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Lech Wałęsa

[vuh-wen-suh]

Lech Wałęsa (IPA: (pronounced Lehh Va-WEN-sa); born September 29, 1943) is a Polish politician and a former trade union and human rights activist. He co-founded Solidarity (Solidarność), 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 (succeeded by Aleksander Kwaśniewski).

Biography

Wałęsa was born in Popowo, Poland, to a carpenter and his wife. He attended primary and vocational school, before entering Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk (Stocznia Gdańska im. Lenina, now Stocznia Gdańska) as an electrical technician in 1970. In 1969 he married Danuta Gołoś, and the couple now have eight children. His son Jarosław Wałęsa is a member of Poland's Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament). Lech Wałęsa is a devout Roman Catholic, and has said that his faith always helped him during Solidarity's difficult moments.

Solidarity

He was a member of the illegal strike committee in Gdańsk Shipyard in 1970 (Polish 1970 protests).

In 1976, Wałęsa lost his job in Gdańsk Shipyard.

In June 1978 he joined the illegal underground Free Trade Unions of the Coast (Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzeża), organized by Bogdan Borusewicz, Andrzej Gwiazda, Krzysztof Wyszkowski, Lech Kaczyński, Anna Walentynowicz, Antoni Sokołowski, and others.

On August 14, 1980, after the beginning of an occupational strike in the Lenin Shipyard of Gdańsk, Wałęsa became the leader of this strike. The strike was spontaneously followed by similar strikes, first in Gdańsk, and then across 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 Solidarność Free Trade Union, and Wałęsa was chosen as a chairman of this Committee. Solidarność is also known as Solidarity.

Wałęsa kept this position until December 13, 1981, when he was arrested. General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared a state of martial law on December 13. Wałęsa 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 Gdańsk Shipyard as a simple electrician. The year 1983 also saw Wałęsa being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was unable to receive the prize himself, fearing that the government would not let him back in. His wife, Danuta Wałęsa, received the prize in his place.

From 1987 to 1990 Wałęsa organized and led, the "half-illegal" Temporary Executive Committee of Solidarity Trade Union. In 1988 Wałęsa organized an occupational strike in Gdańsk Shipyard, demanding only the re-legalisation of the Solidarity Trade Union. After eighty days the government agreed to enter into talks in September. Wałęsa 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 the Polish parliament.

In 1989, Wałęsa 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 (the Opposition took all seats in the Sejm that were subject of free elections and all but one seats in the newly re-established senate; according to the Round Table agreements only members of the Communist Party and its allies could stand for the remaining 64% of seats in the Sejm).

While technically just a Chairman of Solidarity Trade Union at the time, Wałęsa played a key role in Polish politics. At the end of 1989, he persuaded leaders from formerly communist ally parties to form a non-communist coalition government, which was the first non-communist government in the Soviet Bloc's sphere of influence. After that agreement the parliament chose Tadeusz Mazowiecki for prime minister of Poland. Poland, while still a communist country in theory, started to change its economy to a market-based system.

He was the first non-head of state to address a joint meeting of the US Congress on November 15 1989 . He was also the first recipient of the Liberty Medal on July 4, 1989 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In his acceptance speech, he said, "Liberty is not only a right, but also our common responsibility and duty.

Documents coming to light as of June 2008 allege that Wałęsa had been a collaborator of the communist secret police (Polish: tajny wspólpracownik) pseudonym "Bolek", well prior to the formation of Solidarity. This would suggest a degree of calculation on his part as well as the part of the then government in the context of all the events of the formation of Solidarity and subsequent to it. Walesa himself denies any collaboration and there is no substantiation of these rumors. On August 11, 2000, The Apellate Court of Warsaw, V Wydział Lustracyjny, declared that Wałęsa's Lustration Statement is a true one, meaning he did not collaborate with the communist regime (see the justification of the court's decision). Walesa has steadfastly denied being agent "Bolek."

Presidency and afterwards

On December 9, 1990, Wałęsa won the presidential election to become president of Poland for the next five years. During his presidency, he started a so-called "war at the top" which practically meant changing the government annually. His style of presidency was strongly criticized by most of the political parties, and he lost most of the initial public support by the end of 1995. After downfall of the Jan Olszewski cabinet on June 1992, and following the unveiling of a list of secret collaborators by Minister of Internal Affairs Antoni Macierewicz, Lech Wałęsa was allegedly linked with illegal prosecution and disintegration of Polish conservative and independent rightist parties (so called Instruction UOP nr 0015/92).

Wałęsa lost the 1995 presidential election. This was by less than 1%, a margin which many people considered would have been comfortably overturned if the revelation had come earlier that his opponent had falsely claimed to have a university degree - and used Wałęsa's lack of higher education as a political weapon. Calls for a new election were dismissed.

In the early 1990s, Wałęsa had proposed a "NATO-bis" as a subregional security framework. The concept, though supported by Polish right-wing as well as populist movements, and by politicians such as Leszek Moczulski, gained little support abroad, as Poland's neighbors, some of whom had only recently regained independence, tended to perceive the concept as imperialistic.

