November 13, 2009


'It's Good that Gorbachev Was a Weak Politician': The world is looking to Berlin as the city celebrates 20 years since the fall of the Wall. But in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Lech Walesa, the man who led Solidarnosc, says that the collapse of communism started in the Polish shipyards -- and that East German "deserters" endangered his ultimate success.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There were, of course, a number of other attempts to revolt against Soviet rule in Eastern Europe. The Hungarians in 1956. The Czechs in 1968. Why did your Solidarnosc labor union succeed where others failed?

Walesa: The communists always beat back such attempts with their superior power. And they also staged demonstrations aimed at showing their support among the population as a way of establishing legitimacy. In 1980 in the shipyards, we tried to use the communists' strategy against them. We organized the people -- including workers outside of the shipyards -- and we received support from people from other countries. The Pope, who played the most important role, arranged a collective prayer, not just in Poland but also elsewhere. We found that there were millions of us. For the first time, the communists were not able to stage a demonstration that was larger than ours. As a result, they felt weak, and this was an important element in their ultimate defeat.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Still, even until late in the 1980s, it wasn't clear that communism was headed for collapse. Did you really believe that the Soviets would sit back and allow communist governments in Eastern Europe to be overthrown?

Walesa: The greatest fears I had came out of concern for what might be happening behind the scenes. We defeated communism, and the people in East Germany began to flee via the embassies of other countries. The Berlin Wall fell because of these deserters. I was worried that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev would decide to block the mass escape and thus destroy our victory. The game was a dangerous one. It is good that Gorbachev was a weak politician and that everything went well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 13, 2009 5:09 AM
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