Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
This man proves that there is no need for years of studies and education to become the most important person in the country. He did not need expensive campaigns to win the presidential election and did not spend years in politics prior to becoming president of Poland. He just fought against the system gaining publicity around the world and becoming the president of simple people, who were in need for somebody from outside the strong communist parties that ruled at that time the country.
Lech Walesa, associated especially with ‘Solidarity’ movement, was born in 1943 in a small place called Popowo. He finished his education at the age of 18 in a vocational school to become an electrician. But it was not until his employment in Gdansk Shipyard of Lenin that he started his career as oppositionist. He started as one of leaders of the general strike, that took place in the shipyard, to become active member of Trade Unions. Although he was dismissed from Gdansk shipyard he still helped to lead the strikes what led to reaching so called ‘Gdansk agreement’. Thanks to it, and strong national disappointment from Polish economy, the government allowed to create independent trade unions that would reflect the needs and goals of labor movement.
A simple electrician, who was returned to work in Lenin Shipyard of Gdansk, was one of the founders of ‘Solidarity’ – independent trade union that emerged from Gdansk shipyard and opened the way for other alike movements to be created. Walesa became the first chairman of the union. The trade union became a strong social-political movement that reached at some point almost 10 million members (in less than 40-million people Poland). But the life of Gdansk electrician could be easy due to his oppositionist approach. He was shadowed all the time by the governmental police and interned for couple of months. But he was more and more recognized also outside of Poland. He even was announced the man of 1981 year by ‘Time’ magazine. In 1983 he won the Noble Prize.
The strike of 1988 lead to Polish Round Table Agreement that enabled to create first after-war non-communist Polish government. In 1990 Lech Walesa became the president of Poland in free elections that the nation had dreamt about for a long time.
It is hard to assess the time when Lech Walesa was president of Poland, especially for the young people of today who did not grow up during his most glorious moments. He was for sure respected all around the country and world for his will to fight. However, the next years proved that one needs some more qualifications to rule the independent country. The 5 years cannot be assessed separately from what Walesa did before as a lot of changes introduced afterwards were just a follow up of the process started by him and his colleagues from opposition.
Although Lech Walesa made attempts to run for office of President of Poland again, he was unsuccessful. The biggest (unpleasant for him and many others) surprise was that after 5 years of ruling independent Poland he lost in the fight with member of post communist party (Aleksander Kwasniewski). Although he is not a powerful politician now (and actually never was again after he stopped being President of Poland) he is still a living national symbol of freedom.