Lech Walesa predicts ‘era of the Earth’

Lech Walesa predicts ‘era of the Earth’
  • "You younger people don't realize how terrible communism was and how difficult it was to oppose communism," Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize winner, tells graduates.
  • Travis Litman '01 reflects on the class of 2001.
  • Solomon Enos '01 from Hawaii sings "The Star-Spangled Banner."
  • Michael Mooney, president of Lewis & Clark College, presents an honorary doctorate of humane letters to Lech Walesa, former president of Poland.

Lech Walesa, Nobel Peace Prize winner, told Lewis & Clark College graduates they are entering a challenging new era that “is so different from the old one; it’s the opposite.

“The end of the Cold War opened up a totally new era, the era of Earth,” he said. Now, globalization makes borders obsolete and nations must work together to protect and share the planet’s natural resources.

“So, enter it with much courage and much hope,” Walesa told graduates.

He designated the 20th century as “the era of territory,” a time when nations fought battles over land and when borders shifted constantly.

“It’s no longer profitable to eliminate nations, because they are your potential customers,” he said. “Globalization is inevitable—whether you want it or not,” he emphasized. “We need to move forward.”

He added that the new era requires new institutions and political and economic systems. International institutions are still geared to respond to political and economic conflicts between two superpowers, he said.

“Perhaps, we should spend money to reform NATO and the United Nations instead of spending money on arms,” he said. “We need to focus on programmatic solutions to challenges.”

In addition to addressing the graduating class of 2001 on May 6, Walesa spoke to reporters at a news conference at Lewis & Clark, videotaped an interview for a peace conference, and addressed College trustees and civic and business leaders at a dinner.

At each opportunity, he challenged the United States, as the world’s only remaining superpower, to launch a post-Cold War plan to reenergize Eastern Europe.

“Twenty years ago, I came to the United States and proclaimed that Poland needs more of your generals—General Motors, General Electric,” he quipped. “But the generals were reluctant to come.

“I would encourage the United States to establish a new Marshall Plan for former Communist countries,” he said. “And it could be followed by similar plans for Asia and Africa.”

Walesa told graduates that he grew up in a tiny village in Poland, without the benefit of a college education, when the Cold War was at its pinnacle.

“You young people don’t realize how terrible communism was and how difficult it was to oppose communism,” he said.

Walesa burst into the world spotlight during the Lenin Shipyard strike in Gdansk, Poland, in 1980. He formed a coalition of workers that became known as Solidarity.

Walesa and other Solidarity leaders made the first open calls for democratic reforms in a Communist nation.

In 1981, the Polish government declared martial law and arrested thousands of Solidarity members, including Walesa.

Walesa, who was celebrated as a symbol of hope and freedom by his people, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and became Poland’s first democratically elected president in 1990.

He said that communism will be remembered as a failure. The United States only tolerates Cuba under Fidel Castro “as a tiny Jurassic Park of communism,” Walesa joked.

“Every democracy needs to be cherished,” he said, “but even democracy needs to be remodeled.”

He urged U.S. politicians, for example, to reform election laws.

Lewis & Clark economics major Izabela Ciesla, a ballerina from Poland, carried her country’s flag to the stage at commencement, and Walesa stood at attention as the band played the Polish national anthem in addition to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Ciesla and Walesa’s daughter, Magda, studied dance at the same school in Gdansk. Following commencement, Ciesla and Walesa viewed photos of the two girls dancing for Pope John Paul II.

“During the Solidarity movement, I participated in concerts in churches such as St. Brygida and St. Bartolomieja when Walesa was fighting for our freedom,” Ciesla said. “But I never got to meet him. Now, we meet in Portland, almost 6,000 miles from our home.”

Lewis & Clark President Michael Mooney presented Walesa with an honorary doctorate of humane letters during commencement. The College also awarded an honorary doctorate to Charles (Butch) Swindells ’64, who has been appointed U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.

Graduates listen intently to Lech Walesa's commencement speech.

Graduates listen intently to Lech Walesa’s commencement speech.


Izabela Ciesla, a first-year Lewis & Clark College student from Poland, danced with Lech Walesa’s daughter, Magda, for the pope in Rome. Walesa and his aide view photographs with Ciesla.