Cold War icon urges Lech Walesa: ‘The world badly needs leadership’

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Lech Walesa on May 11, 2022. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

BOW, N.H. – The latter half of the 20th Century was largely defined by a global struggle between capitalism and communism. One of the key figures from that struggle now says a new struggle is brewing in the 21st Century and the world waits to see how the United States will respond.

On Wednesday, former Polish President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Lech Walesa spoke to an audience at the home of former U.S. Representative Richard “Dick” Swett (D-NH) and Katrina Swett-Lantos to provide his thoughts on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the state of the world as a whole.

Walesa, whose Solidarity Labor Union was a key factor in defeating communism in Poland in the late 1980s, said that today a new era is emerging across the globe to fill the vacuum of the Cold War. He added that the problems of this new era are too large for any one country to resolve on its own, citing COVID-19 and the rise of demagogues across the world due to the perceived lack of moral restraints on the global population, including the decline of religion and weakening governments.

Walesa said that obviously communism will not be the answer to the problems of this new era, but also felt that capitalism that leaves large groups of people behind will not be the answer, either. Instead, he believes the world’s population will have to choose an ideology arising from two camps: a bloc centered around freedom and cooperation and another block focused on authoritarianism and fear led by Russia and to some extent China that he saw as remnants of a bygone time.

While the United States remains as the world’s primary superpower, he said that what he once called “the Good Empire” will have to decide if it wants to become the leader of the bloc of freedom — just as it was the leader of the free world during the Cold War, with Germany likely having to play a leadership role in Europe.

“The biggest task for the United States is to organize the world in order to really put the old remnants of the old order out and to implement the solutions of a new era,” said Walesa. “The world badly needs leadership.”

However, he joked that if the U.S. didn’t want that role, Poland would be happy to take America’s power if it could and lead that coalition given its early warning against authoritarianism in World War II, and the opinionated nature of its people that clashed with the rigidity of communism.

“If you have two Poles meet, they will sooner or later establish three political parties,” Walesa said in Polish through an interpreter.

Walesa believed that if he had received more support from the U.S. when he led Poland in the 1990s, he could have convinced Ukraine and Belarus to join NATO and averted the current crisis. However, he said that with unity among the nations and organizations of the world, the people of Russia can throw off the leadership of Vladimir Putin.

Still, said Walesa, a military victory alone would not be enough, as a new Putin would just arise several years later. Without an internal revolution, the United States and other nations may have to help support the ethnic nations within the Russian Federation to become independent and pare down Russia to a population of approximately 50 million people, he said.

Walesa’s speech was organized by the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, with the event aiming to raise money for refugees affected by the war in Ukraine. It was also one of several speeches scheduled for Walesa in the United States, including several in New England such as a commencement speech at New England College’s graduation ceremonies on Saturday.


About this Author


Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.