September 29, 1943
Lech Walesa is a Polish politician, trade-union organizer, philanthropist and human-rights activist. A charismatic leader, he co-founded Solidarity, the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and served as President of Poland between 1990 and 1995.
Walesa was an electrician by trade. Soon after beginning work at the Gdansk (then, “Lenin”) Shipyards, he became a dissident trade-union activist. For this he was persecuted by the Communist authorities, placed under surveillance, fired in 1976, and arrested several times. In August 1980 he was instrumental in political negotiations that led to the ground-breaking Gdansk Agreement between striking workers and the government. He became a co-founder of the Solidarity trade-union movement. Arrested again after martial law was imposed in Poland and Solidarity was outlawed, upon release he continued his activism and was prominent in the establishment of the 1989 Round Table Agreement that led to semi-free parliamentary elections in June 1989 and to a Solidarity-led government.
In the Polish election of 1990, he successfully ran for the newly re-established office of President of Poland. He presided over Poland’s transformation from a Communist to a post-Communist state, but his popularity waned. After he narrowly lost the 1995 presidential election, his role in Polish politics diminished. However, his international fame remains. Walesa continues to speak and lecture in Poland and abroad on history and politics.