Lech Walesa is a former Polish labor organizer who ascended through the ranks to become the country’s President. He co-founded and led the Polish labor union ‘Solidarity,’ and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for his significant personal sacrifice in ensuring workers’ right to form their own organizations. Having been born in German-controlled Poland during WWII, he was unable to complete his studies and began his profession as a marine electrician at the Gdansk-based Lenin Shipyard. Concerned about the situation of workers and their lack of freedom, he began his struggle against the communist dictatorship soon after, co-founding Solidarity, Poland’s first non-communist trade union. As a result, he lost many jobs and was repeatedly jailed, with the rest of his time spent under observation. But nothing could break his enthusiasm, and he worked until the communist state fell apart in 1989. The next year, he gained a resounding majority in the presidential election. Unfortunately, he was not as popular as a labor leader as President, and thus lost the following election. After that, he stepped down from politics. He now divides his time between working at the Lech Wales Institute and giving talks across the world about Poland’s nonviolent struggle for democracy restoration.
Childhood and Adolescence
Lech Walesa was born on September 29, 1943, in Popowo, a village in Lipno County, Poland’s north-central region. The country was occupied by the Germans during the time, making life difficult for the residents.
Boleslaw Walesa, his father, was a carpenter. Before Lech was born, he was apprehended by the German occupiers and imprisoned for more than two years in a forced labor camp in My niece. He went home fatigued and ill after World War II and died soon after.
Feliks Walesa née Kamieska, Lech’s mother, raised him mostly. She later married her previous brother-in-law, Stanislaw Walesa. She is thought to have had a significant impact on the development of Lech’s mental fortitude and ideals.
He was the youngest of three children born to his parents, with an older sister named Izabela and a younger brother named Edward. From his mother’s second marriage to his uncle Stanislaw, he had three half-brothers named Tadeusz, Zygmunt, and Wojciech.
Lech attended school at Chalin, a neighboring village. Despite being an excellent student, he was obliged to drop out of school at the age of sixteen due to financial constraints and subsequently relocated to Lipno for vocational training.
Early on in your career
Lech Walesa earned his diploma as a competent electrician from his technical school in 1961. He started working as an electro-mechanic at Lochocin the same year and stayed there until 1965 when he was drafted into the army for his two-year mandatory military service.
Walesa traveled to Gdansk, on the Baltic Coast, in search of a job after being discharged from the army in 1967. On July 12, he began working as an electrician at Stocznia Gdaska im. Lenina (Lenin Shipyard). Since then, the shipyard has been renamed Stocznia Gdaska (Gdansk Shipyard).
He was a natural leader who quickly gained clout among his peers. He discouraged students from joining official demonstrations condemning the turmoil when it erupted in March 1968.
Protests erupted across the country in 1970 as the government issued a decree that resulted in a sharp increase in the prices of everyday products, including food. Walesa was one of the organizers of such a demonstration in Gdansk, eventually becoming the committee’s Chairman.
The campaign swiftly gained traction, resulting in the deaths of over thirty workers. On January 15, 1971, Walesa and a few other leaders met with Edward Gierek, the Communist Party’s First Secretary, to discuss workers’ demands.
He began to recognize the need for change and began establishing a workers’ union. Despite the fact that it was ruled unlawful by the authorities, Walesa remained involved, organizing strikes and honoring those killed in police shootings in 1970.
Walesa was chosen as a delegate to the Shipyard Works’ Council meeting in February 1976. In his remarks, he chastised the authorities for abandoning concessions made during the 1971 talks. As a result, he was fired from his work as a shop steward at the shipyard.
He started working for a construction machinery firm in May 1976. He’d be obliged to support his family by doing odd jobs for the next few years. He did not, however, abandon trade unionism, instead of collaborated with the Workers’ Defense Committee to assist other workers who had lost their jobs.
Walesa and other activists drafted a Charter of Workers’ Rights on April 29, 1978, eventually founding the unofficial Baltic Committee of Independent Trade Unions, Poland’s first non-communist trade organization. Its goal was to protect employees’ economic, legal, and human rights.
Walesa was a member of the government-controlled official trade unions as well as forming clandestine unions. As a delegate to its election in late 1978, he became outspoken about the widespread election rigging that was taking place, which irritated the authorities.
Walesa also organized an unofficial memorial service outside Gate Number Two of the Lenin Shipyard in December 1978 for the 45 employees killed in the 1970 hunger strike. As a result, he was fired for the second time.
Walesa began working for Elektromontaz, an engineering firm, in May 1979. He quickly gained a reputation as a top-notch electrician in this city. At an unauthorized mass rally staged by the Baltic Committee under his leadership in December 1979, he called for the development of independent trade unions and self-defense squads.
A large number of people were arrested as a result of the rally. Walesa was fired from his job for the third time in January 1980. Despite the fact that he was unemployed himself, he stood up for his comrades who had also lost their jobs. He was often detained for 48 hours for such activities.
Career of Solidarity’s leader
In July 1980, the Polish government attempted a covert hike in meat prices, resulting in a slew of strikes around Gdansk. Walesa took charge of the strike on August 14, 1980, by climbing the twelve-foot high fence around the Lenin Shipyard. He also served as the chairman of the Inter-Plant Strike Committee, which was in charge of coordinating the strikes of twenty other plants.
He abruptly changed his mind after a three-day negotiation in which the authorities agreed to most of his demands. Rather than calling a halt to the strike, he organized a solidarity strike on behalf of workers from other factories who were not included in the settlement.
