the ancient heart of the port city where Solidarity emerged in August 1980. This former electrician who became a national hero sports a Black Madonna of Częstochowa brooch on his lapel, creating a strange contrast with his garish ties.

Just two words, "Ukraine" and "Putin," bring out the old fighter in him, which seems slightly unusual for a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. These words explain the deep concern of the Poles, and indeed all Eastern European countries, to what is happening nearby: "We need missiles to aim at Russia."

LA STAMPA: Which missiles are you referring to, Mr. President?
WALESA: If Putin threatens us saying, "beware, I have nuclear weapons," NATO must be ready to respond: "We have twice that many." Putin is irresponsible and wants to create havoc in Poland, just as he did in Ukraine. So, we want NATO to lend us the best missiles at its disposal, install them here and point them in the right direction.

How would these missiles would be used?
We won't start war, we won't invade anyone. But, anyone thinking of setting foot on Polish soil will know that we are ready to ward them off. We will defend ourselves. If Gdansk gets invaded one day, we will attack Moscow. It's self-defense, but in consultation with NATO obviously. But we will never allow them to defeat us — they need to know that!

Isn't this going back to the Cold War?
What other choice do we have? We love Russia, but it has to stop bullying. We need Russia, but a civilized Russia. They always need an enemy, purely for internal reasons. Capitalism, the U.S., Europe. Now they're choosing smaller enemies but this is a mistake.

Which one?
They did not think there would be so much resistance in Ukraine. They chose an enemy that was too strong and they don't know how to get out. And to think they got another chance…

To what are you referring?
We were lucky, it could have been different. I said this 25 years ago, I was convinced that Russia would stir up aggressive minorities in the Eastern Bloc. It takes a long time to make reforms, they could have relied on these minorities riding discontent and winning parliamentary elections, and then annexing countries. They could rebuild the Soviet Union, but now they have chosen to take up arms and that was a mistake. One that is doomed to fail.

Do you have any hope for democracy in Russia?
Yes but they are 30 years behind, according to my calculations.

What do you think of the Obama administration's role in this crisis?
A superpower has a duty to help organize the world order. They should organize peace for Ukraine and Russia. They shouldn't wage war but help us find a solution. And pay for some of the missiles for us and for Ukraine!

Twenty-five years ago the Berlin Wall was about to fall. If you look back at the past quarter century, are you proud or disappointed?
If someone had told me that I would live in times like these, I would not have believed them. We closed the divisions in Europe, reunited Germany and removed boundaries. Now we are in another moment of transition, where generations will stop thinking in terms of State and Nation. Our country is Europe.

But Europe is in crisis and is struggling to find its way. Does this not worry you?
Of course, I'm worried because there are forces that want to blow up the Union. I'm glad that a Pole as capable and intelligent as Donald Tusk is now president of the EU council; I believe he will do everything to save the Union. But, we cannot just maintain the current one. We must find an agreement with common fundamentals.

In terms of a European Constitution?
I would like to have a secular version of the Ten Commandments, where we find ten things that everyone respects (one of them being solidarity), and we work from there.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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