Lech Walesa clashed with Mikhail Gorbachev over the Soviet leader's insistence that communism could be saved through reform, the former president of Poland disclosed in an exclusive Newsmax interview.
Gorbachev headed the U.S.S.R. during the 1980s up to its dissolution in 1991, during which time Walesa helped form the Soviet bloc's first non-communist government in Poland.
"I really like and respect President Gorbachev," Walesa says. "We are still good friends and we see each other from time to time.
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"I do remind him occasionally that he didn't really try to overthrow the communist regime. Instead, he tried to 'reform' it and failed. Thankfully. Because if he had succeeded, we wouldn't be such good friends today."
At the time, "I was on the other side," Walesa recalls. "He really wanted to reform and rebuild the communist regime. I did ask him publicly about it and he gave a very candid answer that yes, he honestly thought reform was possible. My next question to him was how an intelligent man like him could believe that this reform was doable. At this point, he felt a bit offended and refused to continue.
"The bottom line is it was impossible to reform or modify communism, especially the Soviet communism," Walesa says. "That said, he had the power to destroy us, but he didn't use it. We somehow anticipated that this historical moment of change would come."
By the time Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union, anti-communist forces "were already very well organized," Walesa says.
"If he wanted to stop the transition, he would have had to kill 1 million to 10 million people. He did try to use force against the opposition in Lithuania and Estonia, but that only made the resistance stronger.
"Realizing that change was inevitable made him rethink his strategy. Shooting at protesters no longer worked, so it was time for negotiations and changes in policy. We applauded him and promised to support him if he kept moving in the right direction.
"The momentum was on our side and in the end he wasn't able to salvage communism or the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact. It was one big failure on all fronts. But as we know, failure is part of progress and success. We all should learn from failures, too.
"He got his Nobel Peace Prize for failing. I got mine for succeeding. So we were both happy, each for a different reason."
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