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New on the Freedom Collection: Lech Walesa

Article by Christopher Walsh June 12, 2013 //   3 minute read

Those who change the course of human events are not always what we expect.  Poland’s Lech Walesa is one such example. His unlikely origins as the face of Poland’s freedom movement are part of what makes his story inspirational. Starting as an electrician in a Baltic shipyard, Walesa led the movement that toppled communism in Poland and won the presidency of his country. 

Walesa was born on September 29, 1943, in Popowo, Poland.  He was a principal organizer of the Lenin Shipyard Strike in August 1980 and as spokesman for the workers, he quickly became the labor movement’s public face.  Walesa’s negotiations with communist authorities and support of workers’ rights inspired Poles and resulted in the establishment of the Solidarity trade union, the first independent labor union in the communist world. Solidarity soon expanded its reach beyond labor issues and became the hub for the country’s opposition activity, uniting democratic forces across Poland. After martial law was declared on December 13, 1981, Solidarity was outlawed and Walesa was among the first to be arrested and imprisoned.  

After the fall of communism, Walesa became the first democratically elected president of Poland on December 22, 1990. While in office, Walesa was a driving force in Poland’s European integration, laying the groundwork for Poland’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. 

Meet Lech Walesa on the Freedom Collection and share in his experiences from a pivotal moment in history:


Christopher Walsh is the Program Coordinator, Freedom Collection.