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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
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Lech Wałęsa speaks at AU’s School of International Service

Former Polish president speaks with AU students on the future of globalization

Former Polish dissident and first democratically-elected president Lech Wałęsa spoke to American University students at an event hosted by the School of International Service on Nov. 21. Wałęsa addressed the future trajectory of international relations, as well as contemporary threats to democracy. 

Fredo Arias-King, an AU alumni and lifelong promoter of democracy, moderated the discussion which took place in the School of International Service in the Abramson Family Founders Room.

“I can see so many young people here, which is great,” Wałęsa said. “We should be rejoicing that you're interested in politics and that you're interested in politicians.” 

He began the discussion by identifying what he believes the issues are of the post-Cold War era. One issue, for example, being the diminishing involvement of the United States in global affairs.

“Where other things were going wrong in the world people could hope for the U.S. to come to the rescue,” he said. “For many people, the U.S. was the ultimate refuge.” 

He emphasized how the role of the U.S. was clearer back then, being the “good empire” opposing the the Soviet Union, which he referred to as the “evil empire.” Now with the Soviet Union gone, Wałęsa believes the U.S. must continue to lead, but adapt its leadership style to modern times. 

The former leader also said that Europe needs guidance from the U.S. guidance in further integrating itself. He believes today’s anti-democratic threats would be best faced with unity, and he continues with his calling for solidarity which began in the 1980s.

Despite his insistence on democracy and capitalism, being the perpetuating forces of globalism, he identified issues with the modern form of both systems and calls for reform. 

“Today, in many countries around the world, the majority do not participate in elections,” he said. “So where is democracy?”

The floor was opened for audience questions for the second half of the event.

When asked about the ongoing Hong Kong protests, he said he was optimistic that the protestors would triumph in their efforts.  

“I have no question they will win,” Wałęsa said. “The only questions are when, and how soon? And what will be the price that they pay?” 

Wałęsa then reflected on his own protest movement for democracy.

“None of those powerful influential people back then gave us the least of chances, about bringing communism down,” he said before advising protesters of today to follow the model his movement set and not exhaust themselves. 

Wałęsa reiterated his faith in the youth of today’s generation. 

“What I'm hearing today is that there’s no chance to integrate Europe,” he said. “No chance to globalize the world. That's what I hear. I'm telling you this because you are the youngsters who are going to bring that change about.” 

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