Leader of the Solidarity free trade union movement which dramatically challenged the communist regime in Poland in the 1980s, and the country's President in 1990-95.
Born in September 1943 near Lipno, he trained as an electrician and moved in 1967 to the Baltic port of Gdańsk, where he worked for nine years in the Lenin shipyard. Active in the worker protests there in December 1970, Wałęsa later won acclaim worldwide (and the 1983 Nobel prize for peace) as leader of the free trade union Solidarity, which was spawned by the shipyard strikes of 1980 and grew into a mass movement which rocked the communist system. He played a major role in negotiating the historic 'Gdańsk accords' signed at the end of August 1980, in which the Polish Government first conceded workers' demands on the right to form trade unions outside the official communist structure, and the following month he became Chairman of the National Co-ordinating Commission of the newly-formed Solidarność (Solidarity). Arrested as martial law was imposed in November 1981 and the movement was driven underground, he led its resurgence in 1988 and helped negotiate the dismantling of Poland's one-party State. When Tadeusz Mazowiecki was appointed Prime Minister, Wałęsa himself refused ministerial office and returned to trade union issues, but became increasingly critical of his erstwhile Solidarity allies as they introduced tough economic austerity measures. These differences became even more evident when Wałęsa stood against, and defeated, Mazowiecki in the 1990 presidential elections.
When the second-round result was declared in December, Wałęsa resigned as leader of Solidarity to emphasize that his new role stood above party politics. He used his international celebrity to help press his country's case for early inclusion within the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). During his five years in office, however, his impatience, outspokenness and combative style appeared autocratic and divisive in a Head of State. Seeking to present himself as a national figure of historical significance, with echoes of the authoritarian inter-war dictator Piłsudski, he formed a Piłsudski-style Non-Party Bloc in Support of Reforms, but was unable to attract enough support for this bloc to avoid its defeat in the 1993 elections. His anti-communism made his relationship with