Lech Walesa - History

Lech Walesa - History

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Lech Walesa


Polish Politician

Born to a Polish agricultural family, labor unionist Lech Walesa studied in a state vocational school, and became an electrician. After serving in the military, he began working in the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk (Danzig). Walesa was active in the nascent union movement at the shipyards and after he joined protests against the economic policies of Polish leader Edward Gierek in 1976, Walesa was fired.

Galvanized into action, Walesa became a key figure in the Polish labor movement. When striking Polish workers took control of the shipyard in 1980, Walesa was reinstated and became the head of the strikers.

Later that year, he was made head of the newly formed Solidarity Union.

Solidarity was successful in securing a number of concessions from the Polish Communist government. In 1981, however, Polish leader General Jaruzelski imposed martial law and outlawed Solidarity.

Walesa and other Union leaders were arrested. After a year in solitary confinement, Walesa was released. In 1983, he won the Nobel Prize for peace in recognition of his efforts on behalf of freedom. The outspoken Walesa continued to press the government for concessions and in 1988, the Union once again organized crippling strikes throughout the country.

When it became clear that the Polish Army was siding with the people, Jaruzelski negotiated the creation of Social Democracy in Poland. The next year Walesa was elected President of Poland.


Lazo, Caroline Evens. Lech Walesa (Peacemakers). 1993. Dillon Press Inc.

Stefoff, Rebecca. Lech Walesa : The Road to Democracy. .(Great Lives). 1992. Fawcett Books.

Craig, Mary. Lech Walesa : The Leader of Solidarity and Campaigner for Freedom. 1990. Stevens Gareth Inc.

Kaye, Tony. Lech Walesa . (World Leaders- Past and Present). 1989. Chelsea House Pub. Paperbacks.

Solidarity Friends - The Book of Lech Walesa : A Collective Portrait . 1982. Simon & Schuster.

Kaye, Tony. (World Leaders Past & Present). Chelsea House Pub.


This Day In History: Lech Walesa Is Released By The Communists (1983)

On this day in history Lech Walesa the leader of the Solidarity Trade Union is released and returns to his native Gdansk in Poland. He was greeted by hundreds of supporters who saw him as the leader of his country&rsquos resistance to Communism and Soviet-Domination. Walesa had been detained in a remote lodge in Easter Poland for almost a year.

Walesa was born to a humble family and he became an electrician. He later worked at the Gdansk shipyards. Walesa was unhappy at the workers&rsquo treatment and he tried to agitate for better pay and conditions. He was fired by the communist authorities and he had real problems getting a job. The economic situation in Poland was deteriorating badly and there were food shortages. In August 1980 after a woman nearing retirement was fired, at Gdansk shipyards, the anger of the workers boiled over and they went on strike. Walesa returned to the shipyards and became the leader of the strike. He was able to force the communist regime to recognize the Union and this was a first in East Europe. After this Solidarity as the Union became known became a mass movement. Soon it had ambitions to reform the entire communist system. Solidarity was able to gain greater political and religious freedoms for the ordinary people of Poland and Walesa became a national hero. He was feared in Moscow as a threat to the communist party in Poland but in the west, he was lauded as a democrat and a champion of freedom.

Strikers at Gdansk shipyards in 1980

Solidarity became ever more radical and began to demand the democratization of Poland and the end of one-party rule. This was not acceptable to Moscow and they feared that their Empire in Eastern Europe could crumble if the Polish communists give in to Solidarity&rsquos demands. In 1981 the Polish Communist regime declared martial law and immediately banned Solidarity and imprisoned thousands, including Walesa. Solidarity was forced underground and it continued to defy the communists. The Trade Union believed in peaceful resistance to the Communists. The clear majority of the Polish people were sympathetic to the Solidarity and Walesa after his imprisonment became even more popular.

Walesa continued to be the leader of Solidarity even after it was banned. In 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but could not attend the ceremony in case the Communists would not leave him back into the country. In 1988 there were another, waves of strikes staged by Solidarity. The communists in Warsaw wanted to crack down on the strikers by in Moscow Gorbachev refused to back such a policy. This forced the Communists to enter into negotiations with Solidarity and later they announced semi-free elections. Soon Solidarity was in government and by the start of 1989, it was clear that Communism was finished in Poland.

Polish government signs accord with Gdansk shipyard workers

On August 31, 1980, representatives of the communist government of Poland agree to the demands of striking shipyard workers in the city of Gdansk. Former electrician Lech Walesa led the striking workers, who went on to form Solidarity, the first independent labor union to develop in a Soviet bloc nation.

In July 1980, facing economic crisis, Poland’s government raised the price of food and other goods, while curbing the growth of wages. The price hikes made it difficult for many Poles to afford basic necessities, and a wave of strikes swept the country. Amid mounting tensions, a popular forklift operator named Anna Walentynowicz was fired from the Lenin Shipyard in the northern Polish city of Gdansk. In mid-August, some 17,000 of the shipyard’s workers began a sit-down strike to campaign for her reinstatement, as well as for a modest increase in wages. They were led by the former shipyard electrician Lech Walesa, who had himself been fired for union activism four years earlier.

Despite governmental censorship and attempts to keep news of the strike from getting out, similar protests broke out in industrial cities throughout Poland. On August 17, an Interfactory Strike Committee presented the Polish government with 21 ambitious demands, including the right to organize independent trade unions, the right to strike, the release of political prisoners and increased freedom of expression. Fearing the general strike would lead to a national revolt, the government sent a commission to Gdansk to negotiate with the rebellious workers. On August 31, Walesa and Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski signed an agreement giving in to many of the workers’ demands. Walesa signed the document with a giant ballpoint pen decorated with a picture of the newly elected Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla, the former archbishop of Krakow).

History of the Solidarity Movement

Solidarity, to most people at present time, is just a word signifying unity, cohesion and harmony but taking that word back, to 1980, would give it a significantly different meaning. Towards the end of the twentieth century, this word would become associated with ‘the greatest political movement of modern history’[1]. The importance of this movement has been cemented deeply not only in Poland’s history, giving Poles a new geo-political identity ,but also emphasizing Poland in global history, often linking it to histories of Cold War.
A number of historians have debated this topic as of recent, especially after the collapse of communism. It opened a number of doors for historians to try, literally, due to opening of archives which were not available to anyone ever before. Because this topic is very recent there are a number of advantages and disadvantages. Even though this topic is a recent part of our history, and there are mounts of available sources, no clear conclusions can be made as more evidence emerges as the years go on. Alongside that, due to emerging documents new truths are being found out. Additionally to this, even though we have access to those who were involved in the movement and it allows for a more coherent analysis of events, due to the factor above it is hard to analyse those factors fully.
In order to analyse the factors that led to Solidarity being ‘the most impressive and significant working-class movement of our period’[2], it is essential to explicate how this movement came to be, and one way of doing this is by looking at the events prior to 1980.
Solidarity was born out of a long standing worker-government discontent, with its origins being characterised by strikes, protests and general tensions which could be attributed to post World War Two and the Yalta conference, during which a Soviet backed Provisional Government of National Unity was formed, disregarding the London based Polish government-in-exile. Such politics were seen as a stab in the back by the West to many Poles. Failure of the Soviet economic policy across the Eastern Bloc is the favourable argument amongst scholars for the directive for the birth of Solidarity and according to Touraine, ‘nowhere else in Communist Central Europe was the failure of a government industrial and agricultural policy so obvious’.[3]
In mid-70’s the economy ‘slipped deeper into an irreversible economic decline, as production levels plummeted, real wages stagnated, shortages increased and foreign debt mounted, reaching $18 billion by 1980’.[4] The year of 1980 is what brought the government’s new economic policy, which saw the rise of food prices across Poland, and this was met with a wave of protests across the country, which unlike the protests in the 70’s, could no longer be silenced by the government. The first ever strike started in the Aviation Works in Lublin, which led to the creation of a well-known phrase, ‘it all started over a burger’, and before long protests spread like wildfire. Upsurge of protests and strikes, and the inability of the state to put the strikes out had led to the Gdansk Agreement being drafted.
This thesis will highlight the importance of the Solidarity movement to Poland’s freedom from the communist grip as well as analyse the key components which allowed the movement to flourish. Through critical assessment of key areas which I have chosen, the chapters will review important figures, the church as well as the international responses to the movement’s emergence. I will look at the way in which those events have successfully managed to contribute to the rise of the movement and securing its future in the new Free Poland. Through careful analysis of primary and secondary sources I will be able to prove the usefulness of these factors in establishing the movement in Poland as well as highlighting the factors based on their importance of strengthening the movement. Use of key texts in each section will also provide me with the correct set of conclusions.

