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World - Europe

Walesa: Internet, computers helped end Polish communism

October 18, 1999
Web posted at: 4:10 p.m. EDT (2010 GMT)

From Correspondent Chris Burns

WARSAW, Poland (CNN) -- The fall of communism began in Poland when Lech Walesa roused rank-and-file workers with speeches at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk two decades ago, some historians say.

A modest electrician who became a folk hero by taking on the much-feared, Soviet-backed regime in Warsaw, Walesa spoke with CNN about his role in the Solidarity movement, which toppled the government in 1989.

"The truth is, communism exhausted its possibilities. It was based on censorship, but at that time, satellite television was introduced, the Internet, cell phones. And they would have to multiply their political police force by five at least. They had no money to do it," Walesa said.

"In the past you could stand with a gun behind a man who had a pick and spade, and tell him to dig a hole 200 meters long. But you can't put a man behind someone working creatively behind a computer and tell him, 'please devise something original.' There's no way to do it, and I took advantage of that."

Walesa created the Solidarity Trade Union in Gdansk in 1980. Within a few years authorities jailed him for months under martial law. Despite persecution, Solidarity thrived and eventually earned official recognition.

A devout Catholic, Walesa credits religious faith with preventing violence at the time. Without religious guidance, Walesa says, "It would have been a bloody revolution."

When the communist government finally fell peacefully, Walesa wondered out loud about the cost of reform, which has proven economically painful to many Poles.

"It's a very high price, but who should we blame? We can't blame democracy. We have to learn democracy, just like swimming."

Walesa paid the price when he lost the presidency in 1995 to a former communist, Alesksandr Kwasniewski, who became a reformer himself.

Although surveys show he does not stand a chance, Walesa plans to run for president again in 2002.

"I don't have a great desire to run. It's a hard job, but I can't just stand by, feeling that things are falling apart."

The Solidarity-led government is struggling with market reforms in order to join the European Union.

"I think they're conducting fine, deep reforms, but they have forgotten they should promote them and explain them to society, and the resistance is there because society doesn't understand," he said.

With Polish farmers taking to the streets to protest the changes, some wonder if the price of joining the EU is too high.

Walesa thinks not: "We have to create one market, not bound by borders. And no one can stop this process. And so the question is not whether to enter Europe, but when and how."

Some opposition leaders predict a social explosion because of the reforms, but Walesa remains undaunted.

"Everything is possible, but what would happen afterward? We can't return to a dictatorship."

Pope urges Poles to remember poor during quest for progress
June 5, 1999
Solidarity claims victory in Poland
September 21, 1997
Turnout strong for Poland's parliamentary election
September 21, 1997
Mining region key in Polish vote
September 20, 1997

Biography of Lech Walesa Walesa, Lech
Poland Now!
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