Lech Walesa cracks jokes — in Polish

December 6, 2013

Lech Walesa is a pretty funny guy — at least, we think so. The former president of Poland, 70, appeared at the Capitol Wednesday night before a screening of his new biopic, “Walesa. Man of Hope,” and had many in the audience in stitches with his one-liners.

In Polish.

So the jokes were on kind of a time delay via translator for the non-Polish speakers in the room. (As one fluent Pole whispered to us, the cracks were much funnier in the original.)


Discussion with former Polish president Lech Walesa (L) and former Sen. Christopher Dodd at the Congressional Auditorium before a screening of “Walesa. Man of Hope.” (Michal Dolinski/Embassy of Poland in Washington, D.C.)

A couple of jokes, however worked just fine, as Walesa — the activist hero who led the Solidarity movement in the 1980s — bantered on stage with former Sen. Christopher Dodd. Behind the two men was a giant photo of Dodd in 1983 next to the then-union leader in Poland. “I had a headache the whole day,” deadpanned Walesa.

Six weeks after that visit, Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize. This year, Walesa’s movie is Poland’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. Dodd, now head of the Motion Picture Association of America and a voting member, teased his old friend: “You should be nice to me.”

Who else was there? The film’s star Robert Wieckiewicz (who pulls off Walesa’s moustache pretty well); Polish ambassador Ryszard Schnepf; and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a member of the U.S. Senate Poland Caucus. (There’s a Poland Caucus? Who knew?)

Michal Dolinski/Embassy of Poland in Washington, D.C.
Michal Dolinski/Embassy of Poland in Washington, D.C.

The nearly two-hour film chronicles the rise of Walesa, an electrician who rose to worldwide fame when he leaped over the wall at Gdansk Shipyard, jump-starting a strike for workers’ rights. It details his many arrests and struggles in the ’80s and ends with his Nobel prize. There’s lots more history, of course; winning the presidential election in 1990, a subsequent loss, and the Lech Walesa Institute, the think tank he founded in 1995. (No mention Wednesday of his recent anti-gay comments in a Polish television interview that caused outrage.)

This feel-good night was all about the “extraordinary story of an extraordinary man,” as speakers repeatedly gushed before the screening. Which was harder, Dodd asked during the pre-movie discussion: Being president of the union or being president of the country?

“It was easiest when I was an electrician,” said the now-gray haired Walesa.

“I could get you a job as an electrician here in Washington,” offered Dodd — proving that some jokes are pretty lame in any language.

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