Lech Walesa is probably best known as the leader of the Solidarity movement which led Poland out of Communism and played a significant role in the changing political landscape of Eastern Europe towards the end of the 20th century.
A living legend and political icon, Lech Walesa draws on the lessons he learned from his struggle and eventual triumph over communism to motivate and inspire audiences around the globe.
In August 1980, Lech Walesa led the Gdansk shipyard strike, which started a wave of other strikes around Poland. The authorities were forced to capitulate and to negotiate with him resulting in the Gdansk Agreement of 31 August 1980, which gave the workers the right to strike and to organize their own independent union. The Catholic Church supported the movement, and in January 1981, Pope John Paul II in the Vatican cordially received Lech Walesa.
The country’s brief enjoyment of relative freedom ended in December 1981, when General Jaruzelski, fearing Soviet armed intervention among other considerations, imposed martial law, suspended Solidarity, arrested many of its leaders, and interned Lech Walesa in a country home in a remote area. While martial law was lifted in July 1983, many of the restrictions were continued in civil code. In October 1983, the announcement of Lech Walesa ’s Noble prize raised the spirits of the underground movement, but the struggle continued.
The Jaruzelski regime became even more unpopular as economic conditions worsened, and it was finally forced to negotiate with Lech Walesa and his Solidarity colleagues. The result was the holding of parliamentary elections, which, although limited, led to the establishment of a non-communist government. In November 1989, Lech Walesa became only the third person in history, after Marquis de Lafayette and Winston Churchill, to address a joint session of the United States Congress. In December 1990, in a general ballot, Lech Walesa was elected President of the Republic of Poland, a position he held until 1995.