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.
GDANSK — Lech 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 CzÄ™stochowa 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.
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.