Lech Walesa: activist, electrician, president, Nobel Peace Prize winner... homophobe?

 

He is an icon of the democratic Left, who successfully challenged a repressive communist regime to become Poland’s first elected president.

But Nobel Peace Prize-winner Lech Walesa has risked shattering his legacy with an outspoken attack on gay people – saying that as a minority they must take a back seat and “adjust to smaller things.”

Walesa, a former shipyard worker from the socially conservative port town of Gdansk, claimed in a television interview that gay people had no right to a prominent role in politics. 

The 69-year-old said they did not deserve to be the front benches in parliament, and should instead be relegated to the back or  “behind a wall”. 

“They have to know that they are a minority and must adjust to smaller things. And not rise to the greatest heights ... spoiling things for the others and taking from the majority,” he told the private Polish broadcaster TVN. “I don’t agree to this and I will never agree to it. A minority should not impose itself on the majority.”

Amid the fallout from the interview yesterday, Walesa was accused of having “disgraced the Nobel Prize” by the leading Polish television journalist Monika Olejnik. Prosecutors launched an investigation following complaints that he had advocated hate crime. 

The devout Roman Catholic and father-of-eight was elected as Poland’s first democratic leader in 1990 after working in Gdansk shipyards as an electrician.  In the 1970s he organised free non-Communist trade unions and took part in strikes and protests on the Polish coast.

He was kept under surveillance by Soviet state security services and was frequently detained. In August of 1980 he led the Gdansk shipyard strike which gave rise to waves of industrial action, winning the Nobel Piece Prize 1983.

The protests eventually led to the downfall of communist leader, Wojciech Jaruzelski, and the installation of Walesa’s Solidarity union. He was narrowly voted out of power in 1995, after which his political influence have waned.

Since then he has hinted at his reactionary social views, telling a campaign rally in 200 that  gay people needed “medical treatment”.

A staunchly Catholic country, Poland has been accused of “suppressing” discussions of gay rights with the Polish church, which still plays a strong role in political life, maintaining that homosexuality is deviant.

Gay men and lesbians still say they face continued persecution and in some cases violence in the country while other former Soviet Baltic states including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania still do not recognise gay partnerships.

A recent poll revealed that 69 per cent of Poles still oppose gay marriage.

In what was seen as a watershed moment, voters gave seats to the country’s first openly gay man, Robert Biedron, and first transsexual Anna Grodska in parliament in 2011.

Polish priest Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who founded Radio Maryja and its associated media outlets, said at the time that “the sodomites are coming; it is a really grave matter”.

Sam Dick, head of policy at Stonewall, said: “It’s sad that a human rights activist like Mr Walesa sees fit to deny lesbian, gay and bisexual people the same basic rights he fought so long and hard for.”

Adam Bielan, a conservative Polish member of the European parliament. said: “I am surprised that only now we are noticing that Walesa is not in control of what he says and that he has views that are far from being politically correct.”

Lech Walesa: Revolutionary reactionary

Lech Walesa’s mother Feliksa is said to have shaped her son’s beliefs and tenacity.

After graduating as a qualified electrician, Walesa worked from 1961 to 1965 as a car mechanic before beginning two-years of mandatory military service.

He joined the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk in 1967 where just a year later he encouraged his colleagues to boycott official rallies condemning student strikes. He married in 1969 as he furthered his interests within trade union groups at the shipyard.

In 1970, when workers protested against increasing food prices, 30 people were killed. He led the Solidarity trade union of some 10 million members until it became a political party in all but name in 1988. A year later he forged the first non-communist government in the former Soviet bloc.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders