INSIDE Chico State
0 October 25, 2001
Volume 32 Number 4
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Walesa the Diplomat Appeals to America the Superpower

President Esteban and Felicia Contreras congratulate Dolly Moore-Solomon.

Three presidents smile for the camera at the reception following Lech Walesa’s talk: Walesa, left, former president of Poland; Amber Johnson, center, A.S. president; and Manuel A. Esteban, president of CSU, Chico.

An outsider image of educated Poles attributes to them an endearing romantic strain. Another outsider image of such Poles attributes to them a maddening romantic strain. Perhaps Lech Walesa keeps this paradoxical perception of his nature foremost in mind when he presents himself as a simple man who relies on good luck, good nerves, and above all—good intuition to maneuver mighty empires.

Certainly Walesa’s views on the necessary American role as the engine of globalization attest to a grand view of political affairs. On the global betterment side, his analysis of the proper business of the world is detached from immediate concerns. He does not, for example, counsel sending massive amounts of food to poor countries as a policy. He offers lists of imperatives for the world that seem to go nowhere at the moment, intimating that they have a short shelf life in his mind until some other lists crowd in to seize his attention.

And yet Walesa’s brimming confidence before the audience at the President’s Lecture in Laxson Auditorium on Oct. 12 suggested that any apparent lack of sense in his words may well be due to our limitations, not his. Walesa never let the audience forget that he is a Pole and that we who sat before him are educated Americans—privileged outsiders who can change the world for the better if we only understand the right measures to take.

In 1980 when Solidarity arose, very few American specialists in post-World War II Polish politics and society, whether in government or academia, gave the movement a shot at success. That erroneous assessment was cobbled from two facts: first, all the postwar strike movements in Poland until the advent of Solidarity had ended either in outright failure or in only small gains for the workers followed by a rollback; second, by 1980, Americans specializing in Polish and Soviet affairs had engaged the adversarial socialist system in conferences and summits for so long that they, like their opposite numbers, had settled into thinking that the rate of change in such societies occurred only on a glacial scale that did not allow for disturbing the status quo. This should be a cautionary tale for anyone today who would judge Walesa’s proposals in global affairs on the grounds that no outsider can grasp what the world’s business ought to be any more than a self-educated Pole can understand how to overthrow a socialist state.
Walesa may well know the world’s proper business better than we. Luck, nerves, and intuition may count far more than good analysis. Walesa averred that as a Nobel Peace Prize winner he has an obligation to share his views with a superpower. He suggested that certain localities—because of their geography, their history, their survival against domination—have a unique perspective on global political and social affairs. Indeed, the whole development of Western civilization has been reflected in their history, Walesa said. How romantic to be Polish.

Walesa went on to say that he is essentially a practical man: he believes that all the best solutions to world problems come from practical life. So much for romanticism. He advised fortifying the global institutions that are already in place so as to advance a grand design to unify humanity. This is Solidarity writ large. Walesa spoke of transforming the United Nations into a world parliament, the Security Council into a world government, and NATO into a global ministry of defense. Back to romanticism. This is not Solidarity but the European Union writ large.

Indeed, aspects of Walesa’s thinking are reminiscent of policies pursued by Poland’s immediate neighbor to the west. Like the leaders of postwar Germany, Walesa, too, is ready to exchange sovereignty for influence; he is willing to enlarge the common fund of Europe in any way possible. Bringing America into the program, he noted that the Marshall Plan put Germany on its feet after 1945. He likewise called for a new Marshall Plan for Eastern Europe in partnership with corporations in the United States and Western Europe.

In the question-and-answer discussion, Walesa spoke of the new age the world had entered with the close of the Cold War in terms of a hallmark, the “Era of the Air.” He observed that in the new age of information, which travels by air along wireless routes unhindered by borders, globalization brings in its wake a predominantly American transformation of culture. Walesa set this Era of the Air, the key to realizing the prospects he outlined for the United Nations and NATO, against an outmoded desire to control territory, a fault which still plagues large tracts of the world. The borders between countries are vestigial sources of disproportion that must be removed gradually under the leadership of the United States. Walesa proposed that the United States has five, maybe 10 years to make the Era of the Air permanent in the world through appropriate institutions.

Walesa appeared to have no idea of the huge store Americans set by their own sovereignty, by their feistiness, by their willingness to go it alone. For all that, Walesa may have grasped the destiny of this country.

Sarkis Shmavonian holds a Ph.D. in Armenian history. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Russia in 1973–74. He is the editor of the College of Engineering and Computer Technology’s publication Connections.

 

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