Lech Wałesa (pronounced [:lekh va-:wen-sah], born September 29, 1943, Popowo, Poland) - Polish electrician, trade union activist, human rights fighter and politician.
He founded Solidarity (Solidarność), the Soviet bloc's first independent trade union, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and served as President of Poland from 1990 to 1995 (succeeded by Aleksander Kwaśniewski).
List of basic dates and facts:
employee of Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk (Stocznia Gdańska im. Lenina, now Stocznia Gdańska) as an electrical technician: 1967-1976, 1980-1981 and from 1983 until 1990.
1970 - member of the illegal strike committee in Gdansk Shipyard. After the bloody end of the strike (more than 80 workers killed by the riot police) - arrested and convicted for "anti social behaviour" - spent one year in prison.
1976 - lost his job in Gdansk Shipyard for collecting signatures for a petition to build a memorial for the killed workers. Due to his being on an informal blacklist he couldn't find another job and lived thanks to his friends' personal help.
1978 - together with Andrzej Gwiazda and Aleksander Hall, he organised the illegal underground Free Trade Union of Pommerania (Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzeża)
1979 - arrested several times for organising an "anti-state" organisation, but not found guilty in court and released at the beginning of 1980.
August 1980 - after the beginning of occupational strike in Gdansk Shipyard - illegally scaled the wall of the Shipyard and became the leader of this strike. The strike was spontaneously followed by similar strikes across Poland. Several days later he stopped workers who wanted to leave Gdansk Shipyard, and persuaded them to organise Strike Coordination Committee (Międzyzakładowy Komitet Strajkowy) to lead and support naturally occurred general strike in Poland.
September 1980 - Communist government signed an agreement with the Strike Coordination Committee to allow legal organisation, but really free trade unions. Strike Coordination Committee legalized itself into National Coordination Committee of Solidarnosc Free Trade Union. Wałęsa was chosen as a chairman of this Committee and kept this position until December 1981.
After Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski declared a state of martial law, Wałęsa was interned for 11 months in south-eastern Poland near the Soviet border until November 14, 1982.
1983 - applied to come back to Gdansk Shipyard to his former position as a simple electrician. Formally treated as "simple worker", he was practically imprisoned in his home since 1987.
1983 - awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was unable to receive the prize himself due to danger that the government would not let him back in. His wife Danuta Wałęsowa received the prize instead. Wałęsa donated the prize money to the Solidarity movement's temporary headquarters in exile (in Brussels).
1987-1990 Organised and led "half-illegal" Temporary Executive Committee of Solidarity Trade Union.
1988 - organised occupational strike in Gdansk Shipyard. The only demand was the re-legalisation of the Solidarity Trade Union. After the strike had lasted eighty days the government agreed to enter into round-table talks.
September 1988 - The "Round Table Talks" started. Wałęsa was an informal leader of the "non-governmental" side during the talks. During the talks the government signed an agreement to re-establish the Solidarity Trade Union and to organise "half-free" elections to Polish parliament.
1989 Wałęsa organized and led Citizenship Committee of the Chairman of Solidarity Trade Union, which was formally just an advisory body - but practically it was a kind of a political party, which won parliament elections in 1989 (Opposition took 48% of seats in the Sejm out of 49% that were subject of free elections and all but one seats in the newly re-established senate; the remaining 51% of seats were given automatically to Communist Party according to the Round Table agreements).
1989-1990 - Wałęsa was formally just a Chairman of Solidarity Trade Union but in fact he played a key role in polish politics - at the end of 1989 he persuaded leaders from formally communist ally parties to form a non-communist coallition government, the first non-communist government in the Soviet Bloc. After that "half-secret" agreement, to big surprise of the Communist Party, the parliament chose Tadeusz Mazowiecki for prime minister of Poland. Poland - still formally being a communist country - started to change its economy to the free market system.
