Member and neighbour States

Lech Walesa’s (new) controversy

Lech Walesa (Wikimedia Commons / Flickr)

Lech Walesa (Wikimedia Commons / Flickr)

Last week, Lech Walesa made some surprising, not to say shocking statements. 

Interviewed by TVN, a Polish private broadcaster, the former Solidarnosc free trade-union founder and Polish president (from 1990 to 1995) considered homosexual representatives should sit in the backbenches of the Sejm (the Polish lower Chamber) and even behind a wall. These declarations provoked the consternation of associations defending homosexuals’ rights and of some MPs such as Janusz Palikot, leader of Ruch Palikota, a centrist party pledging in favour of secularism and separation of the Church and the State in a traditionally and blatantly Catholic Poland.

It is not the first time the historic and charismatic leader of Solidarnosc, who is profoundly Catholic, expresses very controversial opinions. In 2009, for instance, while he supported the Civic Platform party – the centre-right party currently at the power in Poland, member of the European People’s Party – for the European elections, he went to Libertas’ convention where he delivered a speech on Europe, stating Declan Ganley and his sovereign and euro-sceptic party had the potential to change Europe for better. These declarations provoked heated reactions in Walesa’s birth country but also in the rest of the European Union, all the more when he confessed he had been paid for his presence at the convention.

Lech Walesa enjoys an immense moral authority in Poland, due to the major role he played in the dismantlement of the communist system during the 1980s via Solidarnosc. The former leader is still a respected and respectable personality who still weighs within the Polish political life and society, even though he was constrained to quit politics in 1995 after he was defeated by the ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski in the presidential run-off. Indeed, Walesa’s declarations deeply shocked some political leaders, both conservative and progressive, considering they were not called for and hateful. Standing at his side, Jaroslaw Walesa, the former president’s son and a current EPP MEP, stated the declarations of his father were bad and damaging.

Walesa’s statements are all the more embarrassing as homosexuality and LGBT rights still are a taboo in Frederic Chopin’s land, in spite of evolution of mentalities and a growing tolerance in a country where 95% of the population considers being Catholic. In October 2011, for instance, Robert Biedron, RP member, was the first homosexual elected at the Sejm, and recently three draft laws defending the creation of a civil union opened to homosexuals were examined by the Parliament, though in the end they were rejected.

As Jaroslaw Walesa points out, Lech Walesa’s words are typical of an old generation and a certain Poland that is profoundly conservative and catholic. In fact, while these declarations shocked many Polish citizens, they also were supported by some people who want to keep some traditions and some moral principles.

Indeed, Lech Walesa’s words, which are condemnable, show a certain malaise vis-à-vis a very respected man considered as the father of Poland’s second independence and vis-à-vis some societal issues, at the moment when the centre-right government of Donald Tusk succeeded to make forget the Kaczynski brothers’ provocations when Lech (as president of the Polish Republic from 2005 to 2010) and Jaroslaw (as Prime minister from 2005 to 2007) were in power. In fact, Walesa’s shocking words should be the occasion to open a debate on some hot and taboo issues such as homosexuality, and also abortion, which is still forbidden in Poland.

Gilles JOHNSON

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