Chapter 2: Against the Odds: How far can the actions of the ‘heroes’ of the Solidarity movement, be attributed to rise of the movement and establishment of Solidarity as a trade union?

This chapter is fundamental in analysing the way in which the movement had arisen and in particular looks at the cause and effect aspect of the movement through analysis of the key figures and their actions. It provides evidence for their aims and goals for the movement. Just like with most conflicts, the upsurge in the cause is never an overnight affair. The bubbling away, caused by the mistreatment of the repressed working classes in their everyday life by the state is what contributed to a number of key figures to emerge and support the movement. When looking at previous movements with similar goals and for similar causes, a number of people have already tried and have been defeated in fighting for the cause of the working class. An example of this was crushing of the 1970 movements in Poland during which 30 workers have died.
What makes it difficult for a number of working class movements to succeed, especially in authoritarian communist states, is the fact that the aspect of class does not exist, as it goes against the Marx ideology. Historians believe that what made 1980’s a success was the fact that the movement was not area specific and speed in which the movement had spread. It grew faster than the authorities were able to contain it.
In order to analyse the key figures, a number of key personalities was chosen. Judgement on which personality counted as an important figure was decided on how active they were in the movement and how responsible they were for its growth as well as how relevant they stayed after the success of the movement in achieving Polish independence from the communist regime.
This chapter will focus on the extent in which Lech Walesa, Anna Walentynowicz and Alina Pienkowska, have contributed to the rise for the popularity and will also assess how far their actions contributed to the establishment of the movement.
It will firstly investigate why did Walesa became such an icon for the movement, as well as the events with which he was involved with that led to the signing of the Gdansk Agreement. It will further asses the movement’s fight and reasoning for wanting to reinstate Anna Walentynowicz, as well as Walentynowicz’s perpetual attempt at mobilisation of the working groups for the movement and her dedication to try and make the movement successful. Lastly, it will examine the way in which Alina Pienkowska joined forces of the movement and just like Walentynowicz continued to fight for the success of the movement. This chapter will conclude with the notion, that the involvement of these figures was essential for the success of the movement and that it was their continuous motivation alongside of other factors which enabled for the movement to flourish.

2.1 Lech Walesa:
In order to analyze how Walesa contributed to the movement it is essential to investigate the factors that put his in the front line of the events in 1980. By the end of 1980, the name of Lech Walesa was just as famous as the movement itself and ran in parallel and more often was a representation of hope. The fame of Walesa’s name however dates back pre-1970. His political concerns beginning his main involvement in politics started in 1968, with an attempt of mobilising support at the shipyards for the recently condemned student strikes. From that point on, it was also Walesa who helped to organise the widely illegal protests of 1970, when workers protested for similar reasons in 1970. With failure of achieving the aims in those strikes, Walesa was convinced further change needed to happen.
In 1976, Walesa was dismissed due to his continuous involvement in trade union activities, which, at the time were considered as illegal as well as for attempting to commemorate the deaths of the 1970 strikers.’The 1970s were extremely challenging and painful for Lech Walesa and his family. He lived under constant surveillance of the State Security Service. His home and his workplace were tapped, and Lech Walesa was incessantly spied upon and repressed’.[5] Involvement in those activities had led him to become arrested several times over the decade.
With such experience, this factor enables to identify it as an important aspect of the rise of the movement which continued to provide fruitful results even in free Poland. His multiple arrests have established him as an important leader with the authorities trying to downplay his achievements due to the threat he was posing to them and calling him a ‘former leader of a former union’.[6] This gave Walesa an advantage over their authorities as his prolonged activities and constant involvement with the authorities means that he also gained the experience of how to deal with them, which was beneficial to the evolution of the movement.
Since Walesa had planned the failed uprising of the 1970’s, it meant that he knew inside out what would work and what would not, once again based on his experience. ‘He who puts out his hand to stop the wheel of history will have his fingers crushed’ is one of Walesa’s commonly used phrases.[7] With such view in mind as well as a good organisational structure, Walesa was able to contribute to the movement greatly.
Furthermore, the type of character that Walesa embodies is also a great benefit which enabled Solidarity to flourish. ‘Walesa’s ability to earn the trust of the people ensured that they never lost faith, regardless of how severe the backlash from the regime was’.[8] This is supported further by a letter which Walesa received from one of the Solidarity members, which states that Walesa has ‘shown us that we mustn’t be frightened off by police truncheons, nor by ridicule, nor lack of faith. The other thing that really impresses me is your profound faith.’[9] It was Walesa’s character which also managed to earn him The New York Times Man of the Year award which featured a hand drawn caricature of Walesa on the front cover[10] and the Nobel Peace Prize the following year for his work on human rights.[11] This acclaimed him international attention as well as a personal visit from Margaret Thatcher on her state visit in 1988. During her dinner with Walesa she exclaimed that ‘Personal Freedom and Economic Freedom go hand in hand. It produces both: dignity of the individual and prosperity’.[12] A Clear sign of encouragement, which meant that Thatcher agreed with the policies Solidarity was pursuing. With The Times branding Walesa as ‘a man of emotion, not of logic or analysis’[13], also aligning with the idea that Walesa was a man of the people, who can get things done.
What also shows how important he was to the movement can be judged from the way in which he became the leading figure of the movement. Not any average person can jump over a fence of the place of strike and assume the responsibility as the leader, which is exactly what happen in the case of Walesa. It therefore means that it was not a case of right place at the right time, but instead gives a clear judgment that he must have been a credible contributor to the rise of the movement.
Another important factor which Walesa managed to contribute to the rise of the profile of Solidarity as well as the birth of the movement into a legal trade union was in what was seen by the authorities as dissemination of anti-communist propaganda. Through travelling all over the country to mobilise support as well as spreading the messages of Solidarity and the progress which the movement had achieved, Walesa, of course not single headedly, managed to lead to a successful 10 million membership of the working class and not only, all across the country. In an interview with his wife, when questioned about spending time with her husband as well as his activities, Danuta states that ‘Lech often spends many days away from home campaigning, sometimes up to a week, so we do not get to spend much time together’.[14] This can be sustained with Walesa’s schedule, which consisted of providing information and interviews. Walesa’s input was essential to the development of the movement and often contributed to articles in propaganda newsletters as well as other weekly publications such as the ‘Coastal Worker’ and the official ‘Informative Strike Bulletin’. As propaganda was greatly essential in order to make the movement successful, it can also therefore be concluded that the person disseminating the literature is also important in raising the profile of the movement and therefore being an important part of the birth of the movement.

2.2 Anna Walentynowicz:
Anna Walentynowicz became a symbol of hope for many Poles just like Walesa. Unlike many of the women taking part in the movement, Walentynowicz was greatly recognised for the efforts which she contributed towards the movement, and is often referred to as an essential part of the movement. She also took active part in politics until her death in the Smolensk plane crash in 2010, which killed half of the Polish Parliament, going to pay respect to the victims of genocide.
Part of the reason why the strikes have started was because of her. Walentynowicz was fired in 1980 from her crane operating job, due to participation in illegal trade union activities five months prior to her retirement, which was undertaken by her due to her disillusionment with the communist system.
This enraged many workers, who thought that if such an exemplary employee could be fired so easily, it could happen to anyone of them. Transcripts about the strikes which aimed at reinstating Walentynowicz back to work, which by the authorities were named ‘Operation Gate’, were recently published in 2007 by Lech Walesa. Over two hundred pages of from the National Polish Archives were published.[15]
The fact that Walentynowicz has been nicknamed in those documents as ‘Wala’ and with her name being detectable frequently, it can therefore be prominently agreed that she played a big role in making the movement a success with her presence alone.