Walesa entered a negotiation with Deputy Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Jagielski on August 23, 1980, with twenty-one requests in hand. The government was obliged to allow non-governmental trade unions the ability to strike after a week of intense bargaining.
The two parties signed the final step of the Gdansk Agreement on August 31, 1980, thereby ending the strike. They founded a nationwide labor union named ‘Niezaleny Samorzdny Zwizk Zawodowy’ (NSZZ) or ‘Solidarno’ on September 17, 1980. (Solidarity). It was the communist world’s first independent labor union.
Lech Walesa was a guest of the International Labour Organization in Italy, Japan, Sweden, France, and Switzerland from 1980-81. He also met Pope John Paul II in January 1981, who greeted him warmly.
From September 5 to September 10, 1981, and again from September 26 to October 7, 1981, Solidarity convened its first national congress. Lech Walesa was elected Chairman of the Solidarity Party at this convention. The Solidarity movement quickly grew to ten million members. The win, however, was short-lived.
General Wojciech Jaruzelski established martial law in Poland on December 13, 1981, and Walesa was detained until November 14, 1982. Meanwhile, Solidarity was deemed illegal on October 8, 1982.
He began working as an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard in August 1983. Despite being under observation and facing extreme harassment, he was able to work with Solidarity, which had gone underground by that time, and play a vital role in practical politics.
Lech Poland’s President
By 1988, Poland’s economic situation had reached an all-time low, causing unrest across the country. Finally, in early 1989, the government consented to participate in round table negotiations, which Walesa, as the leader of a non-governmental party, attended.
The ban on Solidarity was lifted as a result of the round table discussions, which were signed on April 4, 1989, restoring its legal status. Furthermore, free elections were approved for all seats in the upper house and 35% of seats in the lower house.
Solidarity won an overwhelming majority of the open seats in the June 1989 election, but not a decisive majority. While many of his colleagues were willing to work with the Communists to establish a coalition government, Walesa was resolute. In the end, parliament was obliged to approve a government led by Solidarity.
Following the 1989 election, Lech Walesa proposed Tadeusz Mazowiecki be the government’s premier. He stood for president the next year under the slogan “I don’t want to, but I have to,” and won Poland’s first direct presidential election on December 9, 1990.
From 1990 until 1995, Lech Walesa was the President of the Republic of Poland. He oversaw the implementation of the Balcerowicz Plan, which was adopted in 1989 and led to the country’s transition to a free-market economy as well as the country’s first truly free parliamentary election in 1991.
He successfully negotiated the withdrawal of Soviet soldiers from Poland, which had been stationed there since 1945, in 1993.
He also contributed to Poland’s NATO membership. However, because he failed to match the public’s somewhat exaggerated expectations, he quickly lost favor.
A Later Years
Walesa decided to resign from politics after losing the presidential election in 1995. In the same year, he established the Lech Walesa Institute, whose aim is to “popularize Polish Solidarity’s successes, educate young generations, promote democracy, and create a civil society in Poland and around the world.”
In 2000, he ran for President again, but received only 1.01 percent of the vote, finishing in eighth place. He decided to leave politics permanently this time and devote more time to the Lech Wales Institute.
He also began traveling the world, giving talks in various locations and reminding the world about Poland’s nonviolent effort to overcome communism. Although he lost favor in his own country, he is still in high demand in other countries, where his appearance fees are believed to be £50,000 ($70,000).
Lech’s Major Projects
Despite his declining popularity, Lech Walesa is still regarded as the guy who liberated Poland from communism and established democracy.
His other accomplishments include the lowering of the country’s foreign debt and the removal of Soviet soldiers. During his reign, the country experienced a 6% increase in GDP.
Achievements & Awards
For his battle for the ability to organize trade unions in Poland, Lech Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983. Because he was frightened of being denied permission to return home if he left Poland, his wife collected the prize in his place.
He has received 30 state awards and 30 state prizes from 30 countries, including the ‘Order of the Bath’ from the United Kingdom, the ‘Order of Merit from Germany, the ‘Legion of Honor’ from France, the ‘Medal of Freedom’ from the United States, the ‘Award of the Free World’ from Norway, and the ‘European Human Rights Prize’ from the European Union.
He has 45 honorary degrees from universities throughout the world, including Harvard University and the University of Paris.
He has been granted honorary citizenship in over 30 locations around the world, including London.
Personal History and Legacy
In 1969, Lech Walesa married Danuta Golos. Bogdan, Slawomir, Przemyslaw, Jaroslaw, Magdalena, Anna Maria, Wiktoria, and Brygida are his eight children.
The ‘Gdansk International Airport’ was renamed ‘Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport’ in 2004.
He has a college hall named after him at Chicago’s Northeastern Illinois University, as well as six streets and five schools in Poland, France, Canada, and Sweden.
Walesa was cleared of charges of being an undercover spy for the Polish security services from 1970 to 1976 by a special court in 2000. However, a book published in 2008 reintroduced the topic.
The ‘Institute of National Remembrance,’ which is responsible for examining the Nazi and Soviet eras, raised it for the third time in 2016, claiming to have documentation to prove it.
Walesa had a coronary artery stent replaced and a cardiac pacemaker implanted at Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas in 2008.
Lech Walesa carried the Olympic Flag during the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics, symbolically representing Europe.
Estimated Net worth
Lech is one of the wealthiest World Leaders and one of the most beloved. Lech Walesa’s net worth is estimated to be $47 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.