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Lech Wałęsa

Lech Wałęsa

Lech Wałęsa is the legendary leader of the “Solidarity” movement and the author of its victory in 1989 over the communist regime in Poland.

Wałęsa was born on 29 October 1943. First mention of his activity in the anti-communist opposition originates from 1968 when Wałęsa, then a young electrician in the Gdansk Shipyard, tried to persuade his colleagues not to take part in the mass meetings organized by the Polish government to condemn student strikes. He then became actively engaged in public affairs, taking part in the work of the Strike Committee in December 1970.

After the death of many protesters shot by police forces suppressing strikes in December 1970, Wałęsa, realizing he cannot allow the situation to repeat itself, engaged himself in the Free Trade Unions. He was responsible for organizing workers and educating laborers on their rights.

In August 1980 Wałęsa was one of the organizers of the strike in the Gdansk Shipyard. His bravery resulted in unyielding negotiations and the struggle for the realization of protester demands. Wałęsa’s activity led to a bloodless victory and the foundation of “Solidarity,” the first independent and oppositional social movement in the Soviet bloc.

The success of “Solidarity” and Wałęsa as its leader, now recognized around the world, resulted in a fierce reaction by the communist regime. On 13 December 1981, in an attempt to suppress political opposition, martial law was introduced. “Solidarity” was quickly delegalized and Wałęsa interned.

Martial law caused many to lose hope for freedom, but Wałęsa did not consider surrender. His belief in the idea of solidarity was stronger than the repression of the regime. This commitment was recognized by the global community in 1983 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1989 Wałęsa was the leader of the oppositional delegation during the Round Table Talks. Although relatively weak, the Polish regime was still dangerous. Wałęsa’s courage led to compromise with the communist authorities. The election of 4 July 1989 was a great success for the opposition and resulted in the formation of the first noncommunist cabinet in the Soviet bloc.

On 22 December 1990 Wałęsa was elected president of free Poland. During and after his presidency he remained engaged in public life as an advocate of Poland around the world. He strongly supported Poland’s accession to NATO and the EU. In 1995 he founded the Lech Wałęsa Institute. Its aim is to popularize the achievement of “Solidarity,” educate young generations, and support democracy and the creation of civil society in Poland and around the world.

Today Wałęsa continues his mission of promoting the idea of solidarity. Around the world, he speaks about Poland’s bloodless transition towards peace and democracy as a role model for different nations and calls for a world based on universal values and peaceful cooperation.

In 1989, Wałęsa was awarded the highest US decoration for foreigners, the Medal of Freedom.

Language spoken: Polish

Photo credit: Lars Møller

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