Until around mid-2020, ex-president and icon of the anti-Communist movement Solidarnosc – or Solidarity – in Poland, Lech Walesa, made a living from the lucrative circuit of international speakers. Since then, he says, travel restrictions linked to COVID-19 have sent him to the brink of bankruptcy.
“I had planned a lot of trips. I was supposed to fly to Italy, Germany, the United States and other places and unfortunately they all failed,” he said. told the tabloid. Super Express.
Polish speakers are few in number on the international English speaking conference circuit. But Walesa commands the recognition of the name abroad. “It’s him, [Donald] Defense and [Robert] Lewandowski, but few others come close, “a Polish scholar told DW on condition of anonymity.” It used to be the Pope, but not anymore. “
Polish expertise on “oriental issues” such as Ukraine has driven up the price of two political speakers since 2014. But what industry insiders call “culture war weariness” has dampened demand for opinions which seem to fall on one side or the other. Walesa has never hesitated to speak his mind, sometimes in a way that might not be considered politically correct.
Difficult times for Walesa
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has hit travel.
“I am bankrupt now because I get 6,000 zlotys (€ 1,280, $ 1,450) per month in my pension and my wife spends 7,000 every month,” Walesa told the newspaper.
After changes in August, this amount was increased to 18,000 zlotys per month.
“Conferences in the West? From € 10,000 ($ 11,300) to € 100,000,” he told the tabloid. “I made money with Western capitalists,” he said. A keynote speaker reservation service reportedly offered Walesa lectures between $ 50,000 (€ 44,000) and $ 100,000.
He would also supplement his speaking income by offering leadership sessions, corporate motivational meetings, and promotional services. A meeting of 1 to 2 hours would cost a minimum of 20,000 zlotys.
This is not the first time Walesa has faced financial problems. In February, he said he was looking for additional work as the pandemic hit his wallet.
“Six more months and I’ll go collect money outside the church,” he said, or go back to work as an electrician – his original profession, which he did at the shipyard in Gdansk in 1967 before founding the Solidarity movement 13 years later.
In April Walesa wrote that he was looking for a job and posted his ad on the flexi.pl portal, for people over 50 looking for a job.
“An experienced leader, great speaker, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, President of the Republic of Poland 1990-1995, co-founder and first president of NSZZ Solidarnosc, will facilitate meetings and trainings with leaders, accept invitations to incentive meetings in companies, but also in families, possible additional promotional services, joint photos, autographs “, indicates his presentation text.
Lech Walesa was the leader of Solidarity in the 1980s, but since 1989 there have been disputes over who should claim the movement’s iconic logo
Many of Walesa’s contemporaries of the 1990s – Bill Clinton, Gerhard Schroeder, Tony Blair – took advantage of the circuit or monetized their high profile contact list with gigs for often less than fully democratic and fossil fuel-funded regimes.
The arrangements can be very lucrative. Hillary Clinton joined the circuit after stepping down as Secretary of State in 2013. Her prize? A minimum of $ 225,000 per speech.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has reportedly earned $ 7 million in speaking fees over two years from large corporations, hedge funds and Wall Street banks.
Sovereign wealth funds are big payers, looking for a combination of market information and behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
One of the most prominent speaker bookers is Goldman Sachs investment bank. But its “Talks with GS” series hasn’t included a politician in its bookings since at least the start of the year.
“It’s a big market. Globally, billions of dollars. The biggest market is the United States,” Tom Kenyon-Slaney, chairman of the London Speaker Bureau, told DW.
“Businesses and governments like to bring in experienced, high-level people to talk to them or even advise them,” Kenyon-Slaney said.
“Our industry has gone virtual during COVID-19 and it has been good for everyone. So speaker fees would be well down, but the event and conferences have always been going well online,” he said. Kenyon-Slaney continued.
Nick Gold, managing director of Speakers Corner, said the industry is estimated to be worth around $ 5 billion. “There is no ranking of speakers. At the end of the day, it’s a market where there are no barriers to entry. After all, anyone can call themselves a speaker and like us. all have our own experiences and expertise, that can be taken as a legitimate proclamation, ”he told DW.
He added that no one could have predicted the pandemic and the impact it would have on the industry.
“This was aimed at speakers, speaker’s bureaus, event planners and anyone else related to the massive turbulence and seismic devastation in the speaking industry,” Gold said.
“The virtual world has opened up a new platform for speakers to broadcast their content. This is not a switch to electronic speech but the development of a new platform to spread a message. had to reinvent and reimagine their broadcast for this new platform in order to give the public the best possible results, “he added.
Problems at the Walesa Institute
But Walesa’s money problems have a history. The Lech Walesa Institute (ILW) – a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in 1995 by Walesa and modeled on the Carter Center in the United States – changed its name to European Solidarity Center after its president from 2000 to 2014, Piotr Gulczynski, was charged with financial embezzlement.
A Warsaw prosecutor’s office received a notification of alleged crimes committed by Gulczynski, and another concerning the former president of the institute, Mieczyslaw Wachowski, former driver and confidant of Walesa.
In 2014, ILW made a profit of 3.7 million zlotys. In 2017, his coffers were empty.
According to the findings of gazeta.pl, Wachowski used funds primarily for “prizes” for himself. He also lost a lawsuit with the electricity company Energa and must repay 825,000 zlotys. Energa Group spokesman Adam Kasprzyk said the institute had not provided any of the marketing services it had engaged on behalf of Energa.
In 2017, the institute saw a wave of layoffs and the resignation of its then president after an audit he commissioned revealed debts of more than one million zlotys.
In April, the news portal TVN24.pl reported on a request from entities linked to public treasury companies to return grants of 1.7 million zlotys given to the institute for the implementation of projects. .
Edited by: Kristie Pladson