AP Interview: Walesa says 30 years after Solidarity, more reforms needed in Poland

GDANSK, Poland (AP) — Solidarity founder and former Polish President Lech Walesa said Tuesday that 30 years after his trade union movement paved the way for massive democratic reforms that brought communism to its knees across Eastern Europe, Poland is dragging its feet on changes it needs to help it catch up with its western European neighbors.

Speaking at his office in the Baltic port city of Gdansk, Walesa refused to delve into his memories of the 1980 strikes at the city's shipyard and elsewhere that gave rise to Solidarity and to Poland's democratic changes. The so-called Gdansk agreements eventually led to democratic changes in 1989 and spurred sweeping reforms across Eastern Europe

On the 30th anniversary of the agreements, in which the Solidarity movement that Walesa led forced then-ruling communists to sign concessions to striking shipyard workers, Walesa said he wants to look ahead at challenges that Poland, and the world, face.

"My character is such that I work for today and for tomorrow," the 66-year-old told The Associated Press in an interview. "I am not too much interested in the past, and I am leaving it to historians and other professionals. I am more interested in what's next with Poland, what's next with Europe, what's next with globalization."

The Solidarity movement was built on the principle of helping others to "shoulder a burden" and that is what the world needs more of, Walesa said.

"Every country has its burdens, its problems, difficulties," he said. "We should get organized in solidarity to lift those burdens."

Walesa was critical of the current state of affairs in his native Poland, saying the country still needs political, legal and economic reforms or risks never catching up with its western neighbors in the European Union.

"I would like to see Poland that is comparable to those countries that lived in a different system and are better off economically, democratically and politically, so I would like to speed up the process of catching up with the countries that are ahead of us," Walesa said.

Walesa said that the shortcomings in Poland's legal system were exposed after a cross was erected in front of the presidential palace in Warsaw in the memory of President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, who were killed in an April plane crash in Russia. Many Poles see that cross as a violation of the separation of church and state, but attempts to remove it have met with dramatic opposition from a small group of defenders who want it to stay until a fitting memorial is built.

"If things were sorted out ... meaning that no one could build anything on another person's plot of land ... we wouldn't have had this problem with the cross," Walesa said.

Walesa on Monday stayed away from several of Solidarity's 30th anniversary events saying that he was tired and disillusioned with the trade union for getting too involved in daily politics. He did not elaborate further, saying simply that it was his "democratic choice" to skip the events.

He is expected , however, to attend a Tuesday concert in Gdansk, which is the central point of the celebrations.