Former Polish president Lech Walesa in Chicago

February 9, 2012 3:22:39 PM PST
The man who helped to end communism in Europe was in Chicago Thursday.

Former Polish president Lech Walesa is in Chicago to receive the Lincoln Leadership Prize.

In an exclusive interview, Walesa shared his thoughts on jobs, the global economy, and why on one issue he says he is "ashamed" of the United States.

Walesa is quick with a smile and a sharp sense of humor... But his tone is serious -- through a translator -- when he talks of global economic problems.

"It was 20 years ago already, I was warning about similar developments," said Walesa.

The union leader and former polish president is not surprised to see "occupy" protests in the U.S. and abroad, but he believes it is the responsibility of business -- not government -- to fix economic disparity.

"It is the responsibility of business owners if there is unemployment and no jobs created," Walesa said. "Who else can be providing jobs for people? Union activists? Politicians? I doubt it. That's impossible."

He also feels strongly about current U.S. laws requiring a visa for Poles to visit the United States.

"It's really a shameful topic. I am ashamed of the United States," said Walesa.

Lifting the visa requirement is a cause supported by both Chicago Congressman Mike Quigley and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk.

Walesa reminisced about the role he played with the late Pope John Paul II in ending communism.

Walesa attended the beatification of John Paul last year, a step on the road to sainthood, and he hopes to live to see the day when the former pope is made a saint.

"This holy father, John Paul II, really deserved sainthood. Without him, we never would have toppled communism," Walesa said.

Thursday evening in Chicago, the former president will receive the Lincoln Leadership Prize. Some see similarities between Lincoln and Lech Walesa.

"In terms of the struggle, he was the right man, at the right time, at the right place," said Walesa.

The Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield has a special Walesa exhibit this month.

And, through Monday, the museum will show three rare original historic documents at once: Lincoln's Gettysburg address, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery.