Lech Walesa, in CT, calls for a new global era; Ukrainian refugees react

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HARTFORD — A newlywed couple sitting on the balcony of Infinity Music Hall gave special meaning to the talk they came to hear on Tuesday evening, by Lech Walesa, the union electrician who formed the Solidarity movement in Poland and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his human rights work against the Soviet Union.

Today, a generation after Walesa’s name became synonymous with freedom, the young couple – war refugees from Ukraine who arrived in Connecticut last month – heard the 78-year-old statesman call more help from the United States to defeat the Russian invasion. .

And Walesa took his appeal far, far beyond that.

“It’s not enough for Ukraine to defeat Russia militarily,” Walesa said in a conversation sponsored by Connecticut’s Global Affairs Council. “If we don’t really put the right order in Russia, Russia will rise up in five to 10 years and again pose a threat to democracy.”

Even the complete reform of Russia is not enough progress for Walesa, president of Poland from 1990 to 1995. No, the visionary of the revolution, acknowledging this role without false modesty, declared that the world is at the dawn of a “new era” through technology, unfettered by national interests, based neither on communism nor on capitalism, but built on free markets.

“The era of divisions has collapsed. The new age of information, intellect and globalization has dawned. And we were left behind in between,” Walesa said, speaking to a crowd of around 200, through an interpreter, with moderator Megan Clark Torrey, CEO of the Council of world affairs.

“The novelty has not yet appeared.”

What does this new era look like? It is the task of the civilization of the 21st century, to understand it or perish. “First, we really need to come to a consensus on values ​​and principles,” he said, “like the Ten Commandments.”

Laughing in the midst of tragedy

If he weren’t a former world statesman running the Lech Walesa Institute, this mischievous guy with a broad white mustache might try his hand at stand-up comedy. Speaking of all the broken systems in the world, he joked, “There is only one structure that can continue to be effective in the world. It’s the highway code. »

During a tour of the United States to raise money for refugee aid and stir up resolve against Russia, he takes jabs on the left and especially on the right, and on political culture itself, indulges to humor at a serious time. “Whenever two Poles meet, they always create at least three political parties.”

Walesa denounced the “populist and demagogue” right-wing government in Poland, which he said violated the constitutional separation of powers and illegally obstructed the media. That’s why he wore a t-shirt with bold letters spelling out “Constitution” in Polish.

Walesa wore the same t-shirt under a blazer on Monday night at an event at the New England Air Museum at Windsor Locks, which features an exhibit by the Polish Kościuszko Airmen Squadron. There he met Governor Ned Lamont and was greeted in Polish by Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz.

“It’s an honor to have Lech Walesa in Connecticut because we have the third-largest number of Polish Americans of any state in the country,” said Bysiewicz, who speaks only a few words of the language; his grandparents immigrated from the Central European nation.

Bysiewicz, in an interview on Tuesday, said it was remarkable that Walesa wore this t-shirt for two reasons. “We are the constitutional state and we are here at a time when constitutional issues are under attack.”

“The coup de grace for Russia”

As Walesa spoke, the US House of Representatives was approving a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, with outside opposition led by Donald Trump Jr. Walesa did not mention US policy in his speech, but he did it in an interview with me, without pushing .

“My message with this t-shirt is, don’t underestimate the elections,” he said, “the Polish people…have allowed demagogues and populists to gain power, while in this country you allowed Trump to gain power, which was a misfortune.”

On stage, vowing to wear the t-shirt until the Polish administration ends its violations, he paused for another line of laughter – “I brought ten t-shirts, so don’t you don’t worry” – but never strayed from his main point about the latest crisis being a chance for world leaders, Germany in Europe and the United States in the world, to push dramatic reforms to root out the evil .

“So here is my call to you. United States, take advantage of the opportunity presented to us,” he implored.

The immediate crisis, of course, is the war itself, which has sent 3 million refugees across the Ukrainian border into Poland, with many more to come – and Poland is doing all that she can, he said, as the world reacts.

“So help us deliver the knockout blow to Russia,” Walesa said. “The question for me now is whether we will remain united enough for this new worldview to prevail.”

He paid tribute to his close friend, the late David Chase, a Holocaust survivor who became a multi-millionaire global investor in Hartford and was a major supporter, establishing a solidarity bank in reformist Poland. Walesa’s biggest worry, in response to Torrey’s question: letting this opportunity slip away. It happened when he was president of Poland, he said, seeking more US help.

“I’m begging you, please give us your generals,” he said. “I mean General Motors, General Electric… That’s why I lost my election, because I didn’t succeed economically.”

Is the dream realistic?

How about this new world era? I asked the question to the young refugee couple, Simon Bobrovskii, who left Russia for Kyiv, Ukraine, where he worked as a hearing aid specialist when the war broke out, and to Daria Sakhniuk, director of a dental clinic in Kyiv .

They were married in a refugee camp in Mexico before being brought to Connecticut by Dana Bucin, a Hartford immigration lawyer from Romania who works with Ukrainian refugees – who is looking for more hosts.

Walesa’s vision of a new world era is realistic, Bobrovskii said, based on “people’s desire to live in peace together…it’s not a distant dream.”

No, his new wife said, “It’s a utopia. It’s not real this time, yet.

Attorney Peter G. Kelly, Chairman of the World Affairs Council and retired from Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, helped draft Poland’s post-Soviet constitution during Walesa’s presidency and helped former Russian President Boris Yeltsin reform the judiciary, only to see Vladimir Putin undo the reforms.

Kelly said Walesa’s message about two superpowers clashing is poignant. “What he’s saying is what we have now isn’t working.”

And so Lech Walesa, touted Tuesday night by Connecticut businessman Anthony Viscogliosi as an inspiration to our youth, continues to push 40 years later.

“Our civilization may be reaching the point where it can be destroyed,” Walesa said. “Will we be able to get past this point, avoid this? If we fail to do so, there will be a millennium without light on this globe. »

Surprisingly, at this point he delivered another quip. I couldn’t hear it or make it out on my recording amid laughter from Polish speakers in the audience as the interpreter spoke the line in English. Never mind; it was the laughter of human resilience.

dhaar@hearstmediact.com

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