Skip to main content

Lech Walesa: No apology for anti-gay comments

By Matthew Day, for CNN
updated 7:25 PM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
Former Polish president and Nobel Peace Laureate Lech Walesa is pictured at his office on June 20 in Gdansk, Poland.
Former Polish president and Nobel Peace Laureate Lech Walesa is pictured at his office on June 20 in Gdansk, Poland.
  • Lech Walesa led Poland out of the Cold War Soviet bloc
  • He served as the country's president and is a Nobel laureate
  • Walesa suggests that gay members of parliament should sit in the back or "behind a wall"
  • Despite furious criticism in Poland, he is refusing to apologize.

Warsaw, Poland (CNN) -- Lech Walesa, the man who led Poland to freedom in its Cold War struggle with the Soviet Bloc, is refusing to apologize for suggesting gay Polish politicians should "sit behind a wall" in the country's parliament.

The former Polish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner provoked uproar in Poland when he told a television reporter Friday night that as a minority, gays have no right to a prominent position in politics, and should sit perhaps at the rear of parliament of or even "behind a wall."

He said that gays have little significance as a minority, and therefore have to "adjust to smaller things."

A devout Catholic and father of eight children, Walesa now says he has nothing to apologize for despite a mountain of criticism heaped upon a man who was once venerated as a champion of Polish liberty. He stressed he did not "feel homophobic."

"I will not apologize to anyone," the former president said in an interview Monday. "All I said (was) that minorities, which I respect, should not have the right to impose their views on the majority. I think most of Poland is behind me."

Since his comments went nationwide, Walesa has been on the receiving end of furious criticism.

"Why does Lech want me to sit in the back row?" asked Robert Biedron, a member of parliament from the opposition Palikot Movement and Poland's first openly gay politician. "If we accept the rules proposed by Lech Walesa then where would blacks sit? They are also a minority. And what about the disabled?"

Others have called for called for Walesa to return his Nobel prize, while the Committee for the Defense Against Sects and Violence filed a formal complaint with prosecutors in Walesa's hometown of Gdansk, accusing him of promoting a "propaganda of hate against a sexual minority."

Along with damaging his reputation, the controversy could also have a painful effect on Walesa's career.

Long retired from domestic politics, he now earns his money from the international lecture circuit, talking about democracy and the fight against communism. But with his comments on gays making headlines around the world, the Polish press has speculated that invitations to speak may soon dry up.

Walesa, the shipyard worker who went on to inspire the Solidarity trade union in Poland, was awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 1983. He helped form the first non-communist government in the Soviet bloc in 1989 and was later elected president of Poland.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.