Walentynowicz also can be accredited with benefiting the movement in transforming from a strike of bread and butter, into a strike of compassion and sympathy with other establishments. She exclaimed that ‘our aim should not be to secure a somewhat thicker slice of bread today, even if this would make us happy we must not forget what our real aim is. Our main duty is to consider the needs of others. If we become alive to this duty, there will be no unjustly treated people in our midst, and we, in turn, shall not be treated unjustly’.[16] Once the Gdansk Agreement was signed, Walesa took on a more political role, and according to Walentynowicz, he forgot the true meaning of the movement. Her fight for equality was supported by her stating that ‘we must extend our friendship and strengthen our solidarity’.[17] By taking on a mother-like role in the movement, and continuing on taking a more of an activist role, after Lech Walesa’s more political turn, she continued to support the movement’s profile and led to a steady increase in memberships, thus once again confirming that she was of great benefit to the movement.
Furthermore, she just like Walesa manager to earn herself a Woman of the Year Award in Holland once again gaining the recognition of the international community[18].In an interview at a radio station, Walentynowicz exclaimed that the shipyard workers wanted her to stand as the front woman of the strikes, but she told them that the rank of the movement would fall lower, if a woman was the leader’. [19] Such selflessness and sacrifice towards the movement can be what could be one of the most important reasons as to why she can be considered one of the most important, if not the most important key figure of the movement. Walentynowicz could have easily tried to over-take Walesa in the leadership, since the protests have technically started because of her, however through recognition of what was best for the movement, she helped as much as she could, which is why the movement benefited from her presence and actions.
Walentynowicz’s other great achievement which managed to contribute greatly to the rise of the movement was through her written and spoken word. Being an active member of the Inter-Strike Committee as well as an editor of a samizdat called the ‘Coastline Worker’, she kept on distributing newssheets as part of a clandestine movement, even after the Martial Law was introduced. She often let meetings to be organised in her flat, something that many did not dare do.
There are also numerous examples of her taking control of the movement when things were spiralling out of control. A famous example of this was described in Cienciekiewicz’s book. ‘Walentynowicz ran to gate number 1, opening onto the Old Town. There she met a disorientated Walesa, and pulled him by the sleeve. She tried to get through to him. She stood on a wagon and spoke to the workers’.[20] Such dedication to the success of the movement and embodiment of the movement as it was trying to rise to success is one of the reasons as to why she was one of the key figures of the movement and as to why the movement succeeded.

2.3 Alina Pienkowska:
One of the less talked about heroines of Solidarity was Alina Pienkowska. Just like most women who took part in the movement, after the collapse of the regime, she managed to earn herself a place in new Poland’s politics until her death in 2005 at the age of 50. Pienkowska can be attributed to many of the successes of the movement’s rise. Often working alongside of Anna Walentynowicz, the shipyard nurses’ first mention is as one of the founders of the Free Trade Unions of the Coast in the 1970’s. Pienkowska’s greatest contribution to the movement was most certainly, similarly to Walentynowicz, her power of the written word. She was an active writer in the edited by Walentynowicz clandestine journal, the Coastal Worker, in which she wrote many articles to do with health and safety in the shipyards as well as the alarming rise in the accident rate in the shipyards. Furthermore, she also made numerous features in western press articles. An example of that was an article titled, ‘We Want Decent Lives’ in The Times Magazine in 1980.[21]
Another way in which she managed to be an asset to the movement was through her and Walentynowicz’s joint decision to shut the gates of the shipyard in order to start the strikes. During the strikes all phone in the shipyard were cut except for her nurse line. She was the one who was the main communicator to the outside world, and relayed that information to the rest of the world. As already mentioned, her perspective as well as judgment in the release of information on the strike was fundamental for the increased popularity of the movement as well as its success and establishment.
Some women took on daring missions because of their ability to escape interior security forces, who always suspected men of carrying out rebellious undertakings. Pienkowska was one of those heroines, often carrying secret documents and brochures as well as newsletters in and out of the shipyards, often distributing them amongst the workers. Just like the other two key figures already mentioned, Pienkowska contributed to disseminating anti-communist propaganda, which is a great way of contributing to the movements desire to succeed.
Lastly, this was probably Pienkowska’s biggest contribution to the movement. After the third day of strikes and them being called off by Walesa due to the signing of the concessions from the government, Pienkowska was outraged. She stated to Walesa, ‘You betrayed them! Now the authorities will crush us like bedbugs’.[22] She grabbed the loudspeaker and addressed the workers. Such bold leadership was what made the movement even stronger. By not settling for less than agreed, Pienkowska took the opportunity by the strings, and orchestrated them in such way that the movement’s future was more than likely to continue in its aims and goals. This is why Pienkowska deserves the recognition for the work, and when as the extent in which she contributed to the movement, it can be stated that it was vital.

Through a critical analysis on the three chosen key individuals associated with Solidarity, I was able to see heroes rather than just a simple working class attempting to fight for their liberties. The contributions which all three figures have made and what they have sacrificed for free Poland are remarkable. As Walesa put it, ‘we hold our heads high despite the price we have paid, because freedom is priceless’.[23] When assessing Walesa key factors were found and those were his experience and in particular his likeable character, which earned him the respect of western leaders and media, which was essential in securing the movement’s future in post-communist Poland. Help in distribution of propaganda as well as him becoming a symbol of hope were also crucial in making sure that the movement remained and was not crushed just like in 1970. Adding to this contribution in securing Solidarity’s future, Walentyowicz was also as essential. It was due to firing of her that the strikes were able to gain its momentum. Her being there and participating in the strikes was enough to keep the force going. It was also due to her as well as her mother-like figure and her selflessness for the cause that her success in the movement contributed greatly to its development. Lastly even though not as widely spoken about, Pienkowska’s determination as well as standing up for what she believed was right, even after the strikes were called off after the third day, was what made a lot of people what this movement was actually about, and for that I therefore think she also deserves to be recognized. In conclusion, without those figures, the future of Solidarity would not have been clear, of course we are unable to see what would have happened if these people were not there to spur on the movement, but for sure, the movement without them would have taken a totally different direction, which is why the extent of those people taking part in the movement was imperative to its existence.

Chapter 3: Catholic Quagmire towards Solidarity: How far did the split of policy towards communism in the Roman Catholic Church contribute to the Rise of the Solidarity Movement

Another important debate in the analysis of the components that led to the rise of the Solidarity movement is the affiliation that the Church had with the Solidarity movement, especially in the stages prior to Solidarity being legalised by the communist Government as per the Gdansk Agreement in 1980. WithPoland being one of the most religiously homogenous countries in Europe, it is therefore no surprise that Catholicism according to many historians played a major role in toppling the communist regime. The homogeneity of Poland’s religions can be attributed both to the atrocities of World War Two as well as the Stalinist Purges in the 1950’s, when religion was fundamentally repressed as it did not align with the Marxist ideologies. It led to Christianity, due to some concessions from the state, to become the major religion of Poland, and happens to be it to this day. Involvement of the Church with non-state politics, just like in any authoritarian government would have been met with much aggravation to the political state. This is why the split of opinion of how to deal with the issue of Solidarity, and tip-toeing around the issue due to politics of the state, is what makes for an important factor that contributed to the rise of the Solidarity.
Once again when looking at this key factor, a reoccurring theme is found, that being that there was a clear split in the approach which was meant to be taken towards Solidarity during its founding stages. All across the Roman Catholic Church. Biggest splits were recognised within the highest ranking church officials. Therefore a paradox is once again created as rather than unifying the church on the topic of the arising trade union activities, and having a decisive stance on the topic it was causing a further split in attitudes towards the movement.
This chapter will analyse the relationship of the church with the state and in particular that of Cardinal Wyszynski. It will also investigate the impact of Karol Wojtyla being elected pope, as well as what impact did the religious beliefs of those protesting have on securing the future of Solidarity and Solidarity’s aims. This chapter will conclude with the view that the Church was one of the main reasons and if not the most important reason for securing the freedom of Polish workers, and thus contributing to the collapse of the communist regime regardless of its split opinion on the existence and support for the movement.

