history Eastern_Europe  POLAND  




by Tanya L. Porquez


Lech Walesa was born in the small town of Popowo, in Central Poland, on September 29, 1943. Son of a carpenter and farmer, and himself a shipyard electrician from Gdansk, the current president of Poland rose above the obstacles and became one of then founding members of the Solidarity movement in 1980. Ten years later, he was elected to the Presidency with an overwhelming 75 percent of the popular vote. Walesa was the first democratically elected and anti-Communist president to be ever elected in Poland.

Walesa, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for his pro-democracy Solidarity movement, despite his sweeping vote of confidence into office, has recently been under fire by critics. Known as a person who, "like to get things done," Walesa has been criticized for not having concrete goals and not enough experience to deal with difficult problems of the state. Additionally, people have been disillusioned by the fact that he has broken many campaign promises and seems driven by power. As one source stated, "[Walesa] has had difficulty, like other dissidents turned presidents, adapting to the role of dignified statesman"(2). A born, charismatic leader, though not highly educated, citizens have complained that "He [Walesa] didn't do what he was supposed to. [Walesa is] uneducated, cannot speak properly, and doesn't behave like a diplomat" (2). Others have argued that Poland would be better off if Walesa left policy to the legislative body and the Prime Minister. However, no one can argue Walesa's integral position in the transformation of Poland to a market economy from the backward Central Planning economy.

After his term in office is completed at the end of next year, Walesa is planning to run for reelection for a second five year term. This may prove to be a very risky move for Walesa who lacks popular support across the country. In recent polls, Walesa does not appear to have any kind of support from majority groups in Poland. A poll taken this June by the Institute for Opinion and Market Research, showed that only five percent of people polled would vote for Walesa in the upcoming election. But Mr. Wnuk-Lipiski, a sociology professor, does not rule out Walesa where politics is concerned. He stated, "I don't know any one who would say he would win next year, but he may create certain political situations that allow him to win. One of his opponents used to say he's a genius at solving problems he created for himself"(2).

Works Cited

1) Clough, Patricia. (1992, April 24). "Two Heros in Transformation". The Independent. Editorial Page. P.19.

2) Perlez, Jane. (1994, July 6). "Walesa, Once Atop a High Pedestal, Seems to Stand on Slippery Slope".New York Times-- Late Edition. p.10.

3) Engleberg, Stephen. (1990, Dec. 10). "The Grandmaster of Polish Politics". New York Times--Late Edtion. p.12.


by Hasnain Alibhai


Lech Walesa was born in the village of Popow, near Lipno, Wloclawek Voivodship(Central Poland). After graduating from a vocational school, he worked as a car electrician from 1961-1965. During a two year military service, he recived the rank of corporal. In 1967 he started to work at the Gdansk shipyard as an electrician.

Walesa was one of the leaders of the protest at the shipyard during the December 1970 events. In 1976, he was fired from the shipyard for critisizing communist trade unions. In 1978, Walesa, together with a group of independent activists, started to organize free trade unions. He took part in a number of opposition actions staged in the coastal reigon. As a result, he was detained several times and was also put under surveillance of the security service. Heading the inter-factory srike committee, Walesa signed the Gdansk accords with the government at the Gdansk Shipyard in August 1980; this ended a gereral strike in Poland and opened up a new chapter in the history of Eastern Europe.

Walesa was elected solidarity chairman during the First National Congress, held in Gdansk in 1981. After martial law was imposed, Walesa was detained for 11 months. He then returned to the Gdansk shipyard in April 1983, and led the then illegal Solidarity Trade Union. In October 1983, Walesa recived the Nobel Peace Prize. In May and August 1988, he led two protests at the shipyard. These sparked off the process of changes in Poland. On June 1989, the Polish people took part in partially free elections to the Sejm(lower house), and defeated the communists. Lech Walesa recieved 16 honourary doctrates, including that of Notre-Dame University in 1982, Harvard in 1983, Torun University in 1990. He recieved a number of awards including The Medal of Liberty, Free World Award, Award of Greek Trade Unions, European Human Rights Award. Walesa is one of the most famous people in the world: For many foreigners, the word 'Poland' equals 'Walesa'.


DECEMBER 10, 1990.



 Freedom Purveyor

By Alexander Oropeza


As the workers piled into the Gdansk, Lenin shipyard for their usual day’s labor something strange brewed in the air. The men and women wore a tighter smile than usual and walked with a peculiar pep. Against the Communist regime that subjected them to the exploitation of their labor, and empty promises, this attitude was not common. The murmurs around the shipyard began spreading with infectious fervor and the mumbling became steadily louder and contagious. The date was August 14, 1980 and in the air was the smell of revolution. The voices of those gathered in the shipyard grew from murmurs to shouts. And there from the ranks of these workers emerged the leader of the Solidarity Movement; Lech Walesa.

This great leader was merely an electrician born in Popowo, near Wloclawek Poland on September 29,1943. He came from an impoverished farm family that could only afford him primary and a vocational education. As a child during World War II, his father was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. Months after returning home he died. The year was 1945 and Walesa’s resentment towards communism was slowly growing. In 1961 Walesa departed from his hometown Lipna, to serve his term in the armed forces until 1967. After which he moved to Gdansk in hopes of finding better employment opportunities. Upon arriving Walesa acquired a job in the Lenin Shipyard. It was in Gdansk that he first had contact with revolutionary movements: the1970 Gdansk Food Riots.

Infuriated by the Communist Political tactics Walesa decided to join the Solidarity movement as a member of the 27 Strong Action Committee in Lenin Yards. Walesa began organizing strikes and as a result of his strong leadership was elected head of the interfactory strike committee and became known as an antigovernment union activist. Walesa’s strike sparked other Solidarity movements in Poland unifying the enterprises of Gdansk, Sopot, and Gdynia. After a committee was set up they issued a set of bold political demands which included the right to strike and form free trade unions. If these demands were not met an industry wide strike would be instated. The Communist authorities besieged by terror and fearing a national revolution yield in acquiesce to the worker’s principal demands.

August 31, 1980, the Solidarity movement gained grounds when Walesa and Mieczyslaw Jagielski, Poland’s first deputy premiere signed an agreement allowing workers to organize freely and independently.

The 1980’s began with much optimism. Walesa led the 10 million-member labor Solidarity Movement into the next phase. the transformation into the National Federation of Unions under the name Solidarmosc (Solidarity). With Walesa as the elected chairman and chief spokesman the movement inspired fear in the hearts of Communists leadership and hope in the hearts of those starved for freedom. The Polish government was forced to officially recognize Solidarity. Walesa intelligently maneuvered the federation on a course of limited confrontations with the government in order to avoid possible Soviet military intervention.

Many a spirits were uplifted with the gained progress of the movement however on December 13, 1981 as a final attempt at control, the Polish government imposed martial law. As chaos ensued Solidarity was outlawed. Most of the federation’s leaders were arrested including Walesa who was incarcerated for nearly a year. Political freedom in Poland seemed grim and Communist control tightened squeezing much of the life out of the federation. As much of the energy began to fade away hope was brought back to Poland in 1983. Walesa’s quest for freedom had gained world recognition as he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize. He received praise from leaders across the world in honor of his valiance against Communism. Among them was President Reagan who branded him a true hero with his words, "It’s a victory for those who seek to enlarge the human spirit over those who seek to crush it." This award was criticized by the Polish government as politically inspired, nevertheless the prize lifted the moral of the people and reinstilled strength into the Solidarity movement. As a sign of faith in his movement Walesa donated the hundred ninety thousand dollars that came with the prize to a program set up by the Roman Catholic Church to provide aid to private farmers in Poland.

Shortly after Walesa met with Pope John Paul II. The Pope supported his movement and felt that he would be the purveyor of freedom for Poland. During Martial Law the economic conditions for Poland worsened. Prices increased and the zloty, the Polish currency, was devalued. This caused major shortages in the stores for produce. Although there was a demand for goods the supply available was in deficit.

In the winter of 1982, a little longer than a year when Martial Law begun, Gen. Jaruzelski loosened his grip on the people. He allowed for telephone lines to be connected but lines were tapped so the government could listen in on conversations. Airlines began working again, but only domestic flights and curfews as well were lifted. In the end Martial Law had lasted for about a year and a half Poland was left in an economic disaster but just as before Walesa emerged from the ranks with his restless Solidarity movement. Negotiations were held and an agreement with the government restored Solidarity to legal status and sanctioned free elections for a limited number of seats in a newly restored upper house of the Sejm (Parliament). Solidarity won an overwhelming majority of seats in June 1989 whence Parliament was forced to except a Solidarity led government. In 1989, in a landslide victory Walesa won Poland’s first direct presidential election. Under the guidance of President Walesa Poland was led to its first free parliamentary elections in 1991.

Walesa’s dream was finally realized when successive ministries converted Poland’s previous economy into a free run market system. Not long afterwards the ecstatic Walesa received one of the first invitations to join the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO). Much after, Walesa retired from politics and now champions the cause of democracy from his position as head of the Lech Walesa Institute, which promotes free market structure in Eastern Europe. The strength and vision of this one man lends a new punch line to the antiquated Polish Joke, "How many Poles does it take to change the world?" "Just one, Lech Walesa"

  1. Bratman, Fred. " A Triumph of Moral Force" Time 17 Oct. 1983: 50-51
  2. Mason, David S. "Solidarity as a new social movement" Political Science Quarterly 104 (1989): 41-59
  3. http://www.cds.







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