Lech Wałęsa gives his sage advice on how to scare off Putin, how to break Russia up to save it, and how Ukraine will feed Europe after giving up its industry. Warning: if this sounds and looks like just another attempt at voodoo politics and economics, you may be right. But it is a real interview for Ukraine’s Economic Pravda.
How much of what you dreamed about in the 1990s did Poland achieve?
If someone had told me then that I would live to see the time when I see Poland as reformed as it is, and talk with you about it, I would not have believed it. But I lived to see it. Looking back, I see that a lot of things we did wrong. We could do these differently.
What would you do differently?
It was necessary to build a presidential power model. In a democratic society, all changes happen very slowly. But we took a different decision then.
We needed to carry out privatization in a different manner. We could let the Poles borrow a certain sum for the purchase of state property, but then I had another plan.
It consisted in the concept that everyone has the right to buy. Today I see that foreigners bought national assets and property.
This Poland is slightly different from the one I wanted to build. However, I am very happy to have lived up to such Poland.
What for you today the Polish “Solidarity”?
– Same as it was then. The philosophy of its appearance is simple: if you cannot lift yourself some weight, ask for help to lift it up. At that time this weight was communism and the Soviet Union, and it was necessary to invite others to help dispose history of this model.
At that time, the communist system had lost a lot already. With each passing day it was less an less consistent with reality. Even the Communists did not defend it. In Poland, the majority of the Communists at that time already received Western education. They understood what the communist system looked like in comparison with the Western one.
The problem was how to move away from the system. The Communists wanted to stay in power.
Now every town needs a “Solidarity”, but a different onr – to lift other weights. Today, Europe needs a “Solidarity” in order to even out the differences in the development on its territory, so that those who are richer be more understanding of those who are poorer.
How does today’s team of “Solidarity” coping with “lifting the new weights” in Poland?
The problem is that the “Solidarity” I headed consisted of 10 million members, and at present there are only 500 thousand. When we realized that we had won, the next challenge after the fall of Communism was the construction of political pluralism and democracy.
“Solidarity’s” monopoly was not good. It was necessary to break up the system. Into capitalists, various parties, trade unions. After a period of great unity came a period of great division. The mistake was that we did not complete this step.
What do you mean?
It was necessary to dissolve that big “Solidarity” and create a new one, but in a different way. We did not. And now today’s half a million held onto the flags and winning history of those ten million. These people say they are “Solidarity”, not us.
At any point of history any new government needs a lot of new managers. How did you choose your associates?
Back in my days we could only select from the group that we had. In addition, the beast that we felled could raise its head again. We were unable to maximize pressure on our opponents. There was a risk that they would resist and start shooting.
How do you feel about the lustration (purging former Communist functionaries from government jobs)?
I am for lustration, but a wise lustration.
What is this like?
Active people in any country account for only five, a maximum of ten percent. It is them who are always the generators of ideas and change.
The question is how to carry out lustration: destroy a small fraction of these active people together with the chaff, or to separate the bad from the good, and direct the latter’s energy to a new, honest activity.
US in Iraq went down the first path. They disbanded the army and the police. Look at what is happening there. Nobody can handle it.
You cannot just dismiss all the generals. To grow a general out of a private takes years. And the generals are needed now. Someone has to lead. You cannot just purge everyone. It is necessary to select, choose the best cadres.
Can expats become these new generals?
A new generation of managers has grown up in the world. You can invite them from other countries. In this respect, it is easier for Ukraine to carry out lustration.
How do you Russia’s ever more frequent statements about the possibility of using nuclear weapons?
Russia is lagging behind the Western world for 30-50 years. It uses such statements to instill fear. America and the West have forgotten about such a confrontation. They have better weapons than Russia, but do not talk about it.
Russia has never had democracy and freedom. It always wanted to have an enemy. The presence of one disciplined this country. Russia never lived according to the principles of the Western world. By its actions, Putin is testing European and global solidarity.
America and the West have been and remain in solidarity, but that does not mean that they are against Russia. Russia is necessary to Europe, to the world. But this would be a Russia, which behaves like a civilized state, and not the one that scares us with the atomic bomb.
When the West took the atomic bomb from the Ukraine, it pledged to stand guard over its freedom and territorial integrity. Russia and Putin violated these agreements. How are we going to live if everyone could break the global agreements?
The world must not let that happen. It must protect global agreements. Otherwise it would be the end of our civilization.
How should it protect that?