3.1 Cardinal Wyszynski and Religious Elites:
In order to analyse the religious factor in contributing to the rise of the Solidarity movement effectively, the critical analysis must start with the key religious figures, with one of the most essential being Cardinal Wyszynski. Assuming the title of the Primate of Poland, Wyszynski is also often credited for the survival of Christianity in Poland, in the face of authoritarianism. Importance of Wyszynski in this analysis is imperative, as it was him who pushed Karol Wojtyla to accept being elected as the Pope. At the time of the Solidarity’s breakthrough, the most controversial attitude came from Cardinal Wyszynski. Rather than supporting the movement publically, he made many public appearances which insinuated to put the movement on halt or abandoning it completely.
His first address about the strikes was made on 17 th August 1980 during a mass. During the sermon he highlighted to ‘better fulfil, all the needs of the nation, moral, social, religious, cultural and then domestic’.[24] Such attitude can easily be misinterpreted but it could just as easily be explained and can be challenged with evidence from archives which opened to the public after the collapse of the communist regime. Evidence suggests that ‘Wyszynski believed until the end that the Church must be supportive of the government in maintaining ”social peace” in the country, a stand he would maintain even when the Solidarity trade union movement was in full rebellion in the summer of 1980’.[25] The policy of social peace and state co-operation which Wyszynski undertook is something which often gets misinterpreted and viewed by many Catholics as betrayal. In a meeting with Solidarity leaders, in January of 1981, Wyszynski states that ‘responsibility for life of children of Poland is a great responsibility, which is therefore I often ask myself, is it better, with the dangers to our freedom, our wholesome, the lives of our brothers, would it be better to reach for it now, or would it be better to achieve some today, and leave the rest for later’.[26] This two-track policy of compromise and negotiation with the authorities can be seen on multiple occasions.
If claims that Wyszynski was supporting the state rather than just Solidarity have to be incorporated to get a full analysis, the evidence only points to him being a mediator at the most, rather than a full supporter for the state. This can be sustained once again with the notion that he did not want any unnecessary blood spills ‘as any life of a Polish child unnecessarily lost would trigger him with guilt’.[27] This statement alongside of Wyszynski’s mediator status can be corroborated with evidence that highlights the decrease in numbers of conflicts between the state and the protesters, since beginning of the movement through to legalisation of Solidarity. ‘Thanks to the decision making of the primate, the church became a factor for softening the tensions in Solidarity’s line’.[28] Even though this approach caused significant splits of opinion, it still contributed greatly to the rise of the Solidarity movement, enabling it to exist without being crushed by the state.
Furthermore, the overall future aims and goals of the church which would contribute to the personal gain of the Catholic Church also support in the analysis that the church was a key factor in contributing to the rise of the movement. Wyszynski could not stay on the side-lines as this was too big of an opportunity for the democratization which would guarantee a chance for better conditions for the functionality of the Church, so to be against the movement would be not favourable for him nor the church. Not supporting the state and the government would also be met with the states’ disapproval and would more than likely have been met in a similar fashion as the churches in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, by simply being clamped down[29]. As the impact for the rise of Solidarity came in numbers, this would overall hinder the cause of Solidarity by reducing the platform for disseminating anti-communist propaganda. By remaining neutral to both sides the church was still able to hold some power, and continue with the two track policy.
With such evident split of opinion on the amassing movement, with some priests choosing closer affiliations to the state or fully embracing the radical change, Wyszynski was able to create conditions in which the movement was able to flourish more freely, without the church being punished also. It was seen as an almost sign of encouragement, which came with a warning label. With Wyszynski’s thirty year experience of dealing with the communist state politics, it is therefore a clear indication as to how he managed to contribute to the rise of the Solidarity movement.

3.2 Karol Wojtyla as the Pope:
Another factor within the religious theme which was very important and secured the movement its popularity was the election of Karol Wojtyla as the Supreme Pontiff. He was made Pope on October 22 nd 1978. ‘Given the rising tension in the communist world in general and in Poland in particular – and considering his powerfully assertive Polish national identity – it was inevitable that his attention would be centered instantly on the land of his birth’.[30] Even though the Pope was not on the frontlines of the conflict, his contribution cannot go unnoticed. His set of papal visits to Poland starting in 1979 and then followed by visits in 1983, 1987 and two visits in 1991, created a wave of hope and mass mobilisation across all of Poland all while preaching peace and compromise. This is why the pope is said to have contributed to a great extent to the rise of the Solidarity. ‘His two visits to Poland in the course of the 1980’s were crucial in affecting the march of events, as John Paul II displayed the keenest instinct and judgement about the situation there.’[31] The visits have also managed to contribute to the rise of the movement by bringing more international attention and media coverage.
Even though the Pope remained largely silent on the issue of Solidarity publically as a Pope, due to his neutrality, there is plenty of evidence to show his personal sentimental support to his land and his people, in form of the correspondence which he exchanged between himself and Cardinal Wyszynski which was further re-printed with the protesters. In a formal address to the Primate, the Pope informed the Polish Episcopate that ‘reports about these issues are not coming off the front line headlines of newspapers, television programmes and radio’.[32] The pursuit of a two track policy by the Pope could be considered as a split of his opinion towards the movement’s actions. By distancing himself publically, if the movement became too radical, it allowed the Pope to estrange himself from the movement. Also by not having a clear policy towards Solidarity and supporting the movement publically only to a proportionate degree, it meant that further splits in Polish Episcopate occurred as they did not have clear direction to who they should be supporting and preaching towards. It would have also made it easier for priests who affiliated themselves more with the state, to comply with the regime.
Another way in which the Pope contributed to the rise of the movement once again relates to his two track policy. Because the Pope’s support was coming from a non-authoritarian nation, the state could not suppress his support and feared what would come of it, if the Pope decided to make a pivotal change in his neutral policy making. This contributed greatly to the cause of Solidarity and played into their advantage. If the government was not scared of being over thrown prior to the election of Wojtyla as Pope, this fear could be seen after his election. Sense of protection from John Paul II, gave a political and psychological advantage to those who were involved in the movement. Ash agrees with this and states that ‘without the Pope, no Solidarity. Without Solidarity, no Gorbachev. Without Gorbachev, no fall of Communism.’[33] This clearly shows just how important the Pope was to the rise of the movement despite the splits in religion, which were more to do with how to tackle the movement if it got out of hand, rather than with the overall aims of the movement.
Furthermore, the approach of the Pope, seemed to send the same message, yet had different undertones to the messages which Wyszynski and the Polish Episcopate was sending out, and seemed much stronger despite the support not being as publicised, as it was by the Episcopate. This could be explained by Szulc. ‘Wojtylas quiet toughness toward the regime contrasted with the attitude of much of the Polish Church establishment, often including the primate, who tended to cooperate more fully with the authorities’.[34] The Pope knew that completion of agricultural, administrative and personal demands is impossible to complete immediately, but needs to be done gradually, which is why the Pope’s constant support as well as careful judgement with signs of encouragement over the years when needed were so important to the rise of the movement, which means that the Pope’s contribution to the rise of the movement through upkeep of his personal politics was enormous.

