Many people, both dead and alive, have made a significant impact, influencing the world positively. These individuals not only change history but also make it. They are great visionaries, and taking courageous steps is a part of their DNA.
It is quite uncommon to see an ordinary worker without standard educational background, with little to no worldly credentials, take the mantle of leadership, becoming an icon for hope and justice for the hopeless and less privileged in this highly flawed world. One such person who portrayed such qualities is Lech Walesa, Poland’s former President. He is proof that regardless of your background, you can become one of the most celebrated men on earth by leaving a mark on history.
Lech Walesa has done so much to increase human freedom thanks to his persistent fight against the authorities. He was highly instrumental in the death of Soviet communism in Poland.
Renowned for being the driving force behind the Solidarity movement, Lech Walesa remains one of the most important public figures in Poland, a man who had left his mark on history. He is also renowned for being the most popular resident in Gdansk.
Born on September 29, 1943, in Popowo Kujawsko-Pornorskie, Poland, Walesa never became prominent until his early twenties. He worked as a mechanic at the Gdansk’s Lenin Shipyards. He was one of the pioneers and leaders of Solidarity, an independent trade union movement in Poland.
Married to Miroslawa Danutu Golos in 1969, the couple is blessed with eight children. He is renowned all over the world as the Former President of Poland and a Nobel Prize winner for his considerable personal sacrifice to ensure the worker’s right to establish their own organization.
During his time as an activist, he was always at loggerheads with the authorities and was incarcerated over and over again, which eventually led to his job loss. Despite all the troubles, he never relenting spirit grew bigger and stronger. He continued to fight until the fall of the communist regime in 1989.
In 1990, he became the President of Poland, winning by a landslide. Sadly, he was not as prominent as President as he was during his time as an activist and eventually lost his popularity and the next election since the people’s expectation was cut short. In 2000, he contested for Polish Presidency but did not poll up to 2% of the total votes cast.
Leaving politics for good, Walesa spends most of the time traveling to different parts of the world as a prominent speaker at major events, reminding the world about Poland’s peaceful resistance to unfair workers’ welfare packages. Back at home, he spends more time at the Lech Wales Institute, an organization founded in 1995 aimed to further enlighten people on the achievements of Polish Solidarity and promote the dividends of democracy.
In July 1980, the Polish government’s intended plan to increase the price of meat received heavy criticism. Locals in Gdansk protested against the inflated prices by embarking on strike action. In August 1980, Walesa took advantage of the strike action by climbing up the fence of the Lenin Shipyard to give an impromptu speech.
From that moment, he became a force to reckon with. He spearheaded the worker’s strike action across the city, negotiating with authorities to meet their demands. With the authorities planning to meet their needs, Walesa reversed his stands and instead embarked on a solidarity strike with 21 demands.
On September 17, 1980, Solidarity, locally known as Solidamosc, a nationwide labor union and the first independent labor union in the communist world, was formed. As a leader of the union, Lech Walesa was invited to several events hosted by the International Labour Organization in countries like Sweden, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, and France. He had the opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II, who was happy to have him as a guest.
Over time, members grew to 10 million people. On December 31, 1981, Walesa and nearly all of Solidarity’s leaders were put under arrest until November 14, 1982. While in prison, he reached out secretly to members of Solidarity, soliciting for non-violent resistance. Meanwhile, in October 1982, Solidarity was delegalized.
Wins Nobel Prize for Peace
For his determined and peaceful clamor for improved workers’ welfare and human rights in general, Lech Walesa was awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace in 1983. Afraid of leaving Poland so the authorities will not block his return to the country, his wife, Danuta, received the award in his name. In his acceptance speech, he stated, “We crave for justice, and that is why we are so persistent in the struggle for our rights.” He solicited a round table meeting with the authorities and appealed for aid for Poland from the international community.
He dedicated the award to the delegalized Solidarity movement. Also, he donated the money to an agricultural foundation, funded by the church and dedicated to the welfare of local farmers.
Over the years, he has received more than 30 state prizes and 50 international awards, including the order of the Bath’ from the UK, ‘Order of Merit’ from Germany, ‘Legion of Honor’ from France, ‘Medal of Freedom’ from the United States, ‘Award of Free World’ from Norway and the European Human Rights Prize’ from EU.
He also has 45 honorary degrees to his name, awarded to him from several top universities globally, including Harvard University and the University of Paris. Additionally, he holds honorary citizenship in over 30 countries across the globe, including the UK.
Facts About Lech Walesa
With a rich history of being a human rights defender and a profound reputation for his great works across the globe, check out a few interesting facts about Lech Walesa.
1. He was raised by a low-income family and lost his dad shortly after Second World War. His mother singlehandedly raised him and his other siblings. His childhood days were not as rosy as you might think.
2. He graduated from vocation school as an electrician in 1961 and later that year started a career as a mechanic. Based on his experience, he was given a slot to work at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk.
3. He was known for being outspoken about the ill-treatment meted out on workers at the Shipyard. Lech seized the opportunity when it presented itself to become one of the most influential people in the world today, thanks to the shipyard strike in 1970. He faulted virtually everything about the government and advocated for better workers’ welfare. He inspired several strike actions and protest in the city, which led to the loss of his job from the yard. Still undeterred, he pushed further by agitating for improved working conditions for the working Polish.
4. In 1980, he founded the movement known as Solidarity, the Eastern Bloc’s first independent trade union. Though successful, the group Solidarity was eventually outlawed by the authorities
5. His efforts and resilience did not go unnoticed by the international community. Lech Walesa was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1983 for his determination to fight for human rights. He is recognized all over the world for his leadership qualities.
6. In 1990, Lech Walesa was elected the President of the Republic of Poland on a 5-year tenure, defeating Prime Minister Mazowiecki and other candidates to become Poland’s first freely elected head of state in 63 years and the first non-Communist head of state in 45 years. He was not a success and never re-elected.
7. He is listed as one of the 100 most influential people of the last century by TIME
8. He has a lot of awards and honorary degrees to his name from many universities all over the world.
Famous Quotes and Sayings
1. “I belong to the generation of workers who, born in the villages and hamlets of rural Poland, had the opportunity to acquire education and find employment in industry, becoming in the course conscious of their rights and importance in society.”
2. “Dictators and oppressors should continue to fear me because I will be here for a long time.”
3. “Freedom may be the soul of humanity, but often you have to struggle to prove it.”
4. “I’m lazy. But it’s the lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle because they didn’t like walking or carrying things.”
5. “The fall of the Berlin Wall makes for nice pictures. But it all started in the shipyards.”
6. “Communism is a monopolistic system, economically and politically. The system suppresses individual initiative, and the 21st century is all about individualism and freedom. The development of technology-supported these directions.”
7. “It is hardly possible to build anything if frustration, bitterness, and a mood of helplessness prevail.”
8. “He who puts out his hand to stop the wheel of history will have his fingers crushed.”
9. “We hold our heads high, despite the price we have paid, because freedom is priceless.”
10. “We respect the dignity and the rights of every man and every nation. The path to a brighter future of the world leads through honest reconciliation of the conflicting interests and not through hatred and bloodshed. To follow that path means to enhance the moral power of the all-embracing idea of human Solidarity.”