Poland’s Walesa Sees No Major Global Economic Crisis

May 21, 2009 - 11:44 PM
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa said Thursday that he does not believe the world is living through a major economic crisis. Instead, the former Polish president sees problems in the global banking sector that require structural reform.~~
Lech Walesa

Lech Walesa. Poland's former president, photographed in Warsaw on Thursday, May 21, 2009. (AP Photo)

Warsaw (AP) – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa said Thursday that he does not believe the world is living through a major economic crisis. Instead, the former Polish president sees problems in the global banking sector that require structural reform.

Walesa, who in the 1980s led the Solidarity movement that helped start the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, said more oversight of banking is needed. In an interview with The Associated Press, he called for the creation of a "council of sages" that would work to prevent a repeat of recent problems, including massive stock market losses and a freezing up of credit markets.

"We cannot talk about a crisis – that's total garbage," Walesa said. He said, however, that sees pent-up demand for market reforms and job creation in developing nations throughout the world.

Walesa spoke as Poland geared up for celebrations marking 20 years since the first partly free elections, on June 4, 1989, ousted the communists from power.

In a rare moment of self-criticism, the former electrician and trade union leader said he blamed himself for having failed to protect Poles from the hardship that came with the transition from communism to capitalism, changes he helped usher in.

But he said Poland's economic climate today is not dire.

"On the whole the situation is not bad. All our economic data are better than ever, except for unemployment," he said. "But when I look at the path we have walked, I see spots were we did wrong or wasted our opportunities. Then I am not pleased."

"Then I think that it is my fault that things went that way, that it was my lack of know-how, my failing to notice things, my stupidity. I blame myself, not the others ... that I made a revolution but did not know what would came later."

The fall of communism in 1989 brought democratic freedoms but also economic pain as inefficient communist-era industries collapsed. As a result, Poland has struggled with jobless rates that have risen above 20 percent. The most recent jobless rate stands at 11 percent.

Walesa helped found Poland's noncommunist trade union Solidarity in 1980 and led it secretly when the movement was outlawed by the communists. Solidarity's perseverance eventually led to the ouster of communists in Poland and paved the way for democratic changes in other Soviet satellites.

Walesa, now 65, served as Poland's first democratically elected president, from 1990-95. Today he travels extensively to lecture on his role in history and his current views.