19 January 2018, Friday, 18:44

My friend Lech Walesa


The first head of independent Belarus about Poland’s first post-communist president.

Coming to Gdansk to the airport named after Lech Walesa I always ask myself: do I have the right to call the first president of post-communist Poland Lech Walesa a friend? I wonder whether my conviction of let reminds of the joke about an Israeli parliament member Rabinovich, who when asked by Knesset’s speaker who allowed him to take off his jacket and put it on the back of the chair during the parliament’s session, responded:

- The queen Elizabeth!

- Mr. Rabinovich, - the speaker argued. – How could a British queen allow you to do such a thing in our parliament?

- It is simple. When I hung my jacket on the back of a chair in British parliament’s assembly hall, the queen told me: “Rabinovich, it is in your parliament that you can sit without a jacket, here everyone wears one on”.

The right to call the legendary Lech Walesa a friend is given to me by the principle of reciprocity. Many times, when introducing me to someone of his interlocutors, Walesa said:

- This is my friend Stanislau Shushkievich.

Then usually followed the explanation of when and what was done by the politicians, whom I invited to Bialowieza Forest, and what significance it had for the humanity.

There is something else that brings us together. We both were awarded the title of a doctor HONORIS CAUSA of the Catholic University of John Paul II in Lublin. Also we were both awarded Lithuania’s highest order for foreigners – Vitaut’s large cross…

This is only a modest formal similarity, since Lech Walesa was awarded not one, like me, but 32 highest orders of different states starting from Great Britain and France to Chili and Uruguay. He has around forty diplomas of an honorary doctor of world’s most famous universities, and me, unfortunately, one four.

In 1980 Lech Walesa created the first in the communist bloc’s countries free trade union Solidarnosc not controlled by the state, which was supported by different groups of the Polish society. On demand of Solidarnosc Poland’s communist government had to make a number of concessions. No other civil movement was that successful in any other country of the communist bloc.

- It is unclear, how to fight this guy, - one of Belarusian State University’s social sciences professors whispered in my ear at the time. – It is not an intelligentsia representative, who is easily intimidated and put in place, easily accused of losing vigilance, being poisoned by the capitalist ideology and actually having become an enemy of the working people. There it was a simple worker, a representative of the hegemon – the working class! Even our totally hypocritical ideologists had hard times presenting him as an enemy of the working people.

General Wojcech Jaruzielski, who in Poland was simultaneously PZRP’s First Secretary, the head of the government and the Defense Minister, realized that the destabilization threat for the country in general was coming from the Walesa-headed Solidarnosc trade union, which had broad support among the population. Times changed, and it was impossible to preserve stability by Soviet troops invasion, like it was done in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Jaruzielski had to take extreme domestic measures. In the night on 13 December 1981 he, having called Moscow and claimed that he was taking the whole responsibility, introduced martial law in Poland.

It was the first time that I heard the name of an electrician from a shipyard in Gdansk Lech Walesa and the word combination independent trade union and Solidarnosc, I found out that the Jaruzielski regime had claimed the trade union outside the law. Walesa was put in jail for almost a year.

In 1983 Lech Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize for the activities supporting worker’s rights. This contributed to the strengthening of his authority and did not allow for getting rid of him secretly, like it was done to many activists who stood for human rights.

In 1988 and 1989 Lech Walesa played a key role in the negotiations with the government, as a result of which the trade union Solidarnosc and other Poland’s independent trade Unions were legalized. He actually broke the way for establishing a social democratic order in Poland.

In 1990 Walesa was elected the president of Poland, having received 74.25% of the votes, and I met him personally in 1992 during his official visit to Belarus. The acquaintance continued due to my official state visit to Poland in 1993 and our multiple meetings in Warsaw, Wroclaw, New York, Seoul, and most of all in Walesa’s home city - Gdansk. I have been always astonished by the energy, tirelessness, directness and decisiveness of this man.

In 2008 an annual award named after Lech Walesa has been founded. It is awarded in Gdansk on his birthday – 29 September. I am a member of the award’s jury.

Last year the award went to a Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, imprisoned by the Belarusian regime and recognized by international organizations as a political prisoner and a prisoner of conscience. This year Walesa’s award went to a Russian political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The long-term, always high, rapidly increasing at times popularity of Walesa keep his political rival and opponents restless. Whatever they tried to accuse him of! But nothing can restrain this man’s activity, nothing is capable of making him draw back from being faithful to most decent principles. Lech Walesa’s uncommon assessments, unfaltering conclusions on the activity of certain politicians often cause the indignation and even anger of high-ranked officials. Sophisticated intellectuals repeatedly threatened to go to court, considering Walesa’s statements more than just tactless and even offensive. But there never was a trial: venerable lawyers found no grounds for starting a lawsuit. The founder of Solidarnosc appears to be not only decisive and unpredictable like before, but also wise.

This is the way he turns 70.

Stanislau Shushkievich specially for charter97.org

1992, official visit to Belarus