After that, he claimed to go to "political retirement", but he was still active, trying to establish his own political party. In 1997 Wałęsa supported and helped to organize a new party called Solidarity Electoral Action (Akcja Wyborcza Solidarność) which won the parliamentary elections. However, his support was of minor significance and Wałęsa 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.

Wałęsa 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. After that, Wałęsa 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. Although not politically engaged anymore, Wałęsa is still publicly addressed as President.

In May 10, 2004, the Gdańsk international airport has been officially renamed to Gdańsk Lech Wałęsa Airport to commemorate the famous Gdańsk citizen. His signature has been incorporated into the airport's 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 Wałęsa (with Polish letters, but difficult to write and pronounce for foreigners, the closest English phonetic approximation being "Vawensa"). A month later, Wałęsa went to the U.S., representing Poland at the state funeral of Ronald Reagan. In April 25 2007 Wałęsa represented the Polish government at the funeral of Boris Yeltsin, former President of the Russian Federation.

In 2001 Wałęsa was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in Terris is Latin for 'Peace on Earth.'

In 2002, Wałęsa represented Europe in carrying the Olympic flag at the opening ceremonies of the XIX Olympic Winter Games, in Salt Lake City, joining Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Africa), John Glenn (The Americas), Kazuyoshi Funaki (Asia), Cathy Freeman (Oceania), Jean-Michel Cousteau (Environment), Jean-Claude Killy (Sport), and Steven Spielberg (Culture)

During Poland's 2005 presidential elections, Wałęsa supported Donald Tusk, saying that he was the best of all the candidates. Simultaneously, he expressed support for Poland's newly-formed Democratic Party - demokraci.pl in the parliamentary elections of the same year.

In 2006, Wałęsa quit Solidarity. In an Associated Press report, he cited differences with the party's support of the Law and Justice party, and the rise to power of Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński. On October 11, 2006, Wałęsa was the keynote speaker at the launch of the "International Human Solidarity Day" proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005 at the United Nations Trusteeship Council. The Day, to be observed on 20 December, aims to raise awareness of the importance of solidarity for advancing the international development agenda, especially for poverty eradication. In the Millennium Declaration, Heads of State and Government identified solidarity as one of the “fundamental values… essential to international relations”. Mr. Wałęsa received a long applause from the audience after delivering an emotional speech on the impact of the day in human relationships and how his own movement "Solidarność" succeeded in getting support from people from various countries.

In January 2007, Wałęsa spoke at the event "Towards a Global Forum on New Democracies in Taiwan in support of democracy and peace along with other prominent world leaders and President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan.

On May 30, 2007, Wałęsa received the title Defender of the Faith, Defensor Fidei, from the Italian Cultural Association.

On February 27, 2008 in Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, Houston, Wałęsa has had a stent placed in his heart to open a partially blocked artery and had a pacemaker implanted.

Other activities

Wałęsa continues to appear in the media, being often asked to comment on current events. Of late, he also declared he is interested in information technology, and likes to use new developments in that field. He claimed to have put together a few computers on his own to find out how they work, and declared he takes a smartphone, a palmtop and a laptop with him when travelling . At the beginning of 2006, he revealed that he is a registered user of the Polish instant messaging service Gadu-Gadu, and was granted a special user number by the service provider - 1980. His previous number was 5606334, and was made public on the website of the Lech Wałęsa Institute. Later that year, he also declared he uses Skype, where his handle is lwprezydent2006. It was reported that he uses it extensively, also because he sees it a measure of saving money, claiming that his wife spends more than he earns anyway. Beside online media, Wałęsa plays himself in Andrzej Wajda's 1981 fictional film about Solidarity, Man of Iron and footage of him appears in Michael Jackson's music video "Man In The Mirror". In the late 1990s he was offered $1,000,000 to shave off his trademark moustache in a Gillette commercial, but he refused. A couple of years later though, to a big public surprise, Wałęsa did shave off his moustache for a brief period 'just for fun'.

In popular culture

In Volker Schlondorff's film Strike, a character based on Wałęsa is played by the Polish actor Andrzej Chyra He is never explicitly referred to as Wałęsa, simply as "Leszek" (a diminutive form of Lech). Wałęsa plays himself in Andrzej Wajda's Golden Palm-winning film Man of Iron. Two satirical Polish songs, "Nie wierzcie elektrykom" ("Don't Trust Electricians") by Big Cyc and "Wałęsa, gdzie moje 100 000 000" ("Wałęsa, Where's My 100,000,000 [złotych]?") by Kazik Staszewski were big hits in Poland in the 1990s.

Honours and awards

Apart from his Nobel Prize (1983) , Wałęsa received several other international prizes. He has been awarded 32 honorary degrees from several United States and European Universities. Named "Man of the Year" by: Time Magazine, 1981; The Financial Times, 1980; The Observer, 1980 .

Honorary doctorates

Lech Wałęsa holds 33 honorary doctorates from universities across the world including these:

See also

References

External links

Links to Films and Videos about Lech Wałęsa

Other external links

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