WARSAW, Poland – Poland's former President Lech Walesa said Wednesday that members of Solidarity, the trade union he once led, deserve to be beaten for a disruptive protest they staged last week in Warsaw.
The comments by the outspoken Walesa underline the deep split that has occurred between him and the labor movement he led in the 1980s, one prompted by ideological and personal differences. In the 1980s Solidarity was the key dissident group that eventually helped topple communist rule, but has since evolved into a traditional labor union that supports a strong welfare state.
Last week Solidarity led a picket for days in front of parliament to protest a law raising the retirement age. After lawmakers passed the bill Friday, enraged Solidarity activists prevented some lawmakers from leaving the building for some time and a scuffle ensued.
Walesa, 68, said elected lawmakers must be respected and said that Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a pro-market leader who fought for the rise in the retirement age, should have dealt firmly with the protesters.
"If I were in prime minister Tusk's position, I would order an attack on the demonstrators to pay them back," Walesa, a Nobel Peace prize winner said in an interview with Radio Zet. "Authority must be respected and chosen wisely. You should go to the polls, organize yourself. But once lawmakers are chosen, they must be respected."
Monika Olejnik, the journalist interviewing Walesa, noted the irony of a Nobel peace winner advocating a beating and asked him, "A Nobel peace prize laureate, a former leader of Solidarity, would beat the leader of Solidarity?"
"As a prime minister, I would have the right to do it," Walesa said. He also said he feels that the current Solidarity leader, Piotr Duda, should be singled out for a beating and that he would have liked to do it himself.
"I would do it myself. I would beat him for not being able to wisely arrange the political relations in free Poland," Walesa said.
Walesa stands as one of the great freedom icons of the 20th century, but a five-year stint as president in the 1990s was seen as unsuccessful, in part for what critics see — ironically — as an authoritarian personal style.
He gave up his Solidarity membership in 2006, saying at the time that he had become estrange from its leaders, who support Law and Justice, a conservative and nationalist party that is fighting Tusk's pro-market reforms.