Who’s Paying Lech Wałęsa?

Lately, Lech Wałęsa’s name has been prominent in Polish news, but not always in relation to Poland’s shipyard troubles. In fact, what has Polish citizens and politicians enraged are Wałęsa’s speaking arrangements that have little to do with Solidarity.

The outrage stems from the perception that Poland’s beloved freedom-fighter and former president has sold out. The price? A reported €100,000 for two speaking engagements for the Libertas party’s European election campaign. This news, alongside a recent report in Newsweek alleging Mr. Wałęsa as the richest Polish politician, has the public and the media wondering if the politician has abandoned his principles.

Last week, the Solidarity leader spoke in Rome and Madrid, and this week he is scheduled to appear in Ireland. The speaking engagement for Libertas purportedly will take Mr. Wałęsa to five European cities, including Warsaw, which undoubtedly will be shrouded in controversy.

Perhaps the majority of the controversy stems from Libertas’ role on the European stage. The party consists of three small regional Spanish parties, and thus far has only produced three candidates – one of whom has been charged with insider trading and other financial misconduct. The party has also approached a far-right party in order to secure a joint election bid, and has been involved with several controversial European politicians.

Gazeta Wyborcza has even gone as far as calling Wałęsa a “disgrace”: “Lech Walesa is a symbol of peaceful democratic changes in Poland and elsewhere in Europe, our ambassador in the world. And now this ambassador disgraces us.” The daily cites Wałęsa’s inconsistencies in supporting both right- and left-wing parties, as long as they pay him. The engagements have also not sat well with Poland’s majority political party, PO, and Prime Minister Tusk has voiced his disappointment to the media.

When asked by reporters whether he will appear in the 20th anniversary ceremony that has been moved from Gdansk to Krakow, Mr. Wałęsa said that, “only God knows where I will be. But I made a commitment [to speak in Krakow], and I always keep my commitments.”

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