WARSAW (Reuters) - Lech Walesa, onetime leader of the pro-democracy Solidarity trade union that ended communism in Poland, said his country should join the euro zone to become fully free and safe from Russia, its former imperial overlord.
Though Walesa has no say in government decisions, he does have influence on public opinion in Poland and his remarks coincide with a growing view among policy-makers that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has boosted the case for euro entry.
Walesa, 70, an electrician in the Baltic port of Gdansk who emerged as leader of Solidarity and then become Poland’s first post-communist president in 1990, told Gazeta Wyborcza daily that Poland’s transition from dictatorship was not over yet.
“(Entering the euro zone) is the final thing that concerns me. This is not a full freedom. I will do everything, regardless of the personal costs, to help us to get to the euro zone.”
“And only then will Poland be safe and progressing. And I will be serene,” Walesa said in an interview published on Wednesday, the 25th anniversary of Poland’s first partially-free election since Moscow imposed communism after World War Two.
Poland’s official stance is that it will join the euro eventually but it has not set a target date. The staunchly pro-EU, center-right government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has signaled it is in no rush to join the common currency.
While Poland will soon meet most of the technical conditions, opinion polls show the public is against entry.
Joining the euro would also require a two-thirds majority in parliament to change the constitution. There are now not enough lawmakers who back euro accession to clear that threshold.
However, there has been a change of mood following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March and the outbreak of a pro-Russian separatist revolt in eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s stance has left many Poles fearing their country could be next in the firing line. Unlike its eastern neighbor Ukraine, Poland is firmly anchored in NATO and the European Union but it too has a long history of domination by Russia.
Polish central bank governor Marek Belka said in March that what had happened to Ukraine meant there were political arguments in favor of euro adoption because members of currency unions are safer from outside aggression.
Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Christian Lowe and Gareth Jones