Walesa, Lech

Walesa, Lech

biographical name

(born Sept. 29, 1943, Popowo, near Wloclawek, Pol.) Polish labour leader and president of Poland (1990–95). An electrician, he worked in the Lenin Shipyard at Gdansk, Pol. (1967–76), but he was fired for his antigovernment activities. In 1980 he joined workers in a strike and soon became leader of the Solidarity trade union. The union was banned in 1981, and he was detained into 1982. In 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace; fearing involuntary exile, he remained in Poland while his wife, Danuta, traveled to Norway to accept the prize on his behalf. He continued to direct the outlawed union until it received legal recognition in 1988. Solidarity won an overwhelming victory in free elections in June 1989, and after Walesa refused to form a coalition government with the communists, the Parliament was forced to accept a Solidarity-led government, though Walesa himself refused to serve as premier. In 1990 he won Poland's first direct presidential election by a landslide, and he helped guide Poland into a free-market economy. His confrontational style eroded his popularity, and he was narrowly defeated in his bid for reelection in 1995.

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