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Ex-Poland President Lech Walesa in San Diego, discusses Ukraine, Russia and democracy

Poland’s former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa is scheduled to speak at the University of San Diego on the threat of Russia amid its ongoing war on Ukraine. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez spoke with Walesa ahead of the event.

The University of San Diego invited Lech Walesa to speak on campus as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series on Wednesday.

The former president of Poland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate shared his views on the war in Ukraine and Putin’s aggression in the region.

Speaking through a translator, Walesa said, “We have to make a wise decision. We have to remember that Putin made a terrible mistake and he mobilized the entire world against him.”


The 79-year-old worker’s rights activist suggested NATO nations need to continue to support Ukraine and the Russian people in defeating Putin, and dismantling his corrupt political system.

“Some people think we are going to destroy our civilization because they’re afraid somebody like Putin will push the button and basically will end life on this planet,” Walesa said, referring to the Russian leader’s threats to use nuclear weapons.

Lech Walesa, former president of Poland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, San Diego, Calif., Nov. 16, 2022.
Matthew Bowler
Lech Walesa, former president of Poland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, San Diego, Calif., Nov. 16, 2022.

Walesa first made headlines in the early 1980s when he started the grassroots labor union SOLIDARITY in his homeland of Poland. In just a decade, he helped defeat communism and became the first democratically elected president of his country. He was one of the world leaders to bring down the Iron Curtain.

“When we destroyed the Soviet Union and we destroyed communism, then we lost that common ground. So, the question today is: Can we find something that we do have in common?”

Walesa suggested that resolving the Ukrainian conflict could be the unifying force needed to preserve democracy.


His visit to USD was a rallying cry to the younger generation.

“Because I’m too old to continue that fight,” Walesa said, “I’m leaving it to you now. You can do the work and then you can thank me.”