1990 - Wałęsa won the election and become president of Poland for next 5 years. During his presidency he started so called "war at the top" which practically meant changing the government annually. His style of presidency was strongly criticized by most of the political parties, and he lost most of the initial public support by the end of 1995. However, during his presidency Poland was completely changed - from an oppressive communist country under strict soviet control and with a weak economy to an independent and democratic country with a fast growing free-market economy.
1995 - Wałęsa lost the presidential election. After that he claimed to go to "political retirement", but he was still active, trying to establish his own political party.
1997 - Wałęsa supported and helped to organise new party called "Election Action Solidarity" (Akcja Wyborcza Solidarność) which won the parliamentary elections. However, his support was of minor significance and Wałęsa held very low position in this party. The real leader of the party and its main organiser was a new Solidarity Trade Union leader Marian Krzaklewski.
2000 - Wałęsa stood in the presidential election again, but received less than 1% of votes. After that Wałęsa claimed again to go finally to political retirement. From that time on he is giving lectures on the history and politics of Central Europe at various foreign universities.
10 May 2004 the Gdansk-Tricity international airport has been officialy renamed to Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport to commemorate famous Gdansk citizen. His signature has been incorporated into the airport's logo. There was some controversy if the name should be spelled Lech Walesa (without diacritics, but better recognizable in the world) or Lech Wałęsa (with Polish letters, but difficult to write and pronounce for foreigners.)
Apart from his Nobel Prize Wałęsa, received several other international prizes. Despite not having a high school diploma, he has been awarded the title of doctor honoris causa of several US and European Universities.
Lech Wałęsa has been married since 1968 to Danuta Wałęsowa and has 7 children.
Lech Wałęsa is believed by some people in Poland to have been a paid agent of the SB (Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa - the State Security Service) for more than 10 years during his rise to the top of the Solidarity movement in the Gdansk shipyards. Wałęsa, under the codename "Bolek", is said to have been recruited to pass information to the SB, and was bumped into the top leadership position within Solidarity by other embedded agents of the SB in an attempt to control the movement. His subsequent break from SB control is attributed to a new arrangement Wałęsa made with Reagan/Bush's CIA.
Another, slightly "softer" version of this hypothesis is that Wałęsa was indeed recruited by SB in 1976-1978 when he was jobless and short of money, and he was their secret informer until 1980, but SB lost control over him during the strike in Gdanska Shipyard, so he became the leader of this strike, and later leader of the Solidarity movement simply due to his natural personal leadership skills.
The third "spy" hypothesis claims that he was recruited in 1970 or 1971 when in prison, but he broke off contact with SB in 1976, which was the real reason for losing his job in Gdanska Shipyard.
Finally there are also "combinations" of these hypothesis: one of those suggests that he was first recruited in 1970, then indeed ended his contacts in 1976, but, after losing his job, asked for the reestablishment of these contacts due to lack of money, finally breaking these contacts again in 1980 during the strike.
However, none of these "spy theories" have ever been proven. In fact, his activities during the strike in 1980 and his leadership of Solidarity Trade Union during 1980-1981 suggest strongly against the theory that he was an SB spy, and the theories requires the assumption that the SB would risk destroying their own political system by bumping such a good and effective leader to the top position of a strongly anti-communist social movement. On the other hand, the possibility that he was temporarily an SB informer in 1970 or 1976 is somewhat more plausible.
Wałęsa himself has consistently maintained that the SB attempted to recruit him several times, as was the case of most of the prominent anti-communist leaders, but that he never agreed; and that all the documents with his signature found in SB files were prepared in order to destroy his position within the Solidarity movement.
Prior to the 2000 presidential election, he was cleared to hold political office by a special "vetting court", which held that the photocopies of documents pertaining to agent "Bolek", including signed receipts for payments from the SB, were inadmissible. The original documents, if they in fact existed, were likely pulled from SB files and destroyed together with many other files, which disappeared at the end of the communist regime.