3.3 Work Force and Catholicism:
The last religious focus which enables to bond all of the previous points together, is the effect religion had on the work force which took part in the protests that enabled for the rise of the movement. The rise of Solidarity could not have been possible without the workers. With that, high proportions of workers attributed religion for enabling Solidarity to flourish. One way in which the workers showed their religious affiliation and allowed for Solidarity to be religiously charged rather than purely politically, was through display of Catholic insignia. Crosses, pictures of Madonna and Christ as well as Vatican flags were only some of the methods in which the workers displayed their attachment to the church. Lech Walesa is a key example of such display. The former president of Poland, affiliates strongly with Catholicism to this day, and this identity has been displayed proudly on numerous occasions. During the protests, as well as state visits, Walesa used to wear a lapel of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa as displayed in fig.1[35]. Since election of the pope, photographs of John Paul II also made a common appearance, as demonstrated in figures 2[36] and 3[37] and were also something that Lech Walesa incorporated as part of his identity as pictured in figure 4[38]. Association of the Vatican, an external body and Vatican’s continuous international coverage in particular for the cause through sermons dedicated to the situation happening in Poland, allowed for international attention to be shifted on the cause of the Polish workers and establishing the movement globally. This thus highlights that the better the relationship of the workers, the better off their cause was, explaining as to why some workers might have chosen to affiliate themselves with religion. Another notion explaining as to why so many workers linked closely to religion could be due to religion’s legal status in Poland at the time, which means that by teaming up with another minority group against the state, not only would they have a higher chance of succeeding overthrowing it, but also more attention to their cause from the state would be given. However, at this moment there is not enough evidence to support this claim.
Further evidence supporting the claim that religion was a key aspect which contributed to the growth of the Solidarity movement can be found through records of pilgrimages that were organised by Solidarity. If Solidarność was not as influential, such activities would not have occurred. A key pilgrimage was the one that Solidarity made to Vatican in January 1981. An excerpt from a post card written by Anna Walentynowicz read ‘We, gave our honour to our land, we will also give our lives’[39] as shown in fig. 5. Sending this post card from Vatican City could be understood as making a firm point and as an act of defiance to the authoritarian state, and once again gives a clear indicator how closely intertwined the relationship of the church and the movement was. This allows for a clear judgement to be made, meaning that church contributed greatly to the rise of the Solidarity Trade Union Movement.
In addition to this, evidence can also be found in the slogans which started to develop as a result of this relationship. The longer the protests went on, the more catholically charged the slogans became. Slogans such as ‘God protect us from Communism’ or ‘Badz z nami Maryjo‘, which translated to ‘be with us Mary’ with Solidarnosc logo’s attached onto banners, were common throughout the duration of the protests as shown in figures 6[40] and 7.[41] The pilgrimages, even though were meant to have a personal meaning behind them, were tied to Solidarity to a great extent. With each pilgrimage organised by Solidarity, the movement was able to reach more people, through first hand contact since media was state controlled. This was particularly correct when speaking about the pilgrimages to the shrine to the Virgin Mary, in Czestochowa, on the Jasna Gora (Mountain of Light). This also allowed for more remote areas to be reached such as the Czestochowa County. ‘Not in Czestochowa, nor in the region, there were no strikes in July or August 1980’.[42] Because of the pilgrimage influx into this region, this had changed. Post August, due the pilgrimages a propaganda offensive was initiated. This means that the movement was able to recruit more members, and therefore this led to a more successful movement. This was one of the most effective ways in which religion contributed to dissemination of Solidarity’s aims and goals, which once again allowed for Solidarity to flourish.
Lastly, a much smaller contribution of religion to the movement’s rise was through masses for the striking labourers, often led by prominent priests. They often improved the spirits of the protesters and embedded them further in the belief that the church supports their actions. ‘In Warsaw, under the wish of the strikers, a mass was organised and led by a young priest for a Zoliborsk parish – Jerzy Popieluszko’[43] – who was murdered by the State Security Services in 1984. Other examples of a masses which managed to contribute to boosting the morale of the workers, thus to the upkeep of the growing movement were held in the Gdansk shipyards. Big crosses were often erected to pay respect to those lost in the brawls. This established a further Catholic identity, despite the shipyards being state owned. This once again contributed to the act of defiance against the state, therefore allowing for Solidarity to flourish and contributing to its rise greatly.

Through careful analysis of religious components and the extent in which they have enabled the Solidarity movement to rise and become an established trade union, it is clear that the religious element plays a key role. With this element also comes the notion of paradox, which enables us to see that rather than Solidarity uniting everyone to fulfil their aims, Solidarity was causing splits of opinions everywhere in the religious sphere. Through analysing the behaviours of Cardinal Wyszynski, as well as his motives, it can be clear as to why he supported Solidarity. Furthermore his two track policy alongside his experience, allowed for him to be an asset for the growth of Solidarity.
Additionally when Catholicism is concerned, John Paul II was also one of the biggest influences who contributed to the rise of the movement within the religious theme. Through adaptation of a personal two track policy, the Pope was able to allow the movement to flourish as concession, compromise and peace alongside resilience stood at the height of his politics. Alongside that was also the differing undertone, in which the Pope addressed the movement also allowed for growth of the movement. Furthermore, the number of Papal state visits which John Paul II carried out during the period of Solidarity’s rise helped greatly to maintaining the power that Solidarity held, which means that the Pope made up a significant proportion of the religious factors which allowed for growth of the movement.
Lastly, the work force itself and their religious beliefs have a lot to owe for the rise of the movement. Through embracement of their religious identity, as well as methods of dissemination such as pilgrimages and religious slogans, the workers were able to contribute the most to the rise of the movement and make sure that it keeps on growing. Overall, this critical analysis enables us to see the insight as well as allows us to judge the extent in which religion is to have contributed to the rise of the movement, and in this case of judgement it allows to make the conclusion that religion was one of the greatest assets to have ensured the escalation of the movement.

Chapter 4: Make or Break: In what way did the International Community’s response to the crisis help in the development for the fight for freedom of the Solidarity Movement?

The history of Poland across the globe tends to be characterized by one of sorrow and suffering as well as heroism and bravery. The Solidarity movement provided for much of that stereotype and moved into the new century victorious from their oppressors. International relations of Poland are also rich just like her history. It came as a shock globally, when people heard about the first strikes. It did not take long, even in a communist regime for the news to leak into Western media. ‘Reports about these issues are not coming off the front line headlines of newspapers, television programmes and radio’[44] wrote the Pope to Wyszynski in 1980. It was clearly a big deal, domestically and globally.
This chapter will look at the way in which the Solidarity movement was received internationally and will also critically assess whether the opinions of the international community as well as actions have aided the movement in its birth and solidification, or whether the international meddling of relations stirred the pot and damaged the chances for an earlier concession and freedom of Poland. This chapter will conclude with the notion that the most important factor which contributed to the rise alongside the international factor was America and in particular the financial support from the Central Intelligence Agency. It will also conclude with the notion that other international focus on the movement was as beneficial for its growth.

American Response to Solidarity:
America was a key ally to Poland after the war and continued to have a close relationship with Poland all throughout the Soviet rule. It can be clear that at the first sign of distress of Poland and with the already rising tensions during the Cold War between America. It was also clear that Poland was ripe for change. America had to think twice in the way that it supported the Solidarity discontent in Poland, which is why help as well as other support for Solidarity came in two waves. The first step was the financial funding organized by the CIA. The CIA transferred around $2 million yearly in cash to Solidarity, for a total of $10 million over five years. There were no direct links between the CIA and Solidarnosc, and all money was channeled through third parties.’[45] Colonel Ryszard Kukliński, a senior officer on the Polish General Staff was secretly sending reports to the CIA.[46] Through secret organizations not only was America able to keep quiet as not to increase the rising tensions and transform a peaceful movement into a war, they were also able to benefit themselves by helping to eradicate their own enemy. Further evidence also points that it was not just America who did similar actions. ‘Money for the banned union came from CIA funds, the National Endowment for Democracy, secret accounts in the Vatican and Western trade unions’.[47] This is a clear indicator as to why America was so keep in helping the development and growth of Solidarity and as to why they contributed so much towards it. It was seen as an investment which would enable to do a lot of damage to their enemy. Further evidence can also be seen in an article titled ”Holy Alliance”. ‘The Times magazine, reported that “Tons of equipment – fax machines (the first in Poland), printing presses, transmitters, telephones, shortwave radios, video cameras, photocopiers, telex machines, computers, word processors were smuggled into Poland via channels established by priests and American agents and European labor movements.’[48] Through supply of new equipment, America was able to promote their cause more effectively, thus allowed for growth and expansion, and revolutionised the way in which the organization was ran, this therefore provides for evidence that the international support was key in the development and establishment of the movement leading to its birth.
Another way in which America has contributed which ended up beneficial for the development of the movement was through an international widespread recognition as well as coverage of the movement’s actions as well as portraying the regime in a bad light, therefore applying more international pressure. A segment released by the US Embassy, showed a video of important high profile figures in American politics as well as other global authorities. Titled, ‘Let Poland be Poland’[49], the video featured messages of goodwill as well as full blown support for the movement. The support was meant to encourage the workers of the strikers to continue with their policy, which has been so widely publicized beyond the borders of Poland. President Reagan stated in that broadcast that ‘There is a spirit of Solidarity abroad in today that no physical force can crush’.[50] This once again was an insinuation that even if things did get violent, America had Poland’s back. With that psychological support affected the movement greatly and allowed them to push the government as far as they could in order to achieve their goals. America therefore is a key part of the international community that essentially established the movement.

