Skip to main content

Lech Walesa: No apology for anti-gay comments

By Matthew Day, for CNN
March 6, 2013 -- Updated 0025 GMT (0825 HKT)
Former Polish president and Nobel Peace Laureate Lech Walesa is pictured at his office on June 20 in Gdansk, Poland.
Former Polish president and Nobel Peace Laureate Lech Walesa is pictured at his office on June 20 in Gdansk, Poland.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lech Walesa led Poland out of the Cold War Soviet bloc
  • He served as the country's president and is a Nobel laureate
  • Walesa suggests that gay members of parliament should sit in the back or "behind a wall"
  • Despite furious criticism in Poland, he is refusing to apologize.

Warsaw, Poland (CNN) -- Lech Walesa, the man who led Poland to freedom in its Cold War struggle with the Soviet Bloc, is refusing to apologize for suggesting gay Polish politicians should "sit behind a wall" in the country's parliament.

The former Polish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner provoked uproar in Poland when he told a television reporter Friday night that as a minority, gays have no right to a prominent position in politics, and should sit perhaps at the rear of parliament of or even "behind a wall."

He said that gays have little significance as a minority, and therefore have to "adjust to smaller things."

A devout Catholic and father of eight children, Walesa now says he has nothing to apologize for despite a mountain of criticism heaped upon a man who was once venerated as a champion of Polish liberty. He stressed he did not "feel homophobic."

"I will not apologize to anyone," the former president said in an interview Monday. "All I said (was) that minorities, which I respect, should not have the right to impose their views on the majority. I think most of Poland is behind me."

Since his comments went nationwide, Walesa has been on the receiving end of furious criticism.

"Why does Lech want me to sit in the back row?" asked Robert Biedron, a member of parliament from the opposition Palikot Movement and Poland's first openly gay politician. "If we accept the rules proposed by Lech Walesa then where would blacks sit? They are also a minority. And what about the disabled?"

Others have called for called for Walesa to return his Nobel prize, while the Committee for the Defense Against Sects and Violence filed a formal complaint with prosecutors in Walesa's hometown of Gdansk, accusing him of promoting a "propaganda of hate against a sexual minority."

Along with damaging his reputation, the controversy could also have a painful effect on Walesa's career.

Long retired from domestic politics, he now earns his money from the international lecture circuit, talking about democracy and the fight against communism. But with his comments on gays making headlines around the world, the Polish press has speculated that invitations to speak may soon dry up.

Walesa, the shipyard worker who went on to inspire the Solidarity trade union in Poland, was awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 1983. He helped form the first non-communist government in the Soviet bloc in 1989 and was later elected president of Poland.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 13, 2014 -- Updated 2058 GMT (0458 HKT)
Tichleman 1
A makeup artist, writer and model who loves monkeys and struggles with demons.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Lionel Messi's ability is not in question -- but will the World Cup final allow him to emerge from another footballing legend's shadow?
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
Why are Iraqi politicians dragging their feet while ISIS militants fortify their foothold across the country?
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
An elephant, who was chained for 50 years, cries tears of joy after being freed in India. CNN's Sumnima Udas reports.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 0732 GMT (1532 HKT)
Beneath a dusty town in northeastern Pakistan, CNN explores a cold labyrinth of hidden tunnels that was once a safe haven for militants.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2249 GMT (0649 HKT)
CNN's Ravi Agrawal asks whether Narendra Modi can harness the country's potential to finally deliver growth.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 0444 GMT (1244 HKT)
CNN's Ben Wedeman visits the Yazji family and finds out what it's like living life in the middle of conflict.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Israel has deployed its Iron Dome defense system to halt incoming rockets. Here's how it works.
Even those who aren't in the line of fire feel the effects of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq since extremists attacked.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
People walk with their luggage at the Maiquetia international airport that serves Caracas on July 3, 2014. A survey by pollster Datanalisis revealed that 25% of the population surveyed (end of May) has at least one family member or friend who has emigrated from the country. AFP PHOTO/Leo RAMIREZ (Photo credit should read LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Plane passengers are used to paying additional fees, but one airport in Venezuela is now charging for the ultimate hidden extra -- air.
ADVERTISEMENT