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If you like Lech Walesa's story, you might also like:
Mikhail Gorbachev,
John Hume,
Shimon Peres,
Albie Sachs,
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,
Desmond Tutu
and Elie Wiesel

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Lech Walesa in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Global Conflicts

Related Links:
Nobel Prize
Lech Walesa Institute

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Lech Walesa
Lech Walesa
Profile of Lech Walesa Biography of Lech Walesa Interview with Lech Walesa Lech Walesa Photo Gallery

Lech Walesa Interview

Nobel Prize for Peace

October 28, 2000
London, England

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  Lech Walesa

(Mr. Walesa's interview was conducted with the assistance of an interpreter.)

I'd like you to introduce us to Lech Walesa as you were at age ten. Who are you? Where are you living?

Lech Walesa Interview Photo
Lech Walesa: I live in a village. It's the year 1952-53. So that means it's the post-war time. There is a lot of poverty. I am in the third grade of a primary school. I walk five kilometers to go to school, a long way. Then seven kilometers on foot after school to go to church, and that's every day.

What do your parents hope for you at this point?

Lech Walesa: I believe they really cared about survival until the next day, how to make a living. Perhaps they wondered, "What will he grow into? What kind of a man will he be?" because I was really a very lively child. I really needed to break at least one window every month, and to get into mischief, so they must have wondered.

How many children were there in the family?

Lech Walesa: It was a combined family as I would call it.

My father died on returning from the war, and his brother took care of my mother and of my family because my father had pledged him to. So, there were four of us in our family -- that is, four children -- and my father's brother had three children. And we all have grown into decent people, and me, myself, into the president of our own country and a Nobel Peace Prize holder and some other things have happened to me in the meantime. So, I really knew what was the purpose of me breaking the windows. I had this idea that the people who make glass, make windows, could earn their money to make their living.

How important was the church in your life?

Lech Walesa: In my family and in Poland in general, the church has always played an important role.

As you know, my home country is located between two powerful nations, between Russia and Germany, who are very sociable peoples and they enjoy visiting one another, so they need to cross Poland on the way. That's why our geographical position was always tough, and we could only survive under certain circumstances. We could only survive as a nation thanks to our deep belief in God because we lived through some absolutely hopeless situations in history and on several occasions, we were erased as a country from the map of the world. But, thanks to our religious belief, we survived and in fact, we continue persisting. That's why this belief was always really deep, and it was tangible. It was not an old-fashioned religious belief -- because we continue to be a religious people -- but this is not really an outdated, old-fashioned religion, and beyond progress. Today the Polish people, myself included, find God in the newest-generation computer, because He is there. It's a question of people being able to find him there. He's very modern. He's a very modern God, and He's really very good to live with.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

He had trouble living with the Polish state at the time that you were a child.

Lech Walesa: It is true, but such difficulties and such hardships really reinforce and strengthen people. I think it's a lack of problems that make people really lazy and breaks the spirit. My conclusion is that weak people have no god, and all those who are strong really -- they all have God.

Tell me about school. What kind of studies did you have?

Lech Walesa: Elementary school? That was the same as for everybody, just the basic education. How to read and to write, but I believe there was also a school of living. It was a country school and I lived in the countryside, and that was a life where each child, apart from school, had also some other obligations, some other work to do.

When I was a child, the principles of life in the countryside were very, very clear, especially our attitude towards nature, but also in the human relations. It is true that with nature, you would steal some things from nature, you would hunt something in nature, but with great respect, and whenever nature needed some assistance from us, when there was winter, when things were difficult for nature, we wouldn't hunt, and then we would help nature and all the living creatures. Nobody even dared to go hunting in this period. And, as far into human relationships, the principles were also very transparent and clear. If people had things that they -- some reproach or some resentment -- it was only natural to say it straightforwardly and explain what the resentment is about. Sometimes manually I would say it, but without the courtesy, without the "please," and I must say that they were usually very honest dealings because as I said, they were very straightforward principles, straightforward rules, but very honest, and that's why I liked them.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Things have changed since then. People do break rules now.

Was school less important to you than what went on outside of school?

Lech Walesa: It wasn't so, really.

Since I came from a very poor family, that's why everybody from my household wanted to learn, and they wanted to go on into the world. And well, I just tried to do the same thing. Of course, we gained our education in the schools that were in the near vicinity, and we were prepared more for the practical side of life. So we were not humanists, we were not theoreticians. We were educated in practical matters, like an electrician, a welder, and some other practical professions. Something -- you were trained to be able to produce something and to make money on it.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

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This page last revised on Mar 03, 2008 17:36 EDT
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