The reason as to why Solidarity movement gained so much popularity and did not fail like any previous movement, was because it captured the ‘hearts’ of the west, and also because there was not a movement quite like it anywhere else in Europe at the time.
As it can be clearly understood, when analysing the Solidarity movement and in particular the issues which allowed for the rise of the movement, nothing can be black or white. The number of grey areas is what makes this topic so interesting, and also makes for a fruitful research topic. Due to the topic being of recent history, new perspectives are still being uncovered, which is something that I and many more historians are trying to contribute to. This dissertation’s aim was to provide a clear reasoning for the support and for the Solidarity movement as outline the factors clearly through critically assessing evidence.
The first chapter aimed at highlighting the key figures which helped with building of the movement, and making the strikes, from a simple revolt, into a life changing policy of governance resulting in a free Poland. The key personalities highlighted in this work are Lech Walesa, Anna Walentynowicz and Alina Pienkowska. Through showing strong leadership in a quagmire, which the movement had started with the authorities, in order to protect their liberties, the key leaders were able to succeed in making the movement a success, and unlike any other movement in history. By using a number of methods, these people contributed to something that was never done before, setting a precedent for other countries and becoming heroes of Europe, as well as leading to fall of communism in Eastern Europe. It can be therefore said that they were truly successful in their aims and methods. Another important aspect which strongly relates to Solidarity is the Church. The second chapter assessed firstly the way split of opinion on the way in which the Solidarity movement should be referred to as some Catholic leaders sided more with the authoritarian state than the others. I have used the like of Cardinal Wyszynski who at the time was the Primate of Poland and served as the highest religious entity in Poland. I have then referred to the newly elected Pope and analysed the ways in which he contributed to the movement and how it allowed for its rise. It was clear that the Papal visits were the key in securing the motivation and mobility of those suffering from the ill fate of the government. Lastly, this chapter analysed the working classes and their religious affiliation and how far did that influence their fight and growth of the movement. I found that both of these allowed for growth of the movement and also enabled the working classes in voicing their struggles and achieving their goals. The last chapter focused on the international strain that the movement had put all over the world and to what extent did the international community’s actions contribute to the growth of the movement. Firstly, by analysing the impact that America’s approval for the movement had, and also by looking at the loans that the CIA made to the movement in order to achieve their goal, which is a clear indicator that this enabled for the movement to flourish. The second aspect of this chapter looked at the response of the British Government and other high ranking officials to the movement. Once again through carefully analysed sources I was able to prove that the support of the international community was detrimental to the evolution of the movement and securing the liberties of millions of Poles across the globe. Lastly, this chapter, looked at the sympathy associations which were formed as a result of the originating strikes and found that the flood of support received by the international community, enabled firstly to build alliances and secondly made sure that the current regime was choked out from the outside global groups and nations. The overall conclusion for this dissertation is that through a number of factors, and restrictions that were imposed by the authoritarian government, the Solidarity was able to break free from their oppressors, and creating a new identity for themselves on a global scale, moving away from the label of suffering into a new decade of bravery. all of the factors and aspects of Polish life contributed greatly to this, and without one or the other it would be difficult for the movement to succeed.,dok.html

Poland’s New Nationalist Rulers Are Erasing Lech Walesa From History

Leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, center-front, during a joint session in December of the Polish parliament in Warsaw.

Drew Hinshaw

Marcus Walker

WARSAW—Before a packed session of Parliament last month, Poland’s new prime minister reeled off the names of “ordinary extraordinary people” who had fought for Polish freedom, including some who had resisted the Nazis and others from the Solidarity movement that brought down Communism.

The prime minister, who put his own aunt on the list, made a telling omission. “And Walesa?” one lawmaker finally called out.

The most famous Polish dissident of the 20th century—Lech Walesa, the shipyard worker, Solidarity leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner—is being scrubbed from official memory by a popular political party that like others in Europe is refashioning the kind of democracy he helped build.

The revolution led by Mr. Walesa in 1989 opened the way to uniting most of Europe under liberal democracy, globalization and the expanding European Union. The victory seemed so emphatic that optimists spoke of the end of history. Yet a battle for Europe’s soul is once more being fought in Poland.

The country’s ruling Law and Justice party is contesting history along with three decades of secular Westernization, to build a new kind of democracy that serves a populist, nationalist vision.

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I'M MORE interested in facing a new day than looking backwards," writes Lech Walesa in A Way of Hope. A reluctance to "look backwards" is understandable, even praiseworthy, in a revolutionary leader whose strength lies in his ability to seize the moment. It does not, unfortunately, make for a particularly revealing autobiography.

As a former correspondent in Poland, I had hoped that this book would offer some fresh insights into the most exciting story of my journalistic career. After reading this somewhat chaotic jumble of notes and reminiscences by Walesa and others, I must report with regret that I learnt little I did not already know. Part of the reason lies in the nature of Solidarity: an exuberantly democratic movement whose triumphs and failures were played out on an open stage for everyone to see. But part of the reason has to do with Walesa's complex personality. The Solidarity leader is a self-described "loner" who combined an extraordinary empathy with crowds and intuitive sense of history with an ability to keep his innermost feelings to himself.

Even six years after the brutal suppression of Solidarity by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Walesa remains very much a politician. At one point in A Way of Hope, he tells us he will not name the communist officials responsible for a "disgusting propaganda" campaign against him because "the people involved still occupy positions of great responsibility." The implication is that he hopes to deal with them again.

Walesa's great moment came in August 1980. A worker himself, he had a gut feeling for how his fellow workers would react in any situation. As he notes in this book, "a strike is a crowd reacting in its own changeable and unpredictable ways. I was aware of that crowd: in the midst of a crowd, before it became a mob, I know instinctively what most people want. It's a question of experience: you have to have been through it often to understand what is happening."

The most interesting passages in A Way of Hope are those dealing with the pre-Solidarity period. The story of how Walesa became a rebel is symbolic of the disillusionment of an entire generation of Polish workers with communism. When his protests against "humiliating" working conditions and atrocious safety standards were rebuffed, he started questioning the system itself. At the same time, he was the product of that system. He recalls that, during the Gdansk food riots of December 1970, the strikers sang "the Internationale because there weren't any other songs capable of expressing the anger of a workers' insurrection in contemporary eastern Europe. All our models came from the East."

The 1970 riots, which ended with the "workers' state" opening fire on its own proletariat, were a turning point in Walesa's life. In A Way of Hope, Walesa describes his role in those events and his unsuccessful attempts to channel the workers' anger in a constructive direction. The astonishing maturity that he and other strike leaders displayed in August 1980, and the nonviolent tactics they adopted, were a direct result of the bitter lessons learnt a decade earlier. It is a pity he does not go on to tell us what lessons he draws from the suppression of Solidarity in December 1981.

The process of change in communist countries, as Walesa points out, depends on both the rulers and the ruled. "Poland's crises," he notes, "seem to be characterized by the simultaneous realization, on the part of both society and government, that things have got to change. The problem is that each side wants different changes, and they don't share the same aspirations for long: just long enough, in fact, to complete the usual power shuffle."

The Solidarity period provided us with an enormous amount of material about one half of this historical equation: society's hopes and aspirations. We still know relatively little about the internal power struggles that were taking place among the communist elite and the pressures placed on the Polish leadership by Moscow. Solidarity made a conscious decision not to get involved in the factional in-fighting. "Party politics did not really interest us," writes Walesa.

This indifference to communist party intrigue was Solidarity's strength -- but also its fatal flaw. While Solidarity leaders were holding noisy debates about how to change society, Jaruzelski and other party leaders were secretly plotting how to strangle the movement at birth. Walesa, of course, cannot be blamed for failing to shed light on the internal party discussions that sealed Solidarity's fate. But the fact remains, until we know what went on behind the scenes, the history of the Solidarity period will remain incomplete.

Michael Dobbs, The Washington Post's correspondent in Poland from 1980 to 1982, is co-author of "Poland, Solidarity, Walesa."

