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Poland's Lech Walesa Says Poverty Hurts Reform Efforts in North Korea


Lech Walesa, former Polish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke in Seoul, South Korea about ways to encourage peaceful change in North Korea. Walesa says reforms in the North are unlikely because of poverty.

A Nobel Peace Prize winner thinks it unlikely that opposition groups will rise up in North Korea.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa says, “It is questionable at this point whether North Koreans will fight for freedom because they are too poor.”

Walesa helped formed and led the Solidarity labor movement in Poland during the 1980s. He spoke with VOA during a visit to Seoul.

He was in South Korea to attend a meeting on how the international community can influence peaceful change in North Korea.

Facing repression

The former president spoke about his part in the Solidarity movement. He said what was important to that movement was the power of belief.

“What we emphasized was that they could kill us or imprison us, but we had a belief that we would never give up,” Walesa said. “We wanted to emphasize that we would not work for communism while they at some point would give in.”

He noted the conditions in North Korea today are worse than those that existed in Poland in the early 1980s.

In 2014, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry released a report on human rights abuses in North Korea. The report accused the North Korean government of holding 120,000 people in political prisoners. And it gave a list of abuses that include “forced labor, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence.”

Walesa said the government of Kim Jong Un mistreats its people while supporting a program to develop nuclear weapons. He said such behavior can only bring harmful effects.

Nuclear activities

North Korea has tested nuclear devices five times since 2006. Two tests have taken place this year. The country also has tested medium- or long-distance missiles about 25 times this year. The most recent international sanctions appear to have little or no effect on North Korea.

The United Nations Security Council has considered additional measures against the North. But, reports say China has postponed negotiations on new sanctions until after the American presidential election.

A different approach from increasing pressure

Lech Walesa suggested that South Korea and other countries should open up talks with the North about peaceful reunification of the Koreas.

Of North and South Korea, Walesa said, “Both need to cooperate well and understand each other. The world is open for North Korea. North Korea does not need to escape. Freedom opens many doors,” he said.

Those opinions are similar to ones discussed by a task force organized by a U.S.-based group, the Council on Foreign Relations. Its members suggested offering North Korea incentives for agreeing to suspend nuclear and missile tests. The goal would be for the North to return to international talks and to restate the goal of banning all nuclear weapons from the area.

The plan described by both Walesa and the task force are similar to the Sunshine policy of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. He received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 2000.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Brian Padden reported this story for VOANews.com. Mario Ritter adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

emphasize – v. to give special attention to

sanctions – n. measure against a country to force it to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country

incentives – n. something that encourages a person or group to do something

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