Mon, Feb 26, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Interview: Walesa sees value in dealing with past

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa, a former president of Poland, met with `Taipei Times' reporter Jewel Huang during his visit to Taipei last month to attend the global forum on new democracy, and shared his thoughts on leading his country in ending communist rule and transforming itself into a democracy

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Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Polish president Lech Walesa gestures while speaking at the Global Forum on New Democracy last month in Taipei. The forum was sponsored by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

PHOTO: TAIWAN FOUNDATION FOR DEMOCRACY

Taipei Times: What was the key to toppling Poland's Communist Party? Could it be applied to other communist countries?

Lech Walesa: I might need a whole night to answer this question.

Actually there were a lot of keys to such an outcome. The political system of Poland imposed by the Soviet Union and Poland did not have its own political and economic systems. The Polish people were disatisfied with these systems and had been thinking of overthrowing them. The Polish people actually deeply and fundamentally opposed communism.

After World War II, in the 1950s, we had tried to resist communism by using violence, yet we did not make it.

In the 1960s, we launched strikes but they were slapped down by then government.

Through trials and failures, we had been seeking effective ways to achieve that goal. And the conclusion we had at that time was that we could not succeed unless all the people of Poland consolidated and united together.

However, it seemed that we just could not attain the solidarity and union that we needed. But after John Paul II was elected the pope of the Roman Catholic Church in 1978, Poland seemed to find the power to connect all the Polish people.

Once we found the spiritual power, we found the pillar of solidarity and consequently we got rid of communism at last. And it was me who led the fights and struggles during those 30 years. Basically we started a new stage in 1989. Communism collapsed and [former Soviet president] Mikhail Gorbachev was out of work. [Editor's note: The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.]

TT: How did Poland deal with the issue of transitional justice and how did you cope with the party assets left behind by the Polish Communist Party? In Taiwan the huge party assets of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have been a controversial and tricky issue since Taiwan accomplished a shift in power in 2000. What is your opinion on this issue?

Walesa: Yes, if we talked about this kind of querying, and awkward past, we can see it is a major challenge for all countries.

Poland was the first to fight against communism and win. In order to start all the processes, we had to agree to make a consensus -- on a very poor compromise for our side.

When we progressed, if we had wanted to seek revenge or to do such things, perhaps this would have required us breaking the compromise and breaking the consensus. And it is true that the communists never cared about the agreements and the principles and they acted against others who were breaking them ... But we certainly did not want to become like them.

So I think we are having a problem in this respect -- of how to deal with the past -- but this is the price that we are paying for being the leaders in the process of overcoming communism.

It is true that the very first generation, so to say, of those who were involved in signing the agreement and reaching the consensus on this compromise, they could not do a lot because they were all obliged by the agreement that they had signed.

But right now, when democracy has brought a new wave of political activists and replaced the very first of wave, how to deal with the past is becoming a topic more and more.

The countries that overcame communism, [all] in different ways, they could have dealt with the past differently and they did it. But Poland actually pulled the teeth out of the bird's mouth -- but you [still] know [how] dangerous a bird devoid of the teeth [is] by the pose.

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