With the help of solidarity. I initially proposed a simple approach. Collect 20 wise people from all over the world who would have prepared a list of 20 items. For example, someone stops buying from Russia, someone sells, someone boycotts …
For each point on the list Russia should take a stand. Then, these people appeal to all countries to do something for the salvation of Russia. And if one of the countries cannot do it, let them allocate money so that other countries do it.
Of course, everyone has their own interests, but still there is a common one: to pull Russia out of the current situation.
At the same time these twenty people must be willing to talk with Putin. They could take turns to call him to discuss mutual losses to negotiate how to change positions.
Who should be these people?
Representatives of NATO, the UN, the European Union. But these negotiations should be conducted calmly and reasonably. There is no way they could be public. At one time I acted on this principle. It always worked.
What protective measures the West must take in connection with the Russian aggression?
All that is possible. Up to the deployment of nuclear missiles. It is important to show that we have them, and that they are better than Russia’s.
To scare him (Vladimir Putin – EP). He scares us with “Grads” – we need to scare him by another, more perfect weapon.
I said, if the Russian boots step on Polish soil, no matter that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, I’ll go and I’ll shoot. If the enemy attacks – there is no choice.
What steps Europe has taken to improve its defense capabilities? As far as we can say that the country began to increase defense budgets, taking a more assertive stance toward Russia?
– Kohana Panis, this is not something to be talked about. It is to be done. We do not stand with our hands down and do not wait for them to arrive. A maximum preparation for defense is being carried out. But without fanfare. We have no plans to attack anyone, but if someone attacks, he will pay in full.
The world and Europe imposed sanctions on Russia. Ukraine didn’t. What should be Ukraine’s policy on this issue?
– Ukraine is economically dependent on Russia. Sanctions will affect you most of all. You cannot impose such because your companies will go bankrupt. No one should blame Ukraine.
How do you explain the success of Russian propaganda in Europe? How should we fight it?
I do not really see this success. Of course, Europe is not united. Each state has its own interests, they are afraid to incur losses, but Russian propaganda is not successful.
But in Austria, the Czech Republic and other countries there are openly pro-Russian officials. They form the opinion of certain segments of the population of the EU. Russia also does not remain on the sidelines and has an active information policy.
Europe is living in the 21st century, it tries to reason with Putin. There is no propaganda success here.
For Russia’s transition to Western standards it is necessary that people in Russia change, abandon imperial views, realize the need for democracy and begin to respect others. This is a painful transformation. Could this lead the breakup of Russia?
In Russia there are a minimum of 60 different nations. It can break up and be left with a population of 20 million people. This depends on how the breakup occurs.
And then what?
Perhaps a repetition of the scenario with the creation of the European Union. Further consolidation of new states, but on other principles. There will be a leveling of the pace of economic development, the countries will begin to open for cooperation in various configurations.
How long will it take to transform Russia?
A lot. Russians are unlucky. It is necessary that their mentality completely changes. They will have everything, but later.
Would a century be enough for these changes?
If it’s not – I will come and make it right (laughs).
What is the role of Belarus in this process?
Civilizational progress will lead to evening out the levels of economic development between countries and the opening of borders. They will open to the Urals, and then farther on.
Eliminating boundaries needs to be done in a democratic way, and not using tanks. It’s a bit not the same era. Putin has no chance. He can give us some black eyes, but he cannot win.
When I was president, I had planned that in the second phase of enlargement Poland together with Ukraine and Belarus would join the EU and NATO. I carried the most important negotiations abroad. This was agreed.
When did you realize that this scenario will not be realized?
I lost the election, and it all went down the drain. Ukraine and Belarus have gone the other way, but they did not even know about it.
Over the years, Ukraine has returned to the European way. In what format Ukraine’s European integration is possible?
Ukraine is a great country with great potential. Ukraine could feed all of Europe with foods without chemicals. Your products are of good quality, you have a wonderful land.
Europe is afraid of this. If Ukraine joins the EU, all Polish agriculture may go in the red. We have no chance in a competition with the Ukrainian agriculture. In Germany, one-third of farmers will go bankrupt, in France one half will.
They cannot compete with Ukraine, so you need to look for a solution. Your wealth can make money for both Europe and Ukraine. For example, Ukraine will feed Europe, but conditionally, it will not produce pencils and pens.
What Ukraine should not produce?
You’ll have to find the answer to this question yourselves.
Economic Pravda’s correspondent met Lech Wałęsa with the assistance of the International Solidarity Fund (Solidarity Fund PL) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
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