As President Lech Walesa Said to President Lula Da Silva

Observing our small bore politicians bickering while America risks fiscal and moral collapse from the vantage point of a ceremony in Gdansk, Poland -- in which two political heroes are being honored -- is a bracing if dispiriting experience. Bracing because to watch Founder of Solidarity (Solidarność) and former Polish President Lech Walesa bestow the Lech Walesa Prize on former Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva and then -- as two school drop-out labor organizers with similar backgrounds -- exchange war stories about trying to guide their respective nations to prosperity and liberty without turning their backs on democracy offers two authentic profiles in courage. Dispiriting because as exemplars of true audacity, they have few imitators today either in Western Europe or America, where banks are trying to secure their profits by destroying social welfare regimes and politicians are at most anxious onlookers if not mere puppets of the banks.

September 29th was Lech Walesa's 69th birthday and I had been invited to address his annual Civic Academy for young professionals, held in Gdansk and nearby Sopot this year in conjunction with the European Forum for New Ideas. Thirty years ago at the Lenin Shipyard, Walesa had led a strike that launched Solidarity, and in time brought down communism in Poland and catalyzed the fall of the Soviet Union. Walesa's birthday (he is retired from politics after a tumultuous term as President) was the occasion for the award ceremony, a staid affair staged in the "old city" (rebuilt from scratch after World War Two), except for the candid remarks of the two legendary protagonists.