Lech Walesa, former president of Poland and leader of the Solidarity movement, challenged Americans to face the reality of a new global society in a speech in Buffalo on Saturday.
Walesa, speaking through an interpreter before 200 people in the Buffalo Convention Center, said a future where America is the world's sole superpower is "uncertain."
"I would like you, the United States, to remain the leader in the 21st century," said a solemn Walesa. Then, in the joking style that characterized his hourlong address, Walesa made Americans an offer:
"But just in case you decide not to, you can share your leadership with Poland. We will know what to do with it."
Walesa, in Buffalo for one day, spoke at a dinner in his honor sponsored by the Buffalo AFL-CIO Council and the Polish American Congress, Western New York Division. Proceeds from ticket sales for the event benefited the Polish American Cultural Center of Western New York.
Walesa, who was president from 1990 to 1995, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for his work as leader of the Solidarity movement. Solidarity, a labor union movement begun in the Gdansk shipyard where Walesa, led to the fall of communism in Poland.
In speaking of the globalization of world society, Walesa said he is not in favor of the change nor opposed to it. It is simply inevitable.
"Whether we like it or not, globalization is inevitable," Walesa said. "We are a very special, chosen generation. Now we are entering the third millennium, a totally clean page in the history of mankind. Never has so much depended on you."
Walesa said the challenge of the new millennium is not to conquer new territory or fight old enemies, but to create righteous citizens.
"The cheapest guard of a human is a human conscience," Walesa said. "Therefore let us concentrate on bringing up a man of conscience. I think this is the major challenge of the 21st century."
Those at the event said Walesa is a symbol of freedom.
"We have a great love and affection for this man because he moved Solidarity forward," said Raymond S. Struzik, director of the Union Occupational Health Center.
County Legislator Raymond K. Dusza, D-Cheektowaga, said there is a deep connection between Walesa and people in labor-friendly cities in the United States.
"Because of the support he had from cities like Buffalo, Chicago and Detroit, he was able to bring down communism," Dusza said. "He is our Polish hero."
Surrogate Judge Joseph S. Mattina, a history buff, said Walesa will be remembered as a great figure by history.
"This guy was a hero to all of us," Mattina said. "He was the first one to show the weaknesses of communism. It all began with him."