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Photo courtesy of Philip Curran/Packet Media LLC. 


Former president of Poland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Wałęsa spoke at the University on Monday on the subject of solidarity in the 21st century. He discussed a variety of subjects, ranging from his personal experiences as president and as leader of his labor union, Solidarity, to the United States’s place in global leadership.

Questions were posed by Keller Center director Margaret Martonosi. Audience members were also invited to ask their own questions.

Wilson School professor Marzenna K. James acted as the Polish-to-English translator for Wałęsa.

Wałęsa began his political career in the Gdańsk shipyard in communist-controlled Poland during the 1970s. He organized labor strikes and demanded better rights for Polish industrial workers. During the massive economic stagnation that plagued communist states in the 1980s, Wałęsa’s influence grew and the Solidarity union increased in size, reaching a peak of almost 10 million members.

“I was not planning to be a leader, I was simply brought up and I was simply doing my duty,” Wałęsa said. “It was just fortunate that in realizing my own ideas I hit the right target of what was needed.”

For his efforts with Solidarity, Wałęsa received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. He continued his political activism throughout the 1980s, helping to establish the first non-communist government in Eastern Europe.

Wałęsa’s Solidarity movement is widely credited with inspiring the peaceful removal of communism in many Soviet satellite states such as East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary.

In 1990, Wałęsa became the first democratically elected president of the Republic of Poland. He pushed for closer ties with the West and supported Poland’s ascension into the European Union and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

During his talk, Wałęsa emphasized that the new generation of young leaders is living in a drastically different world than his own. The new generation, he argued, will need to go beyond what its predecessors have achieved.

“My generation cannot think up the challenges of the new era because we are weighed down by our experiences, experiences of war,” Wałęsa said.

For Wałęsa, new technologies and globalization require the younger generation to create political structures beyond nation-states.

If the new generation succeeds, Wałęsa said, “they will say after our generation, they not only got rid of the evil order of the world but they have also started a new construction of a new order.”

According to Wałęsa, the United States must regain its moral and spiritual leadership, providing hope and a positive example instead of waging war.

“You are now the only superpower,” Wałęsa said. “You’ve seen what happened in the world. You carry special responsibility for this world.”

Wałęsa specifically urged the new generation to find the answers to diminish war and chaos.

“You are the leaders of the world,” he concluded. “I give you what I think would be useful to you, but you are the ones to work out the answers.”

Walesa’s lecture, titled “Solidarity in the XXI Century,” was sponsored by the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and Princeton University Public Lectures.

Free and open to the public, the talk, labeled a “Fireside Chat,” was held in McCosh 50 at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 23.

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