Lech Walesa

Wałęsa, Lech

Lech Wałęsa (lĕkh väwĕn´zə), 1943–, Polish labor and political leader. He worked as an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk but was dismissed in 1976 for his antigovernment protests. In 1980 striking workers at the shipyard won his reinstatement, and he assumed leadership of the independent trade union Solidarity. A moderate, he gained numerous concessions from the authorities before his arrest and internment in the military crackdown of 1981. He was released in Nov., 1982, and in 1983 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1987, he helped block Jaruzelski's reform initiatives by organizing a boycott of the government referendum, and in 1988 he led a series of nationwide strikes. In 1989 he negotiated an agreement with the government under which Solidarity was legalized and allowed to campaign as a political party in the upcoming elections. By the end of Aug., 1989, a Solidarity-led coalition government was in power, but Wałęsa became increasingly critical of Premier Tadeusz Mazowiecki. In Dec., 1990, Wałęsa was elected president of Poland, defeating Mazowiecki, and resigned his Solidarity post. Wałęsa failed to win reelection in 1995, losing to Aleksander Kwaśniewski, a former Communist who was the Democratic Left Alliance candidate. He ran again in 2000 but received only 1% of the vote. In 2017, handwriting experts employed by a state historical institute said that Wałęsa had signed secret police reports and payment receipts in a Communist-era interior minister's files, but he insisted the signatures were counterfeited; the issue was complicated by the fact that the Law and Justice party, which controlled the government, had a history of animosity toward Wałęsa.

See his autobiography, The Struggle and the Triumph (1992).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Lech Walesa: Selected full-text books and articles

The Polish Solidarity Movement: Revolution, Democracy and Natural Rights By Arista Maria Cirtautas Routledge, 1997
Librarian's tip: "The Charisma of Walesa" begins on p. 199
Poland since 1944: A Portrait of Years By Jakub Karpiński Westview Press, 1995
Librarian's tip: "1990: 'War at the Top' Walesa Elected President" begins on p. 281
Polish Presidents 1947-2000 from the American Vantage Point By Mazurkiewicz, Anna East European Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4, Winter 2003
Polish Politics and Society By Frances Millard Routledge, 1999
Librarian's tip: "The 1995 Presidential Election" begins on p. 91
Institutional Design in New Democracies: Eastern Europe and Latin America By Arend Lijphart; Carlos H. Waisman Westview Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: "The 1990 Presidential Election" begins on p. 62
Change in Eastern Europe By Robert Weiner Praeger Publishers, 1994
Librarian's tip: "The Presidential Elections" begins on p. 77
Competing Visions of Polish Parliament, 1989-1993 By Holc, Janine P East European Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring 1995
Consolidating Democracy in Poland By Raymond Taras Westview Press, 1995
Librarian's tip: "Ruling Coalition and Leadership Style" begins on p. 175
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