WAŁĘSA, LECH (b. 1943)

Lech Wałęsa was born 29 September 1943 in Popowo in northern Poland, then under German occupation. During the war, Wałęsa's father, a carpenter, was seized for slave labor by the Nazis and although he survived the war, died shortly thereafter as a result of mistreatment. Wałęsa received a vocational education and worked as a mechanic before entering the army for a mandatory two-year period of service. In 1967 Wałęsa took a job as an electrician at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdańsk. In 1969 he married Danuta Golośsk. couple would have eight children.

By the end of the 1960s, the economic situation in communist Poland had become increasingly difficult because of government ineptitude. In 1970, with the economic situation getting increasingly out of control, the government announced a 20 percent hike in the price of food one week before Christmas. Workers around the country went on strike and riots ensued. This time, it was the industrial strongholds of the Baltic coast where the worst violence occurred. When the militia ambushed a train full of workers in Gdansk, shooting scores of unarmed strikers, the workers responded by burning the local party headquarters. Some three hundred workers were killed in the riots, but the exact count is unknown, since many bodies were buried in secret. This event proved a major turning point for Wałęsa, who was active in the protests. Thereafter, the electrician became increasingly involved in efforts to form an independent trade union.

Following renewed worker unrest in 1976, Wałęsa was fired from his job at the shipyard and placed under surveillance by the secret police. He took temporary jobs to support his family while continuing efforts to organize a free union. In 1978, along with other activists, he cofounded Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzėza (Free Trade Union of the Coast) and was arrested a number of times in 1979. Although he is associated with opposition to the state, Wałęsa's record during this period has not been above suspicion. Though he was later cleared of being a police agent by a court ruling, he did provide some information to the police on opposition activities, a situation that was not uncommon among many in the opposition because of the pervasive nature of the communist police state.

Strongly influenced by the election of John Paul II (r. 1978–2005) and by the pope's visit to Poland, during which opposition to Communist rule had received a critical boost, Polish workers reacted to Poland's increasing economic problems with stronger action in defense of their rights. Following a massive increase in the price of staple foods, strikes began to break out across the country in August 1980. At the Lenin Shipyards, workers went on strike following the firing of the popular activist and model worker Anna Walentynowicz. Wałęsa climbed the shipyard wall and took charge of the strike committee. The shipyard became one of the strongholds of the worker's movements. Following protracted negotiations, in which Wałęsa played a critical role, the authorities gave in to most of the workers' demands. The most important of these was the creation of an independent trade union, Solidarity, with Wałęsa as its chairman. The shipyard electrician became known around the world as face of peaceful opposition to Communist rule.

After sixteen months of uneasy coexistence with Solidarity, the Communist authorities cracked down on the union in December 1981, arresting Wałęsa and tens of thousands of other activists and imposing martial law on the country. In late 1982, Wałęsa was released from prison. The following year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Despite forcefully destroying Solidarity, the Communist authorities were unable to stop the country's economic slide. In 1988, with continuing worker unrest, the government agreed to negotiations with the center and left portions of the opposition, with Wałęsa again assuming an important role. From these roundtable talks emerged a kind of power-sharing agreement that opened the door to the first partially free elections in Poland since 1938. In June 1989 Solidarity-backed candidates won all contested elections handily, ending Communist rule in Poland and spurring a wave of related movements in other Soviet-controlled countries.

During this brief period, Wałęsa held no public office and was in some ways eclipsed by his hand-picked prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Following the resignation of the Communist president, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Wałęsa reentered politics and challenged Mazowiecki for the office. Although Wałęsa was elected president in December 1990, the move split the Solidarity movement and led to a series of short-lived governments. Wałęsa remained a dominant political figure, extending the power of the presidency and stretching its constitutional limits.

Although Wałęsa's political ambitions badly divided Solidarity and opened the door for the revived fortunes of former Communist politicians, during his tenure some important economic and political reforms were implemented, establishing the rule of law, restoring a market economy, and beginning Poland's move toward rejoining the community of Western nations. By 1995, however, he had lost the support of most of his fellow Poles and lost to the former Communist Aleksander Kwaśniewski. Wałęsa tried to run again for president in 2000 but garnered only 1 percent of the vote.

Although Wałęsa remains a highly recognizable figure in Poland, he retains negligible political support. His popularity is far greater outside of Poland, especially among Polish diaspora communities, than in Poland itself. In 1995 Wałęsa founded the Lech Wałęsa Institute, in Gdansk, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to Wałęsa's political and social causes.

History: Lech Walesa

This is another post about one of the powerful men involved in the collapse of the USSR. Let me know which leader you prefer.

Lech Walesa is Catholic and was born on the 29th of September 1943 in Poland. He became a labour activist and helped form and lead communist Poland’s first industry trade union, it was called Solidarnosc (Solidarity). In 1968 he encouraged shipyard workers to boycott rallies that condemned student strikes and in 1978 he began to organise trade unions and by 1983 he already had a Nobel Prize. In 1990 he took it a step further and became the first freely-elected president in Poland in over 60 years.

But wait, let’s go back, how does someone go from shipyards to parliament?

He started Solidarity in 1980 as he was a shipyard worker. In August of 1980 he led the Gdansk shipyard strike over much of the country and he was seen as the leader of this. The authorities were forced to surrender and negotiate with Walesa the Gdansk Agreement of August 31 1980 which gave the workers the right to strike and to organise their own independent union.

In September 1981 he became the chairman of Solidarity. That December Solidarity was suspended and he was under house arrest in a remote spot. In November 1982 he was released and reinstated at the Gdansk shipyard where he was under surveillance but he still kept in touch with the leader of Solidarity. In July 1983, Martial Law ended which was put in place by the government in an attempt to crush any opposition (December 13, 1981- July 22, 1983). In October he was even awarded a Nobel Peace Prize which brought a lot of hope to his followers but sparked government attacks.

Jaruzelski was the leader of Poland and he was very unpopular as the economy continued to worsen. He soon had to agree to negotiate with Solidarity and Walesa- the result of this was non-communist elections. Walesa won these elections all the way up until 1995 and he received honorary degrees from Harvard University and the University of Paris, as well as the Award of the Free World.

It Started In The Shipyards // Lech Wałęsa and the End of History

Much like the uncertainty over what killed the dinosaurs, many folks will have their own ideas as to what caused the collapse of the Soviet-backed governments of Eastern Europe. Was it the angelic figure of Gorbachev and his reforms in the motherland? What about the rise of popular movements in the satellite states themselves? Quality of life decreasing leading to inevitable revolts on the streets? Cataracts? Whatever your answer, the truth is that such a happening is impossible without many factors working simultaneously. Even so, before the Berlin Wall fell, the symbol of resistance was that of a rotund dishevelled man with an excellent moustache climbing over a wall bedecked with flowers and flags. That man was Lech Wałęsa.

The story of Wałęsa is a fascinating one, the story of a truly unremarkable man who did something truly remarkable. Born in the village of Popowo as World War Two raged around him, his father was a carpenter who was arrested by the Nazis and interred at Młyniec Concentration Camp. He survived the war but died within two months of its ending. As such Lech was raised and subsequently heavily influenced by his mother. Still, he was an average at best student at the Parish school, and ironically if it wasn’t for the industrialisation obsession of Poland’s ruling Communists, Wałęsa most likely wouldn’t have ended up at the technical college.

After graduating from his commie technology college, Wałęsa found work as a mechanic. This ended in 1965 as he went off for his mandatory two years of military service, where he reached the rank of Corporal, but the truth is I don’t really know if that is a good rank or not. When his service came to an end he buggered off to the coastal city of Gdansk to find work, and find work he did, as an electrician at the Lenin Shipyards. Assigned to the Mosinski shop (4th brigade), he almost immediately became politically active. He also became romantically active, meeting his future wife Danuta Golos in a flower shop.

Poland wasn’t the most miserable Warsaw Pact nation by any stretch of the imagination, but this isn’t to say things were delightful. People were tired of queuing for basic goods, tired of low wages, tired of waiting and waiting for anything to happen. Protests were inevitable, but when they arrived in Gdansk they were initially disastrous. Indeed, the first protest that Wałęsa helped to organise was particularly catastrophic, as 30 workers ended up shot dead in what was known as ‘Bloody Thursday’. This was a setback for Wałęsa, but it is also possible that on this day the Solidarność dream was born.

