Lech Walesa had this word of wisdom for the Tunisians:
Lech Walesa chuckles as he recounts a conversation he had in April with reformers in Tunisia, cradle of the Arab Spring.
“They told me they want to purge everybody linked to the old regime,” says the former shipyard electrician who brought democracy to his native Poland in 1989 as head of the Solidarity trade union.
“I asked, ‘How many’s that?’ and they said, ‘2.3 million people.’
“‘That makes no sense,’ I said. ‘That will mean civil war. You should just convict the worst butchers and let the rest be.'”
Making sense in the aftermath of revolution is never easy. But as countries such as Tunisia and Egypt — the success stories of the Arab Spring — grapple with how to rebuild institutions and build democracies, a few of the stewards of Eastern Europe’s great break from communism seem ready with advice, money and help.
Walesa’s trip to Tunisia was part of a diplomatic push by Poland to pass on its experience. “Instead of sending F-16s we are sending Lech Walesa,” one newspaper enthused. Besides the former president, Warsaw has sent Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, political scientists and representatives of non-government organizations to Tunisia, while Sikorski was the first senior developed world official to visit rebel-held Benghazi in Libya. Another Polish delegation will swing by Tunisia and Egypt this week.
Warsaw also hopes to launch an endowment to help the Arab world during Poland’s six-month presidency of the European Union, due to start on July 1. Funds would come from Brussels, member states and other countries. The endowment would model itself on the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy, a private, non-profit foundation funded by the U.S. Congress and set up in the 1980s to promote democracy in the Soviet bloc and elsewhere.