Pensacola honored by a visit from former Polish president

Home Archived Opinion Pensacola honored by a visit from former Polish president

Bob Roberts

Published: April 12, 2006

On March 31, inside the University of West Florida’s Field House, a diverse crowd gathered to hear a lecture given by former President of Poland and founder of Solidarity, Lech Walesa.

It was an event of unprecedented importance, not only for the University, but also for Pensacola as a community.  The turnout was enormous, and I felt privileged to be among the audience.

After a brief documentary titled “Poland – We’ve Caught God by the Arm”, a series of processions followed, including a traditional Polish greeting by several local school children, and an introduction by the Polish American Society of Pensacola representative who sparked the rousing singing of a Polish political song (in Polish of course) by those who knew the words, as well as the former President himself who joined in enthusiastically.

The president of the university, Dr. Cavanaugh, had the honor of introducing the keynote speaker, and did so by describing him as a “champion of democracy” who has “inspired not only Poland, but all of the world.”

He ended with the phrase, “In Solidarity there is strength,” and Lech Walesa took the podium.

I’ll admit, after the brief documentary, the heart pounding music which accompanied the processions, and not to forget the Polish political song in Polish (which is quite an intimidating language), I thought I was in for a powerful speech by a man who through his translator described the Solidarity movement as, “driving the last nails in the communist coffin.”

Though it was powerful, it unexpectedly brought to light an individual with endearing passion, and a keen sense of humor that captivated the audience.

“Communism fit Poland like a horse’s saddle on a pig,” Walesa said, humorously describing reasons for his struggle against the communistic Polish government.

After only a few minutes, the atmosphere had changed from dramatic to casual, as if the former President was speaking to everyone personally.

He remarked that, “Politicians should provide the world with vision, but instead we have politicians on television.”

Within his light approach, there was however a sense of incorruptible determination. 

“Solidarity,” he said, “was nothing more or less than putting on our shoulders the burden that no individual alone could bear,” speaking about the trade union he helped organize to negotiate worker rights and freedoms. 

By the end of the speech, I felt as if everyone could relate to his struggle and message.

There is something to be said about a man, who after coming from humble beginnings stood courageously along side his fellow workers against a communist government, with the vision of a free world, and after losing his job, climbed the fence again to lead those with the same vision to peaceful victory, bringing democracy to a war-torn country.

There is something to be said about this man, Lech Walesa, who, as he stood to electric applause in that small building, conveyed a sense of hope and inspiration in the minds of those like myself who were too young to have known his history, but at that moment, had a strong idea of their future.

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