A Solidarność newspaper from 1981 // © Wikimedia Commons

Soli-what-now? Polish for ‘Solidarity’, it is a Polish Trade Union that came into being on the 17th of September 1980 and would go on to become one of the most important movements of the 20th century. The first trade union in a Warsaw Pact nation that wasn’t run by the communists, within a year it would have 10 million members, which was roughly one-third of Poland’s total working-age population. Wałęsa was its first elected chairman and would go on to be the name synonymous with the union. Within a few years, it was recognised as the de facto voice of the Polish people. Wałęsa would get his travelling boots on, heading to Italy, Japan, Sweden, France and more, even gaining an audience with the pope at the Vatican. I should probably mention that at this point his holiness was John Paul II, or Karol Wojtyła, a Polish chap, the first non-Italian pope for over 450 years. Solidarity had powerful backers it would seem. Its aims would eventually end in success, but despite popular support, things kind of sucked arse to begin with.

Well, not so much, to begin with. After consistently losing jobs throughout the 1970s because of his political activities, Wałęsa’s persistence (combined with his charm, moustache and sheer weight of personality) led to negotiations with the government, and in August 1980 the Gdansk Agreement was signed. This essentially gave workers the right to strike and to set up unions. Everything seemed to be coming up Milhouse for Wałęsa. He was the worker’s worker, a man who truly understood the hardships of those tolling away, the loneliness of a tower crane driver.

The idea of a free trade union with 10 million members and a whole host of popular support didn’t really appeal to either the Soviets or the ruling party in Poland, and in 1981 Solidarity was banned. Bugger. General Jaruzelski imposed martial law throughout Poland, and (Mongol) hordes of prominent Solidarity members were arrested, Wałęsa among them. He was interned in a remote country house, which might not sound so bad on the surface but I assume it wasn’t so pleasant.

A year later he was released and reinstated at the shipyards, which seems a little fishy to me. Solidarity wasn’t reinstated, however, and so into the underground they went. Keep in mind this was the 1980s and the world was changing rapidly, so the underground may just have been the ideal place for a fledgeling resistance movement. All this succeeded in was making sure that everyone on the opposition, be they intellectuals, workers or even the church, banded together in support of Solidarity.

Beautiful Gdansk, Poland // © neufal54 / Pixabay

1983 saw martial law lifted in Poland, and it was also in this year that our dear Lech Wałęsa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Whilst this prize has gone on to prove to be fairly irrelevant (recent winners have included Barack Obama, the European Union and Martti Ahtisaari), in 1983 it was still a fairly prestigious award. Wałęsa wasn’t able to accept the award in Norway in person, as he feared he wouldn’t be able to return to Poland. His wife went instead, giving a speech prepared by Lech himself. Either way, the world was waking up to Solidarity and the work they were doing in Poland. The fix was in.

The movement couldn’t stay underground forever, and the government knew this more than most. The longer the ban the stronger the myth and all that jazz. In 1988 it made its glorious re-emergence into the mainstream as the Jaruzelski regime’s popularity plummeted further into ‘not popular at all’ part of the graph, the people had legitimate grounds for divorce. The tide was about to become a flood, and history couldn’t hold it back any longer. The regime knew that negotiations with Wałęsa and Solidarity were inevitable, and when they came the result was vaguely free parliamentary elections. The results? Of the 261 seats up for voting, 260 went to Solidarity, so kudos to the one that didn’t go their way. Almost as if he knew what was to come, Wałęsa famously proclaimed ‘To our misfortune, we have won!’

In 1990, Lech Wałęsa became the first popularly elected Polish president in the history of the country. This unemployed electrician with a moustache, internationally famous for dragging himself up and over a wall (most elegantly, let me assure you) had come from the poverty of his youth all the way to the most prominent individual in Poland’s modern history, the leader of a newly free nation. Wałęsa was the mirrorball of Poland’s popular revolution, the centrepiece of the show. If the story had ended there, this would have been one of the most glorious feel-good stories of the 20th century. Alas, this isn’t the movies and history doesn’t work like that.

When Solidarity came into power in Poland, the national debt was a terrifying $40 billion. Inflation? Well, that was nestled at a manageable (HAH) 600%. Even the most experienced of economists and statesmen would struggle with such a situation, especially one that comes with overriding popular optimism (poptimism?) and enthusiasm. The people were in charge and finally had the chance to make their lives better, except they had to tidy up the mess first.

Wałęsa meets Bush in 1989 // © Wikimedia Commons

Actually, let me take something back. Poland did have the most experienced of economists at their disposal, and the joyful assistance of the IMF to boot. The only problem was that the IMF wanted the new people’s government to pay back the astronomical debts that the communists had left before giving any assistance. What did this mean? Well, if there is one thing history has taught us it is that when a government has created a financial hole, it is the ordinary people who pay the price. Privatisation was ordered on a massive scale, along with huge cutbacks to any and all social programs. Communism was replaced with fundamentalist capitalism, and the people realised that there was more than one way to be politically stuffed.

This of course went against everything Solidarity had promised. They had promised an open democracy and a nationalised economy, a more worker-controlled environment. As their 1980’s slogan said (albeit surely with a better ring in Polish) ‘Socialism - YES! It’s distortions - NO!’. What they served up was something more akin to the complete freakin’ opposite. Unemployment skyrocketed, reaching 25% three years into Wałęsa’s tenure. By 1995 he was ousted, ironically losing the election to the former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski. Wałęsa’s time in power was a disaster, proving that being a great revolutionary doesn’t necessarily mean one will be a great leader.

At other points in this tome the idea of judgement has been discussed, whether an individual can be judged on one act or the entire span of one’s life must be taken into account. I’ve sat on both sides of the fence throughout, mostly because I’m not sure what the answer is. Because Lech Wałęsa’s time in power was a shambles, does that diminish his revolutionary acts before that? I would say no, and most I think would agree. What Wałęsa initiated and gained for the Polish people can’t be measured in economic growth and employment statistics. It did have political and economic aims, but hindsight tells us that Solidarity was a movement to regain Poland’s soul, to regain the heart of what was once the biggest state in Europe. Lech Wałęsa, the unemployed moustachioed father of eight, achieved this.

Lech Walesa - History

By 1986, reforms associated with Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union had begun to affect political and economic life in Poland. Lech Wałesa, leader of the Polish trade union movement Solidarity, and a veteran organizer of illegal strikes and demonstrations, wrote to the Polish Council of State (the most powerful branch of government in the Republic of Poland) requesting the end of martial law, declared in 1981. He also demanded "union pluralism," the recognition by the Polish government of independent trade unions. He argued that both were vital to Poland's political and economic wellbeing. Walesa declared his mandate based on his democratic election as the chairman of Solidarity. At the same time, by promising to respect the existing constitution, he sought to reassure the Council of State that Solidarity did not plan its overthrow. Wałesa would later become the Poland's first post-socialist president.


Lech Wałesa to the Council of State, trans. Jan Chowaniec, 2 October 1986, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source&mdashExcerpt

Acting on the basis of a mandate given to me in democratic elections at the First Congress of delegates of…"Solidarity" in 1981, as chairman of that Union…

—motivated by my concern about further economic development of our country and having in mind the concentration of all Poles around the task of economic reform as a task of particular importance, in the absence of which we are faced with economic regression and backwardness, particularly in relation to the developed countries

—drawing conclusions from the attitude of millions of working people, who over the last four years didn't find a place for themselves in the present trade unions, remained faithful to the ideals of "Solidarity" and wished to get involved together with them in active work for the good of the Motherland within the framework of a socio- trade union organization, which they could recognize as their own

I am calling on the Council of State to take measures, which—consistent with binding legislation—would enable the realization of the principle of union pluralism, finally putting an end to the martial law legislation which constrains the development of trade unionism.

At the same time—for the sake of social peace and the need to concentrate all social forces on [the task of] getting out of the crisis—I declare readiness to respect the constitutional order… True, the provisions of this law are far from our expectations, but they nevertheless create possibilities of working and respecting the principles of the freedom of trade unions and union pluralism, and only temporary regulations are blocking the realization of those principles. It is high time to put an end to those temporary regulations and to lead to the normalization of social relations in the area of trade unionism.

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