Walesa accuses West of failing to help eastern Europe

WARSAW, Aug 28, 2000 -- (AFP) The West has not provided enough help to former Soviet bloc countries to develop democracy and free economies, former Polish president Lech Walesa said 20 years after the founding the Solidarity trade union that helped bring down communism.

"I counted very much on help from the West, but it didn't turn out to be enough. Western politicians lacked imagination. What's more, the West has conquered our markets. It is because of this attitude that we have problems today," Poland's first post-communist president said in an interview with AFP.

After a strike by shipyard workers that lasted several weeks, the communist authorities caved in to their demands, and signed an agreement with Walesa on August 31, 1980 that allowed the formation of Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc.

Despite later being banned, the trade union continued underground and was the major force in pushing the communists to agree to a peaceful democratic transition, which saw the election of a Solidarity government in 1989 and Walesa as president in 1990.

But once Eastern Europeans had thrown off the shackles of communism, the West failed to step in with sufficient help, Walesa believes.

"A plan for the development for the eastern countries, like the Marshall Plan in the 1940s, was necessary," he said, but "the West didn't understand our needs and treated us like this was always part of historical fate. They didn't propose anything, while they should have tried to bring living standards in the East closer to the levels in the West."

On the other hand, Walesa said, "we've done everything to succeed. Poland has obtained freedom, but the results are limited by the attitude of the West."

The former Solidarity leader, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, doesn't have any good words for the movement today.

"At the time Solidarity was the instrument of struggle against communism. Today, only a few third-rate militants remain who would do anything to keep their place," he said. "It's an oligarchy, a debased bureaucracy..."

But Walesa finds it completely normal that some of his former Solidarity colleagues have moved to the left along the political spectrum after the fall of communism.

"We struggled together for liberty and democracy. Their attitude is thus normal, the people today can feel better. We wouldn't have a democracy with a monopoly of Solidarity. From the human point of view, it's sometimes sad that one or another has changed camp, but that is the logic of democracy," he said.

Walesa also criticizes the shortcomings of unfettered capitalism.

"I would like it if we would understand one another better. Capitalism must change its face. People can't function just thinking about buying and selling. At the dawn of the 21st century, capitalism needs some regulation. God has not given everyone the same thing, and the markets must be controlled and regulated to be complementary so that everyone can profit from this."

Walesa, who served as president from 1990 to 1995, is seeking to retake the presidency from Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former communist.

Public opinion polls show that Walesa has just three-percent support in the October 8 election.

Original article