Lech Walesa would like two things to happen: Super power nations need to restore world order, and the world’s youth needs to become leaders for change.
The former Polish president, now 75, spoke for nearly two hours Thursday, April 19, at George Mason University’s Founders Hall auditorium in Arlington for an audience of nearly 180. The talk, hosted by Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government, was one of two stops on a university tour—he was headed to Princeton next—before Walesa visited Latin America.
Walesa was introduced by former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, now a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Mason, and Schar School dean Mark J. Rozell.
McAuliffe pointed out the struggle Walesa faced in leading a revolutionary movement that resonated around the world. The humble shipyard worker with eight children led a revolution that toppled a Communist regime in the shadow of the Soviet Union.
“What he went through—the surveillance, the arrests, all the things they did to stop him—he never let his voice die,” he said. “He beat them, and then became president of Poland.”
During his translated remarks, Walesa joked that he would like to be a young revolutionary in today’s world because there is so much to revolt about, he said. “If I had had your arguments, I would have 10 Nobel Prizes,” he said, joking. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.
On the other hand, he said, he would like to be known as “the last revolutionary, but as I look at today’s [political landscape], I see that is impossible.”
He called on the young people in the audience to lead movements, even ones they think are futile.
“I had five or six people around me when I started,” he said. In the end, he said, he had 10 million. “Do what you need to do because you never know when it will explode [in popularity].”
Walesa also put the onus on those who are in power to work harder to repair what he sees as the erosion of the progressive status quo.
“I do not like the current state of democracy,” he said. “I do not like the current state of capitalism. You see demons awakening because we don’t have the right solutions society will support.”
And if the super powers won’t use their super powers, he said, “give them to Poland. We know what to do.”