Polish freedom fighter marks fall of communism

ABC7 Exclusive Interview with Lech Walesa
May 29, 2009 (CHICAGO) In the audience will be an honored guest, Lech Walesa, the man who many say lit a spark for freedom in Poland.

He's a man who not only lived through the historic change of the past three decades - he helped to write its pages.

"If anybody had told me I would live in such a world, I would never believe it," said Lech Walesa, former president of Poland through a translator.

It was Walesa, the electrician, who led the strike among shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland in 1980. That gave birth to the solidarity labor movement, supported by the Catholic Church and the Polish pope, John Paul II. It turned the tide against the communist regime in Poland.

"We pulled the teeth out of the bear's mouth...when the bear could no longer bite," said Lech Walesa. "Everything that happened afterwards could happen; the Berlin wall, spring in Prague and everything else."

Walesa went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize and was elected president of Poland for five years.

Now, after a year that included health problems and heart surgery, he candidly speaks of his mortality, but says he's been "renovated" and wants to speak on global issues.

"I've been an optimist all the way along. I'm actually packing up for the afterworld, so I don't have much left on this earth, but I would certainly like to accomplish something for the sake of our children," said Walesa.

That includes improving the environment.

"Unless all of us undergo global control on environmental issues, some country like Korea or Belarus will blow us up into the air," said Walesa.

He believes nations must look beyond their borders for the world's benefit and he believes the United States must lead.

"These are all the challenges for President Obama," said Walesa.

Walesa was honored on Friday by having a building named after him on the campus of Northeastern Illinois University.

Friday night's concert begins at 8 o'clock at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

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