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Former Polish President Lech Walesa Visits Virginia

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SALEM, VA—Solidarity founder and former President of Poland Lech Walesa spoke at Roanoke College today in the only Virginia stop on a tour of the United States. Speaking through an interpreter, Walesa addressed an overflow audience in the Bast Center, that included students who weren’t even born when he made history.

Stressing the United States’ role as the last remaining superpower, Walesa praised the U.S. reaction after the Sept. 11 attacks and said that had made the world safer and Europe’s lack of reaction was “scandalous.” However, he criticized the U.S. for its military actions afterward, saying it “is not the moral and political leader of the world.”

Walesa called for the United States to lead improvements in the United Nations or to help create an organization parallel to the U.N., which would operate as a “global parliament” dealing with global issues. “If we want to survive, we have to be global,” he said.

Walesa urged the audience members to get involved and participate in government and really bring about changes. Earlier in the day, at a news conference, Walesa said, “Sooner or later this idea will succeed, it will prevail, in the world because the young people I have been meeting with, I have been trying to talk them into doing it, they will either lobby for it or when they become politicians themselves, I expect they will establish these institutions. George Bush Sr. did not do it. President George Bush has not done it. Perhaps some followers will be able to establish them, but as I have said, sooner or later some institutions of this kind will be totally inevitable.” 

Despite the seriousness of his plea, Walesa kept a light tone and repeatedly showed his sense of humor.

 • He pointed out that in the U.S., to even run for president you have to have $100 million.

• Called Cuba “a tiny mosquito biting the U.S. on the nose” and a “Jurassic Park of communism.”

• Compared China to a Mack truck that needs to run slower at its own pace.

• Made light of the U.S. efforts to rebuild after war, as in Japan: “If I had been re-elected, I had the intention of declaring war on the United States, surrendering very quickly and waiting for the U.S. to rebuild Poland.”

From electrician to labor leader to the first democratically elected president of Poland, Walesa continues on a path that leaves a changed world in its wake.

In 1980, Walesa led the 10 million-member Solidarity Labor Movement that inspired fear in the hearts of communist leadership and hope in those starved for freedom. Despite the crackdown of martial law and his repeated imprisonment, Walesa prevailed to see the end of communist rule in Poland and Eastern Europe.

For his heroic efforts, Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. He received praise from leaders worldwide for his honor. In 1990, Walesa became the first democratically elected president of Poland. His term in office set Poland firmly on the path to becoming a free market democracy, enabling the former communist country to receive one of the first invitations to join and expand NATO.

Walesa’s speech “Democracy: The Never Ending Battle” was presented by Roanoke College’s Henry H. Fowler Public Policy Lecture Series. Walesa follows a long line of Fowler speakers over the years, including former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford;  former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto; former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt; former cabinet secretaries Henry Kissinger, Lawrence Eagleburger and Elliot Richardson; diplomats Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Dennis Ross; former governors Ann Richards, Charles Robb and Michael Dukakis; and civil rights leaders Julian Bond, Jack Greenburg and Andrew Young; and notables such as authors Alex Haley and E.O. Wilson.

Roanoke College has 1,900 students, representing 41 states across the U.S. and 25 foreign countries. It is an independent, co-educational, four-year liberal arts college and is the second oldest Lutheran-related college in the U.S. Roanoke is one of just 270 colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honor society.

For additional information, call the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at (540) 375-2282 or (540) 815-2421.