Polish President: Lessons for Cuba

Democracy is like learning how to swim, former Polish President Lech Walesa told guests on Feb. 13: “You have to wade in to your knees and learn for yourself.”

Walesa delivered a keynote address in Polish, which was simultaneously translated into English, to attendees of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies’ roundtable discussion, in addition to other guests. The Cuba Transition Project, Consulate of the Republic of Poland, U.S. Agency for International Development, and American Institute of Polish Culture, Inc. co-sponsored the day’s events.

In 1990, Walesa became Poland’s first democratically elected president since the Soviet Union installed a communist government in 1945. His election came a year after his Solidarity labor movement won control of a newly established parliament.

“I come here to tell you a few truths because there are some spots on this Earth that have been particularly touched by history and my country is one of those places,” Walesa said.

He began his remarks by giving a brief history of modern Poland, beginning after World War I, before going into detail about his efforts against communism in Poland during the 1980s.

“Nobody gave us a chance of winning,” he said. “By trial and error we noticed what opportunity for victory [there]was.”

This victory came peacefully after Walesa, formerly a labor leader, and his Solidarity movement, which included about 50 labor unions, pushed for change in Poland.

Regarding Pope John Paul II’s role in freeing Poland, Walesa said the Pope helped people realize their situation.

“He awakened the people of Poland,” Walesa said.

Soon thereafter, Poland became democratic and the Soviet empire fell as a result of several factors, allowing many other countries to move away from communism. Since then, according to Walesa, the U.S. remains the only superpower economically and militarily, but not morally and politically, which is what is most important.

“The new epoch should be based on generally accepted values,” he said, hinting that American ideals are not universally accepted and others’ must be considered as well.

Walesa also addressed the subject of Cuba and its long history of control by Fidel Castro’s communist government.

“I don’t know whether what I say to Cubans is good because there are different situations,” he said.

He portrayed Castro as a “very intelligent monster” who is “unbelievably demagogical.”

“I wouldn’t use force,” he said regarding how he would defeat Castro, “I would use intellect.”

Walesa said one unifying figure would work best to unite Cuba and inspire real change.

“I see too many Lech Walesas in Cuba, this is the problem,” he said.

What he said he didn’t see were any plans for urban development and employment in a post-Castro scenario. These, he said, are crucial to success, if they can be held on to.

Nick Schaad, a sophomore, appreciated Walesa’s remarks.

“I think he seemed very charismatic,” Schaad said. “He’s more of a practical guy rather than a theoretical person in how he approaches issues, and that’s something I can relate to and something I can ascribe to.

“I was disappointed that he didn’t focus specifically more on Cuba, but at the same time I think he did by providing his general diagnosis.”

Molly Kurnit, sophomore, agreed with Schaad’s assessment and offered some insight.

“He played a really integral role in big the changes in Poland back in the day and I think that you can apply a lot of the same things to Cuba now, except that the people know that there’s a problem and everyone knows it,” she said.

Greg Linch can be contacted at

February 17, 2006


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • HurricaneSports

Even before Donte Ingram broke Miami’s heart and sent the Hurricanes home from the NCAA Tournament w ...

And so ends Miami's season. No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago's Donte Ingram hit a buzzer-beating ...

The willingness of former Hurricanes greats to mentor current Canes is one of the wonderful dynamics ...

Former President Barack Obama doesn’t think too highly of the University of Miami’s chances in eithe ...

“Lonnie, your hair is like artwork, looks like sculpture. How long did it take to get it that way, a ...

Novelist Jennine Capó Crucet’s book talk on March 20 explores belonging, identity, and what it means ...

Musical theatre students spent quality time learning (and laughing) with Avenue Q co-creator Jeff Ma ...

The University of Miami takes concrete steps to become the hemispheric university as it builds a rel ...

A UM physicist comments on the passing of British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. ...

Human Rights Watch says the government’s denial of the crisis worsens the suffering of its people. ...

The Hurricanes fell in dramatic fashion to Loyola Chicago in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. ...

The University of Miami rowing team will open its spring season at the 2018 Oak Ridge Cardinal Invit ...

The Miami Hurricanes will be looking for their fourth series win of the spring when they open up a w ...

Senior Wally Layland started the final diving meet of her career in spectacular fashion Wednesday ni ...

The eighth-seeded Miami women's basketball team begins its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament a ...

TMH Twitter Feed
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.