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Biographies - Lech Walesa
Lech Walesa
Image Source: Lech Walesa @ Wikipedia
Lech Walesa
Born: September 29, 1943
Polish politician, a former trade union and human rights activist. He co-founded Solidarity (Solidarno��), the Soviet bloc's first independent trade union, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and served as President of Poland from 1990 to 1995.


Lech Walesa was born on September 29, 1943 in Popowo, Poland, to a carpenter and his wife. He attended primary and vocational school, before entering Lenin Shipyard in Gda�sk (Stocznia Gda�ska im. Lenina, now Stocznia Gda�ska) as an electrical technician in 1967. In 1969 he married Danuta Go�o�, and the couple now have eight children.

He was a member of the illegal strike committee in Gda�sk Shipyard in 1970. After the bloody end of the strike, resulting in over 80 workers killed by the riot police, Wa��sa was arrested and convicted of \\\"anti-social behaviour\\\", spending one year in prison.

In 1976 Wa��sa lost his job in Gda�sk Shipyard for collecting signatures for a petition to build a memorial for the killed workers. Due to his being on an informal blacklist, he couldn find another job and lived at the time thanks to his friends personal help.

In 1978, together with Andrzej Gwiazda and Aleksander Hall, he organized the illegal underground Free Trade Union of Pomerania (Wolne Zwi�zki Zawodowe Wybrze�a). He was arrested several times in 1979 for organizing an \\\"anti-state\\\" organization, but not found guilty in court and released at the beginning of 1980, after which he re-entered the Gda�sk shipyard.

In August 14, 1980, after the beginning of an occupational strike in the Gda�sk Shipyard, Wa��sa illegally scaled the wall of the Shipyard and became the leader of this strike. The strike was spontaneously followed by similar strikes across Poland. Several days later he stopped workers who wanted to leave Gda�sk Shipyard, and persuaded them to organize the Strike Coordination Committee (Mi�dzyzak�adowy Komitet Strajkowy) to lead and support the naturally occurred general strike in Poland.

In September of that year, the Communist government signed an agreement with the Strike Coordination Committee to allow legal organization, but not actual free trade unions. The Strike Coordination Committee legalized itself into National Coordination Committee of Solidarno�� Free Trade Union, and Wa��sa was chosen as a chairman of this Committee.

Wa��sa kept this position until December 1981, when Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski declared a state of martial law. He was interned for 11 months in south-eastern Poland near the Soviet border until November 14, 1982.

In 1983 he applied to come back to Gda�sk Shipyard to his former position as a simple electrician. While formally treated as a \\\"simple worker\\\", he was practically under house arrest until 1987. 1983 also saw Wa��sa being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was unable to receive the prize himself, fearing that the government would not let him back in, so his wife Danuta Wa��sowa received the prize in his place. Wa��sa donated the prize money to the Solidarity movements temporary headquarters in exile (in Brussels).

In 1988 Wa��sa organized an occupational strike in Gda�sk Shipyard, demanding only the re-legalisation of the Solidarity Trade Union. After eighty days the government agreed to enter into round-table talks in September. Wa��sa was an informal leader of the \\\"non-governmental\\\" side during the talks. During the talks the government signed an agreement to re-establish the Solidarity Trade Union and to organize \\\"half-free\\\" elections to Polish parliament.

In 1989 Wa��sa organized and led the Citizenship Committee of the Chairman of Solidarity Trade Union. Formally it was just an advisory body, but practically it was a kind of a political party, which won parliament elections in 1989 (Opposition took 48% of seats in the Sejm out of 49% that were subject of free elections and all but one seats in the newly re-established senate; the remaining 51% of seats were given automatically to Communist Party according to the Round Table agreements).

While technically just a Chairman of Solidarity Trade Union at the time Wa��sa played a key role in Polish politics. At the end of 1989 he persuaded leaders from formally communist ally parties to form a non-communist coalition government, which was the first non-communist government in the Soviet Bloc. After that agreement, to the big surprise of the Communist Party, the parliament chose Tadeusz Mazowiecki for prime minister of Poland. Poland, while still a communist country in theory, started to change its economy to the free market system.

In 1990, during a rally, Wa��sa declared himself \\\"clean\\\", referring to himself as a pure Pole with no Jewish blood. He has since repeatedly apologized for the remark, specifically during his 1991 trip to Israel.

On December 9, 1990 Wa��sa won the presidential election to become president of Poland for the next five years. During his presidency he started so called \\\"war at the top\\\" which practically meant changing the government annually. His style of presidency was however strongly criticized by most of the political parties, and he lost most of the initial public support by the end of 1995. However, during his presidency Poland was completely changed, from an oppressive communist country under strict Soviet control and with a weak economy to an independent and democratic country with a fast growing free-market economy.

Wa��sa lost the 1995 presidential election. After that he claimed to go to \\\"political retirement\\\", but he was still active, trying to establish his own political party. In 1997 Wa��sa supported and helped to organize a new party called \\\"Solidarity Electoral Action\\\" (Akcja Wyborcza Solidarno��) which won the parliamentary elections. However, his support was of minor significance and Wa��sa held a very low position in this party. The real leader of the party and its main organizer was a new Solidarity Trade Union leader, Marian Krzaklewski.

Wa��sa again stood for the presidential election in 2000, but he received only 1% of votes. Many Polish people were dissatisfied with the fact that once again he wanted to regain his political power ( See typical opinions about President Walesa). After that Wa��sa again claimed his political retirement. From that time on he has been lecturing on the history and politics of Central Europe at various foreign universities.

In May 10, 2004, the Gda�sk international airport has been officially renamed to Gda�sk Lech Wa��sa Airport to commemorate the famous Gda�sk citizen. His signature has been incorporated into the airports logo. There was some controversy as to whether the name should be spelled Lech Walesa (without diacritics, but better recognizable in the world) or Lech Wa��sa (with Polish letters, but difficult to write and pronounce for foreigners). A month later, Wa��sa went to the U.S., representing Poland at the state funeral of Ronald Reagan.

Apart from his Nobel Prize, Wa��sa received several other international prizes. He has been awarded honorary degrees from several United States and European Universities.

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