The passing of Ronald Reagan was a major event in Poland. It was prominent in the newspapers and in conversation. Lech Walesa recently wrote:
I often wondered why Ronald Reagan did this, taking the risks he did, in supporting us at Solidarity, as well as dissident movements in other countries behind the Iron Curtain, while pushing a defense buildup that pushed the Soviet economy over the brink. Let’s remember that it was a time of recession in the U.S. and a time when the American public was more interested in their own domestic affairs. It took a leader with a vision to convince them that there are greater things worth fighting for. Did he seek any profit in such a policy? Though our freedom movements were in line with the foreign policy of the United States, I doubt it.
Noble sentiments, and I agree. Note that Reagan was far more popular in Poland than here in the United States. Read some horrific criticisms of Reagan.
The irony is that Lech Walesa, author of these words, remains far more popular in the United States than in his native Poland. Taxi drivers told us that the Poles “hated” Walesa, even though we regard him as a hero for world freedom.
Walesa ran for office, and was elected President of Poland in 1990 with 74 percent of the vote. He lost narrowly when he ran again in 1995 (Reagan at least beat Mondale!). When Walesa ran for President in 2000, he received less than one percent of the vote. (Reagan, in contrast, if he could run again today, would win in a landslide.)
Walesa spoke too plainly, promised too much, and maintained unpopular prohibitions against abortion. But when the sad day comes that Walesa passes away, we Americans will stand ready with our unstinting praise.
Thanks to co-blogger Alex for the pointer.