Monday, March 04, 2013

From solidarity to bigotry: Lech Walesa not quite as great as everyone thinks he is

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Well, look, Solidarity was pretty impressive, and Walesa, who led it, deserves much of the credit for taking down Communism in Poland, and for the collapse of the Soviet Empire generally.

But this is pretty ugly:

Lech Walesa, the Polish democracy icon and Nobel peace prize winner, has sparked outrage in Poland by saying that gays have no right to a prominent role in politics and that as a minority they need to "adjust to smaller things."

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Walesa said in a television interview on Friday that he believes gays have no right to sit on the front benches in Parliament and, if represented at all, should sit in the back, "and even behind a wall."

"They have to know that they are a minority and must adjust to smaller things. And not rise to the greatest heights, the greatest hours, the greatest provocations, spoiling things for the others and taking (what they want) from the majority," he told the private broadcaster TVN during a discussion of gay rights. "I don't agree to this and I will never agree to it."

"A minority should not impose itself on the majority," Walesa said.

If you know anything about Walesa, this isn't surprising in the least.

He may have led a union-based anti-Communist social movement, and as president he may have presided over Poland's transition to democracy and capitalism, but his views have always been what in western terms would be seen as right-wing, particularly given the moral conservatism of his ardent Catholicism. Indeed, he has long been known to be both anti-gay and anti-abortion. In 2000, for example, he said of gays: "I believe those people need medical treatment."

Let's not mistake Solidarity for something it wasn't, and let's not mistake Walesa for some sort of liberal progressive. He has been a heroic, historic figure, widely heralded, and deservedly so, but in power or out of it since Communism fell he has been something rather less noble, his shortcomings and failings exposed.

It's a shame, really, it's hardly the first time a great revolutionary turned out to be a narrow-minded, and indeed tyrannical, bigot.

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