Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former President of Poland, Lech Walesa is one of the best known Poles in today’s world. He was the leader of the 1980 strike in the Gdansk Shipyard, which led to establishing of Solidarnosc (Solidarity) – the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc. He remains one of the symbols of the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe.
Lech Walesa was born on September 29th, 1943. The first mention of Walesa’s dissident activities goes back to 1968, when he encouraged his fellow workers at the Gdansk Shipyard to boycott the official rallies condemning students’ strikes. From that time on, he started to be increasingly active in social affairs in Poland. He actively participated in the Strike Committee during the December 1970 protests and was offered the post of the President of the Committee.
He was one of the main instigators of the August protests in 1980 at the Gdansk Shipyard. His personal stance, tenacious negotiations, and campaigning for the strikers’ demands led to the establishment of the Solidarity Free Independent Trade Union. It was the first bloodless victory in Polish history. This was also the time when the eyes of the entire world were on Gdansk and Lech Walesa. The totalitarian regime reacted to those developments by introducing martial law on December 13th, 1981. Lech Walesa was among the first individuals to be interned. Two years later, Lech Walesa was awarded 1983 the Nobel Peace Prize.
By the end of the 1980s, Lech Walesa sat down to negotiate with the Communist authorities at the Round Table as the head of the delegation of the democratic opposition. His determination and courage led to a compromise with the already weak, but still dangerous Communist regime. The compromise resulted in the elections of June 4th, 1989 and the establishment of the first non-Communist government on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.
On December 22nd, 1990 Lech Walesa became the first democratically elected President of Poland, in a general election. While in office and after completing his Presidential term, Lech Walesa remained the spokesperson for the Polish cause on the international arena.
Today Lech Walesa continues his mission as the spokesperson for solidarity. He travels around the world, retelling the story of the Polish experience and the non-violent struggle for peace and democracy. Through his lectures and dialogue with young people, he calls for the building of a modern world founded on universal values. Being a supporter of globalization and seeing the opportunities offered by new technologies and the development of civilization, he encourages the establishment of new structures of a peaceful cooperation of nations in the 21st century.