Nearly 50,000 grad students and others are picketing UC campuses statewide, but Lech Walesa is not a fan of their tactics.
“I don’t like strikes,” the former Polish president and labor icon told reporters Wednesday. “I think all the problems should be resolved by negotiations” — with the help of a computer to find “common ground.”
A white-haired Walesa, 79, spoke through an interpreter at the Hilton Hotel near Old Town ahead of a 6 p.m. lecture and Q&A at the University of San Diego.
In a small conference room off the lobby, the Nobel Peace Prize winner defied expectations in other ways.
Though he reveres President Clinton for his role in helping Poland achieve NATO and European Union membership, Walesa said: “Of all the presidents that you’ve had, [Joe Biden] is fighting for everybody the best. … This president I believe is doing very well.”
But when asked about the prospects of an isolationist like Donald Trump gaining power — and threatening NATO unity — Walesa said: “I do not want to lecture the United States.”
He repeated his belief that the United States is “a key leader in the world” but wants this done “in a new style.”
“If the United States doesn’t want to do that, they can pass the baton to Poland,” he said, “and we know what to do about it.”
He denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war in Ukraine. But even if Ukraine wins, he said, Russia will start selling gas and oil “and make everybody dependent on it and they will rebuild.”
Walesa echoed NATO and Polish officials who aren’t ready to blame Russia for the missile that killed two Polish civilians Tuesday four miles from the Ukraine border, saying: “We have to do further investigation and make a wise decision.”
Wearing a shirt with Constitution spelled out in Polish, Walesa said the climate crisis exists because “we do not have a good leadership in the world right now…. That’s why we are making so many mistakes. … Development in the world is not done thoughtfully. But I’ve been saying that for the past 20 years.”
He said Germany should take responsibility for climate efforts in Europe, joined by the United States overall.
“This new world should be created by the United States and Germany,” he said. “This is your historic responsibility. That’s why I am here — to remind you of this. Because the future generations will not forgive us if we do not [act]. By the time that happens, I’ll be watching over you from the above.”
Walesa — who says he doesn’t use social media — suggested that a “new era of globalization and intellect and technology is taking place. And we are somewhere in the middle. One has fallen and the other one has not [been] fully created yet.”
Communism, which he helped destroy, was devised by Marx and Engels, “very smart people,” he said, “but only in theory. They thought out a very cool thing, but it was impossible to implement.”
He offered his definition of democracy.
It’s 30% Constitution and laws, 30% people taking taking advantage of those laws and freedoms, and 30% the financial wealth of the entire society. (He talked over his 56-year-old interpreter, Aleksandra Kaniak, and the remaining 10% was garbled.)
He said America has democracy, “but not in the right place,” he said. “Because who fights for democracy in your country is the capitalists, the rich people. In our country, we don’t have such capitalists.”
The more rich people, the fewer political parties exist, he said.
“If you want to improve your democracy, you have to look into which area [is lacking] … I look at everything in a practical manner,” he said.
With communism “so impractical,” he said, “all we have is capitalism, but this whole capitalism is not good. We have too much competition” — plus populism and corruption. “How do we stop ourselves? We have no brakes.”
Today’s capitalism is a rat race between countries, he said. “And these people who are unable to keep up with capitalism end up unemployed.”
In some new form of capitalism, he’d like to see a free economy where the “unemployed we should find out and be put to work.”
Walesa burst another American bubble.
“From what I understand,” he said, “each one of you can become a president of the United States, right? Yes!”
But then he said he’s heard it takes $100 million to make a run for the White House.
“Which one of you has $100 million? None of you,” he said. “So [none] of you can or will be the president.”
He didn’t want young people to stop dreaming, however.
“When I was fighting [for Polish freedoms], we were told: ‘You don’t have a chance.’ I said: ‘What do you mean I don’t have a chance? I’ll show you.’”
But above all, be practical, he urged.
“Today in our politics, we have too many theories,” Walesa said. “They … talk about all kinds of ideas that in practice are impossible. So I believe we should have people in our leadership who are practical. Not too many.”
Walesa appears to put faith in machine logic — as when he was asked about settling the UC teaching assistants strike.
“Why are you here? What problems do you have? OK, fine. We’ll put the problems into the computer. How many questions do you have? How many solutions do you want to … your problem?” He asked. “And when are going to meet to choose one of those solutions. …. Why don’t you organize problems like that?
He declared labor talks should be conducted “without any emotions.”
Deftly translating questions and answers with little emotion was Kaniak, hired by USD for the Walesa appearances.
A Polish-born court-certified interpreter in Los Angeles who came to America in 1989, she said she hadn’t been with Walesa before. Her original goal: Hollywood.
Kaniak, in fact, achieved some of her dreams — appearing in at least four films (including “American Bistro” in 2019, 10 TV shows (including “NCIS” and “NYPD Blue”) and even video games (voiceovers in the “Command & Conquer” series).
Working with Walesa?
“It’s a huge honor,” she said.