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If you like Lech Walesa's story, you might also like:
Mikhail Gorbachev,
John Hume,
Shimon Peres,
Albie Sachs,
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,
Desmond Tutu
and Elie Wiesel

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Lech Walesa in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Global Conflicts

Related Links:
Nobel Prize
Lech Walesa Institute

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Lech Walesa
Lech Walesa
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Lech Walesa Interview (page: 2 / 4)

Nobel Prize for Peace

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  Lech Walesa

How did you choose to become an electrician?

Lech Walesa: There were things about electricity that I liked because when I got to know electricity, I was really interested. There was great interest for me. I wanted to look inside it and I wanted to see what electricity is about, and I really got some shocks from that investigation at that point. And, then I said to myself, "How can it be? I can't see it, still it really beat me up." So, I decided to step back according to those basic transparent rules that I was quoting. But, the point is that before I actually got to know electricity, I was the one that was beaten. So, I decided to get to know it better, and that's why I educated myself in this direction.

What was the procedure? Did you serve an apprenticeship? How did one become an electrician?

Lech Walesa: There was a three-year vocational school after elementary school. Once you completed the three years, you became an electrician. I combined this training with mechanical training, because I was also keen on cars. When I first went to school, it was the first time I saw a car. It was perhaps 1949. I hadn't seen a car before. That was the kind of village that I came from.

I can still remember this first car very clearly, and when I grew up, I bought one like it and worked on it. I did the repairs myself. Who knows, perhaps it was precisely the same car that I had seen as the first car in my life. It was really an exhausted car, and it needed a lot of repair.

At this point in your life, were you thinking about politics at all?

Lech Walesa: I never thought of politics at that point, and I never wanted to exert any public function. I never got any adequate training for this purpose, and I disliked it in fact. But at home, we used to listen to the radio. They were forbidden radio stations at that time, like Radio Free Europe and BBC. That was forbidden by the authorities at that time, and people could end up in jail for listening to those broadcasts. So while I was there, listening with the rest of the family and for this reason -- since I could feel the ban on such simple things -- I disliked the system from the very beginning. And, gradually I grew up and I continued disliking the system even more, and there were certain forums where I would speak out about it, and that's when my trouble started, my problems started. And, the point was that the more trouble I had, the more openly I would speak, and this has, in fact, put me on this path of dissidence, later to continue into the real struggle against the system.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

How old were you when you began to speak out in public?

Lech Walesa: I have been struggling ever since I can remember, against different things. As I said, my background was really based on very simple principles and rules, and I could observe already in elementary school that some of those principles were violated, because after all that was a communist school. So I became a dissident pretty soon in life, of course on a smaller scale at first.

Were notes written home to your parents saying that this child is not behaving?

Lech Walesa: It is true that I was in trouble many times. But as I said, I was quite a lively child, and I had my own mind. And, even if I saw things look differently that wouldn't change my mind. And, I even got involved and set up a conflict with the priest. I believe it may have been when I was around ten. I can't remember what it actually boiled down to. But, the point was that I was right, not him. And in fact, I followed him for like a fortnight and kept repeating that I'm right not him, and finally he had to give in, and then he said to me the following: "Well, my boy, you will either reach very, very far or you will end up in jail." And the truth is, I sampled both in my life.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

So what finally brought you to the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk? How did that happen?

Lech Walesa: I think that was when I was about 27.

I was around my household, my family, working in different repair workshops, but I felt a little bit restricted, confined to these surroundings. On one occasion, I just go into a train and I came to Gdansk. Well in fact, my ticket was bought for a further destination than Gdansk, but what happened was the train controller said to me that we would have a longer stop in Gdansk, like half an hour. I was extremely thirsty, and so I got off the train. What happened was that, before I actually drank what I was drinking, the train had left. So I was left in Gdansk, and I have stayed for 30 years in Gdansk since.

That's how I ended up in the shipyard. There was always demand for labor, and I found a job there.

Did you need the government's permission to live in Gdansk?

Lech Walesa: No, there was no need for such permission. There were workers' hotels. There was such demand for labor that they would even send money to people for them to come over and work in the shipyard. They really had so much work at that point they needed a lot of workers.

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This page last revised on Mar 03, 2008 17:36 EDT
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