Significant Men: Lech Walesa.
A New Man, A New Poland.
Lech Walesa was born in 1943, in 1945 his country was liberated by the Red Army and was turned into a one-party Communist state. His country became controlled by its Eastern neighbour, the Soviet Union. His country was Poland and Poland did not like to be controlled. Walesa grew up in the town of Popowo, in a previously well to do family which had become impoverished by World War II.
By 1966 Walesa found himself working as an Electrician at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk. By now he was a trade union member and became a trade union organizer. He became leader of the strike committee in 1970. In that year industrial action was rife, this included a strike at the Gdansk shipyard. This unrest forced the resignation of the Polish head of state, Wladyslaw Gomulka. By now Walesa was becoming a well known union leader, his employers were unhappy with this and he was sacked in 1976 after further strike activity. He did however remain a member of the union strike committee.
Gomulka's successor was Edward Gierek, he was forced to step down in 1980, after his efforts to modernise the industrial base of Poland, had plunged the country into crippling debt. On August 14th 1980, Walesa became the leader of a strike in the Lenin shipyard. The strike was a protest over food prices and sparked industrial action across the country. In September the Communist government had no option but to sign an agreement with the Strike Committee. They had agreed to allow the formation of free trade unions, this transformed the Strike committee into a national federation of unions, with an estimated 10 million members. This federation became known as Solidarnosc or Solidarity. Walesa was the chairman.
Politics and the Pope.
By December 1981 Poland had a tougher government, this was headed by General Wojciech Jaruzelski. An attempt was made to re-impose state control by imposing martial law. Solidarity was banned, some of its leaders were detained, others were kept under surveillance. Needless to say Walesa was detained, he was released in November 1982. Jaruzelski suspended martial law in late 1982 and it was lifted completely in mid 1983. However, unrest continued but this time protesters and dissidents were given international support, this time it really was time for a change. Polish Pope John Paul II visited his homeland that year, he was received by huge crowds. The whole of Europe was pleased to see this visit, Pope Paul was admired and trusted by millions throughout the world. Walesa was granted a private audience with the Pope and in October that same year 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.
1989 brought the collapse of communism throughout Eastern Europe, in Poland the ban on Solidarity was lifted. Walesa by now was seen as a possible leader and held a position of influence. He began negotiations with Jaruzelski over the future of the country, eventually agreements were reached on reform of the political system. Mainly allowing free and fair elections. In 1990 and by a landslide victory Lech Walesa was elected president. His efforts guided Poland to a free-market economy but his time in office was not without controversy. Political infighting was still the order of the day and in 1995 Walesa stepped down. His personal strengths and fortitude, had brought about great change in Poland and he is still a man who commands the greatest respect.
Significant Men: Gorbachev.