YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Solidarity Ideals Outlive a Murderous Martial Law

November 08, 1987|Lech Walesa | Lech Walesa is a founder of Poland's Solidarity movement and winner of the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize. This is an excerpt from his memoir, "A Way of Hope," being published tomorrow by Henry Holt and Co

GDANSK, POLAND — My story ends with a death, the death of Father Popieluszko (Jerzy Popieluszko, a priest allied with Solidarity, was kidnaped and killed in October, 1984). At the news of this tragedy, all Poland came to a standstill, dumbstruck, overcome by horror and grief. But we also asked ourselves: After this, what next?

The theoreticians believe that if we've reached a political impasse and can find no political means of responding to the conditions that prevail, then we must admit defeat and accept that the events of the last 40 years have bowed our heads and broken our backs forever. Experience has taught me that when political methods fail, there are others that may work. In fact, it's precisely because, in our situation, political action was not an option, that I refused to sit around doing nothing, waiting for that option to appear.

There's not one among us who wouldn't like to see sweeping reforms and all those in government replaced who have shown themselves to be incompetent or corrupt. If our leaders come to realize that repressive methods are bad methods, if they could accept that our claims are justified, or if they resolve to make amends and set about the task of improving the economy, making the law worthy of the name again--reinstating essential civil liberties--then Solidarity's prayers would be answered. If nothing is done to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of our people, then, rather than resign themselves to inaction, they will fight.

I can envisage two quite separate scenarios, as I write these words in 1987: If government measures are too slow or too superficial and our country continues to stagnate, then there will be an outburst of legitimate protest along the lines of August, 1980, and earlier. This time, however, we shall have learned from experience and draw some useful lessons from action we have taken in the past. If, on the other hand, the government continues the line of action it began with the release of political prisoners, if it decides to initiate a process of democratization and to recognize the legitimate rights of workers to seek protection by the church, then in the long term our hopes may be answered.

In both cases, it's not private or group interests that count, but the fulfillment of our ideals--either through the expedient of legitimate and spontaneous protest or through the government's decision to promote change. It's clear that in the second instance, certain people will find themselves out of the action--beginning with myself. But neither I nor my associates have such personal stakes in the game. The only thing that has ever mattered is our cause and the realization of our ideals. And as for the monument in our memory, it will have to wait for a century or two anyway

What is certain is that we can't turn the clock back. Progress may be slowed, never reversed. When tape recorders began to be imported, the first thing authorities did was to pass a regulation banning unauthorized possession of tapes. Circulation was checked, but not stopped, and today it's no longer an issue. More recently, the same thing happened with videos. Free expression, whether books or videotapes, cannot be silenced.

Sooner or later the authorities will have to agree to reforms. They should be using their imaginations right now to devise new solutions, but once again they're too busy playing musical chairs. One of the tragedies of our time is that while the general IQ of our population rises, that of the government stagnates.

From time immemorial men of good will have referred back to the natural order of things, a natural order in which they play an integral part. In the world of ideas we have created nothing new. The world evolves: There are periods of imbalance that lead to wars, but before long the levels are equalized and people are free to move around again as they wish. Eventually all the world's citizens will have unrestricted passports, or maybe there won't even be a need for passports. They'll be able to choose their nationality and decide where they want to travel and to live. That's already happening in the West, and will come to pass in the Third World where national differences will eventually blur. It's what we expect to happen here.

I'm an idealist, in the sense that I would like to see us move toward an ideal that I believe in. But I know how each of us has his own set of standards, formed by childhood, school, living conditions and experiences in adult life. Though private standards differ they must also share common points of reference. We're never going to go back to the time when men fought with daggers and swords and went to war to settle personal disputes. Already the young people of every nation are coming to resemble each other more and more, and are slowly becoming strangers to chauvinism and racism.

Los Angeles Times Articles